Thursday, March 10, 2011
One of the more memorable lines from the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters” was when Bill Murray said, “I’ve been slimed”.
That line came to mind on the morning of Ash Wednesday as I walked to work. Contrary to what you might think, ethereal apparitions didn’t suddenly slide out of the railroad overpass on Main Street into my line of vision.
To be totally accurate, I wasn’t “slimed” this morning. I was “ashed”.
Evanston is definitely a town of churches. I visited 65 different congregations between January 1 of 2006 and January 1 of 2008, but I didn’t get to all of them. Altogether, there are 103 churches, which seems like a lot for a town of 70,000 people.
One of the churches that I DID visit was St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which is located less than two blocks from where I work.
On Ash Wednesday morning, two female priests from the congregation were administering ashes to whatever passersby wanted to accept them. Since I wasn’t sure what my schedule would be like that evening, I decided to take them up on their offer.
In addition to the ashes, I also received a postcard with some additional information about the congregation, and about the season of Lent.
One of the paragraphs on the card that they passed out really struck a chord. The exact words used were as follows:
“The ashes we receive here are to remind us throughout the day of our need for God, and of God’s call to us. There is much more to the beginning of Lent than ashes alone, and we encourage you to make time for worship with a community of faith, for the support of others and of the great traditions of faith in our work of repentance and renewal. This is the season when old worries and hurts may be released and healed.”
To rephrase that last sentence, Lent is a time that we can get rid of our old ghosts, and prepare for a new beginning.
Because of some of the life experiences that I've had, I've become more open-minded as I've gotten older, which is contrary to what happens to most people as they start to get grayer. As a result, I was delighted to receive ashes from an Episcopal priest this morning, for a couple of reasons:
(1) Not all mainline churches recognize female priests. Although the Roman Catholic Church has not permitted female priests since the 4th Century, there are other churches that follow the same philosophy.
The “liberal” arm of the American Lutheran Church, the ELCA, DOES allow female priests, and recently decided to permit non-celibate gay priests to lead congregations. The “traditional” Lutherans (the Missouri and Wisconsin synods) do not permit female priests.
As a general rule, Muslims also do not allow women to lead congregations in prayer.
In spite of some local opposition, there ARE places in America where female Roman Catholic priests celebrate mass, and there ARE places in the world where female imams are allowed to lead mixed congregations. To protect their privacy, I won’t tell you how many female priests there are in America, or where they are, but you can learn more about them by watching the movie “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican”, which will be released this spring
(2) the Episcopal Church is the only mainstream congregation (so far) to permit an openly gay man (Gene Robinson) to serve as a bishop. Before you pull out your Bible, and start flipping through Leviticus, I’d STRONGLY recommend that you go to amazon.com and BUY the movie about his life.
You can watch a preview of the movie at the link below:
For the Bible tells me so
The mission statement of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is as follows:
“St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is an inclusive, progressive Christian community. The congregation that gathers for worship reflects the diversity of our surrounding urban/suburban community. Celebrating the image of God in every person, we gladly welcome all individuals - regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, martial and familial status, mental and physical abilities, and religious background”.
Although I enjoy diversity, I don’t expect that all the churches in America should be as open and progressive as this church or the ELCA Lutheran church that I attend on a regular basis. However, I would like a lot fewer congregations like the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, which is officially listed as a hate group by many internet watchdog sites.
The first clear evidence of the commemoration of Ash Wednesday is around 960 A.D., and in the 12th Century, people began using palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday for ashes. Traditionally, the season of Lent that Ash Wednesday inaugurates is a time for reflection and sacrifice, and the season is considered to be a preparation for the renewal of the baptismal promises at Easter. Although Catholics can now eat meat on Fridays throughout most of the year, the season of Lent removes that privilege. Often forsaken during Lent are the little pleasures of life (candy, smoking, alcohol etc.) but modern society has created some interesting twists. I’ve recently heard about people giving up Facebook for Lent. Although it might seem a little silly at first, the reality is that most of us spend a little more time than we should in front of our computers, and I have to admit that I started going through withdrawal symptoms when my internet service went away a few weeks ago for three days. Yikes!
Although I really didn’t feel any physical change come over me after I got the smudge on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, I DID feel a stronger sense of calm. Even though they were the same ashes that I've always received, they somehow gave me a different attitude this year. Now that I’ve got my ashes , I ain’t afraid of no ghosts