My 2011 Lenten Disciplines

I’m about a week late in posting them, but here are my disciplines for Lent this year:

1.) Pray daily for two friends. This is a communal discipline that we’re doing at Upper Room. We’re all committing ourselves to two people who don’t yet know Jesus. There are two particular people I’m praying for. Since I don’t want to break any confidentialities, I won’t post their names here. Along with praying for them, I’m planning on taking intentional steps at deepening our friendships.

2.) Meditate daily on a passage from Mark the Ascetic. This is also a communal discipline that I”m doing with folks from the House of St. Michael the Archangel.

3.) Full fasts starting after dinner Thursday evening and ending at dinner Friday evening. This one’s pretty much self-explanatory, though I will say that I’m terrible at fasting. There have been multiple times in the past when I’ve remembered that I was fasting while placing a handful of potato chips in my mouth. With my marathon training schedule, Friday is really the only day I can fast, and even then I’ll need to eat dinner that night before going to bed since I’ll be running 5 miles every Saturday morning. At one point, I seriously considered just letting my marathon training be my Lenten discipline, but that felt like a copout.

4.) I anticipate that this will be the hardest one. It’s kind of complicated, and maybe more of an experiment than a discipline, but here it is: I’m giving up driving alone for distances less than 5 miles. About 2 or 3 months ago, I had the idea of giving up my car altogether for Lent after reading Shane Claiborne’s suggestion in Common Prayer to try going “fuel free” for 1 week. However, I soon decided that was unreasonable. I had completely forgotten about the idea until last week on Ash Wednesday when, due to some poor planning on my end, I found myself without a car at Quiet Storm in Garfield and needing to get to CMU and then back home. I didn’t have exact change for bus fare, so I had to walk. So, I decided maybe this was God’s way of telling me to take up this discipline. Here are the rules I’ve set:

– If I’m going somewhere that is less than 5 miles from my house, I have to either walk, bike or take public transportation.

– I’m allowed drive within that distance if I’m providing a ride to somebody else.

– I’m allowed to drive by myself if going somewhere more than 5 miles away. (I call this the “public transportation in Pittsburgh if awful” clause.)

– I’m not allowed to ask others for a ride if it takes them out of their way. But if they offer, I can accept.

My original purpose behind the discipline was environmental stewardship. Now that I’m a week into it, though, I’m discovering that the real blessing I’m experiencing behind it is a slower pace. Having to walk or take a bus means that I can’t rush from one meeting to another (as I’m prone to doing). Taking the time to walk or sit on the bus is giving me space to think, process conversations, let ideas digest, and pray. Several times now, I’ve found myself praying the Jesus Prayer while walking, modifying it to pray blessings on the people/places I see. (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on ________”) On Sunday evening, I took a prayer book with me and prayed evening vespers as I walked.

I’ll try to post more about these disciplines as Lent continues. God grant us all a Holy Lent!

My Poem/Sermon on Romans 5:12-19

Yesterday at Upper Room, I preached a sermon on Romans 5:12-19 and Genesis 3:1-7. Early on, I decided that I should write this sermon in a unique. So, I wrote a poem. Or at least something resembling a poem. Reading poetry, especially my own, was a new experience for me, and I found it very different from preaching. I felt much more exposed and vulnerable.

The sermon/poem was well-received – maybe just because it was significantly shorter than most of my sermons, but hopefully because it spoke to people’s hearts. The text of the sermon is below, but I suggest reading the Romans and Genesis passages first so that it makes sense.


You made us… for a garden.

Soil and clay fashioned by divine hands and Spirit-breathed into life,

Made to cultivate and till with the Gardener.

Made to be fruitful and multiply

Made to fill and subdue.

Made not to be alone, but together.

Made to hear your footsteps in the cool of the day,

and come running to meet You,

arms open and nothing to hide,

swooped up in your love and laughing in shared delight.

Made to enjoy Your garden together.

Made for satisfaction.

Made for life.


But we chose death.


Adam and Eve reached for that fruit

grasping for equality with you.

