3:30 Thursday, Projects

Still Searching for Sunday

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been experiencing an eight year-long crisis of faith.

Maybe faith isn’t the right word. It’s been a crisis of church. I feel a homeless, and I don’t know where to go.

Like basically every Christian I know, one of my favorite writers on Christianity and faith is C.S. Lewis. There is a moment in the fifth The Chronicles of Narnia book The Silver Chair where some of the kids and a Marshwiggle named Puddleglum get trapped under ground, and the Emerald queen is trying to convince them that there is no Narnia, that Aslan is a dream, and that only the darkness of the cave is real.

Puddleglum finally says:

Puddleglum_walking

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones… We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the playworld. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia… and that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull as you say.

Puddleglums statement sums up why, for me, faith isn’t the problem, but church can be hard to come by.

When I think about my faith and my life, I want my faith to be relevant and useful, even if Christianity isn’t “real.” When I look back on my life, I want to know that I treated people with love and kindness, that I remembered “the least of these,” that I practiced forgiveness – because heaven or no heaven, Jesus or no Jesus, Noah’s ark or no Noah’s ark – I have faith that this way of living will make my life richer, happier and more valuable for me.

Does that still count as faith?

I feel out-of-place in church, and it’s been so long since I’ve attended regularly that the mere thought of hunting down service times, getting dressed, and showing up sends my anxiety into a tailspin. What if they find out I believe in global warming? What if they preach a political platform from the pulpit? What if they don’t let gay people be members? What if I go once and it’s not a good fit, but I see someone I know and they’re offended that I don’t like their church?

The few times I’ve had the courage to step into a sanctuary over the last few years, I have felt like a stranger in my own land. I don’t like being the new kid. I don’t like introducing myself to people. I don’t like not knowing where the bathroom is. And, Culture Wars aside, I’m frustrated when I hear sermons that are answering questions I don’t have about my Christian life. I don’t need to know who’s not getting in to heaven. I don’t need to feel superior to non-Christians. I don’t need the Bible to be infallible to be full of many truths. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I shouldn’t have to wrestle with my faith because Jesus has already done that for me. And I really don’t want to wonder if someone is telling my daughters that they are somehow less worthy than men because Eve ate the apple first.

But I still find myself longing for Christian community.

So, when I saw the title of Rachel Held Evan’s book, Searching for Sunday, I thought: “Yes – that.”1423422279150

I can relate to Evans’ desire to intellectualize church – to protect myself from judgement by being judgmental, to evaluate the merits of a church’s doctrine. And I can also relate to Evans’ description of the Evangelical church as “an ex-boyfriend who’s Facebook page you can’t stop checking”

I find myself speaking up for God and the church when I see nay-sayers (most recently, I engaged with a stranger on Facebook about whether or not God was causing hurricanes…). But, on Sunday mornings, I expect a lot from my church. I see a lot of church’s “reaching out” to people my age by having rock concert quality music from their Worship Team, changing their names (examples: The Meet Up, Roots, Cool place that’s not Church but is actually Church), modernizing their logos, having services at some other time, building a coffee shop (okay…I love the coffee shops).

And I believe that God loves our joyful noise (whatever music you play), and that it’s good to update your logo every 500 years or so, but I’m not trying to decide between church and rock concerts (maybe I’m the only one?). I don’t want to go to church and have to pretend I’m doing great all the time or that I don’t have any problems because I have Jesus.

I love this sentiment:

“At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.”

I would like to go to a place like that…I think. But…how do you walk in the door the first time? How do you figure out from a church’s website if it’s more recovery group or “place where we pretend we don’t have problem because we have Jesus?” And…would that mean accepting that other people need something different from their faith than I do?

I want my daughters to know God…but I want them to know God as a loving friend who’s there with you in hard times, who will help you clean up your yard after a hurricane, bring you dinner when you’re overwhelmed, listen to you when your totally confused and don’t know why, and call you out for your bad behavior. I want the voice of God in their head to be a voice of love – not one of judgement, righteous fury, and perfectionism.

