Friday, March 7, 2014

What Lent Really Is, a response

Today's clarification is based on a conversation with a good friend, Jason Laurie over at School of Fish, who I respect for many reasons.  One of which is that while we heartily disagree on many topics (probably more than we agree on), we remain friends.  Yep, that's possible.  We have spirited discussions, albeit mostly via the interwebs due to a proximity issue, push on the weak spots of the other's argument, and still treat one another as equals who deserve respect.  Thus without further ado, I give you Mr. Laurie's perspective on Lent, followed by mine.  
          || Lent means something in particular and it does not mean to the Roman Catholic (leadership) what we have made it into on the Protestant side.  It is yet another sacrament in Romanism and sacraments, not observances, are let’s just say problematic for me.  “The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent – the recalling (a nice way of saying renewing or redoing) of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance” – Vatican Council II.  Since AD 325 Lent has been celebrated for “renewing baptismal commitment.”  Baptism in Rome is not baptism in Protestantism it is a sacrament.  I don’t think it’s accurate to compare Lent to the order of service and of course baptism and communion are biblical so that doesn’t work and we don’t celebrate either as sacraments anyway.  Furthermore, Roman Catholics don’t give up things to point to Christ but: to point to how an extremely watered down gospel (an unsaving one in my opinion) that puts salvation on human perseverance, punishment and indulgences is more obvious to participant thus forcing them into rebaptism so they can be [sic] be “resaved” after a period of reflection leads them to better understand how they have wronged the Roman Catholic church.
            Most of my friends, obviously including yourself, do participate and it’s probably okay, but it is a conscience issue in my mind and I can’t in good faith participate in a religion that I believe is adverse to the true Christ. ||

For the sake of continuity, I will start with where we do agree: 

Like Mr. Laurie, I do not believe that sacraments have salvific properties, nor will they cause me to be ‘holier’ in God’s eyes, for God only sees me through Christ; I am hidden in Him through my faith and thus deemed righteous.  Neither do I believe that good works will assure my standing as righteous before God.  If my so-called good works could get me in, undoubtedly my bad works would get me kicked out! 

I do not believe that any church can effect my standing before God either, Roman or otherwise.  Thus, my loyalties lie in Christ alone – no human can save me from my sins.  Excepting, of course, the fully Divine \and equally\ fully human person, Jesus Christ.  He is the only Savior. 

I also agree that the sacraments within the Roman Catholic tradition have been considered to have inherent salvific properties that are antithetical to the gospel of Christ; thus the Catholic Church places too great an emphasis on sacraments.  However, I believe that in our Protestant, knee-jerk reaction to avoid any semblance of association with salvific sacraments, we threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  {This is where I refrain from saying anything about how the catholic – universal – church existed centuries before Luther was born, and is the stem from which modern Protestantism grew; the root obviously being Judaism.  But again, I am refraining.}  The practices and creeds of the early catholic church were both formative and protective; and I believe that when the Roman Catholic Church loyalties have been sifted out, are still of great benefit to individuals and the whole Church alike.   

As such, I will continue to use the word "sacrament," for in contemporary vernacular it is defined as: “An important Christian ceremony (such as baptism or marriage)” Mirriam-Webster // “Ecclesiastical.  A visible sign of inward grace.”  Thus, baptism and communion are sacraments within the Protestant traditions.  I would further clarify that these practices are also expectations within the Protestant church because once we pronounce our faith in Jesus Christ, we are admonished to make this a public declaration by participating in the act of baptism and partaking of communion.  We expect followers of Christ who wish to become a new family unit to participate in the sacrament of marriage; in fact, we know it is sinful for two consenting adults to have intimate relations outside of this sacrament.  Therefore, the ceremony has spiritual ramifications for each person's soul.  Thus giving credence to my argument against the position held by Mr. Kassis.           

I am continually convinced that we, who follow Christ in less liturgical ways, can find value in these ancient practices.  Is it not beneficial to me to recall – renewing or reaffirming – my baptism?  As I am baptized in Christ, would not my reaffirmation be to Him as well?  We agree that baptism has no salvific properties; it is an outward sign of inward grace. 

In our western, Protestant culture, we renew wedding vows to celebrate milestones in our marriages.  This renewal does not void the previous commitment, nor extend it; rather, the renewal honors the original and celebrates it.  In this celebration we again chose to stand in front of those whom we love, those who would hold us accountable to our promises, and publically declare our commitment to this person with our entire lives.  Does Protestant baptism differ from this?  Would we do wrong by reaffirming our commitment to Christ?  Like marriage vows, I believe we would not; I also believe this reaffirmation is not a requirement.  It is, as I said before, a way to honor and celebrate the original.[1]  This type of somber meditation does not imply that one's baptism "didn't take."  Rather, it expresses the desire of a sinful person to remember their sins, the cost of these transgressions, and the power of the Resurrection of our Risen Lord and Savior.        

