"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return"
On Ash Wednesday February 13th** my church participated in Ashes to Go again...our 2nd year to do so. A2G ( I just made that up, I have never seen the Ashes to Go people use that...but I am trying to seem young and cool because yesterday someone told me that I looked "just like 'Mary" and "Mary" is 90!!! I mean 90!!!) Anyway, A2G is a national effort started in Chicago and New York to take the imposition of Ashes to passersby on street corners. The idea being that "the church" needs to get out of her own walls and meet people where they are. And I LOVE it!
Last year I got a little flack for it on "the facebook" (see, now I'm just making a joke trying to sound like certain 90 year olds who call it the facebook). And I totally understand the criticism...well...maybe not totally understand.
I think the name is perhaps a barrier...Ashes to Go...to some folks seems like the solemnity of Ash Wednesday is being replaced by just a "drive through" attitude; I can see how that could be the unintended message. As the Old Testament lesson this coming Sunday illustrates, naming is POWERFUL. (Exodus 3:1-15) It sounds to some folks like those of us who are participating are saying "you don't really need to do the hard work of self examination that Lent demands. You don't really need the hard work of being in community with people. Just drive through and be "done" in 2 minutes" And goodness knows our culture LOVES shortcuts (and by our culture...I mean me who yells at the microwave to go faster.) And the Church has some responsibility to teach the lessons of slowing down, going deeper, making space in your life. Totally get that!
But having stood outside in my full on clergy drag/gear/outfit at a taco place for two Ash Wednesdays now, I can honestly say, Ashes to Go in my experience is quite meaningful. I have looked into the faces of young (not just trying to be young, but young) college students who have said things like 'this is so cool. Thank you so much. I have a class and can't get to church today" One young man asked me to pray with him about his upcoming chemistry test (O Lord! I'm not even sure I'm smart enough even to PRAY about chemistry).
Last year one of our oldest parishioners (not the one I look like apparently) drove up to the taco place and came over to me and cried and said "thank you so much, this is so great" In my well honed jumping ability (jumping to conclusions that is) I had assumed that since she was in her 80s she would be appalled at what I was doing. Silly me.
And yes our parish still offered 3 "regular" services that day (is there any such thing as a "regular" service? I mean we are joining in the union of Christ's body and blood every time we gather at the Communion table so I'm not sure that's ever "regular" but I digress...) But for too long "organized religion" (what is it with me and quotations marks today?) has stood off at a distance and said, "Hey, you over there, come to us." (OK that time the quotation marks were necessary.) I'm excited to be part of the Church at a time when I believe we have not only opportunities but mandates and a calling to do it all: traditional inside the church building services, ashes to go in a parking lot, twitter, facebook, and old school phone calls and post cards, all of it. Frankly...it's exhausting...but exciting most of all.
So maybe A2G helps us think about ways to be connected with people everywhere in lots of circumstances, people who are in fact too busy or maybe yes even too "lazy" to go to "church-church" but who are willing to experience a moment of quiet, a moment of prayer, a moment of connection in an unlikely place. And for me that's what church is all about..whether it's in a parking lot or a cathedral. And YES I know that the best the church has to offer, the best our Christian faith has to offer is being in community with each other, supporting, caring, holding accountable, worshiping, serving, all of that...absolutely! And no, 2 minutes in a parking lot wiping a little queso off your mouth while a stranger holds your hand and says a prayer isn't the same. But it's something.
It's some thing...I don't quite have a name for it...but it's some thing...some thing that matters. Blessed Lent to all.
** Seriously, Ash Wednesday was on February 13th this year. And so that means that Easter is March 31st! LORD have mercy indeed. Next year, Easter is April 20th...like God intended! ha!