But…by being so picky about how other people experience God, and I not being a judgmental perfectionist myself? Reading Searching for Sunday, I felt a sense of comfort. Here is a friend who knows what I’m going through. At least I’m not alone.

And isn’t that we are all ultimately afraid of? And isn’t that what church and community offer us? The ultimate truth that we are not alone. That we are all struggling and wrestling with the challenges of life together.

I am still searching.

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Maggie and Mary Margaret often read books in tandem; we call it our two-person book club. For September, we bring you (in two parts) our thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

Check out Mary Margaret’s thoughts on Searching for Sunday here.

Visit Rachel Held Evans’ website and blog here.

3:30 Thursday, Motivation Monday, Projects

Let’s just leave God out of this, please.

Earlier today, the President of the United States shared the following sentiment on his social media accounts:

And something in me has officially snapped.

I am done.

If I hear one more statement from a Christian comparing the man who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to a morally questionable leader/king/etc. from the Old Testament and saying that because God used so-and-so, God is also using the 45th President of the United States to bring about his will. I have a few things to say to you.

And, to you, morally superior Christian who has instead identified this man as a portent of the end times, the anti-Christ, and evil incarnate – I have some things to say to you, too.

It’s probably not the end times.

Let’s get some perspective – basically, all Christians since the year 33 A.D. have believe that they were living in the end times. And, let’s be honest, the Christians who lived through the black death in the 14th Century saw 50% or more of Europe’s population die. By 1691, 90-95% of the indigenous peoples of the Americas had died from epidemic disease, war, famine, and other side effects of the “discovery” of the New World. Even in the last few centuries, children died of malaria, small pox, diphtheria, polio and common colds due to malnutrition, lack of medical care, poor sanitation and unfortunate luck. Now, here we are in 2017, and in the United States of America we have an unqualified bully for a President.

A man who admittedly thought it was worth his time today to accuse Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska of “letting Republicans down” by not voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And who also thought it was worth his time and energy to make a statement excluding transgendered Americans from serving in our military.

But even in these dark times, we still have electricity, running water, cable television, Facebook, and an overabundance of cheap processed food available at grocery and convenience stores 24 hours a day. I’m just saying – our claim on the end times is pretty pathetic compared to basically all time before now.

I can appreciate your feeling that our President feels like a bad omen. Nevertheless, I want to challenge that idea. I think we make this mistake over and over again in our country, and in the Christian faith.

Let’s think about Jesus for a second…

The ministry of Jesus Christ was not a political revolution. He confused people constantly in his ministry. He appeared to have infinite power:

ICYMI (In cased you missed it):

  • He could heal the sick just by touching them
  • He used 5 loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people
  • He turn water into wine
  • He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors – usually having meals with them
  • He raised a child from the dead
  • He raised his friend from the dead
  • He called out religious leaders for hypocrisy
  • Also, when faced with the prospect of death, he died. Rather than use his power against his accusers – he died. (Note the distinct contrast with the words of our current President: “When the President gets hit, he’s going to hit back 10 times harder.”) Then (we’re back to Jesus now) he came back to life.

Note some big missing elements: He never endorsed a political candidate or party (not even Ronald Regan). Also, he never mentioned the United States of America, free speech or trickle down economics. In fact, he suggested that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the first would be last and the last would be first (Matthew 20:16).

Thanks for the Sunday school lesson…why are we here again?

Here’s what I believe: Jesus Christ came to restore humanity’s relationship with its creator, not overthrow the Roman empire. I’m just going to put this out there – I don’t believe that God cares one way or another who the President of the United States is. I think God cares how we treat each other, how we treat the poor, how we treat the sick, and how we treat the planet. And, I dare say, we can do better in those areas.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t even believe that God hates Donald Trump. I think this is why Evangelical Christians have “hope” for this man – Donald Trump is not beyond the reach of God’s love…he doesn’t strike me as someone who is searching desperately for the living water that Jesus offers his followers (John 4:14), but who am I to judge another human’s innermost heart?