The trees that you gave us were not enough

we wanted more.

Being who we are wasn’t enough

we had to be like You.

Life wasn’t enough

we wanted life and knowledge of good and evil…

… and we lost them both.


We chose death.

The garden where once we delighted in love

became a place for hiding and fear.

Your presence ceased to be our delight

Your presence became our dread.


And we spiraled down.

One disobedience leading to others.

Brother kills brother.

Brother steals brother’s birthright.

Brothers sell brother into slavery and traffic brother to Egypt.


And death reigned.


And death reigns.


Death reigns over children robbed of childhood,

toys pried from their fingers and replaced with guns,

forced to kill for the sake of a man they do not know

and a movement they did not start.


Death reigns over women and girls locked up in brothels

forced to do whatever men please,

men who are prisoners themselves –

captive to death disguised as desire.


Death reigns over the child in the sweatshop –

fingers-worn and soul-wearied,

Just so we can afford to keep up with the fashions

and pretend to look like our silver-screen gods.


Death reigns over the girls and boys

who worship these silver-screen gods –

air-brushed idols who demand lives,

starving their followers of food and self-esteem.


Death reigns over the woman abused by her husband,

hiding her bruises and fears from the world around her

and trying to keep an illusion of perfection,

hoping vainly that things will change by remaining the same.


Death reigns over the consumer

coming home from the store with shopping bags

filled with high-fructose poison

that slowly turns our own cells against us.


Death reigns over suburbia –

neighborhoods of half-furnished mansions

freshly mowed and pristine on the outside,

hiding the debt and threats of foreclosure within.


Death reigns over our relationships.

We desire connection without vulnerability.

So we give up on people

and seek community on a computer screen.


Death reigns over our love.

Wanting control, we kill those we love

through actions and words, withholding affection

and, without knowing it, denying love for ourselves.

Our murderous plans become a suicide.


Death reigns

leaving us alone in a self-dug grave

of guilt, emptiness and despair;

life-sapped and soul-drained.


Death reigns

leaving us in a graveyard of doubt

afraid to pray

afraid to love


Death reigns like an oppressive regime

Mocking their captors into hopeless skepticism

Doing all that they can to rob us of hope,

convincing us that the truest realities are doubt and depression


How can this regime be defeated?

Who will free us from this oppressor?

Can an enemy this strong be defeated by anything

but an army of strength and force?


We longed for You.

And You came.

But you didn’t send an army.

You sent Christ into this world

not with gun or sword in his hand,

but with a free gift.


Christ came to undo what Adam did

by not doing what Adam did.

Christ didn’t grasp for equality with You.

Christ made himself nothing.


Christ hangs on the cross

arms open and nothing to hide

swooping us up again in his love,

taking our sin, our doubt and despair.


Christ hangs on the cross

And we hang with him.

Christ dies.

And we die with him.


Our guilt

Our doubt

Our despair


All dead with Christ


Death thinks that it’s won

Death thinks that it reigns

But death died on the cross, too.


Death is dead and Christ is alive

The free gift is an empty tomb.

The free gift is a new relationship.

The free gift is new possibilities


The free gift has a message attached:

“Death does not reign.”

Christ reigns.

Hope reigns.

Life reigns.


Life reigns and sends the Spirit

breathing fresh breath into dry, weary souls.

Redeeming our love and raising our spirits


Hope reigns and sends Christ’s light,

piercing itself into dark rooms and cells.

Undoing shackles and revealing true beauty.


Christ reigns and stands among us

Next to the griever, the patient, the victim.

Next to the buried, calling them up.


Life reigns. And brings freedom.

Freedom to pray

Freedom to love

Freedom to return to the place we belong.


Life reigns.

But life is not like death.

Life is not an oppressor.

Life is a free gift.


Christ reigns and stands among us,

extending to us in nail-pierced hands

the free gift.

Himself. Life.


Life is for us to choose.

And to take it,

all we have to do is die.


Christ, we choose life.

Amen. Amen. Amen.