Dismantling Cynicism for Lent

Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with worship at church. I was raised in a setting where hands were held high in praise, where we swayed with our eyes closed, and where outwardly expressions of worship were a direct indication of your personal relationship with God. My naturally critical spirit turned toward an unhealthy cynicism as I watched my fellow teenagers literally cry out to Jesus on a Sunday morning and then do nothing to love their neighbors throughout the week. My way of rebelling was to mouth the words with my hands firmly planted at my side. I would not participate in any sort of staged worship, however detrimental it was to my own engagement.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Sadly, this cynicism has stayed with me for decades. In college, I rediscovered a love of singing out loud though the expectations for charisma at an Anglican church are fairly low. As an adult, I attended a variety of churches that featured all sorts of styles, from a robed choir to a leader who is an incredible musician but never invited the congregation to really join in.

At our new church, the worship is reminiscent of my childhood church. Praise music reminding me that God is on my side, a lot of battle imagery, and declarations of prosperity fill our service. When we first started attending, I was struck by the joy of our worship pastor. I had forgotten that worship was supposed to be joyful – that we can connect with God happily and openly.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to participate. A lot of the time, I would interact through quiet prayer. The lyrics often triggered headlines I had read or conversations I had. I used the time to grapple and question and pray. But if I’m honest, I also didn’t participate out of habit. After not singing for so long, it was easy to stand quietly.

One day after the service our worship pastor approached me and asked, Do you not like the worship here? I notice that you never sing along. Yikes! The blessing and curse of going to a well-lit church with an intimate congregation is that people notice. I stammered out a reason but his questions stirred me to really reflect and dig deeper into why I don’t participate.

Lent begins this Wednesday and for a time, I was stumped as to how I would participate in this season of remembering. My practice is to add something to my days, from writing notes to researching politicians leading our nation. Then, I read through Sarah Bessey’s Forty Simple Practices of Lent and paused at Day Thirty: Go to a church or a concert or an evening prayer service and sing your heart out.

So this Lenten season, I decided to sing every song at church. I’ll participate in dismantling my deep-rooted cynicism. But, I also want to recognize and celebrate my curiosity. So, in addition to singing along every Sunday, I’ll research the songs we’re singing. I want to know their origins and the biographies of the authors. Maybe I’ll walk away still unsure about singing along but I hope I’ll rediscover the power of corporate worship, of singing together, regardless of where we are on the journey.

Do you participate in Lent? I’d love to hear how you’re observing these weeks before Easter celebrations.

I’ve written quite a bit about Lent over the years. Here’s a link to previous posts: https://annierim.com/?s=lent
Some of my favorite practices have included writing notes to forty women, letting them know their impact on my life;
Listing forty cabinet members, researching their background, and praying for them (You could do this with presidential candidates or legislation, too);
Changing my phone settings to gray-tones to remind me of the false filters we often put on our lives;
Giving up wine and using that budget to fund Kiva microloans .

Advent Culminates With the Beginning

This Advent season, I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings. I like to know where the journey is going, to at least have an endpoint. But that’s not life or faith. I’m remembering that God has gifted us very few answers and endings and instead keeps pointing us back to the beginning. I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today reflecting on what I’m learning this season. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over and join the conversation!

We are in the midst of Advent, which looks like lighting a candle each night before dinner and reading a short devotion from a kid-friendly book. Our oldest is now able to do the bulk of the reading which has added an incredible element to our evenings. Because she gets the spotlight for the reading, she has graciously ceded the extinguishing of the candle to her younger sister, meaning we have one less quibble at the table. There’s also something amazing about passing on the reading after seven years of finding the “perfect fit.” It’s a reminder of why we create imperfect habits and rhythms as a family. Now, our girls can’t imagine life without Advent readings and I am grateful that it’s an ingrained part of our year.

I’ve been thinking about imperfect habits lately and how it translates to my view of God and faith. Recently, I was reading the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. It’s a story I’ve read countless times since I was a child and recently taught to the kindergarten Sunday school class at our church. As an oldest, rule-following child, I’ve always had empathy for the elder son. I absolutely understood his frustration at watching the mistakes of his younger brother celebrated. Growing up, I was taught to be like the younger son, and not like the ungrateful and shortsighted older one. But the other day, I was struck with the way this parable ends.

After listening to his oldest son, the father says, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NIV)

And there the story ends. We don’t know what happens next. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

Where do you see God in the beginnings? What epiphanies are you having this Advent season?

