I Am Dust


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As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
~ Psalm 103.13-14

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Psalm 90) [a Lent sermon]


I had the privilege of preaching the Ash Wednesday service at one of my church’s campuses a few weeks ago. As is appropriate to that Holy Day and this Lenten season itself, we sat with words that drew us into a meditation on our mortality and death.

(I also talk about my grandfather’s death. For more about that, you can read my reflections.)

I help lead a Bible Study and sometimes, when I’m feeling artsy, to help us start a discussion on a certain text from Scripture, I’ll ask my group a question: what color is this text? As in, what’s the emotional tone? When you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images that come to mind? For me, sitting with this Psalm before preaching it, I felt it was a dull, pale blue–or maybe more like a burlap grey. And I have found that “hue” marking much of my time this Lent.

So even now, a few weeks in to season, I find myself returning to the themes of this Scripture text. I hope it might lead you to engage all the more deeply into this Holy Lent. The text is Psalm 90.1-12, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

Lent & Ash Wednesday: A Collision of Life & Death


paul-ash-wednesday-2014This is the reflection I wrote for my Church’s Lent Prayerbook this year. Its about Ash Wednesday, but its Lenten themes remind us of the spirit of this season, as we move into Holy Week next week.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the time in which we turn the volume up on the dark whispers and hauntings in our souls that we spend the rest of the year trying to drown out. It is the season where we feel the gravity of our weakness and finitude. And Ash Wednesday particularly focuses on where we are most weak and most finite: our mortality.

Hundreds of millions (perhaps billions?) of people will gather today to take on what I feel is one of the most packed symbols of the historic Christian faith: the placement of ashes in the shape of a cross on their forehead. We are called in the ashes to begin this process of mourning our seeming slavery to Sin and Death. In the Ash Wednesday service, we hear the words, “remember from dust you came, and to dust you will return.” Ashes are a symbol of suffering, lament, tragedy, repentance, and mourning.
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For Lent: Free Music, Readings, & Devotionals


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I’ll be honest, one of the reasons why I love Lent and the Church Calendar is because it is a helpful corrective for my own personal lack of personal discipline. I’m not especially skilled at putting together my own structure, and so I really flourish when structure and pattern is placed on me from the outside.

This is especially true with spiritual practices. To engage with a Church season like Lent, I often need to give myself a blog series to keep me thinking on a theme for the season (see above, under “Lenten Posts“). I really do well with reading plans, prayerbooks, music albums, etc. If you find yourself in the same boat, here are some resources for this year’s Lent that some of you may find helpful.
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Lent: Poems, Mixtapes, Prayerbooks – Oh My!


chagall-exodusI’ll be honest, one of the reasons why I love Lent and the Church Calendar is because it is a helpful corrective for my own personal lack of personal discipline. I’m not especially skilled at putting together my own structure, and so I really flourish when structure and pattern is placed on me from the outside.

This is especially true with spiritual practices. To engage with a Church season like Lent, I often need to give myself a blog series to keep me thinking on a theme for the season (see above, under “Lent Posts“, and also check out this year’s series). I really do well with reading plans, prayerbooks, music albums, etc. If you find yourself in the same boat, here are some resources for this year’s Lent that some of you may find helpful.
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This Ash Wednesday, I can’t do ‘Ashes to Go’ or ‘#Ashtag’


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Hmm… I definitely took an Ash Wednesday selfie (see above). After this, though, I don’t know that I will in the future. As for Ashes To Go, I couldn’t agree with this piece more.

The Millennial Pastor

ashtag-selfie-ashwed-churchmojo-squareThis morning a blogger and writer that I like to read and whom I respect, David R Henson, posted an insightful blog post about the problems with #AshTag.

As I prepare for Ash Wednesday, my own thoughts have been swirling around how to approach and understand this first day of Lent. As David considered the problem of Ash Wednesday selfies posted to social media using the hashtag #AshTag, one line in particular caught my attention.

The systemic push within the church for Ash Wednesday selfies is an exercise in whistling past graveyards.

Needless to say, I won’t be posting an Ash Wednesday selfie (one would think that Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras would be the big selfie night).

AshestoGo4But another Ash Wednesday innovation that I have surprised myself by not being terribly interested in is ‘Ashes to Go.’ Ashes to go is where clergy go out…

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Lent & Male Feminism: Reflections & Repentance


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Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lent season of the Christian Church Calendar. It is the time of year in which we turn up the volume on those darker whispers in our hearts to hear what they say. We turn our ears to the cries of the world bear the wounds of a weeping earth in our hearts and hands. And oh, the wounds are deep.

We come to this Lent with the weight of so much on our collective shoulders: so much brokenness, so much injustice, so much pain, heartache, death, and violence in the world. I honestly thought that 2015 would bring relief from 2014. So far, it has not.

But in the midst of the chaos that reigns both within and without, I am determined to turn my thoughts and this blog towards one area in which the Church as a whole needs to repent; an area in which I feel we can make some real progress in this day and age: Women in the Church.

I do have an on-going series on this topic that I’ve been adding to for the past couple of years, but I think it’s important and helpful to turn towards it particularly now. Lent has always had a deep connection to this topic for me.
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Palm Sunday: “The Emperor Has No Clothes” [POEM]


I feel far, Lord.
But I know you’re here.  I know it.
(Do I?)

(Can I?)

It’s the nature of the matter; a matter of nature, I suppose.
Perhaps only now I feel at the deepest existential depths:
“I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Or in a word: Hosanna

That cry.  That plea.

The certainty of uncertainty.
The pregnancy of a pause.
The pondering of a moment.

That moment.  The moment.  

The moment that dressed my doubt in assurance.
But that emperor has no clothes
(or so everything says).

So where does my assurance lie?
Where do my feet stand?

