Today is a rare double holiday. It is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. As always, if you are not out romancing it up tonight, I invite you to come to the Boone First United Methodist Church for our Ash Wednesday service. Full disclosure, I won’t be there. I am neither out romancing it up or going to get my ashes on in some stray church. I’ll be in Hilton Coliseum (AKA The Cathedral) watching an Iowa State women’s basketball game with the rest of the real ones.
Since I won’t be getting ashes this year, enjoy this picture of me on Ash Wednesday from a couple of years ago:
I always like to share a devotional type thing on these holidays. So today I’m going to share one from Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church. This one by Reverend Doctor Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon to be exact:
We Are Ashes – Abiding in Hope
by Rev. Dr. Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon (Senior Pastor Collegiate Methodist in Ames)
As we lean into Lent, I wrote this poem for Ash Wednesday. If you are into interactive reading, you can look up the passages in Daniel and John that I reference in the poem. I was working with the idea that ash is a transformed remnant of something: a piece of wood, the remains of a meadow, a life, and in that transformation, it always carries the memory of what it was before, just now it is changed. I apply the idea of God’s unquenchable fire (such as displayed in the burning bush and maybe Biblically remembered in the story of Daniel) that changes and transforms us. As the ashes we use on Ash Wednesday come from the burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday, that image, too makes its way into the poem.
We Are Ashes
What is born from the flame is ash, life transformed,
black and silvered memories of being held
in fire — maybe like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
who walked in the heat, the flames licking their hands
that were folded in prayer even as they were almost scorched
with a knowledge of God too great for them,
even as they became living ashes:
ones who did not forget but were sent as testimonies,
touched but not burnt, maybe with a sign on their foreheads. [i]
The alchemy of loving means we die and no longer die.
What is here is ash from firelight, also dark and essential,
the ashes we become in grief and in forgiveness and in mercy.
Our pretenses have been burnt away.
We are gathered up in dimly lit certainty,
we are the remnant, you and me
and those who kneel who might be far from us
whose heads are also smudged:
“remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” —
the ash is everywhere – –
hopefully faithful, hopefully able to feel
the webbing root buried in the earth that nurtures us,
and the branch we graft to that stretches
out our lives and then the love,
and then the smoldering embers
of all that is the first and the last;
all that is in each moment.
We are secretly the palms that were spread on the road
where Jesus came to collect us on his way to Jerusalem [ii]
and now we are ashes, smeared
with the oil of His hands,
we are the remnant
from the fire of His resurrection
we are the ashes that mark the way to Him.
Let us be spread again, let us be smudged,
let us be carried from the fire into the world
our bodies some sacred event born in ashes and returned,
the name of love written on our foreheads
the sound of hope sung from our prayers
the burden of care held firmly in our hands
and knowing home in the One who heals us,
in the flame that is never quenched, Alpha and Omega, amen.
[i] Daniel 3: 13-30 (the image I draw is poetic license)
[ii] John 12: 12-17
If you are curious:
Daniel 3: 13-30 – Amplified Version
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage gave a command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; and these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, very good. But if you do not worship, you shall be thrown at once into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can rescue you out of my hands?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to answer you on this point. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!”
Daniel’s Friends Protected
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and his facial expression changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then he gave a command that the furnace was to be heated seven [a]times hotter than usual. 20 He commanded certain strong men in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 Then these [three] men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their turbans, and their other clothes, and were thrown into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was extremely hot, the flame of the fire killed the men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. 23 But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king [looked and] was astounded, and he jumped up and said to his counselors, “Did we not throw three men who were tied up into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He answered, “Look! I see four men untied, walking around in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt! And the appearance of the fourth is like [b]a son of the gods!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the door of the blazing furnace and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, servants of the Most High God, come out [of there]! Come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s counselors gathered around them and saw that in regard to these men the fire had no effect on their bodies—their hair was not singed, their clothes were not scorched or damaged, even the smell of smoke was not on them.
28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! They violated the king’s command and surrendered their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego shall be cut into pieces and their houses be made a heap of rubbish, for there is no other god who is able to save in this way!” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.
And John 12:12-17 – Amplified
12 The next day, when the large crowd who had come to the Passover feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 they took branches of palm trees [in homage to Him as King] and went out to meet Him, and they began shouting and kept shouting “Hosanna! Blessed (celebrated, praised) is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; just as it is written [in Scripture], 15 “Do not fear, Daughter of Zion; Behold, Your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 His disciples did not understand [the meaning of] these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified and exalted, they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him. 17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to tell others about Him.
If you are looking for a place to get your ashes, our service is at 6:30.
While Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us of our own mortality, it doesn’t have to be all gloomy because Ash Wednesday also means the Catholics are going to start having Fish Fry Fridays! WooHoo! Bingpot!
I’m going to break down some area fish fries for you, my people, but I will wait until Friday to do that. Don’t worry, I’ll feed you baby birds!