Further, I see both examples of Protestant baptism as circumstantially dependent, and therefore relevant.  These being: spontaneous baptism (which is found in Scripture) and an examined, albeit delayed, baptism.  Thus, for congregations who practice examined baptism, isn’t the time leading up to this particular event akin to Lent?  Are we not exhorted to recall our sins and the price Jesus paid for them, so that we may be born again and baptized into new life in Him?      
As for penance (which was originally the sacrament of confession), we agree that it does nothing to improve, or detract from, our standing with God.  Christ alone is our righteousness.  However, I do see great benefit for me to be immediately and intimately aware of the price of my sins.  For they cost Christ’s blood.  Should I not be brokenhearted over the grief I cause the Holy Spirit when I sin?  Should I not recognize the pain I have caused the Father in that He gave the life of His Only Son to pay for the damage I have inflicted?  Further, as Jesus succinctly summed up the greatest commandment and its second (“Love your God with all your heart, mind, and strength…and the second is like it, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”), should I not strive towards reconciliation with those whom I have wronged, so far as I am able to do so without inflicting further harm?  Even to the extent that this reconciliation might require some sacrifice from me? 

Is that not the love of Christ, to give sacrificially of one’s self for the sake of another?

As you well know, I am not Roman Catholic, thus my Lenten practices are not to express my loyalty thereto; nor are they intended to better my standing with any church.  I do hope that my practices will improve, in me, my loyalty to the Church, Christ's bride; for something my Lord loves so much is also something I should aspire to love.   My Lenten practices are to recall, in my body, mind, and spirit, the miracle that is Easter; to strain, with all that I am, away from wordly distractions, reaching ever more toward the power and beauty and hope that is the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

                  This is Lent

It is death – me trying daily to die more to myself so that Christ may live more fully in me. 

It is resurrection – all things being made new: me, my relationship with my Heavenly Father and my relationships here on earth, the relationships between all humanity, the relationship between humanity and creation. 

It is victory – recalling that the Spirit of Almighty God resides in me, as He does in every believer, so that neither death nor demons nor any part of creation may ever separate me from my Heavenly Father again. 

It is hope – the truth that what has been broken will be made whole, what was been wounded will be healed, what has been wronged will be made right.  Now and in the Time to Come

It is a way to celebrate who Christ is and who we are in Him.               

          Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Amen.

[1] People in recovery ministries celebrate their sobriety by telling their stories on their anniversaries.  If we look at life in Christ through this lens, we might do well to remember our “before and after” lives, tell the stories of each, and celebrate with others our recovery from sin and death, so that we can now walk in life and truth.  Similar to the practice of “sharing our testimony;” which is one element by which the enemy is overcome.  As we contemplate Easter, would this also not be a timely practice?  Remembering what our sins cost – the cross – and then proclaiming what it has won – our lives.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

All of me ~ for Lent

It’s the second day of Lent.  You already know that.  By now, you’ve likely read what everyone else is giving up, adding, and practicing for the next 40 days.  Perhaps you have some disciplines of your own that you’re using to observe the season leading up to Easter.  You may have read articles such as this one, posted at Patheos, extolling the spiritual benefits of Lenten observations.  Or this heavy-hitter by Krista Dalton reminding us that care for the poor is how we are to worship God and draw nearer Christ. 

Though it’s possible you swing the other way, as Daniel Kassis articulates in “What is a Protestant to Make of Lent?”  Wherein he remarks, as is popular thought among many fundamental evangelicals, the signature mark of freedom in Christ is being “set free from observances, expectations, and demands that come from religious obligation;” meaning there is “no need to follow such practices, as they have no power to make us holier or ‘closer to God.’”[1] 

I’ve written on this topic before, but for the sake of clarity I’ll be brief: that’s crap.  Yes, we are only holy {read: set apart, righteous} through our faith in Jesus Christ.  However, as Christ-followers, we all have observances, expectations, and demands—Communion or baptism, anyone?  How about the order of service: three worship songs during which the congregation stands, a sermon delivered while the audience sits, congregants singing one more song, and then everybody goes home?—to which we adhere in our worship of God.  I remind my anti-liturgical sisters and brethren that if we claim to follow Christ, we are religious.  But not to worry, Jesus was religious, too.  He observed feasts and holy days and Sabbaths; he fasted and prayed, and told his followers to do the same.  Because, as fully Divine and fully Human, the Lord Jesus Christ knew that humans need disciplines to get their minds, bodies, and spirits to stop focusing on themselves and draw their attention to God.  We need rhythms and seasons and practices to get our wayward minds and wandering hearts back to where they’re supposed to be: focusing on God and caring for each other. 

