Archive for Lent

Pause

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , on April 20, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

I didn’t get to do a Lenten series this year because a lot of things went completely out of my control. Schoolwork and research totally consumed my life, and I barely had time to sit down and decompress before I had to move onto something else. It seemed like my world was crashing down around me, and on top of all of the academic pressures, there was the pressure not to get sick, and to turn in certain applications on time, not to mention find funding for an upcoming trip to Europe and just general trying to figure life out stuff.

But I overheard something a few weeks ago that I didn’t get around to blogging until today. I can’t remember where I heard it, or even who said it, but I remember that this person was talking about their home church. This person said that their pastor had said that Lent isn’t a season of giving up or taking on something, but rather it was a period of reflection. We must take these 40 days and do some deep soul-searching. We must pause, even if only for 10 minutes out of our day, and think about the gravity of what is to come.

Currently, it is finals week at Wartburg College. There are so many tests that need to be taken and papers and projects that need to be completed, that we forget it is also Holy Week. Tomorrow is Maunday Thursday, the day after is Good Friday, and Sunday is Easter.

What have I done for Lent? I gave up my personal Twitter account, and made an effort to not be so much of a jerk. The former has been going strong, but the latter has faltered, mostly because it’s hard to change one’s personality in a day. But while I made a conscious effort to better myself, I also failed to take the time to sit down and let myself just be in the presence of the world.

During this Holy Week, with everything that is going on that needs your immediate attention, don’t forget to find a quiet place, even for 10-15 minutes, and just let your mind wander. Clear your mind, and reflect on what the world has given you. You don’t need to be looking for any epiphanies, nor do you need to be mediating on a certain word for phrase. Just let life happen for a little bit. It’s amazing what you can find when you silence those reminders and looming deadlines.

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Lenten Focus #6 — Go

Posted in religion with tags , , on March 31, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is the final part of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. Honestly, I do. The only thing stopping me is my non-existent desire to run. Running is probably my least favorite thing to do in the world, so I rarely, if ever, run. I think the last time I ran was across the street, since I thought I could be a car across the intersection. I beat it, of course.

As much as I hate running, I also hate sitting still. I feel like I always have to be on the move, especially when I’m sitting in a class I don’t like. If I could just be able to move around more than crossing and uncrossing my legs during class (maybe Fruit Basket Upset in the middle of a lecture?), I would be more responsive to the material. But it is precisely my restlessness that gives me the energy to apply myself, albeit many times in the wrong areas.

The chaplain of the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir when I was in it was a man by the name of Karsten. One night, during our nightly devotional, he was telling us about being installed in the first church he was called to. The sermon that day, written by the head pastor, was entitled “Go,” in reference to Karsten’s personality of “Gotta keep moving, gotta keep going, gotta keep trucking ahead.”

And really, how many of us can honestly say that we aren’t constantly moving in our lives? I know for myself, each day is filled with classes, homework, rehearsals, lessons, meals, walking, sitting, reading, as well as blinking and breathing when I can fit it in. And with all of my semesters from now until graduation being overloaded so I can finish in four years, my life will be busier than ever.

Go, go, go.

Reflecting on it, though, we should already be moving and going with the Spirit of Christ. In today’s society, there is so much focus on the self, and not enough focus on others. For students, our schedules are jam-packed for nine months, and then we get a quick three-month reprieve before jumping back into it again.

Go, go, go.

We should be taking that break, and using it as an opportunity to go out into the world and show people the True Light of Christ. We should just be so moved with the Holy Spirit that it’ll take several herds of wild elephants to get us to stop what we’re doing and go back to the grind of work and school.

I’m willing to make this personal sacrifice if you are. We should all be making the sacrifice of ourselves since, as followers of Christ, we are not ourselves, but rather we are the people that we serve. If we are the least of these, we will be first into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s imperative that we serve others, as that is the whole message of Jesus: to love, to serve, to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

It’s a simple charge today: Go. Make a difference in the world.

Because of the holiday, there will be no posts on Friday or Monday. Happy Easter!

Lenten Focus #5 — Why Are You Going?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , on March 24, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part five of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

I once read a study that said that most people who go into Psychology subconsciously want to figure out what is going on with them. They go into the field because they feel like something is wrong with them, and by working with and through other people, they can figure out what is wrong and fix it. This study also said that this practice is detrimental to the clients, as they are secondary to the needs of the self.

This whole Lenten period, I’ve been focusing these blogs on who we are, what our message is, and where we’re going, but I’ve never really addressed why. The short answer is I don’t really know why. The old saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways,” but the human mind wants to reason with the mystery. It is against human nature to just accept a statement as is; there has to be a reason, and there has to be a motive, and there can be no other answer.