And that is another revolutionary idea of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ died for Donald Trump, too. I believe that Mr. Trump sees Christians in a transactional way – he likes the ones that voted for him…and that is sad for him. Because if he ever put anyone or anything above himself, he might discover the power of grace, the value of love, and the return on the investment of forgiveness and faith that leads to a truly abundant life.

I don’t believe that Donald Trump should have the power of the Presidency, and I certainly don’t want to give him the power of the antichrist. He is unworthy of both.

Is he a greedy man? Yes.
Is he a shallow man? Yes.
Is he a bully? Yes.
Is he an insult to the position that he holds and the country he represents? Yes.

And YES, he is in a position to do real harm to many people and our country, and that is why, despite my desire to pretend that he does not exist, that I choose to resist.

But please, do not give him the credit for bringing about the end times. And certainly don’t give up on the Paris accords or trying to prevent the destruction that our planet will experience due to Global Warming because you think the World is going to end anyway.

The world has seen bad leaders. evil leaders. and worse – leaders who were bad and evil, but also smart and charismatic. Mr. Trump is clumsy, inarticulate and foul. His lies are transparent and he will fall into the trap he has laid for himself.

In the mean time, let’s give God a break. Christians, can’t we please get back to the work that was important to Jesus Christ? Feeding the hungry? Healing the sick? Loving those who were rejected? Turning the other cheek? Not throwing the first stone? Following the Spirit rather than the letter of the law? Let’s do those things and stop pretending that the man in the White House represents those values right now.

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Reflections on Easter

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. This week we wanted to share our thoughts on the recent Easter holiday.


Maggie

This morning, when my children woke up, there were no surprises from the Easter bunny in my house. I’ll admit that I’m ambivalent about telling my children that magical creatures sneak into our home in the middle of the night to leave them presents, but I did not neglect to celebrate this tradition in my home for any “holier than thou” reasons. I have just never figured out what I feel like is an appropriate Easter basket. I really don’t want Easter to be “Christmas lite,” I don’t like to give my children a lot of candy, they already have more stuffed animals than they can possibly play with, and I’m just left not really knowing what to do. So, I have just chosen to not participate in the tradition of the Easter basket.

Mercifully, my children are young enough that they don’t go to school every day, so they won’t go to school tomorrow and find out that the Easter bunny visited some of their friends, but for some reason skipped our house.

Nevertheless, I would like to share a few words in defense of the Easter bunny. I know you’ve all seen the “what do eggs and bunnies have to do with the resurrection of Jesus” posts on your social media accounts all week. And given my total failure to produce an Easter basket for my children in the course of their short but otherwise wonderful lives, I’m hardly the person to stand up for a tradition of magical bunnies leaving eggs and candy in your home.

But, in defense of the bunny – here is what I think: Yes, early Christians co-opted a pagan fertility festival because the vernal equinox (aka beginning of Spring) is really close to the Jewish celebration of Passover. It may have been an opportunistic way to retain more converts. But, on the other hand, look around you! If you live in the Northern hemisphere, Spring is in the air. Life is cropping up all around you! Flowers are blooming, everyone you know on Facebook is having a baby, and if you live in a place where you have an actual winter, I’m sure it feels like the world is waking up! Surely, whether the roots of the celebration are Christian or pagan, new life is something to celebrate!

robins nest
An actual robin’s nest at Jillian’s parents’ house.

 

I also think it’s weird that in our society where we use sex to sell literally everything (I listened to a radio commercial using sex to sell car insurance this week), we turn up our noses at the idea of a fertility festival.

Why should we give up this tradition? In our amazing modern world, we have many avenues for people struggling with infertility to seek medical help to have children, and it’s STILL crazy hard for some people to have babies. If I were an ancient druid struggling to have babies or my children had miraculously made it through the Winter, I might celebrate a burrow full of bunnies or a bird’s nest full of eggs, too – because, as I’m fond of saying when it comes to making and having babies: “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”

So…please forgive my blasphemy, but today, in addition to celebrating the new life available to me through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I also want to celebrate the new life that surrounds us at Spring time. With all things we can truly and legitimately be afraid of in the World today – Global Warming, nuclear war, extreme weather, intelligent robots taking over the world – the Earth is still reborn each Spring. I feel like birth – whether it’s a baby, a puppy, a bunny, a chick, a tree or a flower – is the Earth’s way of saying it’s still optimistic about the future. And that is certainly worth celebrating.


