To Lent or not to Lent, that is the Question

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After spending the evening watching the Grammys and tweeting my snarky thoughts, last night my dreams were in Tweet format.  Needless to say it was a long night. And when I woke this morning I was more than a little disturbed by it.

I got to thinking about technology’s power in my life.

Earlier this week, I read an article by Albert Borgmann on the subject of Taming Technology. For Borgmann, philosophy is a way of taking up the questions that live at the center of everyday life — questions that are urgent but often inarticulate. The philosophy of technology, which has been the principal focus of his work since the mid-1970s, is about bringing to light and calling into question the technological shape and character of everyday life.  How do we gather technological devices together into the good life?  How does technology shape a way of life?  It is an interesting article.  You should read it.

Lent is coming.

For Christians, the 40 days (plus Sundays) of Lent — the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday — is a time for reflection, renewal, and rededication.

But Lent has been a part of the Church life from the 2d Century on, and it’s a discipline and a season worthy of the entire Church. What is Lent? Essentially it is a time of preparation. As during Advent we prepare to celebrate the Advent of our Lord, so during Lent we prepare to enter in and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is a time for us to recollect our minds and hearts toward the saving events of our faith. The Church Calendar is designed to keep our lives connected week by week to the life of Jesus. — Scot McKnight

I’ve written about Lent before and have some links below. Many Christians don’t participate in Lent or take it lightly; perhaps giving up chocolate or caffeine as way of depriving ourselves.  But  Julie Clawson author of Everyday Justice and blogger at One Hand Clapping says about this most misunderstood event: “Lent isn’t about denial, it is about transformation. It is the season in which we prepare to encounter Christ’s sacrifice by endeavoring to become more Christ like ourselves. ”  (Emphasis mine.)  I could not agree more.

In preparing for Lent, I sometimes ask myself:

  • Is there a habit (or even a sin) in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of my loving God or loving others?  Ask God to get a hold of that habit over the next 40 days and help you have the discipline to give it to him, forever. 
  • Is there any one in my life with whom I need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation?  This may take longer than Lent.  Here is a poem that I wrote during a time of profound grieving, knowing that I had done and said something that I thought was unforgivable. It’s titled  Longing for Mercy.  Ask God to begin to work in you and in the other person to ready you both for reconciliation in God’s perfect timing. 
  • What am I willing to give up to carve out extra time for daily contemplation and listening for the season of Lent?  
  • Lent begins  next week, on Ash Wednesday, leaving time to ask God to show you what you need to stop doing to have more time with him.  

I’m seriously considering letting go of Facebook for Lent.  It often makes me anxious and confused and I wonder about its power over my mind and heart.  Could I just let it fly away into the abyss  of cyberspace for forty days and see what other more meaningful things I can fill it up with?  I don’t know yet.

A Pastoral Word from Dr. Mark D. Roberts:

Let me note, at this point, that if you think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by your good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a theological problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn more of it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace. If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.

 This is a good reminder.  What about you?  Do you take part in Lent and if so how has this been a powerful event in your life? Or not?

MH

A clear and powerful description of Lent  by Dr. Mark D. Roberts , Senior Adviser and Theologian in Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal, in the Hill Country of Texas outside of San Antonio.

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Other things I’ve written on Lent:

Though Mayest in Me Behold

A prayer for Lent

Lenton Series: Winter Slowly Receeds

Lenton Series: If you Were Homeless


Gender is Everything

My curiosity peaked, I read a blog post titled: Fatherhood, Faith and Gender Stereotypes.  As often is the case when you talk about gender, the comments went off topic a bit.

What I wrote:

I believe as a female and a feminist, I am not served by God being perceived as (solely) male, but that doesn’t invalidate the role of Father God or human fathers.  I need God to be beyond gender which is why it is so unfortunate that he is male in scripture.  Jesus was male and there’s nothing we can do about it.

One person in particular didn’t like my statement Jesus was male and there is nothing we can do about it.  He was surprised that being male or female could be a bad thing saying, “Without touching issues of headship or roles or responsibility and so on, is gender that much of an issue?”

