Feb 28, 2006

lent - i'll stew

For those who don't know, even though I'm a bit of a Protestant these days I actually grew up a loose Catholic. By that I mean as a kid we sort of attended churches here and there, and I even jumped through the hoops of communion and CCD lessons. For the most part, we were there for major holidays and occasional Sunday stints. I remember it was quite an aerobic service, too... we always needed to watch the little old ladies in the front row who knew when to stand, sit, and kneel. Basically, I never got much out of it and ended up becoming a bit of a closet atheist.

That's not to diminish anyone who is a practicing Catholic. All I'm saying is that for me it was merely a religion that my family participated in and I was sort of expected to as well. On the upside, I have memories of different times my parents and grandparents seemed quite sincere about it all. Again, though, for me it was just a "thing."

One part of the "thing" I never got was the whole Lent deal. I never understood why it was that big of a deal to get ashes on your head on Ash Wednesday, nor why some people chose not to eat meat on Fridays. And then there was that whole thing about "giving up something for lent" that became more of a joke among my friends versus anything I took seriously.


A month or so ago I had a Sunday off teaching and attended service at our "other church," Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. It was at that service that Rob Bell, the teaching pastor, seemed to be on a bit of a pro-Catholic kick. Not only was he facilitating the first week of having communion four weeks in a row (which they normally don't), but he also asked that at the end of the his usual "peace be with you" benediction that the people respond back in the traditional "and also with you" manner.

Strangely, my Catholic radar didn't sound any alarm within me.

Then there is this whole Lent thing they are doing, from an Ash Wednesday service this week to "Lent books" that will help facilitate a better chronological and spiritual journey towards the cross for each person. I'm not sure if I'm going, nor how I feel about the ashes thing given my current Protestant theology.

Yet again, though, I don't think it's a big deal that they are doing this.

It's a basic principle that as we prepare together, we prepare better. Wrestling through the themes and thoughts of lent in order to move more genuinely towards the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes absolute sense. Because of this, I'm not opposed to any of this even though there is some unwritten expectation among many post-Catholics to dog the whole tradition thing. There is nothing wrong with tradition so long as it doesn't take the place of Scripture or attempt to equalize itself with it.

So instead of critiquing things, I find myself asking God how I can better prepare for the resurrection. Maybe if I get a picture of that and ask how in dying to myself a bit more this season I can experience a better understanding of Christ I just might be able to authentically praise on Palm Sunday, commune on Maundy Thursday, weep on Good Friday, choose faith in the darkness of Holy Saturday, and rejoice on Easter Sunday.

I'm going to utilize the Lent book and encourage you to journey with me on this... perhaps it might help us better understand how Jesus Christ has redeemed our connection with God forever. Lent is the season of restoration through the practice of dying... what an amazing thing to stew on (as long as it's vegetarian, of course).
"Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" (Mark 8:34)


Thurman8er said...

In the class I teach on Sunday mornings, there are usually donuts or pastries or some sort of treat. This is a CofC and I think most people there think that classroom donuts are scriptural. This past Sunday, somebody dropped the ball and there were no donuts. One young man was asked to keep track of prayer requests and then pray. He responded (HALF-jokingly, mind you), "How can I be expected to pray on an empty stomach?"

I mumbled something about prayer and fasting sort of GOING together and then we moved on.

My point: I'm wondering lately if Lent doesn't serve some real purposes. If it doesn't, as when we fast, cause us to focus more on what's important. At the same time, I think it makes us appreciate what we have.

You make an interesting point, too, about how we are "supposed to be" eschewing tradition. And I agree that tradition for tradition's sake is pointless. But trying out traditions from another tribe can be eye-opening in a lot of ways. Keep us posted, brother.

Cory said...

I think God realizes we all learn in different ways. Some of us learn audibly through spoken word. Others learn visually by seeing things in black and white. Others like me learn Kyneshtetically(sp?) meaning we must do to learn. For a person like me all the festivals of the old testiment and the "traditions" of today like Lent and ashes and what not take on special significance.

The problem is too often the significance isn't explained and tradition simply becomes tradition.

One of the reasons Mars Hill is successful at reaching so many is that it's a church which understands all this.

Needless to say, I was all over my Lent book this a.m.

Tony Myles said...

Me, too, Scooby Doo... Me, too.

Carmel said...

Hey! I'll be very interested to see what you make of it, this is my second time at doing the whole lent thing.