Ten years ago after I had returned from my 4,000-mile cycling pilgrimage through the Western United States I gave a presentation at the presbytery meeting held at Corvallis, First. I remember saying, “I am convinced that when history looks back at this time that we will be known as the “letting go generation.”
I am pondering the themes of Lent along with the dozens of conversations I have had with church leaders over recent months. I am struck by how most of these conversations are sounding eerily the same. Repeatedly I hear, “Brian, we are concerned about where we are going to be ____ years into the future.” The question has been the same. The only variable has been the number of months or years I hear.
Lent is traditionally a time when we are encouraged to “give up” something in order to make more room in our lives for God’s presence. Quite often, it means giving up that morning coffee as we learn to rely on the high of God’s spirit rather than on piping hot stimulants. Truly dedicated religious adherents will fast during one meal a day and use that extra time for prayer. Some will give up wine or beer for the 40-day period and donate the savings to a food pantry or local mission.
The point is that Lent has been that season of the Christian year where we make room for God by clearing out the extraneous, excessive, unnecessary and overly consumptive behaviors of our lives. We Americans love to cure our ailments and satisfy our desires by adding more and doing more. Lent combats that tendency toward over-indulgence by asking us to slim down, downsize, give up and let go.
As I have met with churches, I am convinced that this season of Lent is not just a good spiritual discipline, but the call of our time. Phyllis Tickle, author, book publisher and journalist was famous for saying that the Church, every 500 years, needs to go through a massive ecclesiastical, institutional rummage sale. In some ways I believe she meant it as a metaphor, but I wonder if we need to take her advice literally. I have had too many conversations with churches who seem to be paralyzed by the clutter of the past.
I think I know why.
Rummage sales are wonderfully liberating, but they also require that uncomfortable stage of being able to let go of stuff that reminds us of a glorious past. In our families, we buy bigger houses in order to store the growing amount of saved furniture, unused appliances, memories from the past and family heirlooms. In our congregations, we hold onto outdated children’s curriculum, old unused hymnals, memorial gifts, and even raggedy furniture that holds sentimental value. More importantly, we hold onto assumptions and expectations that keep us trapped in the past.
Lent is about making room for God. And making room for God requires giving up ideas, stuff and useless attachments. Lent requires us to upgrade and replace our stuff to fit today’s context and tomorrow’s hopes.
Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. The story of Lent begins with the words, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3: 19) and continues through a 40-day period of giving up, letting go, giving up, letting go, giving up, letting go, giving up, letting go, giving up, letting go, giving up, letting go…
We are resurrection people and, for a time, the letting go generation.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades