Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lenten Practices

I've been thinking about lent and the practice traditionally of "giving something up for lent." I don't really know where this originated, and I don't know how much people do this anymore. I know it was once popular, but I'm not really sure why. The lenten season is for self-reflection, traditionally focused on repentance and baptism. But, it's interesting because I've been thinking about lent - journeying through Christ's last days on earth and what that means. I don't suppose Jesus ever imagined millions of people retelling this story over and over again, and looking into their own lives to think about the ways they have failed and need to repent. It seems like we spend a lot of time on things like that in the church. Jesus' life and journey were what they were because he was convinced of what he was doing, compelled in some way to make his journey and face the powers that be, which he knew would bring his demise. But, I don't imagine he really wanted his followers to sit around thinking about what they hadn't done right, or to focus on the ways they had failed. I imagine he would want his followers to go forward and live our lives in love as he commanded. So, why do we spend so much time thinking about these things? Why is it that most people of faith still feel like they somehow have to earn God's love and grace, or do something to be worthy of it, or self-denigrate because....why? I've been thinking about the movie "Pay It Forward" and the simple idea of the young boy in the movie to do three things to help people. His idea would be that instead of paying him back they would then help three others, who would help three others, and on and on. If I remember the movie, he helps folks but then he gets too tied up into how successful his help was, and he feels defeated. Of course, as the movie goes on we see it all works out - his efforts pan out and the movement he began spreads in ways he couldn't imagine. In fact, in reality did you know there is a "pay it forward foundation" with a website - google it and you'll see! So, I wonder if Jesus might have a message to us during this time that's more like "pay it forward" and don't worry about the outcome?! I don't think Jesus ever felt that the road he took was something that people would have to "pay him back" for. If he indeed saved the world, he did it as gift and not as something expecting reward or whatever it is we call what we do. I imagine he would say give love and grace away, my gift has been given and I don't need to be paid back. Pay it forward - give it away, love the people I created, and the world I created, in every way you can. But don't be discouraged by the response - you can't be tied up to the outcome. I think the movie also shows another reality in the death of the young boy at the end. If you think being good or having faith will save you from difficulty or even death - it won't. Life is life and even bad things happen to good people. But - real faith - it seems to be isn't about "paying it back", but giving away God's gift of love and grace and reaching out in whatever small or large ways we can to "pay it forward."

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