Champagne for Breakfast

As I learn more about the church calendar, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaning into the different seasons. I’m remembering to pause and breathe in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, to feast for Epiphany before the fasting of Lent, and to really think about what it means to be “Easter people.”

When I hear the phrase, “Easter people,” it usually is in the context of the biggest Sunday celebration – hymns and hallelujahs, fancy dresses and elaborate dinners. We proclaim the risen Christ! And then go back to life as normal on Monday.

Theologian N.T. Wright talks about how the church is really good at remembering and practicing Lent, of taking time to fast and prepare. But we aren’t as good at remembering the 40 days of Easter celebration. He says,

No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

(exerpted from Let the Easter Parties Begin! by Internet Monk)

I’ve written before about things that are saving my life. I love that mid-winter practice when it is easy to forget that so many small things bring joy and comfort. But it also takes on a connotation that life itself is not saving me. That I am bogged down. So, in this Eastertide, I want to remember five things that are bringing smile-to-my-face JOY. That are filling me with laughter and hope. That help me remember we are an Easter people.

IMG_85821) My Little Free Library
I had been wanting a Little Free Library ever since we moved into our neighborhood. Our house is on the corner of a cul-de-sac, right around from a busier intersection that leads to our elementary school and is on the way to the middle and high schools. We get a good amount of foot traffic and I wanted to encourage community through books. Last month, my dad built and installed our library and the girls helped paint it. I love watching the ebb and flow of books and the way it’s connected our neighborhood in this short time.

2) Sweet Sister Time
IMG_8615Lately, the girls have been on an awesome streak of playing together and caring for each other. Of course, we still have our sibling moments, but their bond is growing and it is so awesome to watch these girls become friends. They read together, imagine together, ride bikes and hold hands. We were at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day and they were content spending the entire morning together. Elle misses Bea while she’s at school and can’t wait to pick her up. She runs to Bea, jumps into her arms, and Bea swings her around as they both say, “Sisters!!”

3) Writing Friends
It’s just been in the past few months that I’ve really started stepping into an identity of “writer.” (I know, I know. If I write, I’m a writer. Easier said than done.) I’ve had the opportunity to chat with other moms who are writers, to help friends on their pretty amazing writing project, and am even dipping my toes into bigger and more serious ideas. I still don’t introduce myself as a writer but I’m getting closer…

(Side note: If you want behind-the-scenes news about projects, sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap. I also started an author Facebook page and would love it if you gave it a “like.” These things help!)

4) Rosé in the Basement
One of my favorite springtime celebrations is drinking rosé and eating runny cheese out in our yard while the girls run around. For Easter, Frank stocked us up with fun bottles and they’re just waiting for the end of tax season. Even though they haven’t made their way to the fridge yet, just knowing they’re ready and waiting gives me hope and happiness.

5) Generosity of Friends
I know that our community makes every single list of lifesavers but it’s for a good reason. I am blown away by the people who take care of us. A friend took Elle for the morning so I could make traction on a project and those 3 hours made all the difference! We’re heading to the mountains next week to get away and unwind after the tax deadline, thanks to the generosity of other friends. I am always amazed at how well our community cares for us, especially during these stressful seasons.

What about you? What is giving you JOY in this season? What keeps you smiling, even when you don’t realize it?

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

We just got back from a camping trip out in the wilderness of Colorado. Our campsite didn’t have many amenities – just a vault toilet and a fire ring. We spent a few days playing in the dirt, using wet wipes the best we could, and letting our kids explore. We unplugged because we wanted to and because there’s no other option in these woods.

IMG_5065My friend and I were laughing at the amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip. The baking and shopping and organizing beforehand and the unpacking and fifteen loads of laundry when we get home. How does a weekend of fun translate to a week of prep work?

But our girls, though exhausted, had an incredible time. After two nights, Bea wasn’t ready to come home to our ordinary routine.

I have a planner produced by a group called Sacred Ordinary Days. It follows the liturgical year and has helped me be more attuned to the church calendar. I love learning about the seasons – from the well-known Christmas and Lent to the emerging Advent and Epiphany, I’m noticing a new rhythm in my outlook.

Right now, we’re in the season of Ordinary time. This happens twice: Once in the weeks between Advent and Lent, known as Epiphany, and the much longer Pentecost, which stretches from Easter to Advent.