My body pelted with rain, snow, and hail;
I pray my heart rests beside a fire,
drinking tea,
rocking in a chair,
my shoulders draped in that most costly of quilts –
my Rest.

Clothe me–
with the coat I lay on your path–
for this emperor is naked

and needs his King.

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Lent & Ash Wednesday for Kids (….or maybe not)


rabu-abuLast night, my church had their Ash Wednesday service. I had the honor of helping lead the liturgy by offering the greeting and opening introduction/ explanation. Unlike most times we gather, the kids stayed in the service so I was asked to make sure my opening words were at least somewhat comprehensive to children.

This turned out to be one of the most helpful exercises for me. I ended up spending more time thinking through these brief opening words than I normally do and crafting each line as intentionally as possible. And so, for the heck of it, I thought I’d throw this up on the blog for anyone who was struggling with explaining Lent and/or Ash Wednesday to their young ones, and also to get your thoughts on how best to communicate this to kids. Here’s what I said:

(Lent: Two things hold us back)

Tonight kicks off the Church season of Lent. Most all of us live our lives wanting to be better people than we are right now. But if we’re honest, there are two things that can get in the way of that sometimes and make us frustrated as we try and become the people we want to be.
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Ash Wednesday Benediction [POEM]


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The shape of the promise is death 
Say the word, feel the space, build the coffin in your mouth
Climb inside and make it yours

For it is

That tomb washed white, emerges in life, enslaves in death, watches the end

agape

Expiration exorcism, cast the spirit, cast it low;
Cast your eyes and feel the blow
Cast the lots

Carve the promise into your bones, your forehead

Let your face shine with Moses glory: that of the immortal God
–that suffering, dying, ashen glory-story

May your face shine with Ash
As you wear the world’s judgment embedded in your skin, in your body,
May you feel the world’s death in your face, may you hold it before your eyes

May the flame that licked the palm find its end in you.
Bear the flame the world shall never know, precisely so it never will

Take their judgment and rub it on our faces and cast it to proclaim

Lift up your eyes

Wear it loud

The shape of the promise is death

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Welcome to Ash Wednesday. Lent begins.


ash-wednesday-pew-lentToday is Ash Wednesday. In just under two months from today we’ll come to the highest point in the Christian Church calendar, Easter. That is where we’ll celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and how God’s perfect world broke into the present and our greatest enemies–sin and death–were conquered and shown to have no more dominion over us and the rest of the world. It’s meant to be the most effusive, overflowing, even ridiculous time of joy.

And yet, when we look at Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that before it ever took place, there was Death. And before that, there was an entire lifetime of loneliness, pain, suffering weakness, and isolation. We see that it was a life surrounded by evil forces and whispers that haunt and hurt Jesus and the people he loved.

And so, our early Church Mothers and Father thought it would be wise to have this time before Easter to prepare, so we might end up celebrating during Easter all the more.

Resurrection was itself a statement against our two greatest enemies: Sin and Death. And so to participate in Resurrection, we take the time of Lent to meditate and press into those things to which Resurrection was the response. We do this not out of morbidity, but out of anticipation.

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Lent & Repentance: Come & Mourn with Me Awhile


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This is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.]

Last week was Ash Wednesday, which begins the church season of Lent. On that day, hundreds of millions of people (perhaps even as much as a billion) went to quiet services and got ash crosses finger-painted on their foreheads.

It’s a strange act, but perhaps the most striking one in Christian tradition. It’s certainly my favorite.

No matter how widespread Christianity has been in the world, I can’t imagine there was ever a time in which the public mark of ashes on one’s face did not stir some sort of double-take from passers-by. Even to this day, it’s the most counter-cultural and outward thing many American Christians widely do.

Ashen forehead crosses are one of the few Christian traditions that is still ours, and hasn’t been co-opted by the wider culture, and thereby watered-down in its meaning or force.
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Ash Wednesday Egalitarianism, or “Why do female preachers suck?”


paul-schrott-ash-wednesday-bwYes, that’s me in that picture. I love that picture. It’s been used in a few posts since it was taken a couple of years ago. This isn’t (just) because of some weird sense of narcissism that loves to see my face on my blog posts. Rather, this picture is a very meaningful reminder of one of the most formative nights in my Christian life.

I said in the beginning of this series on Women in the Church that for most of my life, I had been one of the staunchest defenders of male-led church leadership. I knew all the arguments, I believed the caricatures of the other side, and importantly, I had experienced that women made terrible preachers of sermons.

Now remember: this was “pre-conversion” Paul that was thinking these things. But still, as I had visited friend’s churches, listened to audio, and seen female televangelists, it was hard not to notice that I had never heard a “good” sermon offered by a woman. It seemed clear to me, then, that this unique “anointing” and “gifting” to preach was reserved for men.

Don’t get me wrong. I had received incredible guidance, teaching, and wisdom from women. But these had been in the contexts of schools, lectures, books, blogs, campus ministers, podcasts, and the wider world–not church sermons.

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Join liberti for Ash Wednesday tonight


liberti-churchIf you find yourself in the Philly area, I just wanted to extend an invitation to you to join my church, liberti center city, tonight for our Ash Wednesday service. It will be a time of reflection, singing, prayer, imposition of ashes, and inviting into this year’s Holy Lent.

The service is tonight at 7pm sharp, at 17th and Sansom St. There is also free parking available.

A group of us will probably get dinner afterwards. So if you’re in Philly, and especially if Ash Wednesday is new to you, I encourage you to come on out and join us at the beginning of this Holy Lenten season.

Also, for the rest of the Lent season, liberti has put together a simple prayerbook to guide our times of meditation and reflection. The liberti Lent prayerbook is a highlight of my Lent every year, and so be sure not to miss out.