Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lenten Reflections: A Catholic Perspective

As part of an ongoing series of Lenten Reflections, I asked Fr. Leo Walsh, Pastor of St. Benedicts Parish, to share his thoughts. He kindly pointed me to his brief Ash Wednesday homily which can be heard, in its entirety, by clicking here .

Father Leo presents a clear, Catholic perspective on Lent in this homily which is delightfully introduced by his recounting the Irish joke below.

There was an Irishman in Dublin, which you’ll find a lot of Irishmen there I’m told. And he walked into the pub one evening, and he walked up to the bartender and he says, “I’ll have 3 Guinness” and the bartender says “sure”.

So the bartender pours 3 of them, and he takes about 7 minutes to pour Guinness, you know, properly, and then he notices the fellow does something particular and he goes over by himself to a table. He puts 2 on the other side of the table and 1 in front of himself and takes a sip of 1, and then the other, and he continues this pattern until all 3 are complete and then he goes up to the bartender again, and he says “I’ll have 3 more Guinness”.

And the bartender says, “Sure! I can pour them individually… that way they’ll be fresh.”

The guy says, “Oh no, you don’t understand”, he says. “ I’ve got a brother in America, and a brother in Australia. We used to come here when we were lads, and uh, and this is my way of remembering them.”

He says, “Ah, grand, you’ll have them.” So he gives them the 3. And this goes on for several months.

And finally one day, the fellow comes in, kind of a hang-dog look on his face, and he says, “I’ll have 2 Guinness.”

The guy looks at him with that sad face and says, “Ach, you’ll have them, and with my sympathies.”

He says, “What’ya mean?”

He says, “Well, I can only assume that one of your brothers has died.”

He says, “Oh no, that’s for me. I gave up Guinness for Lent”.

Thanks to you Father Leo for sharing your excellent Lenten thoughts with Church Visits readers.

Lenten Reflections: A Methodist Perspective

During Advent, I asked a number of Anchorage pastors to share an Advent reflection on “Advent as an Antidote to Consumerism”.

As we are now in the Season of Lent, I felt it appropriate to again ask a cross-section of local pastors to share some thoughts and reflections on Lent. Our next contributor is Pastor Peter Perry of St John UMC.

A Conversation With God in the Middle of Lent

A geography teacher gave an assignment near the end of the semester. The students were asked to list what they considered the seven wonders of the world. The top picks as we might guess, included Egypt’s Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and China’s Great Wall.

While tallying the votes, the teacher noticed that one girl had not turned in a paper. She approached the student and asked if she was having a problem with her list. The girl responded, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher replied, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.” Reluctantly, the girl stood up and began to read her paper. “I think the seven wonders of the world are to touch and to taste, to see and to hear, and then to run and to laugh and to love.” (from the book Sermon in Stone by Mel Ellis.)

When I came across that story in my file the other day, I realized that God was speaking to me through it. You see, I’ve been struggling with Lent this year. Lent caught me by surprise, beginning far too soon, with too much haste, amidst too much chaos. In the midst of the craziness of my life, God wants me to prepare my spirit by observing the holy days of Lent? Yeah, right.

I’m one of those people who finds it easy to be busy and hard to be quiet. Lent beckons, and I find myself needing a quiet place, a prayerful place, a place of retreat, a place of contemplation. So I pause and I try to listen… I end up having a conversation with God that goes something like this:

“Shhh…”, says God. “Rest. Be quiet. Be still. I’m here. And yes, Peter, the wonders of my world really are to touch and to taste, to see and to hear, and then to run and to laugh and to love.”

“God, thanks for including the running part.”

“You’re welcome, Peter. But please, don’t run too fast. I might not be able to keep up…”

“Thanks, God. Will I see you in church this week?”

“I haven’t missed a Sunday yet, have I?”

“I guess not, but I’ve got to admit that sometimes I get so busy I don’t notice you there.”

“So you are beginning to see the problem, eh? You don’t notice me a lot, Peter. I’m here. Always. Everywhere. During the commute. By the hospital bed. When you are walking the dog, playing the piano, writing the sermon, running the meeting, watching TV, making the bed, shoveling the snow, and answering email. I’m there.”

