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February 17, 1999

Ash Wednesday

This is one of those days that you kind of get the picture that Christians just don't get it, do they? First let me identify myself as one of those who doesn't get it, in other words I am a life long Christian.

Go to any main line church today and you will hear the following passage read from the Gospel "Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see."

Now if you are awake and hear this you might ask yourself why these words of Jesus are read to us on the only day of the entire year where Christians do something that very publicly is a religious act that people will see.

Look around you, see any smudged foreheads? If you are not working in a nursery or a bar room where someone just picked up their face from an ash tray chances are you are looking at someone who is a Christian and just came from an Ash Wednesday observance.

Once I took my mother to a Kentucky-Florida basketball game on Ash Wednesday. She didn't want to go because of the particular day but I had great tickets right behind the Kentucky bench and so she finally agreed to go after all she liked Rick Pitino and I reminder her that he was Catholic and he was going to be there.

Well I found myself looking to see if Rick had any ashes on his forehead. I don't know why because both my mother and I had been to Church that day and neither of us had any sign of ashes on our foreheads and neither did Rick.

But Rick swore a lot at his players and my mother didn't like that, I on the other hand thought that was kind of funny.

"Pray to your Father in private," is the advice that Jesus gives in today's Gospel reading from Matthew. It's amazing how those words sound to my ears.

I've spent the last twenty years living in the Bible belt where presumably people are very Christian. They receive that moniker because they judge a lot and are very loud about their Christian belief. But is that Christianity?

It seems that this day stands out as the anomaly in the Christian calendar because we almost have to do something that is against the Christian message to be reminded of what it is to be a Christian.

It is to be leaven that is invisibly making all the changes. It is to be light that shines but blinds you if you look at the source. Christians are not to judge lest they be judged.

Like Gandhi I am tempted to say that I haven't met many followers of Jesus.

If you go to church today and feel like washing away the ashes on your forehead because they itch or you are afraid that someone will think you are one of "those people" my advice is to do what Jesus tells you in the Gospel, "see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face."

I probably won't myself but I have found that they don't stick well on cold days anyway.

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