Mary Margaret

Saturday night at Easter Vigil, our Spanish language congregation partners, Sion Lutheran, baptized a group of children—and what miraculous outfits these children wore! Little girls arrayed in tiered, bridal-like layers of shimmering polyester, bedazzled tiaras, gloves, and lace-trimmed capelets; little boys in smart white, silver-trimmed militaristic suits and high-gloss shoes. These shimmery beacons fidgeted, twirled, giggled, got sleepy, and then were baptized with water and the Holy Spirit and welcomed into the Christian faith!

girl_at_catholic_christening
More details Girl in christening gown being baptized in a Roman Catholic church. (from Wikipedia)

The story of Easter— the death and Resurrection of the man named Jesus in Roman-occupied ancient Jerusalem —is the most important story in my faith. It’s the central narrative on which our hopes are founded, the story that most clearly reveals God’s relationship to His Creation. Naturally, we each hear this story with individual ears, nuanced by our experiences, and because of my interests and profession, I likely notice references to fabric and clothing more than most.

The Baptism of Saint Vladimir in Chersonesus by Viktor Vasnetsov(1890). To the left attendants are holding Vladimir’s golden royal robes, which he has taken off, and the simple white baptismal robe, which he will put on (1890, fresco from St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, Kiev).

vasnetsov_bapt_vladimir
The Baptism of Saint Vladimir in Chersonesus by Viktor Vasnetsov (1890). To the left attendants are holding Vladimir’s golden royal robes, which he has taken off, and the simple white baptismal robe, which he will put on (1890, fresco from St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, Kiev). (from Wikipedia)

The fabrics of Holy Week are varied and suffused with meaning. Jesus ties a towel around His waist to wash the feet of his disciples before they partake in the Last Supper. Roman soldiers clothe Jesus in a purple robe to mock the idea that He is the king of the Jewish people. Soldiers cast lots to try and win the garment Jesus wore at His arrest, which is seen as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. When the lifeless form of Jesus is removed from the Cross, He’s wrapped in a burial shroud– these funereal wrappings being what Mary Magdalene and the disciples later find folded in the empty tomb. The angels proclaiming the Risen Christ wear garments of radiant light.

I am struck by the marked contrast between the types of garments described—robes of light next to a utilitarian foot-washing towel; royal purples aside linen burial wrappings; the majestic and ethereal with the humble and rough-spun. I found myself contemplating Baptism alongside burial customs, and how across time, culture, and tradition, we often swing between these contrasts. Some are baptized shrouded in a simple white robe, stripped of embellishment or individual expression. Or some, like these children, are baptized in finery, arrayed like lilies of the field. Similarly, we might be buried in our nicest clothes and jewelry, while in other times and places, the most basic shroud or wrapping is traditional.

I don’t compare to advocate for one approach— dressed up or humbly simple—rather they both seem so startlingly appropriate as an illustration of how I believe God views us—in our lives…and deaths. They are two sides of Christianity’s claim about mankind’s identity in God. On one hand, He sees us at our most basic— stripped of pretensions of identity, culture, and habit, flawed and sinful—rough-spun. Our essential being is more clearly known to Him than to ourselves, and thus we approach Him empty-handed and unadorned—what could we possibly offer to the one who gives us ourselves?

Easter’s claim, though— that God in Christ redeems Creation, bringing ALL things into right relationship with Himself—is that when He views rough-spun Creation, He actually sees His Beloved. Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God takes a humanity that finds it so difficult to love one another, and in spite of anything we are, have done, or have failed to do, He clothes us in new robes, puts rings on our fingers. The Bible abounds with metaphors of new garments, garments washed clean, of God clothing His Beloved people in righteousness and holiness.

