Tag Archives: church

Lenten Ideas for the Relatively Uninspired

Ash Wednesday, dear friends, is upon us!

Lent, oddly enough, is perhaps my favorite season in the church calendar.  The prayer, the fasting, the careful examination of self and society, the repentance and discipline . . . it’s my cup of tea, really.  I’m kind of depressing that way.

There are lots of different disciplines and practices a person can take up for Lent (a good list is here).  But in the post I wanted to talk specifically about fasting.

Usually we associate fasting with food.  One year I gave up coffee, for example.  Another year I gave up junk food.  This is the kind of fasting most deeply rooted in church tradition, and I think it’s an important one.  But I think the practice of fasting can be expanded a little.  Fasting, I think, is not as much about food as it is about consumption.  In the early days of the Church, most Christians really only “consumed” food.  But in 21st century America, we consume a lot more than that.  We consume all sorts of things–in fact, so much so that many theologians fear that a “consumptive” mentality is threatening the way we even think about religion, relationships, and the gospel itself.

For example, left to my own devices I spend an enormous amount of time on the internet, mainly reading blogs.  I read The Daily Dish for the news, and then look at Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone’s posted anything cool, then look at various religious and news blogs.  When I’m bored, this is what I do.  I read far more in one day than I’ll ever be able to really digest.  I am (to use a very old word) a glutton when it comes to information.

So for Lent this year, I am giving up blogs, Twitter, and online news websites.  Basically any kind of text-based online media is being cut out.  This will cut out an enormous chunk of time from my day.  Probably 2-3 hours.  I know, it’s crazy.

That’s the really intimidating thing about this: all the free time.  I can’t bear the thought of being alone with nothing to distract me.

The fear of loneliness is common to all people in all times, I think.  But we Millennials are unique in our ability to distract ourselves from this loneliness.  And we owe that to the internet.  We spend vast quantities of time online . . . and for what?  To what end?

So, here is my proposition to my peers (and any other internet addicts, for that matter): stop using the internet as a distraction during Lent.  Use the free time to practice some kind of discipline.  This will look different for different people, but here’s three more possibilities to get you started:

  • For the social network addict: use Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else you use to keep in touch only once a day, and limit your time.  Say, “I’m only giving myself one Facebook visit per day, and I’ll only be on it for twenty minutes.”  Trust me, nobody needs more than twenty minutes a day on Facebook: the rest of that time, you’re just distracting yourself for something else.  Now, what will you fill that time with?  Here’s an idea:  we all have people we’d like to have closer friendships with, but instead of engaging them we just comment on their statuses every once in a while.  How about a phone call instead?  Or better yet, a coffee date?  For Lent this year, swap lots of superficial interactions for a few, longer, more engaging ones.  You’ll be glad you did.
  • For the entertainment addict: Swear off YouTube, Reddit, StumbleUpon, or whatever your poison is, and take up something with more depth.  Instead of an hour every day checking out the coolest memes on Reddit, how about getting together a bunch of friends for a movie night once a week?  Find a friend with a Netflix account, get some popcorns, and make one night a week about enjoying a good movie with some good friends.  I promise, you’ll enjoy that so much more.
  • For the music addict: It’s pretty simple.  Stop torrenting, downloading, and otherwise consuming music.  Stop bringing your iPod with you everywhere, and learn to live with silence.  And better yet, use that time to actually learn to play that guitar, you know, the one still in it’s case underneath all your dirty laundry?  Or how about something entirely new?  How about learning to play the banjo, or piano?  In short, become a producer, rather than a consumer, of music.  That could be fun, eh?
  • For the information addict like me: give up on blogs and the news, and read a freaking book.  There’s lots of great ones out there: pick a classic.  Pick a long one, a good project.  You’ve got forty days, and that’s a long time when you’re not keeping up with twenty blogs a day.

Alright, that’s four ideas.  Anybody else got any good ones?  What should you be consuming less of this Lent?  And how are you going to use all that extra time you’ll have freed up?


How to Produce an Egalitarian Man


Photo credit: New York Times Magazine

Professor John Stackhouse wants women to speak up (and so do I!):

Women have entrusted me with great gifts: their stories and theirfeelings about what they have been through and continue to encounter. My wife has told me of how people ignore her or interrupt her. Female friends, colleagues, and students have testified to the suffering they have endured—from conversational condescension to professional marginalization to marital oppression to actual sexual or physical abuse. We men will not change until we want to change, and one of the most powerful motives we will have for changing our minds is to alleviate the suffering of the women we admire and love—suffering that is obvious to women but often unseen by us men. I know it seems incredible to women that men can be so obtuse, but people of color will testify that we white North Americans are similarly obtuse about racism. Poor people will testify that we wealthy people are obtuse about financial differences. And tradespeople will testify that we professionals are obtuse about class distinctions.

