Embers and Ice

Today is Ash Wednesday. If the week was unfolding according to my plans, I would have preached a sermon on idolatry this past Sunday, using the text from Exodus that describes the fashioning of a golden calf. We would have taken communion together, and it would have been a morning of preparation for this evening, when we would have had an Ash Wednesday bonfire at the farm of one of our members.

I told him I wanted a fire big enough that we should call the fire department ahead of time to let them know what we were doing. He was happy to oblige.

My thinking was we could spend significant time reflecting upon the idols we have on Sunday, then come prepared on Wednesday to symbolically cast pieces of wood into the flames as a preparatory ritual for the season of Lent.

As it is, we ended up canceling our Sunday service for the second time I can remember in the 8 years we’ve led this church. And we’ve cancelled this evening’s fire, as well.

It’s just too cold. Too snowy. Too icy. And there’s too much wind.

We’re still planning to do it…just during a different week.

But the experience has me reflecting.

Somewhere in this farmer’s field, the conditions have been prepared for an epic bonfire. Two truckloads of slabwood (the outer part of the log that can’t be used for other purposes) have been stacked, another load of old pallets that are no longer fit for other uses, along with who knows what else have been carefully arranged to produce a fire the size of a car in preparation for our ritual. All that’s lacking is the flame.

And yet, if I were to go to that field today, I’d see no evidence of this at all. I’d see snowy, wind-swept, barren space with no evidence of a possible fire. Though the conditions are right in one way…the fire is impossible to imagine in another way.
It’s safe to say it would take more than a match to get the fire started on the landscape of that frozen tundra today, February 18, 2015, in Holmes County Ohio.

The embers burn only in my mind; the flames have yet to become reality.

So it is, I think, with much that we call “faith” (and others call “foolishness”). The potential within our world (for good and for evil) is much greater than any one of us can imagine. The conditions have been prepared for goodness from the foundation of the earth…and the God who spoke this into being has pronounced it to be good.

And yet to hold out hope for the fires of God’s divine goodness to burn brightly and hotly seems ridiculous in the frozen tundra we inhabit. We do prefer our idols, because we prefer certainty when compared to true (uncertain) faith.

So, while it’s common to give something up for Lent (typically something fairly trivial; chocolate, facebook, certain television episodes or the like), the problem with simply giving something up doesn’t call forth a new vision of the fullness of life we hope for and are meant to pursue as Christian people.

Lent is too often entered as an exercise in futility, as if Christ died to help us overcome our sweet tooth, or our tendency to waste time.

This year I’m making a different change. At the risk of spiritualizing this decision by going public on Ash Wednesday, I am committing to run the Akron Marathon on September 26th of this year (2015). I have no time goal. My goal is simply to cross the starting line and the finish line under my own power.

This decision won’t help combat the ideological foundations of religious extremism or outright terrorism…it won’t help feed orphans in developing nations…it won’t even raise money for MCC to provide relief kits in Syria.

Rather, the change I seek this year is closer to home. I seek to change myself.

I seek to model for my infant son what good health looks like; what balance in life means.

I have a feeling, if this is anything like the half marathon I ran in 2012, that incorporating this challenge into my daily routine (being “in training”) will serve a variety of purposes. I will become healthier, mind, body, and, yes, soul. I will become more creative, and less likely to spend my free time in front of screens. I will become closer to God as the mileage increases (and I will likely cry out to God to make it stop at least once a week between now and then). I will become a better husband, a better father, a better leader, and a better Christian.

But I’d like some company on the journey, too. Are you willing to join me? I’ll probably post an occasional update on how my training is going. With a baby in the house, I’ve learned not to be overzealous in my commitments to doing anything regularly (besides my work)…so ‘blogging’ will not be a priority for me for the forseeable future.

But would you join me? Will you join me in running the Akron (OH) marathon on September 26th? Drop me a line if you’d like to change your life with me, beginning in Lent. There is power in numbers, and I’d love to see you at the starting line!

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