Praying Your Lenten Fast Fails

Giving up or fasting during the season of Lent is a tradition in the Christian church which many today still subscribe to. This is a noble discipline, one which I also participate in. However, I pray that we fail our fasts.

Photo by  Kamil Szumotalski  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Fasting seems to be understood by many people less as a spiritual discipline and more as a personal betterment practice. Many who fast from certain food types are doing so for weight loss. Many who fast from technology do so to avoid the toxicity of twitter. There is nothing wrong with these sorts of fasts at all! However, fasting in this way feeds the myth (myth is a unifying narrative not something that is always factually true) that through our thoughts, actions, and will power, we can become a better version of ourselves.

I pray that we all fail our Lenten fasts so that when we do we are faced with the reality that the myth of self betterment is a hallow myth. It is a myth that leads to guilt, shame and even fatalism.

The myth that I hope to live my life around is that of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Christ reminds us that no amount of will power or determination will bring you to a better self. In fact Christianity points out that there is not a better self to obtain. That in fact the real journey is to embrace who we are, warts and all, and be able to discover the joy in it. When we fail, we come face to face with the reality that we are not god or perfect. We face the truth that we are in need of a grace. We encounter the reality that we are unable to transform ourselves, that we are in need. We need that which is beyond us and that which is outside of us.

May you fail your Lenten fast and experience the grace of forgiveness and pick the fast up the next day.

Giving up Bible Reading in 2019

Photo by  Priscilla Du Preez  on  Unsplash

Reading the Bible is a time honored tradition in the life of the Christian and this year I think I am giving it up. I am giving up reading the Bible for scripture reading.

Reading the Bible and scripture reading are different not in content but in posture. The same words are engaged but it is a different approach. When we read the Bible we tend to look for what we can learn or what we can gain. We look for the teaching or the wisdom we need to get through the moment. We find something that can challenge us or stimulate our thinking. The vast majority of Bible studies that I have been apart are interested in expanding your thinking in order to shore up belief structures. Reading the Bible puts the reader as the protagonist (the main actor) in the process.

Reading scripture is different.

First of all, we do not read scripture - scripture reads us. Scripture exposes to us the things in our life and world that we are blind to and even need to repent of. However the primary difference is that scripture reading means that we are open to (and expectant of) an encounter with the living Christ. This means scripture reading is not an action but an event. It is a “happening”. It is a theophany.

Shifting from reading the Bible to scripture reading is ultimately differentiated by the fruit each practice bears. If we are not transformed by the words we read, then we are reading the Bible. And so, as a start consider this scripture reading:

But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
— Jesus, Matthew 12:7

You are Growing or Dying. Shenanigans.

We have all heard this idea that we are either growing or dying. We hear if people are learning a new skill or if they are becoming a “better” person then they are “growing”. We also hear that organizations that rake in profits or create social change are “growing.” If there is a restaurant that has a line out the door then that restaurant is “growing” in their market.

Photo by  Wang Xi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Conversely, people who are getting older or have stopped learning are thought of as “dying.” Organizations that are not expanding then they are “dying.” Businesses that no longer have that line around the block are “dying.”

Because you are either growing or dying.

The Truth is, nothing is growing OR dying. Everything is growing AND dying at the same time.

Every person, regardless of age or stage, is growing and dying at the same time. The one who is learning a lot may be growing intellectually but they also are experiencing a death of previously understood ideas. The organization that is growing in numbers is also dying to previous ways of doing things. The business that is growing in market share is also dying to the intimacy they had.

Philosophers such as Hannah Arendt describe a “natality.” In addition to how philosophers speak of natalities, we may begin to think of natality as the other side of fatality. Where fatality is about dying, natality is about birth. For every fatality there is a simultaneous natality and for every natality there is a simultaneous fatality.

The question is not are you growing or dying but how are you growing AND dying.

The Church is beginning to embrace the very message that she has proclaimed for 2000 years in that the Church is not dying. It is dying and being born. It is declining and growing. It is contracting and expanding.

Maybe Don't Pray for People So Much

Praying for someone or for a situation is a common Christian practice. Prayer brings us into solidarity with one another, but it also is a confessional posture. Praying for someone often suggests a powerlessness to a situation and that we pray that God may intervene. Prayer is a powerful practice that bathes the Christian life and it is good a right thing to pray for people.

Sympathy vs. Empathy - Brown and RSA

My co-pastor and wife showed the Brene Brown clip making the distinction between sympathy and empathy. Brown points out that sympathy is a noble thing, but sympathy is something that one feels at a distance from another. When a tragedy strikes we send our sympathies. These are well intentions, but sympathy can only get one so far. Which is why Brown points out the need for empathy.

Empathy is that posture of being with someone who is in the pit or dark night. Empathy requires that we sit with another. That we move toward them and be with them. Empathy is with another while sympathy is for another.

Christians are called to pray for people to be sure, however Christians have the greater call to pray with people. In order to pray with people we have to move to where the people are. We have to go out into the world and not just pray at our dinner tables for the world. We are to pray with the dying not just for those on hospice. We are to pray with the prisoner not just for the incarcerated.

I am comfortable praying for people but praying with people has changed my life.