Easter asks us to believe that we are loved by God. That He sees us as intimately and essentially as the woven fibers of a simple white shroud. That He sees us as splendid, special, and worthy as the children of Sion clothed in gleaming new garments, heirs to a Kingdom of love. When we dress up for Baptism or burial, we may clothe ourselves in the signs and symbols of our humbleness or our belovedness, but either way, in life and in death, God covers us.


Jillian

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one.” -John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

The thing that I love most about the Christian holidays is that, in a way, they’re all the same.

In Advent, we await deliverance. O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. We wait hopefully and desperately. At Christmas, we celebrate our awaited deliverance – hopefully, and desperately. Then again at Lent, still we await that same deliverance. It comes on the cross at Easter weekend – we celebrate, again, hopefully, and desperately.

Mary conceives the divine Word of God and gives birth to the hope of mankind.

Christ conceives the divine Word of God and dies to bring hope to mankind.

Nichodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Jesus answers, “Flesh gives birth to flesh but spirit gives birth to spirit.”

One story: the story of the soul’s painful and transformative exodus from old life to new. We ask, can I be redeemed? And the Bible gives us, over and over, this one story.

That’s why I celebrate Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) with Lady Gaga.

The thing that I love so much about Gaga is that her music videos and live performances always deconstruct the surface-level messages of her lyrics. You can listen to Born This Way and hear a long, 1980s-ish pop declaration that homosexuality and bisexuality are biologically natural – or you can watch the performances and see the One Story. In truth, I think, Gaga cares very little about biology. She cares about whether a human soul can be redeemed and how.

In the original Born This Way performances and music video, Gaga wears horns on her head. That’s how you know Born This Way isn’t about being “born that way.” You can see the powerful homages to the great Alvin Ailey’s modern ballet Revelations (Gaga’s choreographer trained with the Alvin Ailey school), you can see the images of baptism, and you can start to see how Born This Way is about being re-born this way. It asks, how can we be redeemed, to be wholly without hate and wholly united with God and one another in love? And it answers with pain and transformation and purification and death and spirit giving birth to spirit. One story.

You can listen to Judas and hear an irresistibly catchy pop confession of a Christian’s struggle with sin. But you can watch the music video and witness the shattering and scrambling of all the binary oppositions in the stories of Jesus: follower and leader, faithful and heretical, chaste and unchaste, sinner and saint, servant and master, human and divine. Judas doesn’t ask you what role you play in the story of Jesus – are you a follower or a betrayer, a Judas or a Peter – you are every role and every label. Instead, it asks, can you be redeemed to be wholly without sin and wholly united with God and humankind in love? And it answers with pain and transformation and purification and death and spirit giving birth to spirit. One story.

gaga judas
Gaga throwing away the binary oppositions in Judas.

You can listen to Edge of Glory and hear one more addictive “YOLO, let’s dance and have sex before we die” song. Or you can watch the music video and see the glow of a refining fire barely contained behind a flimsy Hollywood set, and you can see the stylized makeup reminiscent of ancient religious icons. And you can begin to see the fragile boundaries between the physical and the spiritual, and how you yourself are the glass you must break so you can fall toward the glassblower’s breath.

gaga edge of glory
Edge of Glory official music video

Can you be redeemed?

Pain, transformation, purification, death, spirit giving birth to spirit.

One story.

gaga born this way

Motivation Monday, Projects

Motivation Monday

SALVADORAN ARCHBISHOP OSCAR ROMERO

This week, I ran across this quote from in Common Prayer, a liturgy for ordinary radicals.

Oscar Romero wrote,

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”

 

Whether you share his faith or not, I find it comforting and motivating to keep in mind that we cannot do everything ourselves. Our lives are connected to the larger whole of humanity and creation, we have a role to play and hopefully we will play it very well. But, our lives are ultimately going to be incomplete. There will always be more we wish we could have done, but that should not prevent us from doing all that we can.

Have a great week!

