Readings, Prayers, and Candles for Lent

March 5 of this year is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent offers us space to reflect on our sin and Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Through fasting and other acts of penitence we come to terms with our need for God’s grace. During these forty days we repent of our sins so we can recommit to God’s mission in the world.

Observing Lent is a deeply personal experience, but it runs the risk of becoming private. We have to acknowledge our families, communities, and churches need to repent as well.  Recently I learned about a growing practice of communal Lent observation using readings, prayers, and candles. The idea is not that different than the wreaths of candles used during Advent. Whereas Advent begins in the dark and we light another candle each week until Christmas representing the growing presence of Jesus, the Lent candle cross begins fully lit and each week we extinguish another candle as we move toward Good Friday. This growing darkness reminds us we had Jesus physically with us, but we rejected and killed God incarnate. We tried to snuff out the light of the world.

A Lenten candle cross is easy enough to make. It has places for six candles, one for each Sunday in Lent.

A Lenten Cross

The first Sunday begins with all six candles lit, the second Sunday with five lit, and so on. My church is going to include this observation during the season and I have written some readings and prayers  for our services. I have included these readings and prayers in a PDF. Feel free to use them and adapt them however you wish. Just don’t sell them.

Readings and Prayers for Lenten Candle Observances

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Civility Project: Finding Commonality, Letters from a Working Mom and an At-Home Mom

In her post, “A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-At-Home Mother, and Vice Versa,” Carolyn Ee publishes two letters of mutual appreciation between people who often find themselves pitted against each other. Some people think at-home moms have capitulated to outdated standards of gender hierarchy. Others view working moms as selfish women unwilling to put the needs of their family above their desires for career advancement. The moms writing these letters don’t accept those reductive and uncharitable descriptions of the other. They don’t express feeling threatened in their lifestyles simply because someone else took a different path. Instead they exhibit civility in a beautiful way. By naming the contributions of the other, the moms who write these letters show their admiration. In expressing their empathy for each other they discover that they really are on the same side.

Take these two examples.

In her letter to the at-home mom, the working mom writes:

SAHM, I don’t know how you do it. I admire your infinite patience, your ability to face each day cheerfully and bring joy into your children’s lives even when they wear you down. I admire your dedication to being a constant presence in your children’s lives even if it isn’t always easy. I admire the way you work without expecting any reward – no promotions, no fame, no salary. I know you want your children to feel important and loved, and SAHM, you do this the best.

In her letter to the working mom, the at-home mom writes:

I see you everywhere. You are the doctor I take my children to when they are sick. You’re my child’s allergist, the one who diagnosed her peanut allergy. You’re the physiotherapist who treated my husband’s back. You’re the accountant who does our tax returns. My son’s primary school teacher. The director of our childcare centre. My daughter’s gymnastics teacher. The real estate agent who sold our house. What sort of world would it be if you hadn’t been there for us? If you had succumbed to the pressures of those who insisted a mother’s place had to be in the home?

So often we fall into the temptation to think because we disagree on a topic or have taken different paths in life, we are diametrically opposed to one another. These letters show that if we take a step back, we might see that our intentions are often the same. In the case of these mothers, their similar goal is to care for their families, even though they have chosen different means of doing so.

I often find in our rhetoric, political and otherwise, a knee-jerk assumption of the worst motives in those who disagree with us. It is not enough to think someone’s views are wrong, we also assume they have malicious intent. But what if we made it a practice to say what we appreciate in our opponents? What if we took the time to verbalize our gratitude for their contributions and affirmed their good intentions (no matter how wrong we might think their views are)? We might discover, like the moms who wrote these letters, that we are not so different as we think we are.

That is not to say we are going to agree on all matters. I don’t believe that is the goal of civility. Instead, civility creates the space where we hash out different points of view. Because of civility we can listen, understand, and accurately agree or disagree with one another.

