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Mar 08, 2019 by Alyssa Duvall
William McLeod (Photo: KSTU-TV)

A Catholic fourth grader in the Davis School District of Bountiful, Utah received a harsh lesson in tolerance and inclusivity in the public school environment this week, demonstrating the increasing hostility toward professing Christians in the public square.

In post-Christian America, even the smallest demonstration of faith becomes an act of microaggression and hate that must be sanitized and stamped out.

This is exactly the experience of William McLeod, a little boy who came to class this week with an apparently hideously offensive symbol smeared onto his forehead: an ashen cross, commemorating Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

When McLeod got to school that day, he quickly realized that he was the only one of his class bearing the symbol, but the young man was happy to entertain his classmates’ questions about it.

“A lot of students asked me what it is. I said, ‘I’m Catholic. It’s the first day of Lent. It’s Ash Wednesday,’” William recounted to Fox 13.

While his interactions with his peers seemed to be going fine—in spite of committing the academic capital crime of standing out and being different—McLeod’s teacher abruptly marched over to the boy’s desk and demanded that he wipe off the cross.

McLeod attempted to explain the importance of wearing the ashes to his teacher, but to no avail. The fourth grader found out that day precisely how unwelcome even the most subtle public displays of Christian faith are in many public schools, including his own.

“She took me aside and she said, ‘You have to take it off,’” the boy described. “She gave me a disinfection wipe—whatever they are called—and she made me wipe it off.”

To be clear, the adversarial attitude toward Christianity belonged solely to that particular teacher, as the administration has been quick to clean up the incident and offer apologies and investigations. In fact, upon learning of the incident, the school’s principal made a call to William’s family to apologize.

“I was pretty upset,” said Karen Fisher, William’s grandmother, who says she also received a call from the teacher who forced him to remove the ashes.

“I asked [the teacher] if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment, and she said, no,” Fisher recalled in frustration. Had the teacher been aware of perhaps one of the greatest laws of the country in which she teaches children, she might have known that public institutions are prohibited from establishing or preventing the free exercise of anyone’s religion.

For their part, the Davis School District is apologizing for the unacceptable incident and declaring that students of all faiths should feel welcomed there.

“Why that even came up, I have no idea,” said Chris Williams, a spokesperson for the district. “When a student comes in to school with ashes on their forehead, it’s not something we say ‘Please take off.'”

The district is reportedly “taking this incident seriously” and conducting an investigation.

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JANUARY 22, 2013

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Two new books are now available for the Lenten season from Westminster John Knox Press.

God Is on the Cross from Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents forty stirring devotions to guide and inspire readers through Lent and Easter. Each day of the season includes a Scripture passage, with the devotions following themes of prayerful reflection, self-denial, temptation, suffering, and the meaning of the cross. Passages from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters and sermons are also included, along with an informative introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was a Christian minister, seminary professor, and theologian who became one of the leading voices of opposition against Nazism during World War II. He was a founding member of Germany’s Confessing Church and was executed for participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. His theological views have become highly influential in the years since his death.

Also available for Lent is N. T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C. The popular scholar and author provides his own Scripture translation, brief reflection, and a prayer for each of the days of the season, helping readers ponder how the text is relevant to their own lives today. By the end of the book readers will have been through the entirety of Luke, along with Psalm readings for each Sunday.

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A HOLY EXPERIENCE

Only three days later, people go around with these crosses right on their foreheads.

It’s only three days after the world found out that The 21 died for being The People of the Cross, three days after that incomprehensible video stated they were “chopping off the heads of those that have been carrying the cross illusion in their heads” —-

that people all around the world people wear these sooty crosses right there on their faces, right above their eyes. Right there on their heads, shaping their minds.

Like they want to be known and marked and counted as one of those. One of His.

There are these sooty crosses smudged on countless foreheads and that’s what is murmured like a brave and honest refrain around the world today, words from our Genesis beginning:

Dust you are and to dust you will return. 

Dust.

Humanity was formed of dust and our human bodies will return to dust.

Three days later people wear it like a like a courageous confession of reality: For all our beautiful bluster — we are just beautiful dust. It’s like this early echo of what will be said over all our graves: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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The Call for the Next 40 Days: To the Nations & People of The Cross
The Call for the Next 40 Days: To the Nations & People of The Cross

by CHUCK COLSON

Why Bother with Lent?

Typically, evangelicals are shy about Lent. The 40 days prior to Easter—Sundays excepted—are known popularly as a season for giving up chocolate or other extras in order to show God how much we love him. With such impoverished notions, it is no wonder that Lent has fallen on hard times.

