Do Lent the right way.

Lent is a scam. It isn’t in the Bible.

It was made up by the Church to make you feel guilty for being human.

If you want to give up something for Lent, try one of these:
Guilt. Fear. Judgment. Hate.

Or you can take something on – volunteer, meditate, learn a new skill.

But don’t fall into the “penance” trap. The Hebrew word that was translated as “repentance” actually means “to return”. You aren’t supposed to feel bad for doing something wrong. You are simply supposed to stop doing it and start doing the right thing.

Imagine if you were driving to another city and halfway there you realized you were on the wrong road. The healthy response is to get to the correct road as soon as possible. An unhealthy response would be to sit on the side of the road and beat yourself up for being on the wrong road.

It happens – we are human and we make mistakes. Maybe someone gave you bad instructions? Maybe a road sign was missing? Don’t worry about blame – just get on the right road as soon as you realize you are headed the wrong way.

Don’t waste any time on punishment. Just start over.

“Good News” vs. Hellfire

We are told to preach the Gospel – that is, the Good News. We are told to preach the message of Jesus – that we are forgiven, that God loves us so much that He came down to be with us, that there is life after death. So often, people don’t preach the Good News. They preach hellfire and damnation. What is “Good” about that?

We aren’t told to be fearmongers. We are specifically told not to judge others. Paul tells that we are to challenge our brother if he has issue with us, but Jesus didn’t.

What drew you to following Jesus? Was it out of love, or fear?

What habits are you likely to do – ones out of love, or fear? Do you exercise and eat well out of love – love for the precious gift that is your body, or fear of death? What attitude is more likely to make you want to keep taking care of your body?

Jesus says that only those that He calls to himself are those that will come. So yelling at and judging people who don’t follow Jesus is pointless and not Christ-like behavior. They will come only if He calls them.

Helen Keller, deaf and dumb from early childhood, was locked in her world of silence. Someone finally told her about God, and she was grateful. She said that it was nice to have a name for the feeling she had. She had already been called.

We shouldn’t try to drag people to Jesus out of fear. We need to do it out of love.

Instead of telling people that they will go to hell if they don’t follow Jesus, why not tell them how they will life more abundantly if they do?

In John 10:10, Jesus says
“I assure you: Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the door but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus gave them this illustration, but they did not understand what He was telling them. 7 So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

Muslim headcoverings, and Christian guilt.

I always feel self conscious around Muslim girls who wear headscarves. Am I seen as not modest to them? Am I seen as not religious enough? Or am I once again making up stories about what people think?

When I go to the pool at the Y I sometimes see Muslim moms watching their children swim. The average American swimsuit attire goes way past the Muslim idea of modesty. Everything shows, and what isn’t covered up leaves nothing to the imagination because it is skin tight. These moms sit on the sidelines while their young daughters play in the pool. At a certain age the daughters will be equally swathed in fabric, but not yet. The moms can’t get in the pool in standard swimsuits and still be observant with their faith.

I think it is unfair that these moms have to sit on the sidelines because they can’t get in the pool. I’ve found out that there are companies that sell “modest” swimsuits. They look a little like the swimsuits you would see in a photograph from the turn of the century. Everything is covered from head to toe, especially the head. The material is a little thicker and loose so it doesn’t show curves. They can be bought online, but they aren’t cheap.

I’ve told some of the moms about this. I’m a big proponent of people staying healthy through exercise. I also am a big proponent of parents modeling good behavior for their children. If the child sees mom exercising as well, she will learn that exercise is for everyone, not just kids.

But I still feel weird. I’m standing there telling this woman who has something like 12 yards of fabric on her about modest swimsuits so she can swim too, and I’m wearing almost nothing. And I have tattoos. Lots of tattoos. There is no hiding tattoos while in swimsuit.

This is when I’m the most self conscious. But I’m also self conscious at work. We have a lot of Muslim families who use our library. Many are from Somalia and the women wear amazingly beautiful coverings. The fabric is patterned and bright, and sometimes has sparkly bits sewn into it. If I had to wear a hardcover, I’d want to do it the Somali way. But I still feel under dressed and not quite acceptable.

My faith doesn’t require that I cover myself. Modesty is part of being observant as a Christian in some denominations, but the definition is rather open to debate. Sometimes it means that women can’t wear pants, or short skirts. Rarely does it mean that women cover their heads, but sometimes it does. I wonder why all these modesty rules have to do with women being modest and not men, but that is a topic for another day.

