An Earnest Question About Anti-science, Poor hating, Narrow-minded Republican evangelicals

Every time I hear someone pontificating about how evangelicals don’t care about science or the poor or don’t like “hard questions” or are way into being Republican, I always wonder the same thing: Who are these people they’re talking about?

I am an evangelical. I know a whole, whole lot of different sorts of evangelicals all over the world, and I’m increasingly  confused by the ever-recycled, echo chamber truisms about evangelicals.

I’m bewildered because many of the folks I know who are doing the most rigorous scientific research and working hardest to bring hope, help, and justice to the poor are evangelicals. Like these folks.
Or any number of the (literally) hundreds of evangelical students I could link to who I have personally met who are doing incredible work in science. Not to mention, this guy.

Or our dearest of friends who started this or this or this. Not to mention, these guys who were talking about social justice before it was cool (and before I was born). Or this dude. Or these guys, who just might be saving the world.

Some people like my friend Daniel so hate science and poor people that they become top of their field in medicine and then move with their families to developing nations where they give quality care to the sick.

And then folks are writing about a new sort of evangelicalism.
And stuff like this keeps happening. And this. And this.

And I hear about these stories of tremendous beauty in a dark world and talk to these kind of science loving, compassionate, justice seeking evangelical weirdos every single day.

I want to be clear: I’m not saying that this litany makes the gospel evangelicals believe true or that you should be an evangelical or that we’re worthy of any kind of respect or that the evangelical church doesn’t deserve criticism or that we aren’t all completely nuts.

But here is my honest question: Am I just really lucky?

I’m asking this earnestly. Do I just happen to know the ‘right sort of’ evangelicals, a negligible, invisible sect within a sect? Granted, I work for these guys. And they’re always coming up with things like this. But is my sample that skewed? Have I just gone to above averagely awesome churches? Because none of these science-rejecting, poor ignoring, homophobes go to church with me.  So is my experience all that unique? Or is this stereotype based on partial truths or the Moral Majority of  twenty years ago? Or is this a strawman that is being trotted out and bashed again and again? And if so, why?

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Why I do and do not keep Lent, part II

icon-of-the-bridegroom-jesus-christIn my last post, I discussed the reasons we don’t practice Lent as a church. In this post, I’d like to sketch out the reasons we do practice Lent.

1.  We practice Lent to enter into the sufferings of Christ. The stories we tell ourselves about reality shape us. They shape who we are, what we believe, and what we desire. Christians want not only to believe the story about Jesus cognitively but to get it into us– into our very bones.  It’s the difference between assenting to the fact that Bono is an Irish rock star and finding yourself screaming along with him at a U2 concert. We want to think, confess, and understand, but also to encounter, worship, and be transformed by God. The primary way we do this is through liturgy in both word (reading and preaching about the bible) and sacrament (baptism and the Eucharist). But we also do this through practicing the Liturgical seasons like Lent. In order to know the Good News about Jesus holistically, beyond something that we work out in our brains like a word problem, we try to enter into this story with our bodies.

I have a friend who gives up meat and dairy every Lent. She is an incredibly gifted chef and total foodie. Her passion for butter rivals even mine (and I would go to a church made entirely of butter if I could). Lent is hard for her as you’d imagine. But she isn’t joylessly trudging through the season. She takes up this yearly practice with even a sort of humble gusto because it teaches her, year by year, through her stomach, that Jesus who was in the very place of perfection, a place with pleasure more abundant and powerful than even (dare we imagine it?) the best, richest butter ever made could give, left that place to be with us and called it a joy to do so. Her practice allows her to taste a tiny thimble-full of what Jesus experienced in his self-emptying and that helps her to be shaped by His story.

2.  We practice Lent because it reveals our idolatry and helps us to repent. There are certain things that are good in themselves but that hold too much power in our life.  When there is something without which we feel like life is meaningless or that we catch ourselves thinking we’d ‘simply die’ if we didn’t have it, it is likely occupying a place in our life that it was never meant to hold.

