Well, yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and if you’ve been in conversation with any of your Christian friends about the ensuing Lenten season, then you know the first question they usually ask is:
Friend: “So…are you giving anything up for lent?”
This year, my response to that question will be a tad different than in years past:
Me: “Yeah. This year for Lent, I’m actually just giving up.”
Friend: “So…what are you giving up exactly?”
Me: “It’s not (what) I’m giving up. It’s that, this year, I’m giving up on the whole thing. I’m just going to stop trying for the entire 40 days.”
Last year around this time, my friend Bo and I chucklingly quipped about “giving up” for Lent instead of specifying a certain “thing” that we would give up for the year’s observance. This mostly resulted out of some difficult situations that had arisen in our lives, and, since it was sort of in jest, vowing to “give up” for the entirety of Lent never actually materialized (at least not publicly, ha). But this year, I am going to take action…or should I say, lose control.
Being a “Christian” continues to be overly complicated for us progressives. At the beginning of the year, I was let go from the PCUSA (now ECO) church that I had ministered at for the past 8.5 years; and it wasn’t because of my performance. Some of my own progressive theological convictions on core doctrinal issues, my theopoetic praxis of upholding the primacy of love, or my flat out denial of some unhelpful lines of thinking, have likewise led to some very difficult and emotionally exhausting conversations with beloved people from my old tribe. I also have friends who have recently endured heresy trials, lost their ministry jobs, had their denominations pull support, and it seems that most of my conversations with people who are still in ministry revolve around their continued frustration and disappointment with the institution of Christianity’s response to their own emergence and call. I know that this is partially contextual, with Orange County being a conservative hotbed, but I also know that, even here, the 40ish and under crowd of up and coming ministers has little investment in continuing to purport that same treatment to, and cultivate stunted dialectical environments for, future Emergence Christians.
Tripp and Bo over at Homebrewed Christianity discuss what we often encounter in the progressive/fundamentalist dialogue at length in this podcast (beginning at 35:11), and, although I always try to uphold working for oneness in those types of situations, I regrettably sentimentalize in my own experiences with their distinction that these two vastly different forms of the faith are actually more divided than not. With such stark polarization in certain spheres of the conversation, it’s no wonder that my wife and I feel somewhat exiled from the faith we grew up with, and the migration that we are on is still very much so in process…a process that needs space and freedom for exploration. Accompanying these sorts of life transitions can be much theological, ideological, and ethical deconstruction and metamorphosis, the kind which, at least initially, usually feels much more like loss and death than it does growth or life. Problem is, there really aren’t a lot of landing pads for people like us.
And so I think I’m just going to give up trying to be a Christian for Lent. I think am just going to be myself. And give up on trying for anything beyond that.
Ash Wednesday is the perfect spark for this kind of giving up, not the giving up of some-thing, just the giving up of trying…or a dying to the whole system. Most people’s Lenten fasts are centered around something like sweets, alcohol, exercising more (is that a fast?); basically things that can marginally improve their lives by the time they hit Easter. My friend Phil, a local Episcopalian priest, said yesterday during an Ash Wednesday Eucharist that, “Lent is about self-awareness, not self-improvement,” and if I know anything about myself today, it’s that I find my Christianity to have been loosed from the chains of the system, or maybe diffused from it would be better phrasing. And I’m looking forward to just being for a while, to stop participating in manufactured divine experiences, commoditized relationships, and worries about what our future spiritual community will be. Right now, I’m not looking for one. I’m not looking to “do life” with people. Who ever thought up the idea that life or spirituality was something we “did” anyways? Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we are alive and breathing already, and when we are doing that with others around, there is already inherently a conspiracy, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be curated.
If this “giving up” for some reason organically leads me to a Eucharist, to crack a Bible, to study theopoetics, to pray to God, to have an intentional conversation, basically to any particularized form of something that might be easily filed under “faith,” “discipline,” or “liturgy,” then so be it. I’m cool with my sacred canopy, especially Jesus! But this Lent, I am taking a stand against necessitating any form of it. I am giving up all of the separation, dualism, division, false binary, argument, and any of their relatives. I am dispersing the sacred into the whole of life. I’m going integral. I am running from the veil of control I sometimes seek when it comes to the life of faith.
Richard Rohr once said:
“Secularism is the definite and inevitable child of Christianity.”
Maybe this experiment is a full immersion into that, too. An immersion into receiving as a posture of life. To looking for unordered opportunities to pass love along. To even finding God if God pops up somewhere unexpected. I’m giving up so that my posture in this Lenten season will be fully free from obligation, necessity, trying, and expectations; and rather fully given over to letting go and waking up. For now, I’m done trying to appease, apologize, prove myself, routinize my days, hide parts of me…to squeeze myself into places that I clearly don’t fit anymore.
In short, I’m done trying too hard to be a Christian. I’m giving up.
If you’d like to follow along with my Lenten journey of “giving up,” I’ll be posting weekly blog updates here at atheopoetic.com through Easter, or you can follow me on twitter @timothytalk for more blather.