Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lenten Confessions 02: Giving up giving things up for Lent

As I mentioned in my first post to kick off the season of Lent, I would like to offer a series of confessional reflections on the Litany of Penance from the Book of Common Prayer used for Ash Wednesday services. If you are unfamiliar with said Litany, check out the end of the post: "Why I Needed Wine..."

So I come to this blog as my own confession booth and to you, my 2.5 readers, as my priests to receive my offering and join me in prayers for forgiveness and renewal along the lines of Psalm 51.

- - - -

The Litany continues with this confession:

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved
your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

Most often when we think of "practicing" or "observing" Lent we consider what we are going to give up for 40 days.  I have heard people give up eating meat, drinking coca cola, using facebook, caring about fashion, smoking cigarettes, etc.  All of these are worthwhile practices of restraint that help us to understand the idolatrous hold useless things and simply luxuries have on our hearts.

This season, though, came with a rather old-yet-new-to-me insight about what it means to observe Lent.

As I sat at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta at 7:30am on Ash Wednesday confessing, praying, meditating, listening, and repenting I was struck for the first time how little the Lenten liturgy, especially the traditional passage from Joel 2 and Psalm 51 as well as the Liturgy of Penance, had anything to do with giving up a particular indulgence for 40 days.

Again I state that I support and personally participate in the "fasting" practices of Lent. I have found myself quite challenged and stretched by them each year (as well as humbled by how weak I am).

However, the nature of the repentance, confession, and return that kicks off the Lenten season seems to be calling forth in us a time more focused on what we should be DOING rather than what we should be GIVING UP.  As you see in the second portion of the Litany quoted above, this 40 day season of repentance challenges us at levels far greater and broader than restraining self-indulgent ways.

We have been deaf to the call to serve, as Christ served us...

It was this confession as well as others like it that allowed the scales to fall off my own eyes so that I could see Jesus standing before me calling out the kind of worship and repentance He desires from me.  It was this confession, heartbreakingly relevant and personal to me, that led me to rethink my observance of Lent this year.

I have still chosen some minor things to fast from to challenge my vanity and indulgence, but beyond that, and more important than that, I sensed a deeper stirring within my spirit that returning to God and renewing faithfulness would require so much more from me.  So, I decided that my most important practice for Lent this season would be to educate myself and to act/advocate on behalf of those with whom Christ identifies Himself via Matthew 25 - the poor, the outcast, the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned.  Specifically, I decide that it was long overdue for me to love the undocumented immigrants in our country as Christ has loved me.

I have been deaf to the call to serve them as Christ as served me

For a few years now I have been sensitized to the plight of the immigrant population in the United States.  For a few months I have been challenged on a more pragmatic level on the needs of the immigrants, the unjust legislation that continues to be meted out against them, and the ways to advocate and care for them.  Some lectures I have attended, books I have started reading, and websites I have started following, etc. have helped to open my eyes to this issue.

But here is where the confession comes in.

I am not doing anything. 

How about this for a liturgy of penance:

Am I passionate that things need to change in this country? 
Yes! Amen and Amen
Am I bothered by how quick Christians are to condemn our poor neighbors in defense of the law? 
Yes! Amen and Amen
Am I convinced that the Gospel demands immigrants be treated as if they are Christ in our midst? 
Yes! Amen and Amen
Do I deep down long to see laws created that honor and bless our immigrant neighbors? 
Yes! Amen and Amen
Do I feel anger when I see myths, lies, and fears perpetrated to cause prejudice in our hearts? 
Yes! Amen and Amen

Am I doing anything about it? 
No, I am not. 
Lord, have mercy on me.

I began this Lenten season committing myself to reading a couple books on immigration that I own, paying closer attention to the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform website, making contact with the Latin American Association in Atlanta, and writing to the AJC in response to articles and op-ed pieces concerning immigration law.

But I have not done anything.

I have buried myself in reading and research for this South Africa travel seminar I am taking in May and excused myself from any responsibility to act on behalf of Jesus as he escapes the borders of poverty seeking work and hope in this country.

I have not been true to the mind of Christ.

I have grieved the Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

Maybe it is time to give up giving things up for Lent.  Maybe it is time to starting observing Lent by opening our ears to the cries of the poor and the oppressed in our midst.  Go ahead, drink your cokes.  Just do something for Jesus.

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