Thursday, February 19

The Other Side of Lent

I liked her, but secretly.  My professor in seminary was a small Korean woman who spoke into our first-semester lives a host of things, most of which we weren't certain we agreed with.  Each week, as she taught us multicultural ministry, her lectures came out with chopped-up ideas and uncomfortable questions.  I couldn't always track with her but when I did she left me gasping over the profound new way she viewed truth and God and love.  She used phrases like "both/and" and "we are spiritual beings who have a human experience." But I was among students who preferred saying "either/or" and disdained that cultic "spiritual" talk.

Because we were 24.  And evangelical.  And seminary students.  And we lived in the Western World. And we knew so many things, you see.

She made me uncomfortable in my faith but I was drawn to her uniqueness.  So, I kept my mouth shut while the other students fumed and shook their heads.  I kept listening.  Over the years, she encouraged me in different classes and finally nominated me for a "Graduate Who's Who" edition and essentially said, "Don't be silent anymore. You are somebody."

But everyone didn't have the same experience.  Some students took their pent-up anger to the dean of the school to say, "She's wrong" and "She shouldn't be teaching."  He disagreed.  And the wisdom of age and experience trumped the passionate jump of youth whose depth of insight was not deep enough to make a splash in the world.

Sometimes we think we're more than we are. 

Yes, I'm taking up laughter for Lent.  But it's not that haughty, gloss-over the hard stuff, look-at-me-like-we're-in-middle-school kind of laughter.  There's another side, a self-reproaching awareness, a step into the humble.  The other side of Lent is that I am giving up taking myself so seriously. 

Here's what I know: I don't part the waters for any one.  I don't hold back any powers of destruction, see the complete picture of truth, or establish a foundation in any place.  Nothing is truly built on my life.  I like to think that in tandem with the rest of the Church I have a role to play, but I don't make her body move, establish her beauty, or push her blood through her veins.

I have as much opportunity to follow Wisdom as anyone else and equal chances to draw the short stick when I attempt to take hold of her.  In my attempts to be kind, I am not always right.  In my attempts to be right, I cheat kindness.  Nothing sets me apart except the expectations of those around me.  And in this season I'm saying to myself, "You don't save anyone.  Let the expectations be directed to God."

Reading through Job again I suddenly see how self-important Job is and all my prior impressions are now shattered.  Where was the righteous man who was so innocently acted upon?  The sermons and stories and New Testament scriptures over the course of my life painted him so saintly.  "Well, sometimes tragic things happen to the best of us."  But in this read-through all I see is his pride and all I sense is his entitlement.  Perhaps I'm learning to read it through my own heart.

When we take ourselves so seriously ("I deserved something different") we jump into anger and offense.  We demand responses.  We view ourselves as examples of truth.  We can't take a joke or make fun of ourselves.  We dare not be wrong.  Thus, you see, where the need for laughter comes in.

A friend of mine said last week, "Sometimes things falling apart seems like a dreaded unraveling to be avoided at all reasonable cost. Then it happens, usually in more than one way, and the grip I had on my ravelry is laughable. Levity and relief enter, an unexpected benefit. Suddenly I realize: the universe of possibly is now open to me."

This Lenten season, if any new truth is going to open up to me -- and please, God, may it be so -- I need to make room for it lest the ego fill the whole space that was meant for wonder and worship and worth. 

We give up so that we might take up.  They happen together else we fill the void with ourselves.

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For two years I have had comments turned off as a discipline to write for myself. I'm seeing the other side. I just ask that you comment with grace.