This is what happens when we do Ash Wednesday at home.

I am again this year aiming for a holistic approach: body, mind, spirit, and hope. 

·         Body: I am practicing clean eating.  To heal the damage my gluttony has caused.  Lord, have mercy.

·         Mind: I am reading Wright’s tome on Pauline theology and the corresponding scriptures.  To find unity and justice in the words meant to guide and form us, in these Now-and-in-the-Time-to-Come days.  Christ, have mercy.

·         Spirit:  I am turning off my nightly television and replacing my shows with Psalms and Proverbs.  I am fasting and praying on behalf of a dear friend; I will do so for a brave group of women setting out on a pilgrimage towards healing.  I am praying and memorizing a prayer, by St. Francis of Assisi, which I will share with you in days to come.  To bend my life more into Christ’s likeness.  Lord, have mercy.

·         Hope: I am working on a project that has long lived in my heart, to be completed by Easter.  It is in faith that I look toward this finish line and the usefulness of this project; that people may know the fullness of hope that is Jesus Christ in them.  Christ, have mercy

Because Lent illuminates our fallen-ness.

Because Lent leads to sacrifice.

Because Lent is, ultimately, about hope.

Hope that we can be Christ to the poor and outcast and hurting.  Hope that we can put aside our different ideas and care for each other.  Hope that no matter the circumstance, we can offer the love and healing of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A letter to Lupita Nyong'o, on her acceptance speech

Dear Ms. Lupita Nyong'o,

I, as so many others have, recently read your acceptance speech for the Best Breakthrough Performance Award  at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon for your role in 12 Years a Slave.  It was beautiful and moving.  Thank you for sharing a bit of you with all the billions of us.  Thank you for being a voice for women who look like you, and for inspiring even women who look like me.  Thank you for reminding all of us what is important.  Thank you for being brave.      

I want to say that I am so sorry that you were made to feel as if your skin was not included in the definition of beauty.  I am so very sorry that we live in a world where such a lie is permitted to fester and infect the minds and hearts of so many beautiful and gifted and intelligent young women.      

But let me be so bold as to make a correction, for you were wrong about one thing.  You said that God wasn’t listening when you prayed desperate prayers for lighter skin.  Smart, luminescent, and beautiful Lupita: God was listening.  He heard every single word you uttered; He was aware of all of your bargains and promises, and He knew every time your heart desired to be found in lighter skin. 

It wasn't because God wasn’t listening that He didn't give you what you wanted.  No.  God didn’t answer your prayers because you were already beautiful.  Just as you are now.  He didn’t lighten your skin because God does not deal in the hollow beauty the world teaches us to strive for.  He does not favor light skin over dark, white over black or brown.  God made all shades of skin – – beautiful. 

You see, God is not in the business of lightening skin, nor straighten hair, nor lengthening legs, nor slimming waists.  God is in the business of beauty.  But His definition of beauty is wider and more encompassing than any narrow-minded, pithy, media-generated stereotype could hope to capture.  God deals in beauty that is defined in our uniqueness, as He creates each one of us.  He makes every shade of skin, hair, and eyes.  He forms every shape, curve, and line.  He authors the timbre in every voice.  He crafts every talent found in all of creation.

                And He calls each one beautiful.      

Lupita, I am sorry that the world once taught you, as it tries to teach all women, that beauty comes only in one shade of skin, one color of hair, one shape of body.  I am sorry that we women believe that there is only one way to be beautiful.  I am sorry that we prostitute ourselves for this ideal that is neither God’s, nor frankly, humanity’s.  I am sorry, that as a people, we sell this lie to one another.  I’m even sorrier that we buy it.   

Your mother is right: humanity’s definition of beauty cannot nurture anyone of us.  But even more sustaining than our compassion is the truth that we are all created in the image of a beautiful and good and loving God.  We are sustained through His goodness and beauty and love so that we can be compassionate, so that we can find and create beauty in this world, and so that we can love one another, just as He first loved us.

Thank you, again, for being honest about your journey.  Thank you for speaking truth to women and girls around the world.  Thank you for being you.

With great admiration,
Jen Baros