Here is this week's Lenten Truth Facing. If you missed the last few weeks, a summary is below.
Week 4: Prayer is a mystery. We do not know how, when, or even if prayer works. We may trust in the power of prayer or hope in prayer or find prayer personally beneficial but we do not know that prayers are ever answered. You can fancy dance all you want with “sometimes the answer is no” or “if it is according to God’s will” or “prayer is about changing the heart of the one praying.” The first is nonsensical, the second says God will answer prayers if God was already going to do it anyway, and the third seems like prayer as cosmic biofeedback. The reality is all those are just another way of saying we don’t know how or if prayer works. This is important because it is true and also because without this humility about prayer the words “I am praying for you” can sound empty, condescending, or judgmental. They can also be a convenient way of avoiding getting off our hind-ends and doing something. We can trust in prayer. We can hope in prayer. But prayer is another thing we need to be brutally honest about. Think of one thing you would have prayed about this week and do something about it instead. Face the truth we don’t know the truth about prayer.
A review of past weeks:
In preparation for Ash Wednesday I wrote these words: “It is easy for Christianity to dissolve into platitudes. What is intended to be about speaking hope can become dodging reality. We speak platitudes to diminish the pain of others. We speak platitudes to run away from our doubts. But tonight we stand boldly on the edge of the abyss, acknowledging our faith does not prevent death. We stand on the edge of the abyss with nothingness spread out before us and proclaim there is hope to be found even here.”
It did my heart good to think about the church boldly facing reality. But it lead me to wonder at how many ways we, the church, fail to face reality or even do things which intentionally obscure reality. How do we use faith to avoid uncomfortable truth? How does such behavior damage any credibility the church might have and get in the way of being love and justice in the world?
So, I propose a different Lenten discipline: each week of Lent let’s face honestly a new truth about church, faith or life. Such as:
Week 1: Speak honestly about someone else’s pain. I don’t mean tell someone else how they feel, but resist temptation to minimize someone else’s pain. We use our religion to minimize the pain of others all the time. We use euphemisms and platitudes. We talk about faith as though it is proof against pain. We talk about ministry as though it is a prize for suffering. This week, pay attention to how you react to other people’s difficulties. At least once, respond to someone by frankly acknowledging hurt without any caveats or comforts. Resist using phrases like “passed away” “with the angels” or describing how God is at work. Say something like “I am sorry he died” or “that sucks” or “how awful” or just “I am sorry.” Listen without fixing or comforting. Face the brutal reality of suffering in this world.
Week 2: Face honestly the limits of faith. Being a Christian does not mean we know what happens after we die. It does not mean we have an answer for everything. It does not mean certainty about anything. It does not mean we know exactly what God wants us to do with our lives. It is perfectly possible to have great faith in something and be absolutely flat out wrong. Think through your own personal creeds and beliefs and callings and consider the possibility you might be wrong about any of them. Talk with a friend about one thing you feel sure about and then ponder together what it would mean if the opposite were true. Face the truth you might be wrong.
Week 3: Recognize Christian does not necessarily equal good person (meaning moral/kind/etc.). Professing faith in Jesus does not make one immune to doing bad things. Atheism or following some other faith does not mean one is incapable of doing quite wonderful and moral things. Purge “he/she is a good Christian” from your vocabulary when the phrase is intended to mean the same thing as being a good/moral person. “Good Christian” and “good person” are not synonyms. No dodges by saying “if a person were a true Christian than he/she would be good.” Whose definition of “true Christian?” If we had such an objective definition, how would one ever know someone else’s heart and behavior were truly “true?” Assuming someone is trustworthy because they attend church or say God words is a recipe for disaster. Think about someone about whom you have made assumptions based on their God talk or coarse language, church attendance or lack there of, and reconsider. Face the truth “Christian” is not synonymous with “good”.