Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 29

by Amanda Martin

Isaiah 42:24-43:7 (an incredibly reduced synopsis from The Message: 

But now, Gods Message, The God who made you in the first place.. The One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.  I’ve called your name. You’re mine. 
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you, When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, 
It won’t be a dead end
Because I am God, your personal God I WILL change the world for you, I’d sell the world to get you back.
You mean SO much More than you know
So, don’t be afraid.  I’ll take care of your offspring, pull them in to me from every place and in each situation.  I’ll send them home from far away places, everyone, man woman child, who is created in my image and made to look like me, each one.
Get the blind and deaf out here and ready —

The blind (though there’s not a thing wrong with their eyes)
The deaf (though there’s not a thing wrong with their ears)
Then get all diverse nations out here and ready, what do they have to say, present their testimony
But You are my witnesses … my handpicked servant … so that you’ll come to know and trust me understand that I am and who I am, I spoke, I saved. I told you what existed long before these upstart Gods.  Yes, I am God, I’ve always been God and I always will No one can take anything from me.  I make; who can unmake it?”

Our personal God speaks. We have all been designed to listen and echo the sound.

The aural sense is the first to develop in utero, it is the last sense to degenerate before death.  Hearing its mother’s voice, the new born baby will turn its head in preference to any other sound stimulus. Those who experience profound hearing loss process sense waves of sound vibration and energy distributed from an external source.   Your ear is a complex sound chamber designed to receive signal, discriminate sound waves and echo them back to the brain to process meaning, deduce understanding, and formulate a response both emotional and many times physical.  In short, your body and mind are created to receive, poised to respond, and reverberate an external signal.  Surely you’re prepared to hear God, and EVERY OTHER cacophony of inner and worldy voices.

Isaiah reminds that God has spoken into the world (WHERE?), your name, and calls you, personally YOU to not be afraid (WHAT?) for she picks you for the team!  God is willing to go to great ends to talk to you and be close to you, you look a lot alike.

Isaiah urges in this sermon, God is speaking when there are choices that effect the FUTURE (WHEN), when your kids are sick, when far from family and friends and HOME.  God urges all nations (WHO?) can be heard without defensiveness and feel safe that we are to understand God, our creator, whom has showed us the language of love in the life of Jesus.  God is speaking, the one who knows us and loves us as we are made, who calls us to the existence that is her will. Thanks be to God.

Prayer:  Loving and nurturing creator, Thank you for this design that prepares us to sense you, help us to know we are understood by you, and can deep within understand your ways, then in turn to respond with caring your grand purpose.  Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 28

by Steve Frick

Romans 1:20 (VOICE): From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people.

While it may seem that the outward creation should be responsible for our faith, it is the interpreter of our faith. That faith has its primary sources within our own hearts, but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only through what we observe around us. Hence, the inner and the outer revelation of God complement each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God IS, and that His power is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic “spirit of nature” but the power of a living Godhead. The Gospels not only testify that Jesus is God, but that He is our divine Creator. His divinity makes Him worthy our worship and praise.

John 1:3 (NASB) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.   

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Could I be an atheist if I had never been exposed to religion, and more specifically, Christianity?” For me, the answer is a resounding NO. I consider myself a person who acts on logic quite a bit, and probably too much. It is often not logical to follow what God ASKS us to do, but takes faith, which is not necessarily founded in logic. However, the logic on which I operate absolutely tells me there is a Creator. I could not be an atheist if I wanted to because creation must have been preceded by its Creator. For me, being an atheist would be no different than believing that I didn’t have a mother and father!

When I consider the Earth orbiting the sun 93 million miles away, the moon orbiting the Earth, the oceans that cover the majority of the Earth, the mountains, the forests and deserts, rivers, trees, plants – ALL working in concert to produce and sustain life … I see evidence of God. When I see the bees buzzing around in the flowers, the butterflies flitting from bush to bush, the birds flying from tree to tree … I see the evidence of God. The Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Universe … is not an accident. It is not something that simply happened because a fluctuation of an infinitely dense singularity burst forth without a creator.

While it may have been a big bang from nothingness, God’s OWNS that bang and the nothingness beforehand. When I consider the complexity of cells, the physics of the atom, the photons that give us light … I see evidence of God. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy … Science – the facts, the truth. God is the author and creator of all science, and the beauty and exquisiteness of it ALL is tangibly seen in nature, in life. It is all an extension of His Being, WE are an extension of His Being. God made man in His own image. God is infinitely wise and intelligent beyond our imagination in all that He has created, and while mankind thinks He knows a lot, He only knows the tip of the iceberg – that which can be seen and studied, but much has not been revealed to us.

