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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

February 2013

~Lent: The Wisdom of Seasons~

“I waited patiently for God,

who inclined to me and heard my cry”

Psalm 40:1

Members and Friends,

            Years ago, in the mists of another life, I spent some time down in New Orleans.  Don’t ask me how it happened.  How does anyone end up anywhere?  When you’re young, and single, and mortgage-free, you can find yourself in unexpected places.  You know a person in a certain city.  You get a job offer.  You relocate, which is easy when you own almost nothing.  In my case, I had just come “home” from half a decade in West Africa, but I hadn’t driven a car or used an ATM in five years.  My mother tongue seemed foreign.  America didn’t much feel like home anymore.  But New Orleans did, somehow.  The city reminded me of the place I’d left behind.  Like Africa, it was balmy and half derelict.  The laid back attitude was similar, too.  It had just enough aging colonial architecture and French street names to feel like a Cameroonian town.  Palm trees, sticky air, spicy food, and the sweet smell of rotting tropical vegetation.

            A friend warned me, “You’ll never understand our city until you read this book.”  It was a novel about New Orleans: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.  I thumbed through it and smirked at a few of the funny lines and quirky descriptions.  The main character is a spoiled, unpleasant 31-year-old man named Ignatius.  He’s morbidly obese and lives with his mother, whom he treats terribly.  Ignatius spends entire days in his bedroom, where he scribbles vicious diatribes into notebooks.  He hates Protestants, homosexuals, heterosexuals, and the excesses of the modern era.  When he speaks to anyone, Ignatius uses words like “indeed” and “indubitably.”  The reader dislikes him from the very first page of the book.  I found myself thinking, “My reading time is precious.  I’m not sure I can spend 338 pages with this guy.” It didn’t help that the person who recommended the book just happened to share Ignatius’s prejudices, especially the thing about Protestantism.  And so, I relegated the book to my long-term reading list.

But last week, I heard the true story behind the novel, which finally motivated me to read it: In 1976, an elderly New Orleans woman approached a professor at Loyola University and asked him to read her dead son’s unpublished novel.  The professor really didn’t want to read it, but the woman was so persistent that he gave in.  He hoped it would be bad enough that he could, in good conscience, stop reading after the third page.  But it wasn’t.  It was actually very good.  The book was finally published in 1978, nine years after the author—an obese 31-year-old who lived with his mother—had committed suicide because no one would publish his novel.

Timing is one of the most important things in life.  In 1969, the world wasn’t ready for Toole’s writing, but by 1978 it was.  The world would be even more ready for it today, but Toole needed the literary community’s affirmation right now.  He couldn’t wait.  Because of his great impatience, he left us only one book, “a modern classic.”

February brings us back around to the holy season of Lent, which we’re kicking off with a traditional service of Evensong on Ash Wednesday.  The wisdom of the Christian tradition is to measure out our life together in seasons.  Lent comes, fittingly, just about three weeks after most of us have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions.  It’s a time for growth and change.  I invite you, in this season of Lent, to reflect back on your life’s journey.  Where have you been?  Where are you headed?  Where are you glad to no longer be?  Even if you’re not exactly where you want to be, a new day is dawning.  Just give it time.  In Christ’s peace,