Part of the reason this question comes up today is because it is the 20th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who, on this day, was assassinated during the Eucharist, in a small hospital chapel in El Salvador.

For those who are unaware of this significance (of which I was one until earlier today), Archbishop Romero was one of those conservative priests who refused to acknowledge the economic and social justice message of the Catholic Church at the time. His appointment of Archbishop was met with great protest, as no one wanted someone like him leading the people, someone who was less focused on the needs of the poor.

Until March 12.

On that day, Archbishop Romero saw his best friend and colleague, Father Rutilio Grande, shot and killed in the streets of El Salvador. Looking at the corpse of his best friend, Romero said to himself, “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.”

It was on that day that Archbishop Romero completely turned himself around, fighting for the rights of the poor, assisting them, protecting them, and preaching to them. This eventually led to his assassination, the day after he gave a sermon telling all Christian soldiers to lay down their arms and to stop violating basic human rights.

Archbishop Romero’s story brings up a lot of questions: why did he suddenly turn himself around? Why would anyone want someone who helps the poor dead? Why, why, why?

What do psychologists and Oscar Romero have to do with today’s message? Today’s message is a somber one, and one that is unfortunately untrue with many people today.

I have a few megachurch pastors’ sermons as podcasts, and one week, I noticed that all of the pastors had the same subtext in a single statement that they made in their sermons: I am a pastor because I was guilty of how I was living. This is like the psychologists who get their doctorates to diagnose themselves. Pastors who are guilty for their sins are going to seminary because they feel that by doing so, they will be forgiven of their sins.

As the old saying goes, this is like buying an airplane because you want the free peanuts.

In order to follow Christ, we must live like Christ, and in order to live like Christ, we must be willing to die to and for Christ. Archbishop Romero died a martyr because he bought into the message of Jesus Christ: Love God with everything you got, and love your neighbor.

Glenn Beck, a man I simultaneously abhor and admire, said that if you belong to a religious institution that is big on social justice, you must get out of that institution as quickly as possible, because anyone for social justice is a socialist, a fascist, and a Communist, all wrapped up into one.

If this is true, then Jesus Christ is the biggest socialist/fascist/Communist/progressive liberal the world has ever seen, and millions upon millions of people follow him every single day.

Ask yourself: why are you on this journey with Christ? Is it because you are guilty of something you did? Or is it because you have died to Him, and are ready to go and change the world for the better?

Lenten Focus #4 — What Is Your Message?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part four of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Politicians will be the first to tell you that everyone has an agenda. It doesn’t matter what party you belong to, or where you live, or what you do for a career, you will always have a different slant on a subject as anyone else you’ll ever meet.

The biggest problem with this is that most of the time, it’s impossible to be objective about things. I try my best on this blog to not throw in any of my personal views into the things I write about, but sometimes it’s my viewpoint on a subject that makes me want to write about it.

The same thing happens with the message of Jesus. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus clearly lays out the two most important commandments: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a simple, straightforward message that should be fairly easy to follow.

But then come in all the baises. Many people today largely ignore how simple this commandment is. They take this commandment and filter it through the rigid rules and regulations of the Old Testament (which we all know, according to Hebrews 8:13, has been rendered useless), turning the commandment into “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself, unless your neighbor is gay, an adulturer, or of another belief system. Then it is okay to hate them until they earn your love by converting to Christianity.”

The message of love becomes lost in everything that goes on in the world. The news is inundated with stories of death, disease, famine, war, infidelity, and all sorts of hatred: Parties hating other parties, nations hating other nations, with no end in sight.

It is imperative to remember those two simple commandments for what they are: a message of pure and unconditional love.

What does this have to do with you? You have an agenda, whether you like it or not. Use it to your advantage, and spread a message of love to the people who will listen to you. A pro-war message of love is different than an antiwar message. A vegetarian message of love is different than a carnivorous message. Men are different than women, the old different from the young. Take this message of Jesus, this message of love everyone no matter who they are or where they come from, and spread it across the world.

Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a message. Find one that works for you.

Lenten Focus #3 — What Is Your Calling?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part three of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two.

In the Lutheran faith, when someone is considering going into the ministry, they’re told to look at their Inner Calling and their Outer Calling. The Inner Calling is easy to describe: it is that feeling inside of you that is pulling you in a certain direction. It could be your interests or hobbies, it could be something you feel passionate about, or it could be something that’s always been on your mind, but you haven’t quite decided what to do about it. It’s an inner burning, and inner desire, that you can’t exactly explain.

