Lent and Letting Go

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.

lessLent 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 saleRummage 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.

ash wednesday 2Of 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…

dying and…

resurrection!

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

4 thoughts on “Lent and Letting Go

  1. 1. As a Church – remember PHS.
    2. The local Church I attend has a History Guild and we have been going through our papers and we shred duplicates. We are working with the person that does our webpage and have a project in the wings.
    3. Remember as you go through your Church inventory save at least 1 copy and remember that some churches have 2 sides.

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  2. I would hope that Presbyterian leadership would “Give Up For Lent” the “give up and die” model, and have a bit more focus on the potential future opportunities available, rather than just waving the white flag while “letting go and giving up”. Adapting to changing conditions is the key aspect of survival in most human challenges, along with energy and innovation that works to achieve basic values and goals that are important for the future.

    The Presbyterian Church over the past 75 years has moved more toward human and community values that focus on concern and compassion for our “neighbors” well being, rather than a “Sin, Salvation, and Eternal Heavenly Rewards” model, which has largely been conceded to the conservative, evangelical, and prosperity gospel groups. (think Joel Osteen and his simplistic “God will prosper you” message that packs them in to the rafters each Sunday inside the renovated Houston basketball arena )

    Our American popular culture (and economic system) is geared toward receiving a tangible “Reward” for an “investment” of time, money, and emotional-spiritual effort, and the present Presbyterian Church model simply does not fit with what the larger group of Americans of this era are seeking as a religious or spiritual experience.

    The Presbyterian Church must adapt and innovate by becoming a smaller consolidated group of churches with minimal operational expenses ( A “Boutique” Church Group) that can find a balance regarding theological concepts and worship approaches that will appeal to those persons who value having a main focus on community needs, compassion and love of neighbor. Of equal importance is finding creative ways to provide the social church activities that appeal and provide a sense of value and belonging for people, which is often more important than theology to people seeking either a religious or spiritual experience. You don’t need to “Give Up and Die, but Adapting in a innovative way is Essential.

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  3. Does giving up and letting go mean defeat? Some people seem to think of it this way. However, I think your message is the opposite. Giving up and letting go means releasing what no longer serves, what drags down, what traps in the past, what impedes hearing and following God’s lead. Giving up and letting go, if I understand you correctly, allows responsiveness and flexibility, and attunement to divine guidance. It is an expression of faith and trust.

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