Darrel and Gail Voth

Directors of Mobilization, Beautiful Feet Missionary Training and Sending, Choctaw, Oklahoma

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Ashes to ashes stardust to stardust…

The Lenten season isn’t something I was taught about and consequently, I’ve always looked on from the outside. I would see people giving up something they really enjoy for 40 days, then fail or cheat and explain it away. I heard about repentance and the bankrupt human condition. I heard sorrow, tears, anguish, defeat, shame. You can see how my viewpoint never really encouraged me into the practice!

Last year, during this time, I was going through The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and was encouraged to go through the season, with special focus on Holy Week, and to just be with Christ in his journey.

That focal shift was the key. Get my eyes off me and onto Christ. Christ’s lenten journey is full of love. Are there tears, disappointment, agony? Yes to all, but even so, it’s not about defeat and shame—love shines through it all.

So this year, I was really feeling drawn into the season in a fresh way and I began looking for an Ash Wednesday service to attend. I’ve received the ashes before, so when I approached this time, I was surprised by the words, “Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust, you belong to God.”

Seemed weird, a bit hokey and I didn’t know what it meant… but it was all part of a bigger communication from God for me that day. The following poem by Jan Richardson called, “Blessing the Dust” was in the program that night:

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Did you see this part? “This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.” That’s what God pointed out to me. The process of burning is harsh but purifying. Again, my focus had been off. The process is for good. The result is not in the ashes but in what’s made it through the burning. I found myself embracing the burning, asking for more, yearning for the junk to be burned away and the treasure to be revealed. I went to bed that night with those thoughts in my heart and the ashes still on my forehead.

When I got up in the morning and faced the bathroom mirror, I was again surprised. There it was, there in the ashes, a tiny but brilliant blue shimmer… they’d mixed a shimmer compound in with the ashes. I felt loved, special and valued by my Creator. This is Lent: amidst the pain and all the ups and downs, we have Love. Promise. Presence.


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But the greatest of these…

The U.S. presidential election has caused quite a stir in the American community and in the global community even. It seems that the world is undergoing some significant growing pains. I maintain the optimism that the political and social unrest we have been experiencing is a sign of growth and a push for justice.

It’s clear though that we have differing views on not only what the problem is, but what justice even is.

Many look around and see their discomfort and try to find who or what to blame. The solution is to figure out who’s who, who stands for what, punish the wrongdoers, separate into our respective camps and protect our way of life.

Many others look around and see the injustice in the world and seek to discover how this came to be—what systems are in place which tear at the fabric of humanity? The solution is to band together, regardless of who or where you are and to work together to right the wrongs, forgiving as we go, listening to each other’s pains and perspectives, learning from each other and growing together, growing into a unified, diverse community.

Both sides tend to back up their views with their respective religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs), even those professing to know and follow the same God, the same Scriptures. Faith becomes another dividing point, another battle line.


I’m convinced love is our only hope. The only Source of true healing. The only transcendent Truth. God is Love. God is Jesus. Let us love as Jesus did.

Love in your family.

Love on your social media.

Love in your community.

Love your enemy.

Love the Creator who gave himself to humanity.


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Living in the tension of the “Now-but-not-yet”

We’re all waiting, wondering, daring to hope that eventually things will someday be made right in this crazy world. No more need for fear, everything out in the open without shame or judgment. That’s the Vision, right? The Hope? All is as it should be? As we’re waiting, we can catch glimpses of this future if we pay attention. But, it feels diminutive, fragile, tenuous…

Though the current power system seems unavoidable, it’s also clearly unsustainable. Self-preservation cannot save us. Defensiveness will not protect us. Punishment does not redeem us.

If we combat wrong violence with corrective violence, does justice grow? Does healing come? Is relationship fostered?

Love alone leads us to Life. Love for ourselves? Yes! Forgiveness for the guilty? Blessing those who violate our rights? Mercy for the ruthless? Friendship for enemies? Welcoming the stranger? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

There’s no time time to waste! Start now. Change today… and every day which follows. Is it safe? No. Not yet. But one day…

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Hearts at half mast

As I drove by the many car dealerships lining the interstate the day after the Dallas shooting, I saw all their giant American flags at half mast and I was really bothered by it.

Now let’s stop for a moment. What happened in Dallas was horrific and our flags were rightly lowered. Just to be clear.
What bothered my conscience was the question of how we come to decide when our flags are lowered. What’s the threshold of tragic and unjust death that must precipitate the decision to lower our flags? I understand that the president calls for it when something has happened on a national level… but still… my morality and ethic of life was pricked with a collective twang of guilt at having to decide that now is the time for national mourning and other times… not.
My idealist self is in mourning for the guilt on humanity’s conscience, the bigotry of ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion, etc., ad nauseam… Perhaps our flag should remain at half mast.
BUT! When we come to that day… when no person is murdered on our streets, in our women’s clinics, on our death row injection beds, or on foreign shores, that’s the day I want to see our flag flown high. That would be our first independence day. Our long-awaited freedom from the tyranny of violence and power. 
Oh great day, come. Until then, we must continue to wage a war of love, justice and peace within ourselves, across communities and around the world.

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Powerful sermon delivered by a sick 12-year-old girl

Lily came down ill this weekend so instead of our normal Sunday morning with a community of Jesus people, she and I stayed in and had breakfast together.