So should evangelicals bother with Lent?

Whatever the popular conceptions, the season can encourage gospel-centered piety. But, before considering Lent’s value, let’s briefly discuss the benefits of the church calendar, in general.

Some evangelical traditions reject the notion of the church calendar wholesale, believing that the Lord’s Day is the only God-given measure of time for the church. Some Puritans discarded all special holidays on this principle. But, no matter our efforts, we organize our lives according to some seasonal calendar that’s not prescribed by God (semesters, financial quarters, and months, for example).

Recognizing this, the church’s liturgical calendar seeks to order time around the major events of our redemption in Christ. During these seasons, we encourage certain theological emphases, spiritual practices, and corresponding emotions to instruct and train the church in godliness. Of course, the calendar does not limit the celebration of a truth or the experience of a particular emotion to one season or day. For instance, observing Easter Sunday as a joyous and festive holy day does not deny that every Lord’s Day celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, a joyous Easter Sunday anchors and gives shape to all other Sundays throughout the year. So it is with the liturgical calendar.

Five Benefits

That said, let’s explore five benefits to observing Lent.

1. Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love.

With Good Friday approaching, visions of Jesus’ gruesome death remind us of the dreadful reality of sin. Here, our individual and corporate brokenness is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection. Though self-examination can turn into narcissistic navel gazing, such abuses should not foreclose on a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ.

But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God’s grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.

Confident of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin’s pollution. God’s grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents. With David, we are free to pray,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24)

Searching us, God discovers nothing unknown to him (Ps 139:1-3), but discloses the secrets of our hearts, allowing us to know ourselves. Under his tender scrutiny, God exposes, not to shame, but to heal. Thus, turning inward, we are led upward to find consolation, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, such piety isn’t the exclusive property of any church season, but Lent provides a unique setting for this self-examination.

2. Lent affords us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship.

Jesus bore the cross for us, accomplishing our salvation, yet he also bestows a cross on us (Mt. 10:38-39Lk. 9:23). Following him, Jesus guarantees unspeakable comforts and uncertainties (Jn. 16:32-33). Frequently, these uncertainties test the genuineness of our discipleship. Consider the following examples from Jesus’ ministry.

In Matthew 8:18-22, two people approach Jesus, proclaiming their desire to follow him. One, a scribe, offers his undying devotion saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds by instructing the scribe about the rigors of following him, explaining that foxes and birds enjoy more comfort than he does. Perceiving selfish ambition, Jesus reminds the scribe that following him is not a means for advancing in the world, but rather involves forsaking it. We don’t know how this scribe responded to the challenge, but Jesus leaves us with the question, “Will we follow him when it is inconvenient or only when comfortable and to our advantage?”

The second, a disciple, requests to attend his father’s funeral before going on with Jesus. Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal the disciple’s heart, unveiling his ultimate affections. He says, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Remember, Jesus warns us that we cannot love father and mother, or anything else, above him (Mt. 10:37). Obviously, Jesus does not forbid loving our parents or attending their funerals, but he does insist on being first in our hearts. Jesus is not a commitment among other commitments, but rather the commitment of our lives. Therefore, as Augustine points out, we must take care to order our loves properly, ensuring that our affections are set on Christ and not another.

In this way, Lent provides opportunity to question and examine ourselves, exploring the integrity of our discipleship.

3. Lent provides us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality.

Pursuing eternal youth, our culture seems to live in the denial of death. But ignoring death does not erase its impartiality—everyone who draws a first breath will take a last one. It is a certainty we can’t escape (Heb. 9:27). Fortunately, death is not the last word. For all who belong to Christ, there is a promise stronger than death—we will die, but Jesus will return to raise our bodies, wiping the tears from our eyes and making all things new (1 Cor. 15:12-28Rev. 21:1-8).

The most difficult moment I face each year, as an Anglican pastor, is to apply the ashes, in the sign of a cross, to the foreheads of my wife and children on Ash Wednesday. It is an intimate and haunting moment. Echoing the words of Genesis 3:19, I say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is jarring. Every year, I cry.

Yet the ashes are applied in the shape of Jesus’ cross—the only means for escaping the dust of death. When God raised Jesus, he raided death, destroying its power. Jesus’ resurrection marks the death of death and welcomes us into a living hope (1 Pt. 1:3). This is our consolation and joy in the midst of our mortality.

Lent provides an unmistakable opportunity for disciplined reflection on this neglected certainty and God’s radical solution.

4. Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity.

Long misunderstood as a form of works-righteousness…

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