I realize I’ve only spoken about the physical world and what we can see, but it is the realm in which we live and as Roman 1:20 states: His power and divine identity are invisible to the eye, they are made evident from what He has created.

Prayer: Oh God of the universe and all life, we praise an honor You for Your goodness to us and for Your creation which is such a gift to enjoy. Thank you for the sustenance that you provide through your creation, and remind us daily that the beauty which surrounds us in the natural world and the goodness we find in others is all from You. I pray that the evidence of your creation will strengthen our faith and give us joy that we are made in your image.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 27

by Katie Lynch

It’s almost a joke between me and my roommates that sometimes I ask a question and don’t really listen for the answer. In busy days or hurried dinners, I’ll ask a quick, “How was your day?” or “What’s new?”, but my mind runs a million miles an hour and a couple seconds later I realize I missed everything they said. We laugh about it every time, but it’s even worse when I’m in large groups and the same thing happens … but thankfully in those times when I zone out, my friends are listening and I can poke them and they’ll whisper to me what I missed. They’re really good about this.

In a serious way, a couple days ago I was at home for Spring Break and under a crushing load of anxiety and fear. Anxiety about my family, my future, my friends. Anxiety about my anxiety — fear about what it all meant about me and my health and my faith. It was Spring Break so I wasn’t going to interrupt someone else’s beach trip or fun family time to tend to me, but something surprised me. My friend Claire called me randomly, and after a long conversation she shared something that was on her mind. She talked about thinking lately that Jesus really, truly is the only peace, and peace doesn’t always look like what we think it will.

Immediately when I got off the phone, I said to God, “Thank You for people who listen to You.”

God was whispering peace to me, through my friend, who was listening well. I was deep in a mess and wasn’t listening, but someone else was. It changed things.

We’ve been listening a lot as a church, as people together in a community, and in our personal faiths. I’ve been listening a little more in this season of Lent too, but I’ve also noticed how thankful I am for people in my life listening when I can’t. They share truth, grace, a lot of love with me when I have needed it most. It’s been friends sharing a smile, a hug, a quick word of love. It’s been parents welcoming me when I’m most tired and have nothing to offer, and a lot of y’all sharing wisdom and laughter too.

So together, today, let’s listen. We can listen for ourselves, but our listening may mean the difference for someone else too.

Prayer: Today, I thank you for the people in my life who listen to you, and it’s made all the difference to me. I listen now, and want to listen more, to be ears for those who can’t listen right now. Help me, Jesus. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 26

by Meg Hines

Psalm 19:14: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

I have been trying to listen for God.

Really, I have.

But amidst the clamor, busyness, stress and to-do lists, it has been difficult. I keep telling God that I am listening, that I am trying, but I just can’t hear anything.   I sort of liken it to the Grinch in his famous role, you know, the one where he says, “All that noise, oh the noise, all that noise, noise, noise!”

Listening is not as easy as it’s cracked up to be.  You know when we were little and we were in school and the teacher would say “listen”.  All you had to do is stop and pay attention.  It’s not so easy to do when you get to be an adult.  It is work, hard work, difficult work to stop and just listen.  There is too much crowding in your mind, body and spirit.

My Lenten work has been to keep trying to listen and in that, I have been making sure that I am doing something each day that is meditative and that maybe, just maybe, I will hear God.  It took a while, but the Grinch shell started to crack just a little one Sunday a couple weeks ago.  I was giving a lesson in Sunday School about God’s Wise Ways and working with my class to come up with images and metaphors to describe the beauty and joy of knowing and following God’s wise ways.  Here are a few they came up with …

God’s love is as powerful as … a tsunami
God’s peace is as deep as … my mother’s love
God’s rules are as fair as … Barack Obama’s
God’s ways are as beautiful as … a beach at sunset

Pause.  Stop.  Wait a minute … I think I just heard God. Right?

A Sunday or two later, I was able to doorkeep for Danny during Godly Play and hear some of the first parts of the Faces of Easter story.  During the quiet, but busy work time with the kids, I overheard Atticus in the corner working with the Exodus story.  As he moved a figure up onto a small platform, I heard him say, “I am God and I am always with you.”  There you are God … I hear you again!

During our family trip last week, staying at a hotel close by the White House, we were eating breakfast at our handy dandy little Hampton Inn when I heard the sounds of chanting outside and it dawned on me — it was the voices of students who were protesting outside the White House about gun violence.  The voices of children, speaking again!  There you are God!