The Outer Calling is a little more challenging; a person’s Outer Calling is the social environment that they are exposed to. Friends, family, random people on the street, all of it affects the Outer Calling. This sort of calling is a little harder to pick up, because there are so many sources, but generally, if there is one thing people consistently say about you, it is more than likely your Outer Calling.

The belief is that if you Inner Calling and your Outer Calling are in sync, then that is what you are being called to be. I’ve seen this sort of experience as I reflect on my own life. Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m being called into some sort of ministry, and I’m now realizing that I’ve been hearing the Outer Call for most of my life.

I remember in the summer of 2006, when I was on tour with the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir, during a concert in Spicer, MN. We were at the point in the concert where the members of the choir scattered themselves into the audience and sang a hymn with them. I found a couple of ladies in the third row on the right side. I picked them because it was close to where I was standing when we were to surround the audience for the final song. I sat next to these ladies, and we had a couple of moments to chat it up. The first thing one of the ladies said to me was, “We were just talking about you, and we’ve decided what you should do with your life!”

It was disconcerting, because I had never talked to these ladies before–never even met these ladies before!–and they had already figured out what I was supposed to do with my life. I tried to think back to what I had done during the course of the concert and tried to figure out what they thought I should do. Really, the only things I had done during the concert was sing, and some narration during the musical that occurs halfway between the “formal” part of the concert. What possible career paths could they pick out of that? Professional musician? Professional choir member? I had no idea.

I decided to humor them. “I’ve been trying to figure that out,” I said. “What should I do?”

“You should be a pastor,” they said. And then we sang the hymn, sang our final song, and left. I never saw those ladies again, even though I was in the choir for two more years, and we were in Spicer for those two years. But that statement sticks with me, even to this day.

After first hearing about it, I laughed it off and said I’d look into it. Being a pastor wasn’t something that I had been considering. It was during that time that I was having some trouble with this whole Christianity thing, and if I was having problems with something I believed in, why should I become a leader of it?

But after continuing to reflect on it, I’ve realized that it was one of the most direct instances of the Outer Calling I’ve had yet. Those two ladies saw something that I had been ignoring. I gave a couple of sermons and children’s sermons before being in MASLC, and once I started college, I’ve been having this desire to give a talk, to have my message heard by the world. My Inner Calling appears to be leading me to a life of ministry, and the Outer Calling only seems to be stronger as I work on my Inner Calling.

The question this week is: what is your calling? What is your inner burning desire that you can’t rid yourself from no matter how hard you try? What are the people around you saying about you, or edging you toward? And how can you take these callings and turn it into something beautiful in your life?

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Lenten Focus #2 — Where Are You Going?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , on March 3, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part two of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Click here to read part one.

In my little bubble of Wartburg College, I’m getting the same sort of response from all of my classmates: I need to get out of Iowa.

Being a Minnesota boy, Iowa has been my escape: it’s been an escape from my family, from my hometown, but more importantly to be, my old life, the life where I was just the creepy kid who didn’t get out much (compared to Wartburg, where I’m the kinda creepy kid who is everywhere). I know Wartburg is an escape for a lot of people, but for some reason, everyone I know feels stuck.

It’s great to know that I’m not the only one who just wants to pack up and travel somewhere. The burning and yearning for somewhere to go is infecting everyone, and everyone wants to go out and see the world. But there are only so many places one can go with a limited budget and world of responsibilities.

As we celebrate Lent and reflect on our Faith Journey, we might be surprised to see that our yearning for world travel is somehow related to our yearning for faith travel. Speaking only for myself, part of my longing to see the world comes from a subconcious yearning to help the world. I feel that by seeing the sights and seeing the people, I’ll be more inclined to witness and tell of the Good News. It’s not my primary goal, but I feel that by showing unconditional love and compassion, I’ll be able to set a great example of the Christian faith, and in turn, bring someone to realize that faith, and have them become a believer.

But in order to get there, I have to leave here. I have to leave everything comfortable and familiar and boring and throw myself into an unknown world. If that’s simply driving to another state with no other real purpose than to just drive there, so be it. If it’s taking a cue from the movie Yes Man (starring Jim Carrey) and buying a plane ticket to the next flight that’s leaving, so be it.

There are so many opportunities to travel and expose yourself to the world, but all of them require leaving your comfort zone. “I want to be a world traveler, but I don’t want to leave my comfortable bed and all of my friends, and the familiar fast food joints.” Then, you’re stuck. Comfort zones are way too comfortable to get anything out of them.

