Ash Wednesday and Going Home
Note: I wrote this last year after a trip home. Since then, I’ve moved to a new home in a new state. I think, more than ever, that it was good for me to reconnect with old friends. I’ve found in the past year that my life continues to be enriched by that conversation and time together. I hope that this Lenten season I will find new ways to journey both towards the cross with Jesus and inward to a better understanding of the whole of who I was created to be. I think we can all benefit from that dual journey.
Home Is Where You Come From
Long before Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, Jesus of Nazareth stood in his hometown synagogue and said, “A prophet is never welcomed in his hometown.” Both of these statements make sense. To be able to speak prophetically indicates some ability to speak outside the culture, to offer perspective. Of course, those who are inside the culture are hesitant to accept that prophetic voice and will do what they can to tear it down. Or, as in the case with Jesus, when he seeks to offer a prophetic voice to his hometown (Luke 4), the townspeople try to throw him off a cliff.
I spent the past week in the town of my birth. I realized I hadn’t lived there in over 10 years. In the past five years, I’ve only made it out to Lubbock, Texas, once a year or so to visit my parents and grandparents. Normally those trips are wonderfully full of intentional time for my children to spend time with family they don’t see very often; we shape the trips around the children. This time, I went alone to spend some time with my grandfather. I also made it a point while I was there to see two of my good friends, one from high school and one from college.
I am extremely glad that I did. As I sat with these two friends, I realized that they knew parts of me that no one else knew, parts of me that I had laid aside as I had moved from being a teenager to an adult to a husband to a father. But those parts are still me, and it was good to pull those threads of history and see them in the grace-filled light of conversation with those who knew me and loved me often even more than I knew how to love myself.
Home Is Where Your Heart Is
Riding back on the airplane, having said goodbye to friends and family, my mind turned to the week ahead back in the world that I now call home. This week will be marked by Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. Once again, I will gather with my loved ones and friends and impart the ashes to one another while speaking the deep words of finitude, “Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. From dust you come, and to dust you will return.” We mark the beginning of our Lenten journey with a call to remember both our own createdness and our own state of belovedness.
This week, I was fortunate to be re-membered, reconstituted through the sharing of stories. I found myself recalling stories of my youth with my grandparents, sitting in their house and recalling the games we played together and time we spent. I remembered with my grandfather about how he illegally taught me to drive in a 1971 turquoise Ford pickup on back roads near some land that my parents own. I remembered how cool I thought I was in a series of pictures with oversized jackets and early Air Jordans on scrawny white legs. I remembered what it was like to join with a friend in music, to bond over chords and lyrics and rhythms and the root idea that somehow playing in a band might help us rank more points with the opposite sex. I remembered how a friend taught me that clothing really should be almost always optional in your own house and how furniture for college boys could come from any number of odd sources (like a cable spool for a table or a broken washing machine for a cooler). I remembered the boy and man-child I was, and I remembered it with love for my self — something I sometimes struggle to do.
Home Is Where You Are
Most of the furniture in my house is now real (I said most), and my electric guitar sits largely unused in favor of a ukulele. I haven’t driven a pickup on country roads in at least six years. But I am still that same person, only more so now.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t stop at saying a prophet isn’t welcome in his or her hometown. No, he also redefines family radically as those who seek God’s kingdom and do God’s will. Hopefully, that means that all of us in church are family for each other. We are tasked with helping to re-member one another. We are called to look at one another and whisper words of belonging and being, not only on Ash Wednesday, but every day.
It is easy in the modernized and isolated world to forget who we are and how we belong, but we cannot be whole unless we remember these things. As the church, particularly as Baptists who belong to one another as priests, we must carry on this sacred task of helping each other to remember who and whose we are.