We men usually don’t see how we dominate conversations, for instance. We figure that anyone who has something to say will just say it, so those silent women must not have anything to say—and, we sadly conclude, must not be all that bright or all that motivated. We don’t see how our feelings for women can take interactions that are supposed to be constructive and mutually beneficial, and divert them into erotic games that no one should have to play, and especially not in a work- or church-related context. We don’t see how we unconsciously disregard women’s abilities and interests, and because those decisions are unconscious, the women themselves will never know exactly what happened: They just somehow (again) won’t get the opportunity, or the honor, or the reward they actually deserve.

We men need to hear from women about what it’s like to be demeaned, disrespected, or dismissed. Yes, we can be told by other men to shape up, and that can help. Men certainly have responsibility here to speak up on behalf of their sisters, on behalf of justice, and on behalf of the greater good that accrues to everyone as women are treated properly. But we will respond more readily to exhortations from both sexes if we feel it, and feel how important it is. We need this powerful impetus to compel us to undergo the strain of actually changing our minds and hearts. Otherwise, we naturally will stay where we are, in the convenient and comfortable paradigms we have inherited.

I can say with absolute honesty that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more passionate male feminist in these parts.  Making a theological commitment is one thing, but living that out is quite another, and it all-too-easy to fall into the patterns of this world when it comes to gender.

Just this morning in church I was so thankful for a dear friend of mine, a woman, calling me out on my critical and negative attitude toward the service.  Women of the world and in the Church: I need your voice, your insight, and your gifts in this world, but I am often too proud to admit it.  Forgive me.  Call me out when I need it—I’m trying my best, but I can’t do it without your help!

Can Fair Trade fix the problem?

Coffee consumers

In my last post, I took a long look at my three brief weeks working a temp job in Seattle.  The whole experience troubled my conscience, as I realized, increasingly, that many of the things I consume—things I cherish, like books and coffee—are produced by laborers under less-than-ideal conditions, and that I will never actually meet the people who produce and manufacture what I consume.  It’s a symptom of the growing gap between the producing and the consuming classes.

We feel guilty about this, I think, deep down.  We are increasingly aware that somewhere, some nameless people are working very hard to pick our coffee beans, or bind our books.  We hear of unjust labor practices in faraway places.  We hear of sweatshops and slavery.  So we buy Fair Trade coffee and look into where our clothes were made and try to shop intelligently.

Here’s the thing: we don’t do these things because we believe it will solve the problem.  No.  Me buying Fair Trade coffee will not address the root of the problem.  It is band-aid slapped on a gaping wound in our society.  We know this, I think.

Coffee producer


Rather, I submit that the main reason we “shop smart”, or whatever you want to call it, is to assuage our own guilt.  We want to consume, but we also want to disassociate ourselves from the injustices that make that consumption possible, because they make us feel bad inside.  This is a futile exercise.

What is the shape of Christian fidelity in the midst of this quandary?  How then should we live?

I want to argue that although paying attention to how we shop is important, it doesn’t address the much deeper issue at stake here—the gap in community between consumers and producers.  This problem is deeper, more basic—more radical.  And radical problems require radical solutions.

Way back in the beginning of things, we Christians had a powerful and effective solution to this problem: community.  Members of the first Christian community in Jerusalem were required—required!—to share all of their possessions with each other.  Those who held out, God killed.  I’m not kidding about this.  Look it up.

Paul and James alike, in fact, are outraged by any kind of rich-poor divisions within the communities they address (and, by extension, our own!).  In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:

“When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!”

James, similarly:

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?”

Now, here’s the fascinating thing about both of these passages: even though Paul and James are both upset over unfair discrimination within their communities, both of these passages assume that rich and poor were eating in the same room.  They were, in short, in communion with one another.

That’s certainly more than we can say about our church communities today.  How many churches have you been to where the gap between the incomes of its richest and poorest members was at all significant?  There are wealthy churches, there are middle-class churches, and there are poor churches.  Though we confess the same Lord, we choose to associate by class.  There’s something wrong about that.

OK.  So . . . that’s my diagnosis.  What’s the prescription?  C’mon, people, let’s hear some ideas: how do we go about addressing this issue in our churches, in our neighborhoods, and in our homes?