I’m reminded of something that happened when I was still in high school, involving my church and mission trips. I can’t remember the exact scenario, but some people in my church were making a big deal out of the youth traveling so far away from home to do service. (I believe that at this point, the youth had gone to Vancouver, BC, Canada; Brooklyn, NY; and had just returned from San Antionio, TX and were preparing for another long haul.) I remember one of the older members standing up and saying: “Why does the youth have to travel so far away? There are plenty of opportunities to serve here! Why not just stay in town and help out our community?”

I forget the exact words of my youth leader at that time, but his reasoning was something along these lines: if we stay in town and help out people we know, we’re doing the youth a disservice. The whole point of missions work is to be outside of that comfort zone and to expose oneself to different situations and different cultures to know the many different ways to help. It’s way too easy to throw money at something, and it’s way too easy to say, “Someone else will help them.” It’s an entirely different thing to travel for three days in a 15-passenger van across the country without any opportunities for a shower, and being totally stripped of all conveniences, and relying solely on God and one another for support and help while simultaneously showing the people you encounter the best example you can of love, comfort, and care.

So take a moment today and reflect: are you feeling stuck? Are you feeling like you just need to go out into the world and do something? Do you feel called to make a difference in someone’s life?

Then take these words from Jesus to heart: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Lenten Focus #1 — Who Are You?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

On Monday, 22 February, Dr. Lee Nelson gave the faculty chapel talk. He discussed the different attitudes people can have on their faith. I asked for a copy of his talk and his permission to use it in this blog, because it absolutely fascinated me, and I definitely wasn’t going to try and remember it.

In his talk, he discussed the different faith styles of Moses, Ruth, and Thomas. Moses, as we all know, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and Dr. Nelson described Moses as “a robust leader, a man of faith… full of talent, energy, and ambition.” No matter what sort of challenges were put in his way, Moses found a way to overcome them. When they were hungry, he found food. When they rebelled, Moses provided a voice of reason. Moses was everything a leader needed to be, because he knew that God was ever-present, and would guide him to their destination.

Ruth, on the other hand, was a woman of incredible faith. She stayed with Naomi, even though Naomi urged her to flee to a better life. She submitted herself fully to Naomi, vowing, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16b) And she did stay, and she took great care of Naomi. She wasn’t the great and powerful leader like Moses, but she remained faithful and subservient, completely selfless, and with no desire for recognition.

“Robust Moses… Faithful Ruth… Doubting Thomas…”

“Doubting Thomas” is a term that is commonly used in the English language, and it all stems back to Biblical times, when Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) Jesus, of course, appeared to Thomas, showed him his hands and his side, and Thomas, after seeing this, became the first person in the Bible to refer to Jesus as “God.”

Then the question was asked:

Who are you?  Are you a robust Moses, a person of talent, courage, vision and confidence? … Or are you [Ruth,] a bearer of other’s burdens, faithful, loving and well-doing? …  Or perhaps you are a Thomas, not quite sure who God is or what this cross means.  Maybe you wrestle with God like Jacob or test God like the Israelites or betray God like Peter – all of which would put you in the company with Thomas.

Personally, I can see myself in all of these roles. My faith life tends to have varying degrees of strength on any given day. This summer I felt like a Moses. I felt like I was called to do something important, and I started to plan a great excursion, hitchhiking across the country, spreading the Word of God, being fully dependant on God and doing everything in my power to fully rely on him.

While I was working at camp, and even occasionally today, I was more of a Ruth. I keep to myself, working on developing and strengthening my faith. At night, I read the Bible on my BlackBerry, never in any particular order, but just reading, learning more about this Jesus guy. Sometimes, I do my reflecting by just thinking about God. I was challenged one summer to try and find God in something throughout my day, be it the scraper I use to get ice off my windshield, a squirrel running across campus, or even the clouds my breath makes in the cold.

But mostly, I feel like I’m Thomas. I’m relavitely new to making my faith my own. I grew up in a household that went to church, but I never really felt connected to it, because I felt like I was asking too many questions and not getting enough answers to be a “Good Christian.” Even today, as I’m working and building my faith, I’m asking so many questions. Sometimes I question if my faith is the “right one.” Sometimes I question why there are such terrible representatives of my faith.

Mostly, though, I question if I’m on par with what God wants, which is really a stupid question to ask. Of course I’m on par with what God wants, because what God wants is for me to question, to seek answers, and to develop and strengthen my faith. And as long as I’m doing that, I’ll never be off course.

The question I pose today is: Who are you? Are you Moses, Ruth, Thomas, or something in between?