March 5, 2014

In Defense of Ashes in Public

"It's rare in our culture to admit, in public, that you're not in control--that you, basically, are not God. And given the din of advertising and political polemic and hype and doublespeak surrounding us, it's rare to escape the fantasy that money or science, fame or violence or shiny objects will somehow save us from death."
- Sara Miles, Huff Post article
Ashes to Go is the term coined to describe the practice of taking the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday out to public places. In the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, nearly 40 congregations will be taking this practice out into their neighborhoods today. This year, more lay leaders are participating in the practice. I'm very proud of what our leaders–both lay and clergy–are taking on in this effort.

Recently, there have been several rants against "ashes to go." Some seem to think it a religious short cut. Others seem to think it is not enough–as this post points to.

Both concerns are rooted in a holistic ideal. I will give them that. But idealism alone will not get us where we need to go.

In our most recent EDOW Roundtable, the folks from Lent Madness said that too often, Episcopalians take themselves too seriously and don't take Jesus seriously enough. One of the most radical characteristics of Jesus' ministry was that he touched people–normal folks, in normal situations.

Christians have too often forgotten what it is like to practice a faith akin to Jesus'. We have forgotten what it is is like to be outside of our church buildings and let all of our senses absorb what is happening around our holy fortifications. We have forgotten what it is like to touch one another.

I'm all for ideals but, at least in this case, I'm over idealism. We have to start somewhere and waiting for the perfect opportunity is to miss too many other opportunities to learn, grow and flex spiritual muscle we forgot we had. As our congregations are participating in ashes-to-go (not the greatest name, I agree), they are learning invaluable lessons, lessons we need to learn.

Is this practice an "end all?" Not even close. Rather, it is the beginning. But it's a start. And not a bad one.

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