As we sat with our eggs, Lily brought up something to do with the typical kid prejudice about how boys are better than girls or girls are better than boys. I don’t even recall exactly how it started, because honestly, it didn’t seem all that significant at the time—just a childish conversation between a dad and his little girl. However, she soon moved on to related issues of race, sexual identity, religious identity and immigration. Now keep in mind, this was my 12-year-old daughter leading this conversation. I would interject a point or ask a question here and there, but she was my preacher this particular Sunday.


She continued to talk about how people of privilege tend to protect their privilege instead of leveraging it to help the disadvantaged and oppressed. She totally nailed it. Then she observed how often it seems to come from Christ-ians. Ouch, but is she right?

And what did the Christ actually do but set aside His privilege, identify with the broken to live, proclaim and establish a new law of selfless, “reckless” love, forgiveness and healing!

This up-and-coming generation isn’t seeing identity in traditional labels, they are instead finding it in actions and attitudes. Isn’t that what Jesus said he looks at?

Will we have the courage to allow our labels to be secondary in order to identify with Jesus? This cost him a great deal. Pursuing the ideals of peace, love, forgiveness, healing, unity and the like isn’t something that can be driven by warm, fuzzy, brainless, spineless sentiment. It requires the courage and deeply-held conviction which come from intimate relationship with the Author of Life.

Oh Lord, make us worth of our calling!


“When Jesus saw…”

I’m taking a spiritual direction course which meets each Tuesday evening… on my way to class, I turned on the NPR station out of OSU and they happened to be broadcasting the memorial service for those killed by the driver of a car who crashed through a barricade and into the crowd during the homecoming parade in Stillwater on October 24.

I listened as a man read the names of those who were killed and expressed how they were valued community members. I began to feel the pain of their families and the pain of the one responsible for their deaths. There was a moment of silence during which I prayed for those affected and joined in as the crowd prayed along to the Lord’s prayer. As bagpipes played Amazing Grace, I teared up and sang the words to myself… I listened to the mayor’s words of encouragement and turned off the radio for the rest of the drive in silence.

When I got to class, we spent our time in lectio divina. The passage was from John’s gospel account of the raising of Lazarus (John11:33-44).

So… as I read the passage, I felt Jesus’ deep compassion as he entered the scene, then the rise of his own emotions as he confronted the loss of his dear friend. You know how it feels when you enter that funeral and you’re holding it together, and then you see your close mutual friend. You embrace. A lump forms in your throat, your eyes begin to sting and you begin to weep…

I really felt his presence there in that scene. He was not aloof to the situation, not somehow above it. He was there, down in it. “Jesus began to weep.”

Some of the apparently critical onlookers questioned why Jesus—who could heal the blind—couldn’t have prevented Lazarus’ death. But I wonder, does Jesus’ greatest work in us occur when it may feel like he failed to act? Those times when he doesn’t fix the obvious problem or change the current situation but rather chooses to work inside to give us the strength and power and confidence to make it through.

I think that Jesus wants me to know that his deepest power is revealed through time, as I allow his miracle to work inside of me, to bring life where there is only death and rotting stench. Lazarus died eventually, but the deep spiritual work of Christ is something that never comes to an end.

Perhaps the creator of the universe is tired of constantly being asked to do parlor tricks and is much more interested in being with me in my pain and failure, to show me what it means to be a human bearing the Divine Image.

Do I want Jesus to only fix my problems, or am I willing instead to allow him to do the deep work inside of me that may not get noticed, but will bring inner peace and inner healing that can be shared with others? This really is what I want, but it sometimes feels too arduous or frankly just that nothing is happening at all. These are the times for prayer.

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Risking to be clean

Jesus had just left the Gerasenes after healing (giving his life back) the demoniac man and killing a herd of pigs, after which, “he was asked to leave.” After the chaos, Jesus has the long ride back across the lake to settle. He enjoys these rides, the creaking rock of the boat, the cool breeze in contrast to the hot sun, the birds and clouds overhead, the slap of the waves, he often dozes off…

They arrive at the dock, just down the shore from the fishers’ landing. And they’re spotted. Someone recognizes the group of disciples and their teacher.

“They’ve become good at picking us out.” Jesus chuckles to himself.

A crowd has already begun to form, but it soon parts as a high-profile, honored man is allowed through. Exuding urgency, Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue, explains the dire health of his daughter and Jesus is moved. He feels this man’s desperation and immediately connects with this young girl’s intrinsic value.

“We’re going with him.” Jesus curtly invites his friends.

Jairus leads the way—the crowd allows it—and Peter blazes the way through for Jesus (they didn’t, however, allow Jesus space)… they’re asking questions, offering a morsel of bread… Jesus feels each soul pressing into him as he struggles forward on his mission. He sees each one.

The woman also saw Jesus…

“If I could just touch his cloak, I’ll be healed.”

Twelve years and nothing has worked. She’s painfully aware of her own presence—hopefully no one else is—every person she’s touched is now unclean, just like herself. She feels so thoroughly dirty. But her desire to be restored is greater. Hope, inspired by the sight of Jesus of Nazareth (right in front of her now), causes her to reach forward between two others and grasp his cloak, just for a second. She stops. She doubles over with a severe, solid cramp… then… release. Not just the break between pains, but it’s over. She knows it to be true. Her face shows it.

Her face shows it! “Oh, no! They can tell… people are looking at me… Jesus is stopped—he knows! I’m in trouble…” Panic overtakes her joy… she has to come clean with what she’s done… Clean. “I’m clean. I can go to the temple and atone for my impropriety…”

She falls at his mercy. There’s nothing to lose—she’s accustomed to loss. Jesus is briefly confused, then his eyes meet hers.

He’s smiling…

Mark 5:22-34