Thursday, February 23, 2012

On Babies, Bathwater, and Getting Past A Rigid Evangelical Identity (A Lent Post)

The more I reflect on my formative years in an evangelical, pentecostal church in the heart of the corn belt, the more it seems like that particular flavor of evangelicalism suffers from the legacy of early Protestantism's penchant for disposing of the baby along with the bathwater.

I was quick to condemn Catholics (which included a large majority of my mother's thoroughly Irish extended family) and mainline Protestants (which included most of my father's German-Lutheran extended family) for their peculiar (at least in our eyes) practices, their "empty" devotion to ritual, their "dogmatic" commitment to "extra-biblical" practices, and of course, their "works-based" salvation.

When I look back now, it all seems rather silly.  Different people experience God in different ways, and to classify certain practices as "better" or "more godly/holy" than others just strikes me as, well, a little (or a lottle) asinine.

This time of year, I'm reminded of that rich spiritual heritage that I missed out on in acting this way, and as our family is "in between" faith communities right now, I find myself longing to connect in some way with those wonderful traditions, and the observance of Lent.  You see, Lent wasn't mentioned in my church except, perhaps, in passing jest.  I'm not even really sure why, except, perhaps, that it was one of those "empty rituals" that those "other Christians" (if we would even call them Christians) participated in because they didn't understand the concept of grace.

[Sigh]

It's amazing how powerful those narratives still are, how they still lurk in the back of my brain.

So this year, in an attempt to understand and connect to, you know, pretty much the rest of the Christian WORLD apart from that thin sliver of Evangelicalism that I grew up in, our family is observing Lent. Now I know the power of periods of discipline and self-denial in an individual context.  Heck, even in a wholly non-spiritual context, I get it (I was in the Army, after all).  But what I'm discovering this year is the power of practices like these done in community. 

As I talk to others (OK, let's be honest, talking probably mostly consists of interacting with people on blogs, facebook, and twitter, but I'm TOTALLY counting that) about their own observance of Lent, I'm struck by the power of the diversity of practice and belief that drives them, and even better, I learn from every one of them.  From those like me who are noob's to the practice, to those who've done it so long that they've ventured into the "giving up Lent/God/prayer/etc for Lent" territory, in each case, they teach me something, and in each case I find myself taking the lessons that they're learning and internalizing them myself. 

And I'm certainly learning the value of community, and how powerful it is when communities move together.

So let's "talk" :) 

I suppose I'm not really interested in "what you're giving up for Lent," as much as I'm interested in what are you learning in this season where we look forward to and anticipate the celebration of the work of the Cross and the Resurrection?  What is resonating with you?  If what you're giving up for Lent plays into what you're learning, by all means, share that too.  Even if you're not observing Lent, are you doing anything in preparation/anticipation of Easter?

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