 

3:30 Thursday

These forty days

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the forty days – not counting Sundays – leading up to Easter. Christians relate to and observe this religious season in lots of different ways, and so do the three of us. So today we’re sharing what’s on our mind as the 2017 Lenten season begins. 


Mary Margaret 

We traditionally begin the season of Lent with the Gospel account of Jesus setting out into the wilderness of the Judean Desert. After forty days of fasting and solitude, He is tempted by the devil. The story comes after Jesus’ Baptism and before His public ministry- the miracles, parables, disciples…the cross. Frequently people approach Lenten discipline as some period of atonement or punishment, particularly the practice of “giving up” things we enjoy. It’s tempting to imagine we gain brownie points with God by denying ourselves actual brownies. But Jesus’ withdrawal to the wilderness doesn’t actually point to that, having no reason Himself to make recompense for personal sins. Rather this time must be seen primarily as one of preparation. Preparation before the work of His life- the miracles, parables, disciples- and cross.

As Lent approaches I keep returning to one word: wilderness. A place by definition wild. For centuries the church has invited a connection between Christ’s 40-day ordeal in this inhospitable place with our own spiritual lives, and I’ve been asking myself what might be gleaned in the where– the setting of this scene.

Wilderness paradoxically encompasses emptiness and desolation along with terrifying potential for chaos and danger. Nothingness and turmoil. To me, wilderness isn’t only a physical place but also a mental and spiritual state, particularly obvious in challenging times. This year has already left me in the desert a number of times, but what scripture suggests is that oddly, the seemingly infertile, terrifying, lonely place is precisely the location to learn and grow. Here I offer three aspects of wilderness I’m taking into my Lenten preparations this year.

*There aren’t a lot of people in the wilderness. Ie. not so many words and competing voices. Why is it easier for Moses or Jesus to discern the Word of God in wilderness? Less competition. I want to scale back the wordiness in my life, being mindful of how many voices I engage with in social media, podcasts, news, and even conversation. This Lent, I want to find what I hear in the quiet.

* Wilderness is not a place you have control over—which is scary—but you have to be there anyway. But here’s another truth: you don’t have control of life outside the wilderness either. I think fearful, uncertain moments must serve to deepen our understanding of our ultimate lack of control. I’m not suggesting helplessness, but that we are not other people, the universe, or our Creator, and when we try to assume control of these things, we are more often left frustrated and debilitated.

*Sometimes you get lost in the wilderness. (There isn’t an abundance of signage). I once heard a yoga teacher quote this Turkish proverb: No matter how far down the wrong road you have traveled, turn back. I want to approach this Lent with openness in finding where I may be traveling in the wrong direction- in thinking, or actions—and stopping to turn back. No matter how much time or energy you have invested in moving through the wilderness, if the path is wrong, it’s time to turn around. After all, that’s literally what the word repentance means: a turning. Sometimes it’s simply time to turn around.


Jillian – with trigger warning for eating disorders, mental illness and foul language

I am NOT a Baptist. But I’m kind of a Baptist. And the Baptist take on Lent that I grew up with was that some other Christians fast or “give up” certain things they enjoy as, well, basically as a piss-poor homage to Christ’s suffering. (But Baptists don’t say “piss.”) To a Baptist, the idea that giving up sugar could represent Christ’s suffering is like the idea that a little sprinkle of water on a baby’s head can represent Christ’s baptism. In short, it’s bullshit. (But Baptists don’t say “shit.”)

Baptists are an all-or-nothing kind of bunch, God love ’em. But they’re pretty bad at understanding other denominations’ faith practices. For years I’ve turned down Mary Margaret and Maggie’s invitations to join in their Lenten devotionals, but now I’m attending a church that does observe Lent, so I finally just asked my minister to explain to me what the deal was.

As I was asking her, I was telling myself I could talk about this without talking about my eating disorder. But – I blame the pharmaceuticals – I was forgetting just how neurotic I really am.

