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I love to travel, as you all know, and am travelling as I write this BLOG today: this ASH WEDNESDAY.  I love seeing our beautiful world and the people in it.  In fact, as wonderful as all the scenery and cultures are, it’s the people that are most fascinating to me.

I’m an introvert at heart, and when I’m “not in charge or on stage” I like to sit in the back and see the whole picture.  When travelling, my favorite thing to do is find a quiet table, a bench, or a palm tree…and sit to watch people.

We are a fascinating species; all types, all personalities, and yet similar.  I, jokingly, like to say that God only has a few “molds” He uses in building us; and so He uses some over and over.  For instance, I ALWAYS see people “I know” in the most unique places.  They aren’t really the people I know back home, but they sure look and act like them.  In these few short days, while in another country, I’ve already seen David Priest, Diana Huntoon, and Jacqueline Sokol. Now, it’s not them, but they all look like someone made from the same mold. 

Of course that’s ridiculous, we are as different as individual snowflake crystals or individual sands on the beach…but it’s a fun game.  In truth, we humans are as diverse as we are similar.  I watch young parents with children.  Children seem to be the same throughout the world.  I watch older couples, helping each other navigate the tours, the shops, and the uneven the walkways.  And then there are the wealthy, the elegant, the plain, and the boisterous.  I see the friendly, and the not-so-friendly, the grumpy, and the funny.  It’s always a wonderful collection of sameness & difference.

On this day, ASH WEDNESDAY, I am thinking of the ashes, Palm Sunday, people, and the journey each of us together.  Our bodies move toward an end, while our souls grow and finally break through.  Where our souls travel, when free of these bodies, is taken on faith according to what each of us believe.  We all have an idea as to what will happen when the soul breaks free, and we argue with each other about it…wasting time that could be used to connect to each other, as Jesus asked.

But, as for our bodies, we should all KNOW what is going to happen.  And not just bodies, but our lands, our homes, our countries, and our kingdoms.  It’s not just faith and religion that teach us about this cycle of beginnings and endings…it’s history itself.  All human things end, whether individual humans or communities of humans, large and small.  And hardly anything symbolizes that truth than ASH WEDNESDAY. 

Where do our ashes come from?  The ashes we at Central use for Ash Wednesday are the ashes of the palms used the prior Palm Sunday; mixed with olive oil which is infused with frankincense and myrrh.  Once the palms are burned, ground down and mixed, they are preserved.  In fact, at Central, the ashes I’ve used for thirteen years, predate me by three ministers at least.  I have only added some ashes, but they are combined with ashes from Palm Sundays past.  The alabaster jar that holds Central’s ashes holds the representation of at least two decades of parishioners, pastors, elders, deacons, and stories here in the heart of the heartland…and now, it’s all ash.

The palms that symbolize the crowds in Jerusalem wishing for and welcoming what they imagined was an “earthly” kingdom, are now dust…reminding us that the “earthly” kingdom is not what our King came to inaugurate…HIS Kingdom is “not from, or of, this world”.  HIS Kingdom doesn’t turn to ash.  But our kingdoms, our countries, our homes, and our bodies…do.

We are all headed in that direction.  No matter our diversity, no matter our likeness, we all travel to that location.  That knowledge alone should cause us to be kinder, more loving, more patient, and more helpful, to each other.  It should cause us to live every moment on this earth, in this body, with intention.  Does it?

All this isn’t really bad news, it’s the way of life as physical life was created to be…but “Life” (with a capital L) isn’t defined by things that turn to ash.  “Life”, according to what I believe and teach, transcends nations, communities, and human bodies.  I believe our souls will land in new bodies that don’t turn to ash, in a land that always remains green, lush, diverse and colorful…like the immortal souls that will inhabit it with our King, Jesus.

My time at Central, in Anderson, and on this earth will one day be represented in the palms I have burned and mixed with ashes from times before, and pastors who have served and moved on, along with their parishioners…but my soul has already started packing for another trip.  The Kingdom of MY King has already been created.

So take the ashes and remember: we are all on the same physical journey, and it might be your responsibility to show (without words, but with action) someone else the way to “the lifeboat.”  On the way, offer your hand, your smile, your love because Jesus asks you to do that…and because, as different as we all may be, and no matter where we started…we’re all in the same boat.