Ash Wednesday’s living dead

How many of y’all have seen
(there are actually several versions of this)
either a video or a gallery of pictures
beginning with a model
being prepped for a photo shoot,
and her make up is done,
and her hair,
and then you have the clothes,
and the set, the lighting.
And then the picture is taken,
and you see the contrast
between how someone looks ordinarily
and how they look done up?
And it’s dramatic.

But that’s just the beginning.
Because then the photoshopping commences
that removes this “blemish”
and most of her upper thighs,
that lengthens her legs and her neck,
that cuts down her waist and upper arms,
sculpts and shapes under the jaw,
that makes more pronounced her cheekbones
and other …areas.
And you end up with something inhuman.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.

And that pretty much shows how advertisers
take a model, a human being,
and for any given particular advertisement,
turn her into something inhuman.

And that, like it or not, becomes the standard of beauty.
What our culture sets up as attractive
is inhuman.
What seeks to shape
the image our girls and boys have
of what’s attractive
the look to which they will compare themselves
is inhuman.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

I thought about exploring and not just listing other examples
of how our culture kills what’s human.
It wouldn’t be hard to do.
I’ve said it before.
We live in a culture of death.

We live in an ugly web of addiction and narcissism,
immediate gratification and objectification,
pornography and unchecked greed,
unbridled anger and fear.

We live in a culture that’s killing what’s human
in the name of what’s profitable
and easy and convenient and now and mine.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

And I hear the voice
of someone listening in from the outside—
a voice sometimes plaintive,
sometimes angry,
sometimes defensive:
“Why does the preacher man always assume
I’m doing a poor job of life?”
And I don’t.
I really don’t.

No, I think preachers and followers of God
see people struggling to do their best
amidst persistent horrifying statistics
of violence and human trafficking and abuse,
not believing these truths reflect what it means to be human,
but reflect instead a culture that has become inhuman—
not believing culture defines individuals within it,
but that individuals within culture have to resist culture
in order not to be defined by it.
And how, when and where we do distinguish ourselves
from our culture,
and how, when and where we don’t distinguish ourselves
from our culture
is at the very heart of what it means to follow God.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

And the preachers among us—
the prophets among us—
the followers of God among us—
say “Stop killing what’s human
and celebrate it instead.”

For if we are not living a human life,
then what is it we are living?
And I tell you,
we are living death.

It is no wonder our culture is so enamored with—
so fascinated by zombie movies.
We incarnate, in so many ways, the living dead—
who though we live,
choose death
too many times—in too many ways.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

Now I in no way mean or want to dismiss or minimize at all
the reality of today’s reminder of our physical death—
oh so mindful that today we grieve Mark Wilson’s death,
and Derek Myers’ ex-son-in-law, Justin’s death, in a car accident.

Every Ash Wednesday, I think of Amy Mears,
one of the pastors at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville,
who is, each Ash Wednesday, reminded not just of her own death,
but also of her daughter’s
on the liturgical anniversary of Emmie’s death.

We rage against death that comes too early.
We miss those with whom we experienced love
and richness of life, the fullness of wonder and joy,
who have left a big empty in our living.
We weep for all that is lost in someone’s death.
And we know—we do—that our time is finite.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

Ash Wednesday stands as a stark reminder
of our own mortality, yes.
But the stark reminder that one day we’ll all die,
is also the reminder that we have not yet.
We have not yet died—
amidst all the death and the inhuman around us—
amidst all the death and the inhuman that touches our living.
And so, as the reminder that we have not yet died,
also the reminder to live—
to live in defiance of the death around us—
to live in celebration of life—
life permeated with the presence and love of God,
that the light we live in and through our days
might shine in the world
by the grace and the mercy of God.
Kyrie eleison.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”

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