My minister talked about how Lent could be about distilling your life down closer to the essentials and focusing more on what you truly need. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that “distillation” is my addiction, that when I start slicing off bits of my life, I can’t stop until I’ve pared down to nothing and I still can’t stop even then.

She talked about how Lent could be about remembering our mortality as we prepare to observe Christ’s death on Good Friday. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I obsess about death like a child about an absent parent: When will she show up again? Will she have a kind word for me? Will she help me understand who I am and where I came from?

She talked about how for some people, fasting for Lent could be a way of remembering the physical sensation of need, which can help you remember your reliance on God. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I’ve fasted and fasted until I stopped feeling hungry, forgot how to feel hungry. Until I stopped craving food and started craving only emptiness. That after nearly four years of re-learning how to eat, every time I feel hungry, I crave the emptiness all over again.

She talked about how we tend to keep our faith cerebral, and that at Lent we should recognize the importance of Christ’s body, and the need to bring the spiritual together with the physical. She talked about how Lent could be a time for finding your own ways to experience your faith in your body. I said, “Okay, I think I can get behind that.”

And I caved, and I told her about the years I spent pushing myself toward death and the years I’ve spent trying to make peace with life, trying to undo the dichotomies that keep my mind at war with my body and my spirit at war with the world. I told her about how, while everyone else seems content to honor life in death, I’d been trying for so long to honor death in life.

She said, “You know more about Lent than you think.”

I thought, “The hell I do.” But Baptists don’t say “hell.”


Maggie

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I made what has turned out to be a pretty significant decision in my life. I gave up soda for lent. I used to drink sprite, coca cola and other soft drinks all the time, but after I stopped drinking soda for lent that year, I never started again. That was before the childhood obesity was a thing, before high fructose corn syrup was the enemy of health and before anyone ever said anything about a kid drinking soda.

Did my 9 year old self really think that my sprite habit was keeping me from being closer to God? No, probably not. But the practice of observing lent, even though I didn’t understand that we were supposed to be honoring the 40 days that Christ spent fasting in the desert – helped me appreciate that there are things in our life that we think are important, but can be let go.

One of the things I love the most about the liturgical calendar of the church is that you get to revisit a practice like lent year after year. The scriptures, the practice, the idea has been the basically the same for thousands of years, but as I have changed, my experience of the practice has changed.

Back to this practice of “giving up” for lent. When I was thinking about this post I was reminded of a year when my mother gently suggested that my sisters and I give up fighting for lent. Another time, I “selflessly” vowed to “give up” five pounds (you know…because they were holding me back from a relationship with my creator). Many times these things have been more wishes or second chance New Years Resolutions.

I think I’d really prefer it if God wanted me to give up something I don’t really like anyway: taxes, cable news, my landline phone. But that is not how it works. It makes me appreciate the story of the rich young ruler from the Gospel. In the story, a wealthy young man tells Jesus how he has followed the commandments all his life and asks what more he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him that all he has to do is sell all he owns and follow him. The ruler then goes away feeling very sad because he had great wealth. I wanted you to tell me I had done enough. I was hoping you wanted me to adopt a puppy!

Christ doesn’t ask us to give up what is easy. Because it’s not the easy things that are keeping us from a closer relationship with our creator. He asks us to give up that which we identify as ourselves because those things we use to identify as ourselves: our job, our money, our cultivated image – are an illusion hiding the spiritual beings that God created us to be. But I’ve worked so hard to raise my family, earn my living, make my home. These things aren’t off limits for God. He doesn’t ask us for easy things. He chooses Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. He asks Jesus to give up his life. God doesn’t want our leftovers, he wants the things that we think are essential to ourselves, so we can appreciate that only he is essential.

This is not stuff for the faint hearted. This is why Christianity is radical. This is why letting go is an act of faith.

I try to appreciate that while God may want everything, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Maybe today I only have faith enough to give up chocolate or Facebook for the next 40 days. But, that little act of faith in God’s providence – that faith that God could fill the space in my life that is now occupied by politics, twitter, or re-runs of the Office – is still faith. Faith isn’t always about feeling faithful. It’s about being faithful and letting go.