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 .

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?

Responding to Lent

I’m in the middle of Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and am in the midst of her chapter on Lent. It is this season when Christians stop, slow down and reflect on the why of Jesus’ sacrifice. L’eagle comments that it is also, appropriately, in the midst of the dreariness of winter, when we are anticipating spring and all its promise.

Often, Lent is associated with giving up. It’s a time to remember sacrifice. Others add something – an act of service or a way of giving back to draw nearer to the message of Jesus. I’ve done both and, in each season, have been moved and changed by those actions.

This year, I’m in a quieter place. Lent can be tough since – for us – it’s in the midst of tax season, a time of giving up and sacrifice as a family anyway. It’s also tough to add in the midst of newborn life. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to observe and honor this season of preparation.

Last year, I took social media apps off my phone. I still checked in via the computer, but this was much less often and much more intentional. This year, I think I’ll do the same, though I’ll replace them with my Bible Gateway app. They have a Lenten study that I can read while nursing Elle – when it’s nice to have something to occupy my thoughts and an actual book can be awkward.

Taking an idea from L’Engle, I’ll also be reflecting on the Beatitudes over the coming 40 days. I don’t want to put a rule on how I’ll do it but, I’m envisioning spending a few days or a week or so on each and reflecting or drawing or creating something based on what comes to mind. I’m excited to see where this goes – if nothing else, reflecting on this set of verses will be enlightening.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12

12662035_580306472138680_5379470499159502870_nOther Ideas:

  • Last year I listed Five Ideas for Lent.
  • Katelin at By Their Strange Fruit has a comprehensive list on Disciplines for Racial Justice, ranging from fasting to service to prayer.
  • Even though it started as something for Black History Month, Cara Meredith’s Reading For Change Challenge could easily be carried through Lent. (I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Look for a discussion post later this month!)
  • For Instagrammers and/or photographers, these prompts from RethinkChurch.org may be helpful in creating Lenten images.

Do you observe Lent? Do you give up or add or do something completely different? How do you prepare yourself for Easter?

Note: As part of Bible Gateway’s Blogger Grid, I’ve agreed to write about their website periodically.