On Lent and Fasting – Goodbye Apathy and Keeping up Appearances

Today’s post is going to meander a bit. I hope you’ll bear with me as I work some things out in my Thinking Spot.

I’ve always loved history. Historical fiction is my favorite genre of book; history classes were always my favorite; movies based on actual events get me every time.  My usual wheelhouse is anything related to World War II. I’m inspired by the acts of heroism displayed by the people resisting Hitler’s march across Europe and mission to annihilate every human being who didn’t fall in line or match up with his requirements for belonging to The Reich.  I could read books about the resistance or the war effort or the people back home all day, every day.

But I’ve always hated learning about the American Civil War. The numbers of dead in the battles are staggering. The political machinations of the ones in charge were mind-boggling.  The issue of slavery too uncomfortable and disturbing to want to dwell on.  Lately I’ve been pondering my lack of interest in anything Civil War in contrast to my voracious appetite for anything WWII related.

Then, interrupt those ponderings with the season of Lent.  This year,our church has been reading (again) the wonderful book by Alicia Britt Chole, called 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. This book has a reading for every day, encouraging us to move beyond putting aside chocolate or red meat or caffeine during the season of Lent.  She hypothesizes that we don’t live fruitful, awake, alive lives of faith because we don’t allow ourselves to ponder the deep, uncomfortable questions that exist within our faith. Each day she suggests a “heart-fast” to try and weed out clutter from our faith walk. This week included apathy and keeping up appearances. Then she had to throw in revisionism… Ouch.

This week’s readings included a day about “appearances” and focused on one of the stranger stories in scripture of when Jesus curses a fig tree. Her conclusions about this incident are that Jesus “finds utter fruitlessness frustrating.” The fig tree in question was completely withered when it should have been at least showing signs of some fruit growing. He wasn’t concerned that the tree wasn’t dripping with ripe, luscious figs, but rather, that it wasn’t bearing fruit at all.

Her admonition to us from this story is to take to heart the warning that Jesus gives to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy – “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied against you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)  At the end of the chapter, she says: “Our reality does not frustrate Jesus. Our hypocrisy does.” (p. 88)

After I finished reading that day, I flipped over to Facebook and read some posts in a group I’m in that encourages bridge-building as the path to racial reconciliation in our country. It’s a group that challenges me to think outside my cultural context and to see how my context may be filtering what I understand about our country’s history and about the Gospel. I read these words from a person of color who is involved in ministry in her local church (part of a longer post):

When they plead their cause, I’m there.
I care.
I give.
I sacrifice.
I cry.
I listen.

But every time I share an incident of personal discrimination or racism, when I ask to have a conversation or have support – silence, pushback, rebuke.

I’ve been told the church can’t single out one group, but it feels like every other group has been championed. There is room for all these ministries and concerns, but not for me.

It’s worse than invisibility.

I feel less than.

When I read these words, the line about our hypocrisy frustrating Jesus more than our reality from my Lent reading slammed back into my heart. Why do I hate learning about the Civil War? Why do I turn away? It’s a shameful, difficult history that IS my country’s reality. And I think I’ve been more interested in keeping up the appearance that MY country is somehow better because we’ve been the hero in so many other situations. But the problem with all of that is that it’s hypocrisy – I live in a country that declared “all men to be created equal,” while concurrently only giving rights to a few, and holding millions of their fellow human beings in slavery. Reveling in the heroic deeds of some while ignoring the heinous acts of others is hypocrisy.

Like this person who shared her hurt above said, we in the church have been happy to sacrifice for so many things, but when faced with the scars of our racial sin, we clam up and point to our own righteousness instead of listening with broken hearts.

I’m done with that. (or if I’m being honest, I WANT to be done with that.) I’m giving up on appearances and apathy. How will I do this? I start with opening my eyes and leaning in to the harder parts of our nation’s history. I’m also opening up my heart to be examined and cleaned out of ways and thoughts that do not align with what I say I believe. I’ll ask questions and try to look past the posturing emotions that so often appear on social media. I’ll stop being defensive.

If ever I’ve made someone feel invisible for by my unwillingness to listen and validate your story, I apologize and beg forgiveness. Your story matters and I want to hear it. You are not invisible to me.