I have a friend who gave up alcohol for Lent one year. He’s not an alcoholic but he found that he was relying on alcohol to get through social events in a way he felt was unhealthy. Now, he still drinks alcohol but he returned to it freer, knowing that it was not what made him okay and able to abstain from it more readily. Some of us would do well to limit our working hours or practice Sabbath keeping over Lent to repent for how we rely on work or busyness to make us feel okay. I have a friend who gave up her smartphone for Lent because she felt like technology had become ,in some sense, a god in her life. She didn’t know how to live without being plugged in 24/7 so Lent was an experiment in letting go of a false god to rely on God.

3. We practice Lent in order to rid ourselves of distractions and focus on the Real.  We live in a noisy world. Much vies for our attention. The late priest and writer, Henri Nouwen wrote about the busyness and restlessness of American life that “to celebrate life together, to be together in community, to simply enjoy the beauty of creation, the love of  people and the goodness of God—those seem faraway ideals. There seems to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from being where their hearts want to be…In this hectic, pressured, competitive, exhausting context, who can really hear me? I even wonder how long I myself can stay in touch with the voice of the spirit when the demons of this world make so much noise.” Part of the reason that I am giving up Facebook this year is that, as much as it helps to keep me connected with others, it can add to the white noise of my life, drowning out the rhythms of beauty and grace around me. I hope to spend more time journaling during Lent, especially noting the desolation and consolation of each day, a practice that has helped me notice God at work in my life, take stock of the texture of the day, and cultivate gratitude. For me, this year, Lent is an intentional turning away from distraction and toward practices that help to quiet my noisy heart.

A few years ago I began Lent burnt out and harried. I had a new baby and was working in ministry. My husband and I were struggling and I felt spent. Exhausted and depleted, I didn’t know what to give up for Lent. I was nursing, so fasting from food or drink wasn’t an option. And I felt stretched so thin, that the thought of any more deprivation made me feel unhinged. A very wise friend and priest said to me, “Don’t give anything up for Lent this year. Your whole life is Lent right now.” So that year, my Lenten practice was to leave my daughter with my husband once a week, walk to my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and read a novel for an hour.  Self-denial it was not. This habit was a joy and the most quieting tome of my week.  I intentionally chose the novel The Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin  because it is the perfect Lenten book, a story of sin and redemption in a community. During that Easter season, I had a powerful, transformative spiritual experiences when God met me and encouraged me through a particular scene in that story. But that would not have happened had I not, by God’s grace and the encouragement of my community, intentionally made space for slowness and reading in what felt like a suffocatingly cramped life.

4. We practice Lent to prepare for Easter. One of my favorite characteristics of the Christian year is that there is never a season of celebration without a season of preparation proceeding it.  Whether it be Oprah, Burger King, or Joel Olsteen, the myth of our culture is that we must always be happy, fulfilled, and living our best life now!  Yet, while we are all maniacally pursuing happiness, anxiety and depression are commonplace. The truth of our brokenness is relentless even in the midst of wealth, success, popularity, or a perfectly lit, magazine cover home.   The Christian calendar allows us time to admit the reality that things are not the way they are supposed to be, a reality our hearts know all too well.

Easter is all about the hope of the resurrection, but there can be no resurrection without death first. It can be so tempting to jump ahead in the story, to focus on the joy of the resurrection and skip over the agony of the cross. Who want to remember the crucifixion? It is painful, scornful, raw, and dark. But, only when we wait, for a moment, in that humiliating vulnerable place can the resurrection truly be good news to us. When a King comes, there is always plenty to do to get ready for Him. And so through these daily, earthy habits, we prepare to celebrate our coming King.

To Conclude

At the end of the day, sharing in Christ’s sufferings, repentance from idolatry, quietness and Christ-centeredness, and preparation for Easter are all a gift of grace. The practice of Lent is a means of grace, but grace itself is a mystery that grips us however buttoned up or sloppy our Lenten practice is.  The best thing I have read about Lent this season was a little note that my priest, Fr. Thomas McKenzie, sent out in our church’s Lenten worship schedule.

I can say nothing better:

“Please remember that keeping Lent is designed to make more room for the Holy Spirit in your life.  Keeping Lent may or may not lead to feelings of joy, sorrow, happiness, or anger.  You may or may not alienate a friend, have a spiritual experience, lose weight, or feel grouchy at work.  Keeping Lent will not make you more holy or beloved in the eyes of God.  Keeping Lent will not save you.