I was startled by the thought that some people don’t think about how gender affects everything!

How can one live in the current set of realities in and outside the Church and not think about gender and how it might impact one’s relationship with God, with other believers and with the Church?

Perhaps I have been steeped for too long in the belief that gender is everything.

My daughter certainly accuses me of it, often calling me paranoid about women in the church.

But she needs to know that gender is everything when it is your gender that keeps you from being able to do things, to express things, to know things, and carry out certain roles, especially in the Church.  Gender is everything when your perception of love, and mercy, and justice, and your perception of God is colored by him being a Father.  Gender is everything when your human father was an angry, oft times cruel person, who crushed your spirit and controlled your life to the point that you, the YOU that is unique and created in God’s image, died. [At least I thought for a very long time that I had died.  I felt dead.]  Yes, for me gender is everything as I learn to love, or at least like being female in the Church.  And as I learn not to hate a male image of God.

Slowly my perceptions of God have changed as I listened to different voices than the ones I grew up with.  As I hear in the voices of many women (and sometimes in men) the tenderness and gentle grace of Jesus Christ, who is the son of God.  This is not anything like what I have known from my earthly father.

Yes, I bring my experiences to any discussion of God.

On one level it is simple. My perception of God is not enhanced or even helped by God being male. Although I know from scripture that God is not female and I am not trying to make scripture say anything that it doesn’t say I wish God was something “other” than male.

I want to know more fully a God who is not male or female, but greater than anything I might perceive or have experienced here on earth. 

I think that our perceptions of male and female are tarnished by the fall; really everything post-Genesis 1 and 2.  Our conceptualization is broken and damaged (at least in my experience) and so thinking of God as male is (almost) hurtful to me.

A child must know that she is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like her.” (Emphasis and gender change mine)

We are each miracles.  Beautiful individuals who have been given each a mind and heart that is different from the next person.  May we each grow up knowing this!

I would love to hear suggestions of further reading and study on the trinity.  In particular, God the “Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” to figure out what was intended by those names.

The bottom line is that with the fall, with oppression, with the mistreatment of women and girls throughout the ages, there is no easy way to redeem the word Father. At least that is true for me.

— MHH

It’s about pain: Concern for Christian women in the church

This is a followup to writing about multi-ethnicity, race and culture and the culturally insensitive and offensive book, Deadly Viper. I’ve concluded that the only way to change that story is to boycott the book but even that is ineffective. And apparently the authors are “good guys” and they didn’t mean any harm. Okay.  Beyond that, I’m going to continue to follow and cheer on, virtually, my (new) Asian American contacts, for they must continue to raise their concerns about WHY this is so inappropriate.  If you want to do something, here’s the email for the appropriate person to contact at Zondervan, the VP of PR and Communication, Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com.

I keep reading on (mostly) from women blogging, and here, that aspects of Deadly Viper are offensive to women, to which I heave a sigh of frustration!  I don’t want to read their silly book.  I’m not ready to talk about my pain and concerns for Christian women in the church.  And I do not look forward to writing this post which is essentially about PAIN! Yes, pain.

Before you, dear reader, get annoyed because we women are always offended, please understand how much I do not want to talk about this, knowing you think I should stop whining.

For me it starts with questioning why people, but Christians especially, cause one another pain so needlessly?  And especially why do we cause pain for those that are different from us?  Why are Christians so dogmatic, so closed-minded, so unwilling to change, so proud, and so damn selfish?  This is a serious generalization, but I cannot stand the reputations that Christians have right now in the media and in any secular context.  I cannot stand the way many, many Christians behave, it’s embarrassing!  We, above all, as followers of Christ are instructed to love, as Jesus loved (Remember the poor, the meek, the widow, the prisoner.)

If a person is in pain, whose fault is it?  I’m especially cognizant of this question because I have three kids very close in age and my husband and I are constantly being called upon to administer justice. (i.e. break up fights.)  Is it: a) their own fault for being too sensitive or getting hurt? b) the fault of the person who caused the pain in the past so it’s pushing buttons and causing additional anguish, or c) the fault of the person who caused the pain this time?

