Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Thoughts for Ash Wednesday 2024

 Ash Wednesday in mainline churches has historically been a liturgical day of repentance.  Many in non-Christian space or who have abandoned Christianity have expressed different issues with the Church and some, more specifically to do with penitence.  Without doubt criticism is not without merit, most especially in some of the ways it has gotten used to extract money in exchange for the forgiveness granted.  (As if the Church could have ever laid claim to granting what only God can give.)

I have a different take on repentance related to Ash Wednesday.  Most human beings have an internal sense of right and wrong that we call conscience.  Humans with emotional intelligence have the ability to experience guilt.  For most, guilt arises from one of three places: from within the self toward the self, from perceived wrongs done to or by other humans, and from perceived wrong done to/from the community or environment in which we live.  There is no need to be "Christian" to have experienced all three of these types of disjointedness with others. Sensitive souls would feel bad for having hurt another person, their community, or the planet.  A few super sensitive souls just walk around knowing they've hurt something or someone even if they can't name it. 

What the Christian tie-in is is the approach of how this "breach" is dealt with. Classic theology came up with a variety of ways to "restore" the wrong.  Many of these ways largely use a disconnected spiritual scapegoat (Jesus dying for our sins) rather than advocating any tangible "getting one's hands dirty" work to do.  But before we can get to restoring there is a first step of recognizing the wrong.  Ash Wednesday should be an annual date on the calendar when churches encourage folks to take an inventory of their conscience in a collective way.  Individual recollection of wrongs happen day by day or week by week but the collective meeting together, I propose, is the place for calling up the sin of the larger wholes -- the collective us that we do together-- the church, our city/county/nation/world.  

There are a huge array of collective sins that could be laid on the table, too many to name here.  I would argue that a large chunk of the animosity toward the Church is rooted in how the Church often has not taken the step to own the wrong, much less tried to address making amends to restore relationship. The Church, has not been particularly good at calling out the breaches and far too often has only sided with the oppression and harm-doing.  To make it worse, a large swath of Christianity is now taking up an anti-Jesus mantra to not feed, clothe, care for "the least of these." 

So, this year for Ash Wednesday may we take stock of the masses who are being wronged and reflect together on what tangibly can be done. And may we all keep before us a basic human guiding principle: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."