Keep Lent anyway.”

Why I do and do not keep Lent: an introduction

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This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season. Lent marks the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays).  It is a liturgical season focused on repentance, penitence, and preparation.

What most people think of when they think of Lent is the practice of ‘giving something up for Lent’. My dad dated a Catholic girl in high school before he met my Mom. I don’t think they were very serious, and when I ask him why they broke up, he always responds, “She gave me up for Lent.” I’m not sure if this is true or not, but we all know someone who gave up something–be it coffee, chocolate, or dating my dad—for Lent.  I didn’t grow up practicing Lent, but I am now in the Anglican church where Lent is practiced by our community. Many of us fast from something (give something up) or take on a practice or both during Lent. For those of us who didn’t grow up with this practice (and even many who did), there can be some misconceptions about why believers do and do not ‘keep Lent.’ These are worth addressing so we can better understand and explain why we enter into Lenten disciplines.

First, let’s address why we don’t practice Lent:

1. We don’t give things up because we think they are necessarily bad or immoral. This year, I’m avoiding Facebook during Lent, but that is not because Facebook is bad or sinful. I could make a good argument (and in fact have argued frequently) that Facebook is a good thing.  When people give up chocolate or meat or alcohol or coffee, it is not because we Christians think that if we enjoy something, it must be bad. Coffee, meat, alcohol and especially chocolate are very good things that show God’s goodness, creativity, and provision.

Of course, Christians ought to be interested and working toward breaking habits of sin–gossip, lust, judgment, anger, pride, and so on, but this is called repentance, which is certainly not limited to Lent. I’m not giving up Facebook in the way that I’m repenting of (and trying to give up) anxiety or impatience with my toddler. The former is a neutral or even good thing that I am choosing to fast from for a season. The latter is a manifestation of my brokenness and is a way that I’m failing to love that I need to allow God to change and heal.

2. We don’t practice Lent to earn anything from God.  Salvation is received solely as a gift (we call this ‘grace’.) And I daresay that God, who made all that is and sacrificed Himself to rescue us, is entirely unimpressed by my ability to go without sugar for 40 days. I once heard a pastor preach about how giving something up for Lent is a pointless or even harmful practice, arguing that the reason people practice Lent is because they “hate repenting.” The idea was that in Lent people give something up to sort of “score points” with God so we don’t have to actually recognize ourselves as sinners. We can sit and bask in our own self-righteousness as we sanctimoniously say, “No I would not like that glass of red wine.  I gave it up for Lent,” and smile self-satisfied at how righteous we are. I’m sure people out there have practiced Lent in this way (though I don’t know any of them). But if you do, for the love of God (literally), drink the glass of wine. Drink two.

3. We don’t practice Lent out of obligation or duty.  This way of thinking is the other side of the coin of #2. We Anglicans (or Catholics, Lutherans, et. al.) don’t think God will be mad at us if we don’t practice Lent. It isn’t a legalistic obligation to avoid God’s wrath. We believe that the entirety of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ in the crucifixion. God took our punishment on himself in its entirety. We don’t have to avoid meat or chocolate for forty days to try to make some kind of (pathetically small) recompense to an angry God. Christians believe that God actually delights in us because of what Jesus did and not at all because of what we do. Lent or no Lent, we are welcomed by God.

So why do we keep Lent? Stay tuned. Click here for more in  Monday’s post.

Why You Should Still Talk about Politics on Facebook

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I get it. As the election draws near, most of us get tired of hearing about politics.  (And those of us who do not become political pundits or Poli. Sci. professors).

My Facebook thread has certainly had a lot of political posts lately, some far more helpful than others.  I have also posted a lot about politics as well. But lately my Facebook feed has mainly been filled up with broad threats like, “ To everyone in general: Stop talking about politics or I’ll defriend you” or cute, little memes like, “Everyone is talking about the election and I just want to look at Pintrist photos of cupcakes.”

