Friday, March 06, 2009

A Lent Devotional

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus calls his disciples to take up the cross and follow. The cross was an infamous symbol at the time. The cross was the favored instrument of torture and death among the Roman authorities of the day. Who would want to take that up?

Pick up the cross and follow. It's an invitation to take up that which destroys and humiliates rather than to pick up the stuff we are usually willing to seek: power, authority, and comfort. To deny the self in favor of the well-being of all is countercultural. Then, and especially now.

What are the crosses we avoid picking up these days? What would we rather avoid than confront? ~ Pastor Michael Fick

This is a tough question. There are a lot of things I avoid: eating vegetables (still), balancing the checkbook, wearing makeup but I'm thinking this is not what you meant.

I'm interested in the phrase "deny themselves". In the past this was what I associated with Lent, my Catholic friends would choose something to "give up" for Lent. A good friend of mine has given up all junk food this Lent season, admirable given that it's also girl scout cookie season.

See and that's the thing, I recognize this about myself, the very lush life that I have. Replete with all my favorite indulgences - cheese, chocolate, red wine, good books, film, wifi internet access, yoga pants, the list goes on.

Denying myself is something I've not done a lot of. I have some self control but I exercise that control for my own benefit. I don't spend all my money so that I can put some away for the kids' college but that's so they won't live with me forever. I don't eat all the chocolate chips because I'd rather not have to buy a whole new wardrobe in the next larger size. That sort of thing I do, but to give up something, to deny myself for the greater good, don't know that I can say I've done that.

I was listening to NPR this morning and I heard about all the relief organizations being summarily kicked out of the Sudan. I thought about those people who work in those organizations, in harms way, helping others and I wondered at their lives being so very different from my own. What makes those people make choices that are so very different from mine? I've never felt called to do what they do and I find their lives strange and exotic and frankly unimaginable. How would I do that?

I think that as a society we avoid many things rather than confront them.

As a society we collectively turned the mentally ill out of long term care facilities in the 80s so that we wouldn't have to pay for their care. Thousands of those people were found dead in the same clothes they had been issued when they were pushed out of the door of their closing facilities. Collectively, couldn't we have given up a few bottles of wine a year to help pay for their continued care? I was too young to understand this when it happened but I feel sick about it now. Do I write letters to congress asking them to reinstate appropriate care for the mentally ill in order to combat the homeless problem? Ah, no.

Our last President felt it was completely acceptable to torture prisoners of war. I personally was horrified by this but I did I prostrate myself on the steps of the White House in protest? Ah, no.

I avoid picking up the crosses of social injustice, mostly I think that this is true because it has not touched my life personally. I think about the man in the movie The Visitor and how he got involved. It was after the immigration issue touched him personally. We do a good job in our society of insulating ourselves, of finding ways to keep the horrible parts of our world from touching us. In fact I think we are masters at this.

Perhaps in meeting Christ the disciples and other followers were touched or became uninsulated. Or perhaps they started out that way.

Sometimes people point to our adopted children and credit us for "rescuing" them. That we were touched by these orphans half a world away. And certainly I do feel touched by the plight of the orphans living without families around the world. But adopting our children was how I became a mom, which ultimately was something I very much did for me, it was a selfish act.

I guess some might say that having children is an exercise in denial but I get so much back it hardly feels like I'm denying myself. Sure if we didn't have the kids we could have a condo in Winterpark but what good would that be without the kids there?

Do you think the disciples felt that the denial was nothing and following was everything?

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