March 6th, 2014
I know I’ve shared with you the conversion story of Frederica Matthewes-Green, a brilliantly insightful writer and member of the Orthodox Church. But as it relates to something we said last Sunday about sifting our passions, I wanted to highlight another story of her’s that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it over a decade ago. You can read the entire account of it here in her own words.
Though her conversion to Christ led her to repudiate a version of feminism she’d once embraced, Frederica retained both affinity and aptitude in speaking into a wide swath of issues related to women’s dignity and value. For her clear-minded commentary on everything from vocation, motherhood, pregnancy, and entering into constructive dialogue with the pro-choice constituency, she was invited to a conference on women’s issues which would represent a wide spectrum of perspectives.
Sitting on the front row of the auditorium, Frederica waited to hear from perhaps the most famous speaker on the docket. In the course of that speaker’s comments though, words of great animosity toward religious convictions spilled from the dais like boiling oil. It wasn’t as if Frederica was shocked to hear this person’s characterization of Christian faith, or even how the speaker profaned certain elements of worship. But the sound and fury of the speech could not have assailed more the heart of this Orthodox pastor’s wife.
Following the speech Frederica composed herself in the ladies room, a sympathetic friend offering her support. Then in a great irony, as everyone left the building at the conclusion of that evening’s program, Frederica ended up sharing a cab ride, not just with another friend, but with the very speaker who’d just succeeded in besmirching all things Christian!
Among the cab-sharers was a colleague who’d come to appreciate some of Frederica’s insights. Seeing the opportunity to provoke a fascinating, if brief, exchange, she invited Frederica to summarize the perspective alternative to her cab-mate’s. Conditions for dialogue were sub-optimal in the jostling, swerving, cramped cab, but even in the abbreviated conversation, the heralded speaker came to understand both the offense she’d given–an offense for which she later apologized–and a different way of seeing.
I reference Frederica’s experience because I think it provides us a potent example of what a heart rightly incensed by another’s hostility toward God might look like. We acknowledged Sunday the all-too familiar examples of religious indignation that often do more to defame God than honor Him. But with C.S. Lewis’ help we also were alerted to the opposite response–cool, cynical indifference–that has as much reprehensible about it as unbridled aggression in God’s name. Frederica’s response to this person’s mockery of Christian faith was neither stifled nor unhinged. And it was her tears, not her harangues, that was most prophetic in character and tone.
Last week, Wesley Hill, whom we’ve referenced previously, spoke at a conference for single adults hosted by a church in New York City. A single man himself, Hill was tasked with speaking to the notion of chastity. (You can see the whole conference here; Hill’s comments begin about the 40 minute mark.) To begin his talk he referenced two sources that defined chastity, each of which cast the word in terms of what it refrained from. Notwithstanding the typical associations with the term, Hill nevertheless suggested that chastity is as much about what it calls one to as it what it calls one away from. In other words he argued chastity isn’t primarily about negation–about what one does not do–but about redirection of investment–what one is thereby freed to do.
Yesterday began the season of Lent according to the Christian calendar. While typically associated with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and not uncommonly scorned among some Protestants, Lenten observance has seen something of a resurgence in recent years among those previously suspicious of its ostensible burden-laying ritualism. There may not have been a wholesale embrace of the myriad rules for fasting found in the more ancient expressions of the Church, but the idea of a communal practice of reflection on the days leading to Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and resurrection has found wider currency.
I reference Wesley Hill’s talk on chastity if only to make a parallel point with respect to Lent. The caricatured version of the season is portrayed as primarily a time of abstinence, of what to divert yourself from. So people reduce the season almost exclusively to self-denial, giving up something they’d otherwise enjoy as an act of sacrifice parallel to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. It goes without saying that walking in the selfless steps of Jesus, the steps that forsook what He was entitled to, is the way of discipleship. But the act of sacrifice was not for the sake of the sacrifice itself, but for the greater thing for which the sacrifice was made. The disciples left behind the predictability of their nets to become fishers of men. They forsook much to gain more. It was for the joy set before Him that Jesus forsook comfort and endured the cross. Every relinquishment was for the sake of embracing something else.
So what if we were to consider Lent as an opportunity to give ourselves back to something–something perhaps life and habit have squeezed out of our lives but which have been replaced by something else less than life-giving? Your pastor found a resource that invites him to read the entire New Testament over the forty days of Lent. Sally Lloyd-Jones composed a children’s version of the Bible that can be covered in the same time frame. Other churches have compiled devotional readings for the season you might follow. Any endeavor will mean forsaking a part of what we might otherwise do. But the Lenten journey will be properly followed as a way of pursuit, not merely abstention.
While salvation surely implies what we’ve been rescued from, does not the glory of salvation center more on what we’ve been rescued unto? A true gospel-shaped Lent lets what we’re seeking to embrace be what dictates what we release.
To end this section, let me quote famed English poet George Herbert, whose influence resonates still today. He composed an ode to Lent, which I’ll excerpt here.(But you can read it in its entirety here.)
Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.
* * *
It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let ‘s do our best.
So during Lent we as a community will look more deeply at the Practice of Repentance.
This Sunday we’ll turn to the too-familiar story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10. Zaccheus reminds us that all true repentance is a matter not primarily of doctrine but desire. We’ll see desire transformed in that short episode and try to identify how repentance works.
To set up the sermon let me post a clip here that’s already blanketed the world. It’s from a young actress named Lupita Nyong’o, who recently starred in the film awarded Best Picture this year, 12 Years a Slave. Here she speaks of her own struggle to believe she was beautiful, during which she references a potent phrase: “the seduction of inadequacy.” She does not take time to explain that phrase’s precise sense, but suffice it to say it has something to do with how we are deeply–often maniacally–motivated to compensate for whatever we find lacking in us.
Zaccheus struggled with that. We struggle with that. We’ll let Lupita here speak to it. And then we’ll ask her help to finish the sermon Sunday perhaps.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but as we warned you last week, set your clocks forward one hour this Saturday night.
If you missed our first night of corporate prayer earlier this month, we’ll gather again at the home of Mark and Rachel Kull (923 Zeb) this Sunday night, March 9th, from 6-8pm. If you’d like to know what to expect, we recapped the evening a couple weeks back. ”Unless the Lord builds it, the laborers labor in vain,” Psalm 127 says. We know we’re out to be building for the Kingdom through our faithful presence to God, to one another, and to our world(s). We suppose our time of prayer is out to ensure we remember Who the builder really is. Come along.
Finally, we’d invite you to pray:
- for Ron and Diane Morren who will be teaching in Peru for the next 10 weeks
- for Margarita Harris recovering from a fall
- for Imelda Ottmers as she continues to recover from a car accident
- for Ryan Garman and Anna Tanksley as they wed this weekend
- for Wanda Williams’ father recovering from major surgery
- for Jocelyn Quinn Raikes the newest daughter of Jonathan and Liesl Raikes
- for for the church in hostile places like Syria, N Korea, the Ukraine, and elsewhere
See you Sunday at 9:30,
Perhaps the central point of Psalm 139 is that, as we said, “God is there.”
Here’s one voice we’ve come to love that makes the same point in a slightly different way