I suspect though, as we try to figure out who did what to whom and why, that we are asking the wrong questions.  Someone was hurt and pain occurred.  Where do we go from here?  How to make it right.  How to create conversation and learn?  These are the things I try to work through with my children and these are the things we should focus on now, as it relates to very difficult painful experiences.

Let’s be real. Racism exists.  Homophobia is very real. And I can step up boldly to the mike and say: SEXISM IS REAL and alive, though I genuinely wish it were not so.  And it causes minorities, gays and women pain, sometimes deeply, scarring because it is often repeatedly happening.

And yet we live with it.  We learn to get along. Sometimes we even smile and act polite; we don’t want to offend.  occasionally, we get angry.  Women don’t want to be perceived as a bitch.  Christians don’t want to be perceived a liberal.  Many don’t want to be labeled a feminist.  Hardly anyone is willing to, dare I say it, admit to being a person that loves gay people.  And so we live with the pain of repeated offenses, getting along, and leaning on those who are the lightning rods for us, like Dr. Soong Chan Rah and Kathy Khang .   I’m not so sure who other lightning rods are for women but I appreciated Julie Clawson on the topic this week.

So where do we go from here?

I haven’t been in the fray for a long time.  And I haven’t missed it, not really.  But allow me to tell you a true story, the short version of nearly ten years of my life.  Every word is true although admittedly my perspective. I worked for many years for a para-church organization.  I was lucky in that  I was given tons of responsibility and opportunities for leadership.  I was using my abilities, influencing, it was a good place.   As fast as I could catch I was being thrown responsibility and I love it.  I was Gen X right when Gen X was a hot topic and I was able to bring that to the organization’s communications efforts.  admittedly, I was promoted quickly over just a few years.

Running parallel to this was a tension growing between myself and another leader.   He was older (by two decades ), intellectual, theological, super influential and made a big splash all the time and he had made himself integral to all aspects of the organization.

I was an up and comer and although people liked my work, and my work ethic and my productivity, it wasn’t long before it was clear that we were competitors.  There are more spiritual ways of saying it without sounding crass, but there’s only so much turf in a small organization and we both wanted it.  Were fighting for it all the time.  Oh, not to each others’ faces but in everything we did we were working toward taking charge of the area of communication. Trust me I was not a perfect leader by any means, but I would say probably my greatest vice (other than an insane desire to be perfect and in control of everything and working too hard) was working my staff too hard and not providing enough coaching.  No one had ever coached me and I didn’t know how, but that’s another topic (throwing leaders into the fire without grooming them.)  His vice?  Temper temper.  He threw a Bible at my friend in anger.  He treated people (below him) horribly.  Severe abuse which I would hear about and would bring up with my supervisor and it hit the President’s office and stayed there.  They were buddies.

Being an emotional person, I cried floods of tears at home in bed to my husband and I prayed, but at work I tried to prove to everyone what I “just knew” — that I was supposed to be the one in charge.  I was young, innovative, I was ‘the future.’  Meanwhile, I was also having babies while working full-time.  I would have these meetings with my supervisor where I would try to make him understand how horrible it all was the infighting and how people were being treated and that people were leaving the organization because of this person, and as he said “We waded through blood together.”

Then one day he brought me into his office and he had a time line on the whiteboard.  I kid you not, he had a time line for my life where I would finish out the current assignment, I would go be a mommy for a few years, and this person would have retired and then I would come back and rule!  Once I got over the hurt, knowing that he was done advocating for me AND  he was essentially telling me I had gone as far as I was going to there.  So I finished the gig I had and quit.  That was nine years ago and I haven’t gone back and they haven’t asked me.  Draw your own conclusions.

AND SO I FOUND A PARTIAL COPY OF DEADLY VIPERS ONLINE.

