Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pause button…

When radical Protestants took over the English government in the mid-17th century, they abolished that most unbiblical, corrupting of days…Christmas. “Excuse me?!” might you respond, “Who were these crazy, uncaring heathens?!” “Puritans,” I’d answer, “Spiritually related to many of America’s most prominent founders. They tried to nix it here too.” But that’s a different story.

The point is, they made Christmas illegal, considering it a pagan festival poorly wrapped in Christian paper, without precedent in Holy Scripture. Easter was fine. Pentecost too. But Christmas and many other holy-days then important to the Catholic Church- feasts for patron saints, martyrs, etc.- were exactly the “not found in the Bible” stuff these radical Protestants protested. The notion likely sounds ludicrous to modern folk. Many Protestants now deem Christmas the #2 day in spiritual import. Some even rage annually against what they dub a secular “War on Christmas.” But such is history and life; what has been or will be can still surprise us. For instance- that our religious ancestors worried that Christmas endangered our souls.

Perhaps you knew that already. If not, you’re likely familiar with another holdover from that early Protestant protesting. Alongside pushing St. Nick back up the chimney, they attacked the season of Lent. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, which retains respect for this season (in case you forgot, Lent is forty days of discipline and introspection that for centuries Christians have used to prepare for Easter). However, when I left that communion, I found many Protestants didn’t even know the term. Or if they did, they called it “too Catholic” or “too dreary” or, simply, “weird.” Disciples of Christ long shared such skepticism. We, after all, began our movement loudly proclaiming, “Where scripture speaks, we speak. Where it’s silent, we’re silent.” And our early leaders didn’t find within the New Testament any evidence for this Lent thing.

Thus it was that for much Disciples history, churches like ours passionately avoided Lent. Over the past several decades, though, that’s changed (to some long-time Disciples’ dismay…). Essentially, we began spending more time with denominations who valued the season and its traditions. Accepting that maybe they’ve learned something we could learn too, many Disciples churches now observe Lent. Usually, that occurs with less…shall I say…strictness than our high church-influenced friends. Most Disciples don’t fast every Lenten Friday, and certainly don’t forgo beef. Many skip Good Friday or Ash Wednesday services- although you shouldn’t skip the good Ash Wednesday worship we’ve got planned for March 5th (6:15pm)! And the whole “giving up something for Lent” tradition is broadly considered optional (although it’s useful, and if you’re interested, here are two ideas- 1) Go on a carbon fast, i.e. lessen the amount of carbon your daily activities pump into our atmosphere or 2) “Take something up” for Lent, like a new daily devotional or prayer practice, seeking God’s guidance for our church or the poor in our community every night before bed). Still, we’ve come to recognize something insightful about human souls and spiritual needs that could be met by pushing the pause button on normal activities, focusing for a season on deepening our devotion.

That, after all, is one goal not simply of Lent or Advent or other church seasons, but even- if properly observed- all holy-days too. Our souls are not robots. Our needs and desires go through peaks and valleys, storms and lulls. And not because we’re failing or sinful; it’s as it should be. Variety is the spice of life! I mean, the regularity of Sunday worship does train our hearts to be more attentive to God’s will and serving our neighbors. But that can also get repetitive, even dull, if we don’t mix it up with an occasional festival or time of renewal. Our radical Protestant ancestors forgot that, in their otherwise righteous quest to purge religion of greed and corrupt power. Celebrating seasons, setting time apart for special attention is good for us. So with respect for their well-intentioned fervor, I’ll continue to look forward to next Christmas, and enjoy observing Lent with you these next forty days. May we gladly see Jesus anew, again.

No comments:

Post a Comment