It is also Valentine’s Day. So I need to wish you all happy Valentine’s Day in my way:
So first things first. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Second. You might be wondering why this picture is called “Love Stinks”. This was at the insistence of my photo assistant for this project. She complained that this heart shaped sparkler absolutely wreaked! She backed this up by claiming that the sparkler gave her a sore throat for like 5 days. Because she suffered for my art, I have granted her request that the name of this photo is “Love Stinks”.
On holidays like Valentine’s Day I do like to do power rankings. Last year I did romantic comedy power rankings. However, I know many people who absolutely despise Valentine’s Day. So I thought rather than doing something positive about the concept of love, I would do a power rankings based on the negatives of love. My power rankings this year are the 5 Worst Couples! This is a personal list. No apologies if you think, “wait I’m in that couple or throuple” (no judgment). The couples that personally annoy me. Cause love stinks! It often has lots of sulphur and gives you a sore throat for several days. Metaphorically speaking of course!
5 WORST COUPLES POWER RANKING
5. EXCESSIVE PUBLIC AFFECTION COUPLE
I don’t run into this couple that much any more. Mostly because I don’t run with a lot of teenagers or college students and most of the couples I know have been married for years, so the concept of public affection went out the door years ago. But you know the couples. They can’t stop touching each other, right in front of you. All you are trying to do is eat a bowl of soup and they are treating you to the opening scene of BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR*. There is also a variant of this couple that wants to go into great details about their sex life. I didn’t sign on for any of this. Put it in your diary. The phrase “get a room” exists for a reason.
A sidenote on this couple. It doesn’t have to be physical. This can also be the couple that has the just too precious nicknames for each other. PUKE! And couples that call each other “mom” and “dad”… GROSS!
4. THE CONSTANTLY BREAKING UP COUPLE
You know this couple. They’ve broken up 7 or 8 or 9 times, at the very least. And every time, you have to hear about it. You listen to all of the terrible things that one of the people in the couple did. You hear about all of their inadequacies and flaws. Then 24 hours later, the same friend that was dumping all of this stuff on you, they are back with this deeply flawed person that does all of the terrible things. In a couple weeks you will be hearing all the same things again and you stopped caring somewhere around the 3rd breakup.
3. THE SIT ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE TABLE WHEN DINING ALONE COUPLE
This couple probably seems harmless to you. Maybe I can’t defend how I feel about this couple, but I find them SUPER creepy. Sit on opposite sides of the table! At least then you can stare into each other’s eyes lovingly, while eating the Super Nachos Deluxe you ordered for an appetizer. It is well documented that nachos are the most romantic appetizer, but that is a power ranking for a future Valentine’s Day.
2. THE PUBLIC FIGHTING COUPLE
All couples fight. Not all couples have to fight in front of you, all the time. They might argue that fighting is just an example of their passion. They might even argue that fighting is their love language. My love language is handing you a card for a therapist. Go to counseling!
1. THE HOSTAGE COUPLE
This couple can’t do anything alone. Donna is going out for margaritas with her high school girlfriends. But Donna insists on bringing Bob along, cause Donna can’t do anything without Bob. Or Donna does finally join her friends without Bob, but the entire time she is having to check in with Bob. And Bob is having to check in with Donna. This same couple probably has shared social media accounts. The worst! If they don’t have a shared social media account, these are the ones that post super flowery tomes about the greatness of the significant other. They have to know that everybody is reading this is thinking, “oh, they about to get divorced.” And I’m not saying I’m rooting for divorce when I stumble across these… but I’m not saying that I’m not NOT rooting for divorce. Even if it is fleeting.
This list is definitive and is beyond contestation. No interviews at this time.
When I decided to do an anti-love post for Valentine’s Day, I checked in with some of the most ardent haters of Valentine’s Day I know. I simply asked them what couples they think are the worst. Almost without exception, I instead got a long diatribe about why they hate Valentine’s Day. Which wasn’t what I asked, but I did find hilarious. I confess I didn’t really read that part of those messages, cause it was a lot of blah, blah, blah, same things I’ve heard for years. I assume.
Interestingly, only Scottie D. asked me what I think about Valentine’s Day. And I might just tell you someday.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all who celebrate! Happy Valentine’s Day to all the people who bah humbug it! Happy Valentine’s Day to all the people who dread it because it makes them feel all alone! I can save all of you a seat at the Iowa State women’s basketball game!
If you don’t do the Juicy Wiggle, was it really even a holiday?
After we left Jefferson, Logan and I parted ways. I went home for a bit and then decided to go check out RAGBRAI in Ames. As a lark, I decided to head up to Luther since it was one of the towns that RAGBRAI was passing through. I really thought that by the time I got there, it was going to be too late to see much of anything going on. But Luther was packed! I bet Whatcha Smokin’ made a mint that day!
I was impressed with the job that Luther did with RAGBRAI. I hung around and took a few pictures:
I’m not a badmouth the younger generation guy. But in my day, when we climbed on a roof, it wasn’t to stare at our phone. We were probably breaking stuff. Okay, maybe the younger generation is better.
Still one more collection of RAGBRAI pictures from this day to share.
* I actually haven’t seen BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, so I have no clue what the transpires in its first scene. It could be very boring. I understand the historical and cultural significance of the movie, but pornography just isn’t my bag.