But maybe my problem is that I think I’m not being observant enough. Maybe I think that when I see these women who are wearing fabric all over, in the heat, all day long, I think that maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe I’m not suffering enough. Maybe I’m not being a good witness for my faith.

Maybe that is just old-fashioned Christian guilt rearing its ugly head.

Hat. (This being human is messy)

There is a guy I know who drives a hover round. It is essentially his everyday car. He is too disabled to drive his truck, but he does it anyway in the winter or when it is raining.

It is summer now and it is very hot. I saw him today when I went to the post office. He was riding around with shorts, in a short sleeved shirt, and no hat. I thought about giving him my hat. I can get another.

He isn’t well off. He’s nearly died a number of times. His ex wife just died, and he is mourning her terribly. He’s been homeless before, for at least two years. His living conditions aren’t ideal, but they are better than a shelter. He’s a veteran. He lives on Social Security.

So I feel sorry for him. But then I remember his tales of going to Tunica, Mississippi and gambling. I remember how he’s constantly buying lottery tickets. I remember that his wife divorced him because he was cheating on her.

He’s made some bad choices.

He has chosen to spend his money on gambling rather than a hat. He was homeless because he chose to cheat on his wife. He is retired from the military and has chosen not to seek aid from them.

I dislike the term “enabling”. It really should be “disabling”.

To assist someone in their addiction is not loving. I’ve called it “aiding and abetting a sin.”

I know other people who are getting older and have some chronic health issues that are getting worse. They moved to be closer to their children. One of their children suggested that they move into a condo or an apartment so they wouldn’t have to worry about yard work or maintenance on a house. They ignored this advice and bought a house. Now they call their children to come take care of the yard work and the house maintenance. They have both become infirm, and this situation will only get worse the older they get.

I feel that they have made a bad choice and that they are abusing their children by asking them to rescue them from a preventable problem.

I’m very frustrated. I want to help people, but I want to do it in a way that really helps, instead of keeping them in the same old ruts. I want to prevent problems rather than treat them. I don’t want to cure anything. I want to stop problems from happening.

I’m frustrated when someone gets surprised that they have lung cancer after smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for twenty years. This is how my Mom died. It was sad that she died at 53, but not tragic. She did it to herself. It wasn’t an accident. She knew that what she was doing was harmful but didn’t quit.

I took care of her after her diagnosis. I drove her to her chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I cooked. I cleaned. I watched her die, bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day.

That takes a lot out of you, to watch someone die from making bad choices. It takes a lot out to see their pain and regret and fear and know that you can’t rescue them. She put herself in that hole, and because of it she put herself in her grave.

It is Christ-like to help others without question. Jesus didn’t ask people if they created their own problems. He didn’t say to the lepers – why didn’t you stay away from lepers? You knew it was contagious.

I’m finding it hard to be Christ-like. I can’t just touch them and they are healed. We humans heal people in slow motion. We have to get involved. We have to get into it up to our arms. It is messy work, this business of healing.

I wrestle with it. Am I healing someone to make it easy for them to continue to make bad choices? Why should I wake up every day and go to work just to give someone else money when they refuse to look for work?

This isn’t very nice, but it is honest. This isn’t very Christ-like, but it is human.

All the child rearing books say there have to be repercussions to bad decisions. If you let them get away with it, you are encouraging it. They advocate tough love.

“Difficult Conversations” tells you how to speak up, so you can navigate the balance between not being a doormat or a tyrant. “Boundaries” says that Christians are taught to sacrifice their own needs and wants to take care of others, and that this isn’t healthy for either person. “Codependent No More” says something similar but it doesn’t go into the issue of Christian guilt.

Somehow this sounds like an excuse to ignore someone else’s pain. But then it is important to encourage them to stand on their own. If someone has to lean on you all the time, you aren’t helping them grow as a person. And you will find you are not growing either.

This being human is messy.

I think it is lucky for Jesus that he died at 32. He didn’t have so many issues to deal with. He never had to juggle work and aging parents. He never had to deal with his own chronic health problems. He didn’t have a history of being abused by his family.

It is hard to follow Jesus, and it is messy. We don’t do it right even half of the time. But when we figure out the balance it is beautiful and amazing. I’ve given up the church but I’ve not given up on Jesus. I don’t understand the Way but I feel it is a good path.

I fall, and I get up. I get distracted. I run away, just like Jonah. And yet I’m still on the path, all along. I think this is part of what it means to hear the call, and to follow Jesus. I want to do it right, and I know I’m not going to.

This is like exercise, like training for a marathon. But I’ll never get there because of the nature of the path. That is the price of being human.