So I ranted a little to my husband today about why I think we really should keep talking about politics on Facebook and here is essentially my argument:

There are two reasons to not talk about politics on Facebook:

1. Because you think politics don’t matter.

But here’s the thing: they just unavoidably do. I have seen so very clearly through this situation this past year how a bad policy decision made in the seemingly hermetic fluorescence of an office suite trickles down to affect real communities of real people who I love. I have seen through working with the poor and working with immigrants how the rhetoric that gets thrown out in public debates reverberates through the lives of men, women, and children in tiny, silent ways every single day.

Now, let me be clear here: Politics will not save you. The tendency of certain Christians on the right or the left to think that all would be made right if only the other team would lose and their side would triumph is entirely deluded. Too many Christians believe that one political party or the other is the hope for the church, which I daresay is nigh unto blasphemous and exactly upside-down. And let me be clear about this too: Politics isn’t simple.  I have very little faith in either party and very likely will not vote for either major candidate this year (that is a whole other post). Different parts of the church are far too quick to baptize one political party as the party of truth or worse, the party of Jesus.  Poverty, peace, church and state relationships, matters of scale and subsidiarity—all this (and more) can get ethically complicated pretty quickly.

But because politics are complex and will ultimately fail us, that doesn’t mean that politics don’t matter. Politics matter because people matter–the way we think about culture, our ideas about the truth and what it means to be human, the way we use our money, how we decide who lives and dies, who we bless and who we bomb, our laws, our history, the way we love our neighbors, how we make room (or don’t) for peace, how we care for the least and the little, how we raise our children, how we honor the elderly and the dying, how we are allowed (or not) to follow our consciences in worship and public life.  It all impacts real people, you and me and our communities. So even if your conclusion is that you can never vote again, fine, but you can’t just ignore this stuff. One must both think about these issues and engage them in whatever way one can because, whether we ignore them or approach them with intentionality, they impact our lives.

2. You acknowledge that politics matter, but don’t think people should talk about it really. 

This one bugs me more than option 1.  Here’s the thing: Whether we like it or not, Facebook is a public forum. And, for better or worse (probably worse), it is one of the very last public forums that we have left in our culture. People don’t read newspapers or magazines anymore so writing an opinion column doesn’t do much good (unless it goes viral and ends up skyrocketing around…. yep, Facebook). We don’t have an Areopagus anymore and elders don’t hang out around the gates of the city debating ideas.  Most of us don’t know our neighbors. Even if we do, massive amounts of research shows that we are getting more and more polarized politically and geographically—chances are that those you live around and hang out with think, more or less, like you do. So if you hang out with a bunch of left-leaning urbanites, it makes it harder for you to possibly conceive how anyone with a functioning brain could be against gay marriage or Obamacare unless they are simply blinded by fear, fundamentalism, or hate. And if you hang out with right leaning, business types or soccer moms, you can’t conceive why people would be for a better social safety net or for not bombing Iran unless they are simply entitled whiners who are weak and naïve.

Very, very few places remain where we are actually in “public.”  Facebook, for all its many, many flaws, is sadly one of the only spaces left where we might actually hear from people who see the world very differently than we do. And if these people are people that you know in real life like your kid’s ballet instructor or your cousin’s husband’s best friend- all the better. These sorts of friendships, however ambient or distant, help us consider that the “other side” may not just be blithering idiots or bigoted screamers. They help us to have to defend what we believe with hopefully something more thoughtful than, “Well, that’s just the way I am!”

Is Facebook the best medium for sharing ideas? No, probably not. But it is what we’ve got. Do I get tired of unthoughtful rants, the trolls, the endless repeating of soundbites? Oh yes I do. But the often inarticulate and contentious conversation that we are having as a culture will not improve by everyone dropping out of it and declaring, “No more talking about politics.” It will only improve by you entering the conversation with conviction, curiosity, and humility.  If everyone but the ranters stop talking about anything but muffin recipes and Downton Abbey, then the current political/cultural conversation –-and politics and the culture in general–will continue to decline.

So, please, tell me about your new kitten and your favorite new band. Really. Do. I love that stuff. Post pictures of your cute kids, and I will “Like” them with gusto! But also tell me what you think and why and please, please link to thoughtful articles that help you decide what you think and why. Because what you think matters and why you think it matters. It isn’t all that matters. It isn’t ultimate Truth. But it matters.