Friday, February 15, 2013

Giving Up For Lent

Lent is a dangerous time for church nerds and other religious overachievers -- and that means you too, fellow Lutherans. There's just so much to do, or not do, for Lent. Shall we revisit our neglected reading of the Daily Office? Go meatless a couple days a week and donate the grocery savings to charity? Work on some chronic moral failing on our parts? Blog about our interior spring cleaning?

In years past I had big plans for Lent. And I failed at them all. I've even failed at failing. 

This year is different. Part of that is simply due to the spiritual and emotional focus we've maintained on getting Fellow Traveler's surgery. That has been such a central theme of our lives for the past several years that the relief of it finally coming to pass has been an almost giddy, happily disorienting thing. Chronic pain is a terrible, debilitating condition, and when it can be treated it is a kind of miracle.So my head is not in a reflective place, to put it bluntly. It's in a "Thank God this is behind us so we can move forward," place. And I'm not going to feel guilty about that. 

Part of my stepping back from my usual Lenten focus this year, though, is a function of stepping back from involvement in our church. Without going into a lot of detail, because this isn't the place -- it's something that both Fellow Traveler and I have been struggling with in our own ways for the last couple of years. What used to be a "duty and delight," as the saying goes, has increasingly become a duty, period. I don't feel that there's much of a call for me to do what I really love to do, which is thinking and writing and sharing ideas. And FT, who is not a cradle Lutheran and who admits to gaps in her religious education, wants to be in a worshiping community where she can learn more about Scripture and Lutheran theology in a structured way. Now, some of you may be reading this and getting all excited ("Substance! They want substance!") thinking about offering us a signing bonus to join your shack; but I have to tell you, we're not hipsters. I doubt we're on the A list of desired sociodemographics for most churches.that want to be on the cutting edge. On the other hand, we are not tabulae rasae; we know how to do church and behave ourselves, mostly, and we can also rock your church potluck. So there's that.

We have friends in another congregation; we've been to a couple of services there and enjoyed them and were treated warmly by people in general. On the other hand, we would miss some people in our present congregation very much; we are very cognizant of the "grass is greener" illusion that can afflict casual visitors to other churches; and we might find ourselves in the same formational spot there anyway. So at this point we are, as they say, keeping our options open. But this isn't an easy decision. I have heard "Instead of asking what the Church can do for you, why don't you ask what you can do for the Church?" so often that, these days, it can feel like a sledgehammer; it's not helpful or motivational or kind in our situation.

All of which is to say -- we're kind of sitting out Lent at our house this year. We've given up Lent for Lent. It's not a statement about the goodness and value of anyone else's Lenten practice; it's just where we're at now; a quiet place.

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