After a few minutes, I told the student (lets call him Chancey) to stop talking about it because he had gotten enough glory from such an ill-conceived act.

“Glory?” Where did that come from? An interesting concept for sure.

Last Thursday afternoon, I walked out to a familiar stretch of marsh edge that have several large, climbable Live Oak trees just like the ones we were never allowed to climb on at Epworth By the Sea. Ancient, sturdy, gnarled limbs that twist and turn and stretch close to the ground are more irresistible and enticing for some of my boys than the latest video game or gadget. I hollered up at Chancy (the same one who helped me from the mud yesterday) that he needed to come down and finish his homework that I had forgotten to check before approving his request to go outside. He replied with greater compliance than I expected “Yes sir!”

Standing there with my best stern face on he informed me that it may be a few minutes before he could actually comply because he’s not sure how he is getting down. He said that he had an idea but wasn’t sure if it would work and he asked if I thought his rope could reach the ground. No, not a chance.

I walked into the dining hall later that night for dinner. Story time! I patted another houseparent dad on the back and said “I win…” as I put my plate of some aberrant version of pot roast down beside him.

Apparently, I needed my moment in the spotlight too.

Glory. It is something equally pursued by a 14-year-old boy with risk-taking issues (“Chance”y, get it?) and his 30 something year old houseparent dad hoping to impress another dad. My Lenten reading today (John 12:1-11) retells the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus of Nazareth with expensive perfume and wiping his feet with her hair. Jesus also said in this verse “the poor you will always have with you. “ Perhaps he should have said “the glory-hounds you will always have with you, especially if there are some poor people to make convenient charity cases.”

The implications of this passage are severe. Put simply, Christ deserves all our glory and that glory is given through risky, extravagant actions and following His ways of love. These actions may seem routine (like daily prayer), mundane (opening the door for an elderly person) or insignificant. In fact, it may be necessarily so because they contain no glory for our selves.

For me, these actions may take the form of correcting a student when he says that someone who takes shortcuts in playing a hide and seek type game is playing in a “girlie” way. It may mean that I admit to my houseparent partner/wife my own fault and culpability in not checking a student’s homework and helping him to stay focused.

Chancey usually asks me if I want to climb the trees he chooses to climb. I usually reply that it seems like fun but that I probably shouldn’t. If glory is about followership, he gets none of mine. Others have though….I have gotten stuck on a limb before thinking that if I could just preach this way, organize a program, design the perfect logo and small group curriculum, or attend the right leadership conference then I would really be making MY mark on the world.

Christ has called me to none of these things….He has called to follow him and love others the way he did, generously and sacrificially.

Thank God for friends, or in Chancy’s case, maintenance men with tall ladders who help us down when we’ve climbed too far to turn around from following some one or idea other than Christ. Thank God for the grace that keeps up from falling forever.

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The first installment of my attempt to write something spiritual and slightly significant as part of my Lenten 2012 disciplines.

No looking around for the familiar small, spice prep bowls. No last week before searching for last year’s palms (or anything) to burn. No cleaning out of the fire place and sifting out the big pieces of wood ash. No last minute mixing of ash and oil.

No, I didn’t go to an Ash Wednesday service this year. I didn’t really even try. It felt odd as the morning, noon and afternoon passed me by and I had not even bothered to ask anyone if there was a daytime Ash Wednesday service. After all, I had the responsibility and privilege to plan or participate in the past three Ash Wednesday services I’ve been a part of. I even made a nifty video last year that some preacher friends have used this year.
I’m reminded of my humanity and the humanity of 9 teenage boys every night and I really felt no particular need to be reminded that I’m dust….the boys do a good enough job of that. Who needs ash when you have eyes rolling, teeth being sucked so much it sounds like a pepperoni pizza eating contest and faces so crinkled that a contortionist would rise in applause being sent in your general direction for a few hours every night.?
Ahhh, teenage boys, God’s humble pie creme brulee for me to enjoy.

Some afternoons are great though and this was one of them. Two of my students and I ventured into the marsh hoping to reach the hammock (a “marsh island” ) about 300 yards from edge of our cottage’s backyard.
As I rinsed my pants and self off from the slog about an hour and half later I think I began to truly understand the Psalmists lyrics from Psalms 40:2. Truly, my predicament of being stuck in waist deep mud–the consistency somewhere between pudding and gelatin–is how I feel about the condition of my sinful self and my lack of self-sufficiency when stuck.  Humility is asking a 13 year old (who barely remembers to wear his shoes to dinner and is here because he was smoking pot as a 12 year old) to help you out of the aforementioned quagmire….Remember you are dust and to mud you shall return.

Greg rinsing off after playing in the marsh

The boys made it to the hammock. I settled for stopping halfway, secure in the knowledge that we had already entertained the traffic jam on the nearby bridge  quite enough.  The boys were happy and vowing never to do it again. I’d already made my vow.  I don’t need another “adventure” to give me plenty of sin or humanity comparisons and stories to tell for years to come.

So, no Ash Wednesday service for me this year. I have reminders of humanity all around me (and I’m sure you do too!). No cross on my forehead….the little mud behind my ear that Tamara found will have to do. Grace abounds….I’m glad she helped me find it before one my little “humanity reminders” did.