I began to read.  I first learned one of the authors owns a Media Firm (Yikes! What a revelation!)  They need some sensitivity training.  But I digress, sort of.  I’d like to ask the authors of Deadly Vipers if they have daughters.  Because if they do, how can they speak so diminutively about girls and women?  Here’s an example:

“there’s little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We’re weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs.” DV, page 8

I have a daughter.  I am a daughter and a woman and I must say I resent being used as an example of weak and pathetic, totally lacking in character and discipline and I do not want my daughter thinking that she is either.  Even worse, would be my sons learning about “leadership” from macho, cool, trendy dewdes.

These guys are my worst nightmare.  They even make fun of ugly people!! Yes, I mean nerds, geeks, “four eyes,” me.  Yep guys, you’ve gone and made me mad.  How can you use ugly people in such a way?  So that did make me cringe and wonder at their sophomoric attempts at humor, and cool, and their strange lingo.  But I stopped reading when I read the phrase:  “We are asking you to go balls out with us.” mostly because I had to look it up.  They can’t mean what I think they mean …?  Go look for yourself, but I can tell you that you exclude women from your book at this point boys, as this is something that we just physically can’t do.

So forget about Deadly Vipers.  I’m tired of that topic already and I don’t really want to beat up on these poor guys.  They are just trying to be cool, and hip and relevant.  Just trying is what they are doing, trying too hard.

I shall put my Communications hat on for a second and tell Zondervan and their PR people what I think.

1) Say you’re sorry and you messed up, when you’re sorry and you mess up. Just do it cause it will make you a stronger person. Humility is a part of integrity.  Then, fix it.

Once I produced a poster for a convention featuring all sorts of images of people serving in different capacities.  What I didn’t notice, nor did the graphic designer, or a whole slew of other people who saw the thing, that all of the servees were ethnic and/or darker skinned and the servers were lighter skin.  The posters got a reaction from our multi-ethnic staff.  I was crushed.  But I had messed up.  So, I pulled the posters and they were trashed.  We quickly redid a promo poster and I can tell you that I will never forget that.  Not because I messed up, but becuase I saw how you can do so and survive if your heart is remorseful and you are willing to change.

2) Change your infrastructure. You must have women and minorities at the table on all levels of your organization if you want to stop making these huge grotesque blunders.  (Well they are huge and grotesque to me.)  In the board room, in the leadership, in the communications team, as your artists and ideas people.  I’m not an ethnic minority so I can’t speak to that, but there are people who consult on such things who could generally help the communications of an organization by having advice on the ways that you communicate and what you’re saying.  I am a woman with a background in communications/marketing and I could easily look over anything quickly to tell you if it’s insulting to women.

3) If that seems too impossible a task (to hire us I mean) then get your organization some cultural sensitivity training.  Again, tons of firms that could help both secular and Christian.  Every person on staff should get such training.

And then tonight I read about Presidential hiring process at Wheaton College and to be honest I had no idea it had gotten to be so backward.  One would assume that Wheaton would hire the best qualified person.  Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex is not only illegal, but morally wrong.  I cannot believe that people feel they need to ask that some women and minority candidates be considered,but like Justice Sonia Sotomeyor said,

“if you are a white male who thinks that race and gender don’t matter, conjure up the image of a Supreme Court made up of all-hispanic and black women, and you will know how the rest of the US feels when faced by the prospect of an overwhelmingly white male Supreme Court.”

If women want an equal world, we have to work for it by accepting positions of authority and responsibility.  Not by walking away from the fight, like I did.  But I gave it everything and frankly almost lost my faith in the process.  And so, I have to look forward to a day when men work side by side with women,  people of every color and stripe, with joy and common purpose. That did not happen for me, but I speak out because I hope that things will be better for my sons and daughters, for my nieces and nephews who are all bi-racial or of a minority culture.   It will be a better world for them.  It just has to be.

Fundamentally, it is our hearts that give us up every time.  And out of our hearts spew what we believe.  It’s our hearts that need changing.

CS Lewis wrote: The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.

Enough for tonight.