“Sorry, God, but the phone is ringing. I need to answer it.”

“I know…I’ll still be here when you get back…”

“Thanks, God. Good to talk to you. We should do it more often.”

“Yes, we should.”

Thank you for your thoughts Pastor Peter.

Edward Fudge: The Ashes Tell the Truth

Earlier this week, noted blogger Edward Fudge* posted a wonderful write-up regarding Ash Wednesday. A number of evangelical Christian groups totally ignore Ash Wednesday, the starting of Lent, and the significance of the season of Lent, but jump right in during Holy Week. With Edward Fudge’s permission, I’m extremely pleased to share his blog post in it’s entirety.

The Ashes Tell the Truth: Edward Fudge**

This past Wednesday, on the traditional Christian calendar, was Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period (not counting Sundays) of repentance and prayer that leads to the victorious climax on Easter Sunday. True, the New Testament does not mention Ash Wednesday, Lent or even Easter by name (except for a mistranslation in the KJV). Yet one would be hard pressed to object to the traditional themes and details those special days incorporate — words and actions that are solidly biblical and spiritually strengthening as well, when celebrated with faith resting on Jesus Christ and undergirded by the atonement he has accomplished once for all.

The Episcopal liturgy for Ash Wednesday is typical of others, in which those assembled pray: “Almighty God, You have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.” The minister (or other officiant) then makes with ashes a small cross on each person’s forehead while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The deed and the declarations harmonize, with each other and also with basic biblical truths. Truths that many Christians, bewitched by the death-denying mentality of our thoroughly- secular culture, avoid and even obscure. According to the Bible, death is not our friend but our enemy — an enemy which Jesus came dying to destroy. Resurrection, not death, is the believer’s doorway into immortality. But Easter is about resurrection: the ashes last week are about our mortality that makes resurrection so exceedingly vital, in both senses of the word. Thanks be to God!

* Edward William Fudge (born July 13, 1944) is an American Christian theologian and lawyer, best known for his book “The Fire that Consumes”, in which he argues against traditionalist Christian interpretations of Hell. He has been called “one of the foremost scholars on hell” by The Christian Post. He is the subject of the 2012 independent film “Hell and Mr. Fudge”.
** Original blog posted at

Lenten Reflections – A Lutheran Perspective

During Advent, I asked a number of Anchorage pastors to share an Advent reflection on “Advent as an Antidote to Consumerism”.

As we are now in the Season of Lent, I felt it appropriate to again ask a cross-section of local pastors to share some thoughts and reflections on Lent. The first contributor is Pastor Dan Bollerud, of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church.

Lent is the 40 days, minus Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to Easter. In scripture, it marks the time when the stories of Jesus transition from who Jesus is to Jesus setting his face, and beginning his journey, toward Jerusalem. The texts reflect the seriousness of this next phase of ’ ministry which will lead to the crucifixion.

In the early church it was a time of preparation where those interested in joining this “Jesus” movement who would dedicate their lives to prayer, education and self-discovery leading up to their baptism at Sunrise on Easter morning.

More recently the Lenten discipline has been to “give something up” for Lent. Although meant to heighten ones focus and meditation on who God has called us to be, all too often this practice has simply become a short term “New Year’s Resolution” combined with a modicum of self-righteous piety.

For me, Lent starts with the Ash Wednesday words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a stark reminder of our mortality and, lest we tend to get too full of ourselves, a reminder that salvation is a gift from God. The fact that the ashes used to make the cross on ones forehead as these words are spoken come from burning the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday, are a poignant reminder of how quickly our Hosanna’s can become cries of “Crucify” when we find our personal kingdoms threatened by the call to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Lent is a journey down out of our mountain tops of piety and down into the dusty streets where the needs of neighbor stare us in the face as we are called to live as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Lent is a time to look into the mirror of God and see the reality of who we are and then learn to celebrate the gift of salvation that comes into our lives.

Lent is also a time to focus on our call to be brothers and sisters in the family of God that stretches beyond the boundaries of denomination, religion and faith tradition, and embraces the whole family of God that in creation was called good. Lent is coming face to face with the salvation that comes from God as a gift, pure gift, for you and I and for all people, and asks the question, “Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?” Lent is that journey that helps us figure out what it is we are going to do in this vast and diverse family of God.