According to Sacred Ordinary Days, ordinary has two meanings: It serves as the contrast between the extraordinary times of feasting and remembering Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The second meaning comes from the word ordinal or counted time. This time isn’t about feasting but about remembering the role of the church in this world and our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I get caught in a desire to live an extraordinary life. I don’t want to be ordinary – I want to change the world! To leave my mark! To make a difference! My reality is that our days look very similar to each other. Perhaps the nouns change a bit but the verbs are more or less the same.

I like the idea of viewing ordinary as ordinal. What am I counting? How are my rhythms shaping my days? Those flows and cycles and routines that lay a foundation for feasting and extraordinary celebrations.

If we lived in extraordinary time all the time, I would be exhausted. I’d always be preparing and anticipating and cleaning and busy.

Instead, I’m reminded that I count breaths and sit in the sunshine. We play outside and ride our bikes. Our adventures at home are laying the foundation for bigger adventures later. Our simple meals make the feasts more delectable.

I’m remembering that ordinary time is when we are healthy and ready for the next big thing. As Christians, it means that we are living in these days, preparing for a new Heaven and new Earth. As a mom, it means that I am doing the slow work of building confidence in my kids so they can go out into this world.

Now that we’re bathed and the laundry is finished and our sleep is restored, my girls are happy to be home. We are remembering the beauty of home, of our ordinary life, and of our quiet routine. We are also eagerly anticipating our next adventure, knowing that our ordinary home is here, waiting.

What is something ordinary you are thankful for? How do you recognize ordinary time in your own rhythms?

Why Bother With Lent?

On Wednesday, we leave the Epiphany and Ordinary Time in the church calendar and move into Lent, that period that prepares us for Easter. Lent is a 40 day practice (excluding Sundays) that encourages fasting, preparation, and mindfulness as Christians consider the celebration and importance of Easter.

img_3829I’ve come to look forward to this time of the year. Not so much because it gives me structure for removing myself from distractions, but because it really has helped me to pause and understand the joyful celebration of Easter. In the past, I’ve written notes to women, taken social media off my phone, and given up something in order to use those resources to give to something else. All those were good and (surprisingly) sustaining practices. But does Jesus really care if I give up wine in order to give a Kiva loan? Does it make Easter any more meaningful when I don’t scroll through Instagram for the weeks leading up to that Sunday?

Honestly, not really. And, shouldn’t I practicing these better ways of living regardless of the season? Twitter isn’t exactly life-giving in June, either. I can send a note to a friend regardless of the season.

For me, the reason Lent has become a season to anticipate is that I know I need structure. I need guidelines and a timeframe to create good habits. Just like I knew that processed food isn’t great for my body, I needed the structure and timeframe of Whole30 to help me reset to habits I knew were good but lacked the self-discipline to simply change on my own.

Similarly, I look toward Lent as a time to reflect on ways in which I could better reflect Jesus and his mission. What are areas in which I could live out this radical message better? How can I use this structure and timeframe to help me better understand and form habits that reflect my values?

I’ve found that I need to not only fast from something but I need to add to something in its place. When Frank & I gave up wine, we added donations to Kiva. When I gave up social media, I added the Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals to my day. Without the addition of something valuable, I think giving up loses some of its power.

This year, I’ve again taken social media off my phone. I debated this decision because it is a way I get my news and information and I don’t want to be uninformed. But, on my phone, it’s easy to get lost to the world of rabbit trails. So, I’m committing to checking the news daily from my computer, to staying informed, but also staying present in my real life activities.

I’m adding a prayer list. I’ve written down President Trump’s cabinet and appointments – both those already confirmed and those up for nomination. I’ve committed to learning more about each of the members of this new cabinet. I want to know their background and policies. And then, I’m going to pray for them. Not that they’ll conform to my own ideology (after all, I’m not the one nominated for these positions) but that they’ll take this job seriously. That they’ll seek wisdom and guidance from a variety of sources and backgrounds. That they’ll consider what is best for all of the population, not just a group of constituents.

I’m also praying that, as I learn about these cabinet members, I’ll learn through a lens of grace and sympathy. That I’ll look for the best, not the worst. And that my perspective will shift. I may not agree with them at the end of these 40 days, but I want a new perspective. Not one of frustration or fear but one of empowerment and resolve. And that this practice creates a new way in how I pray for our government and our leaders.

Do you observe Lent? How do you find it most helpful?