The kind of civility these moms exhibit requires a great amount of humility. We have to allow ourselves to believe that other people have a contribution to make and we may not have all the answers.

Who would you consider your enemy? Which people do you find yourself disagreeing with on a regular basis? Take a moment and consider what they contribute positively. What do you appreciate about them and how might you learn from them?

Multiple Bottom Lines: Reforming Capitalism

In a column for the Autumn 2013 issue of Prism, “Bono on Capitalism with a Conscience,” Rudy Carrasco cites Bono’s defense of capitalism as a better means of lifting people out of poverty than aid. This shift seems to have surprised some folks given Bono’s famous campaigning for increased aid and debt relief, as if these endeavors are mutually exclusive to other forms of economic development. Regardless, Bono has become a vocal supporter of capitalism. In a 2012 speech at Georgetown University, he said, “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.”

Carrasco explores some of the hesitations with embracing capitalism among justice-minded folks.

I know where the ambivalence comes from. We who consider ourselves justice advocates do not subscribe to a single bottom line, the financial bottom line. We desire a multiple bottom line, one that acknowledges people, purpose, and planet alongside profit as vital components to the “life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19).

Carrasco then highlights a couple of businesses with a multiple bottom line, including Broetje Orchards, which pursues “people, planet, profit, and purpose.” Expanding the bottom line beyond mere profits is an important development, one I believe makes capitalism more just and humane. In a capitalist system, businesses will succeed and fail, but if those businesses which succeed are interested in the common good as well as their own balance sheet, the negative effects of failure and success can be better mitigated.

At the same time, I do not necessarily fault justice advocates for being hesitant about fully embracing capitalism as it currently stands. I would venture to guess the vast majority of large corporations and defenders of capitalism don’t espouse a multiple bottom line. Instead, they would likely agree with economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, one of the most articulate and influential voices supporting a radically free market. In 1970 he wrote a seminal article in The New York Times Magazine entitled, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” He criticizes the idea that executives of corporations have any responsibility to guide their businesses’ practices so that they might help society. His argument says executives work for shareholders and are playing with shareholders’ money. Friedman sees any use of shareholders’ money that does not maximize profits as essentially a tax and those who believe a business might have more than one bottom line are “preach­ing pure and unadulterated socialism.” (How it can be socialism when one may freely buy shares of a business and seek to fire executives or divest from the company if one is disappointed, Friedman does not say.)

What we then need is a capitalism where more businesses are encouraged to pursue multiple bottom lines. This means reforming capitalism and reclaiming it from those who see profit as the chief end of businesses. We need to pay attention to success stories of companies like Broetje Orchards or even high-end office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, whose former CEO, Max DePree argued profit is only a means to an end. He writes in Leadership is an Art, “Corporations can and should have a redemptive purpose. We need to weigh the pragmatic in the clarifying light of the moral. We must understand that reaching our potential is more important than reaching our goals.” (69) We must remember humans create markets, they are not naturally-occurring forces like the tide. Our values and beliefs shape markets. We decide what the bottom line is. We must also remember that while our values shape markets, the markets return the favor. If we value monetary profit above all other things, our markets will primarily reward monetary profit and will shape us to only value profit more.

So let us ask, what do we value and how can we shape markets to reward excellence, innovation, and efficiency in areas other than profit?

I am of the opinion that it would be wonderful for a greater embrace of business and free enterprise among justice advocates. The successes of capitalism to bring communities out of poverty should not be diminished. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should remember aid is meant to address short term needs. The transformation of communities in poverty requires more than one-time assistance. A healthy economic environment is the result of many factors that aid alone cannot achieve—e.g., good governance, sustainable capital, etc. Equally important, I believe it would be wonderful if our business schools and corporations taught more about ethics and morals. We must measure the success of a business by more than the balance sheet. In order to reform capitalism, I believe we need to engage the system. Support and invest in businesses pursuing a multiple bottom line. Let’s change that bathwater.