A Lenten Practice that Won’t Be Easy – for Me

I don’t remember when I adopted the annual practice of a Lenten discipline. I’m pretty sure that it was after I’d begun serving as pastor of my first churches, though it might have been before seminary graduation. I tried on a number of ways to draw closer to God in those days.

For some years I mostly practiced a discipline of “giving something up for Lent.” Some have heard me tell the story of giving up anxiety for the season, and how delighted I was that I’d succeeded. Some have heard me tell the follow-up story. The next year I pledged to give up anxiety for Lent again… and failed.

I have never successfully repeated a Lenten discipline.

More recently, I have added an activity, practice, or creative effort to the season. I “take something on” as well as “giving something up.” I don’t announce my choices for the season. I recall Jesus’ stern warnings about praying so that other people could hear rather than that God could hear. Lenten practice should be about my relationship with God and with myself. It’s not to make me look pious to others.

This year, however, I have to make an exception. I think I will need help. I’ve decided to give up self-deprecation for Lent.

It’s a challenge.

I love humor. I love a sense of fun, games, and jokes. I do not, however, like to tell jokes at someone else’s expense. I don’t like to make fun of anyone’s appearance, background, personality, or challenges. I don’t like to make fun of anyone’s vulnerabilities or strengths. Sometimes these jests don’t hurt, but far too often they do. “It’s just a joke” doesn’t cut it. I’d rather not do it.

(By the way, this doesn’t mean I’m successful at this. I do poke fun at others from time to time – and I tell myself not to do it again.)

I’d rather poke fun at myself. That’s what I try to do. Truthfully, I’m the only person I have the right to poke fun of, and I do it pretty often.

Within a few hours of deciding I’d stop doing that for Lent, I caught myself doing it several times.

Self-deprecation might be a more comfortable frame for humor, but for me it is also a sign of insecurity and anxiety. Some of those jokes function to disguise those things, and some of those jokes function to invite comfort for them. Both the mask and the invitation to comfort are… problematic. Both allow me to avoid internal struggle by turning it outward. Both allow me to avoid the work to resolve or refresh what’s unsettled in my soul.

That’s a good reason to give it up, at least for a season.

But it’s going to be difficult, and I don’t think that’s self-deprecation. I invite your help as this season goes along, friends. If you detect me “putting myself down,” I invite you to call me on it – not comfort me, call me on it. “Eric, didn’t you give that up for Lent?” will do.

It is, and will be, a challenge.

Holy Week 2019: Good Friday

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
– Isaiah 53:7-8a

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
– Luke 23:34

Silence, Jesus? Excuses, Jesus?
In truth, I want a louder Savior.
I want a firebrand, I want a chief.
I want a voice that echoes from the hills.

I do not want excuses.
I do not want a suffering servant
satisfied with our perverted justice,
consenting with your silence.

For heaven’s sake, shake the heavens!
For earth’s sake, rattle the earth!
For the oppressed’s sake, break the bonds!
For humanity’s sake, do something!

Don’t – don’t – make excuses.
Not for them. Not for us.
Not even – dare I say it?
Don’t make excuses for me.

I do not need excusing, Jesus.
No, I need forgiving.
Excuses will not change the world:
Repentance and forgiveness might.

Suffering Savior, keep your silence:
but do not keep your peace.
We who witness your great love
weep for your peace.

Photo by Eric Anderson

But Now…

I’ve never worried before, O God,
about the younger son’s repentance.
I’ve always gratefully assumed
he walked the roads of sackcloth
and of ashes. What a shock
his father’s welcome must have been!

But now… I wonder.

Was he another twister of the truth?
Was he another one who turns the world
around his little finger? Did Narcissus blush
with shame at his temerity, his lies?
And did the pounding of his heart betray
his gratitude or hidden glee?

And now… I wonder.

In that Great Somewhere, do you wait for me?
Do you wonder when I’ll lay aside deceit –
delusion sweet for me, unwitting lie to you –
and truly bring my starving soul back home?
Does the pounding of my heart betray
my gratitude or deeply hidden lies?

Yes now… I wonder.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b- 32, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Go Tell that Fox

Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio
Oil on canvas, 114 x 137 cm, 1606 – 1607

“Go tell that fox for me…”

Are you kidding, Jesus? I’m not telling Herod
anything. I know the risks. And if you don’t,
might you recall the head of John
the Baptist on a platter?

“…’Listen, I am casting out demons
and performing cures today
and tomorrow…”

That’s great for you, Messiah, but,
I’m no messiah (if you hadn’t noticed).
I stand by beds of illness impotent,
and listen to my breaking heart.

“‘…and on the third day finish my work.”

Ha! That’s a good one, Jesus. Yes, I know
the joke, that preachers only work one day
a week. Not even I believe I’ll finish –
or you’ll finish – in just three.

“‘…Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day
I must be on my way.'”

Oh, must you leave so soon? No longer to
encourage me to take on earthly powers,
summon them to righteousness,
decry their foul abuses?

Yes, there you go, into your self-proclaimed
three days of labor, leaving me…
leaving me… commissioned
to confront the Herod of today.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:31-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, Second Sunday in Lent.

The image is “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” by Caravaggio, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=509510.

Messiah’s Temptations

Cliff edge on Hawai’i Island

I’m hungry, but…
I know that I’ll find bread
a step or two away.

I’m arrogant, but…
I can’t be sure
I’ll rule the world
any better than Satan.

(Isn’t that a kick in the head?)

I’m courageous, but…
I’m hardly likely to
accept this gracious offer
for a heavenly bungie jump .

(At least not without a harness
and a springy cord.)

They may have tempted you, Messiah,
but they don’t do much for me.

So I guess I’ll live in gratitude
you could resist the miracle,
the earthly power, the heady taste
of Godliness – and give yourself to me.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 4:1-13, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, First Sunday in Lent.

Photo by Eric Anderson.