Feb 22, 2007

a day in the life of me: ash wednesday

It's interesting how in one day so many things can happen.

I meet with the different staff people I do life and ministry with three times a month collectively and on a bi-weekly basis individually. One of those one-on-one times involves me meeting with our worship leader Mike at a local grocery story called Buehler's, a very unique store that has everything from an outside conveyor belt for your groceries to be picked up once you buy them to a child care facility while you shop. They also have a restaurant inside, and so that's where we grab grub every other week. Yesterday we spent a good chunk of time figuring out some ideas for services and got some good work done.

Since the store does have so much, I planned on buying some leaves via the floral departent (after my breakfast) to use for a small Ash Wednesday opportunity we were going to offer our church. The only problem is that when I went over to the floral department, I quickly learned from all the employees that the leaves I was going to buy don't burn... they smoke (which is a bad habit, I think, for leaves). They quickly told me I should go to the local Hobby Lobby to buy some dried leaves, and so I left.

Keep in mind that I had exactly 60 minutes at this point until my mini-service at a local Panera Bread (because we don't have weekday meeting space for our church).

As a side note, next month our church is doing a series called "Heroes," a chance for us to examine the heroes of our culture and the heroes of the Bible in order to understand the great role we get to play in God's world. I'd checked out a whole bunch of CDs from the library on applicable movies and TV shows, one of which was the soundtrack to the show "24." It just happened to be in the player as I drove around town, and so suddenly I found myself feeling a little Jack Bauer-ish as the clock kept ticking and the music set the pace.

Taking a clue from Jack, I grabbed by cell phone to call Chloe. Er, I mean... the local Catholic churches in town. I figured if anyone would have some extra ash, it'd be them.

First call:

"Hello, this is Father ________ from St. _________ ________."

"Hi there! My name is Tony Myles and I'm a local pastor in town. This is kind of an odd request, but I was wondering if you could spare some of your materials for Ash Wednesday. I'm doing a small thing for some of my people in just a little bit."

"Oh, no I really can't. I have two more services to do and am already running out."

"Oh, no problem. Thanks for your time."

"Try Holy _______ - they usually have some extra ashes."

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

Second call:

"Hi there! My name is Tony Myles and I'm a local pastor in town. This is kind of an odd request, but I was wondering if you could spare some of your materials for Ash Wednesday. I'm doing a small thing for some of my people in just a little bit."

"Oh, I see... well, we do have a lot but unfortunately the father isn't here right now to approve it. I'd like to help, because we have a lot to spare. I just can't without his permission."

"No problem."

"You should try the religious store off I71 - it's about a half hour away."

"Thanks, but I probably couldn't make it in time."

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

I made it to Hobby Lobby and walked around 10 minutes before finding the dried floral area. There were two leafy products - basil and something else. I went with the "something else," because I figured too many people would know what basil smelled like and it would be a distraction. Quickly snagging a pot that looked like it was made in the first century (which they all do at Hobby Lobby), I hopped into line. The conversation in front of me went like this:

Customer lady: "Oh... I think... this might be on sale...."

Checkout lady: "Yes... I think... it is... let's see...

Customer lady: "It's... in one of... the aisles... in the back,.."

Chekout lady: "Maybe... yeah... maybe... maybe... I should call someone... yeah... I think I'll call someone..."

Customer lady: "Oh... you're going to call... someone?"

Checkout lady: "I think I should... don't you think I should... call someone?"

Customer lady: "Can't you... find it in the ad?"

Checkout lady: "Well... I looked... do you want to look? Maybe if you look... you know... you'll find it...

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

By the time I got out of the store, I had 15 minutes left with the music from 24 swirling in my head. Now I had to find a place to burn some leaves.

Yes... I know how that sounds.

I found the back alley of a nearby storefront that I hopped out to play with fire. Thankfully, I had a clicker lighter and a small bottle of olive oil handy (that eventually helps the ashes become the mixture it's supposed to) for this moment. Yet as I tried to light the dried leaves, they only turned black.

Black... no ash.

Meanwhile, I smelled smoke elsewhere. Turns out someone was smoking a cigarette out of the back door of their store. I'd never see a face - just a little hand would pop out a little cigarette out a little crack, occasionally adding an exhale of smoke. I wondered which looked more odd... this display of a secret addiction or me, hunched over by my mini-van with a first century piece of potter, trying to light some leaves on fire with a clicker lighter, with a bottle of olive oil nearby that the passerby would assume had some unique role in all of this.

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

Time ran out.. no ash... just black leaves. So I drove to the nearby Panera and went into the room and waited.

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

11:30am... no one. This is when it started.

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

11:35am... still no one. "Hmm... maybe no one is coming... maybe I won't look so foolish."

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

11:40am... "I'm definitely in the clear here."

Clock: - Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick -

11: 43am... a van pulls up. "Busted."

We had four of us altogether in that room... I gave them the option to go to the local Catholic church for the real deal or to stay for an olive oil only annointing. They stayed... it was pretty awesome, too.

Afterward I boogied over to meet another local pastor for lunch. He treated... it was Chinese... it was good. I learned a lot from him about the area in that chat, and I think made a new friend. I'm all about co-laboring with other churches in town, so this was a very cool move over two hours of chow (but not chow mein).

I headed home, did a piece of writing, and took care of an email from someone who thinks Ash Wednesday is something we shouldn't dabble with because it's "Catholic" (his opinion), I shared a bit about how Jesus busted through religious boxes and how we need to redeem all things, too, and then helped get some things ready around the house for the babysitter coming. My wife and I were joining most of our staff for a concert in nearby Cleveland... we saw Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Louie Giglio on the Indescribable tour.
If you haven't heard Louie's talk on this, you really should check it out. It was a full concert, and so when we got back it was around 11pm. On the way I realized I'd forgotten to tape LOST and was very thankful that ABC lets you watch them online for free. My wife and I chatted quite a bit about how small we are, how blessed we've become, and the humility of doing life with people instead of gutting it out on our own.

I've mentioned this before, but the song "Blessed Be Your Name" has had healing value in my family's life over the past two years. As my wife and I sang it tonight, we realized how freeing it is to sing that song on the upside when you've been in the downside. I don't know how that sounds to you, because maybe you're in that downside right now. But for us - having just come out of it - it makes the upside a big more humbling than when you live life with a sense of entitlement.

This is my favorite picture of the day... a row of people - some staff, some their spouses - that I get to be sharpened by as we love people forward toward Jesus Christ. Coming from where I've been to where I am now, I am so floored by the grace of God who holds us all together.
It's a bit awkward at times, especially when I wonder how long the good times will last and if I should be waiting for the whole thing to burn down.
And yet I was reminded on this day that sometimes things don't burn away to ashes... even when you try.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:36)


Casey said...

First off- WHEW! What a day. Cracking up at the '24' reference.

Second of all- Been to the tour- FANTASTIC. The worship was awesome, but the talk- WOW!! Totally rocked my "small" world!

Third of all- Blessed Be Your Name is the song (above all other songs) that has continuted to minister to my family time and again.

There is a long story behind it that I won't take up comment space to tell. But every time I sing that song I am blown away by the goodness of the Lord- even in bad times He is still good.

stephanie said...

I'm an in awe of the way to see life. It beautiful to read about.

Carolanne said...

You know, even being on the "downside" before coming up, that song is still great because it gives hope. What a great concert to have been at and it is so encouraging to know that you and your wife are .... healing and appreciating all that you are learning now and have learned because of your "past".
(I hope I've explained that right.)