Intentions – Keeping the Season of Lent

During my St. Mark’s visit on Ash Wednesday, I was attracted to an idea they were promoting to individuals or families in their congregation. Several areas of the nave contained a “Tree of Intentions”, a bare branched tree where one could fill out a small tag naming an intention for Lent, and then tying it to the tree.

These are some of the suggested intentions St. Mark’s offered on a leaflet.

* Volunteer at a local food bank or meal program part of one day per week.

* Research and purchase more “in season” local produce.

* Each week in Lent write and mail one letter to a friend.

* Practice sitting in silence or meditation for 10-15 minutes each day.

* Each week in Lent write and mail one letter to a friend.

* Pray one part (Morning, Noon, or Evening) of the Daily office

* Pray for all who lack clean water and must spend several hours each day carrying unclean water home to drink.

Lent is a beautiful time for reflection and renewal leading into Easter.

The full list from St Marks is attached below.

My Ash Wednesday…2013

I’m in Seattle at a Rotary conference and observed Ash Wednesday at St. Mark’s Cathedral during a noon service in it’s nave. It was a deeply moving experience; a much needed and blessed counterpoint to a self-absorbed world as I moved into Lent.

St. Mark’s, an Episcopal church, is sited on the north end of Capital Hill in a quiet neighborhood. It was spawned in 1865, and has been in various locations here, in one form or another since. It’s interesting history can be seen by clicking HERE.

The church has beautiful acoustics and is the scene of many wonderful Seattle music events, and weekly compline and evensongs which I’ve only heard by radio or in recording.

From beginning to end, the service was most moving. It was performed by clergy and laity together. The Very Reverend Steve Thomason was the Presider, and the Reverend Irene Tanabe was the Preacher. The service was a skillfully interwoven series of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament. Reverand Tanabe gave a warm and wonderful homily, touching several times on some familiar Seinfeld episodes. I could have listened to this gentle woman pastor for hours. Her recorded homily is available for your listening pleasure HERE.

The music for the service was simple, and beautiful. It was supplied by cantor and flutist Brian Fairbanks. He chanted the text of Psalm 51 during The Imposition of Ashes, and then, during the offertory, he beautifully rendered, on the flute, the Sarabande from Sonata in A minor by J.S. Bach. What a wonderful experience this was!

During the Imposition of Ashes, Reverend Tanabe served my section. I noticed her warm, affectionate smile on each person receiving their ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. I felt the same as she served me. Too many preachers, I fear, are stern and foreboding instead of being warm and caring. This simple act went straight to my heart.

The congregants on this cool, cloudy Seattle day were primarily older persons, retired, with some depending heavily on canes or walkers to assist them. There were some children in attendance. I especially noted a father and mother with a toddler in a special place on the main floor with a rocking chair and large rug for the child to crawl upon. There were some business and professional people in evidence as well. What a wonderful mixture for this service! The Eucharist was shared before the service ended.

Normally I do not like the Passing of the Peace but this day, I was close to tears as young and old greeted me warmly with great eye contact and love in their voices. My entire experience here was most stirring and I was deeply moved. If I lived in this churches neighborhood, I’d probably check in here regularly.

Shrove Tuesday…Already?

We’ve made it through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and all of a sudden, we’re on the cusp of Lent. Sunday was the last Sunday after Epiphany and now we are on the verge of entering Lent with Ash Wednesday being tomorrow.

Just before Lent, there is Shrove Tuesday which is generally observed as a pancake supper. I suppose it’s our poor man’s version of Mardi Gras. These kinds of activities are good ways to see how friendly churches really are.

A Google search using the search terms “shrove Tuesday anchorage 2013” revealed only three churches in the Anchorage area offering Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers. These were the only Anchorage churches noted on the first three pages of a Google search. Most people would never look go further down in a search than looking at the first three pages. The churches I found are:

St. John UMC
Christ Church Episcopal
St. Mark Lutheran

Churches that don’t do a great job of keeping the public informed about their doings generally won’t make this list. For example, if the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper is only in their bulletin, but not on their website, it won’t be seen by the general public on Google.

For history and background of Shrove Tuesday click here for a link to Wikipedia.