At a conference last weekend, I struck up a conversation with an Uber driver whereby we compared notes on education.  He told me all about his daughter who was a teacher and how she worked in a school that was very challenging and how she had just received the “Teacher of the Year” recognition.  I talked to him about how I was a “teacher of teachers” and how I was there at a conference talking about my own work with how we must develop the talent of children in all places and spaces.  He then opened up to tell me about his own experience as a bright, African-American male growing up in school and how he always knew he was smart but just didn’t get the challenge that he longed for.  He talked about how he had to leave high school to work for his family and how after he had put his children through school, he went back to school to become a social worker.  The conversation lengthened more after that, but I got out of the vehicle feeling a bit like God was a passenger in there with us.  The chance that his life experience met my own work and that we ended up in the car together for that meaningful conversation was impactful to me in continuing to affirm the work I do in my professional life.  Thanks God! I needed to hear you on that.

What I’ve learned this Lenten season is that God is always speaking to me.   I’ve learned that God speaks to us in many different ways.  It might be through the voices of children, through meaningful protests about life’s inequitable circumstances or through strangers I’ve never even met.  I’ve learned that my work is to make the time and space to pay attention.  I’ve learned that listening takes practice and that it is important to keep my listening skills in shape.  I’ve drawn closer to God in these moments and for that I am truly grateful.

Loving, patient God,
Thank you for continuing to work on me.  Thank you for loving me in my selfish, busy moments.  Thank you for not giving up on me and for continuing to find ways to speak to me through so many individuals, each day.  Thank you for leading me toward times of meditation this Lenten season so that I remember how important it is to be with you and listen for you each day.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 24

By Adrienne Bumpers

Mark 8: 22-26: They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, waking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and [the man] looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home saying “Do not even go into the village.”

I recently read through this scripture and was truly stumped. This is the first time that I remember Jesus performing a miracle in two stages. This seemed weird to me and sparked my curiosity so I started  looking at what transpired before this miracle to see if that could give me clarity. When I read from Ch. 8:11-21 (go read it!), it seemed as if Jesus was showing some frustration with the Pharisees and even the Disciples.

My first reaction was “did Jesus let frustrations pile up so much that He allowed it to distract him and He had to try twice to heal this blind man?”  I immediately laughed at my question. Sometimes I just want to see Jesus as human. I totally let frustration distract me at times, but that obviously wasn’t the reason for the two stages of healing.

So, after feeling even more stumped, I did some Google research and what I found was that you wouldn’t get the full effect of the miracle in v.22-26 without the context of v.11-21. The context reveals that Jesus is increasingly aware that everyone around him, specifically the Pharisees and even the disciples, are not fully getting it. The Pharisees wanted proof and the disciples keep forgetting, both displaying a lack of faith. Jesus ignores the Pharisees and lectures the disciples.

How frustrating that must have been for everyone.

So then Jesus’ next step was to respond to the need and the faith of this blind man in the next village. Some say the disciples were with Jesus at this time, so it makes sense to think that Jesus deliberately chooses to perform this miracle in front of them in two stages. The first stage the man can see but he doesn’t fully understand what he sees. Then the second stage Jesus allows him to see with full understanding.

I guess the thing that encourages me most from all of this is that Jesus extends the invitation for others to see clearly and more fully understand. Through my process of trying to better understand the two attempts at healing,  I feel like that same invitation was directly extended to me. Might I remember the constant invitation that is extended to me to not only see but to exercise my faith and more fully understand.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, give us the curiosity to see more deeply what you reveal to us each day. Heal us in as many stages as you need to show us the importance and majesty of your great love. Amen

Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 23

by Hope Cook
Proverbs 4:25: Let your eyes look directly ahead. And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.

I’m sure I’m taking this verse out of context, but the point I saw was keeping your eyes open and noticing what’s right in front of you instead of being lost in the thoughts in your head.  Three times God has tried to show me this in the last day:

1. I read about being on vacation or on a trip (like I’m on right now) and how we have a hard time just being there and enjoying it — breathing, looking around, noticing.  Instead, we immediately think dozens of thoughts like, “I think I should take some pictures or videos to capture this moment,” or we think, “I wish my spouse was here to enjoy this with me.”  Our brains shift into noticing what’s not right or what could be improved instead of just being aware of these thoughts and still being present in the moment.  This morning I was the only one up at 5:08.  The sun was coming up in Honduras, roosters had been crowing since 3:30 and I was mesmerized by the beauty of the sky and the ocean(see photo).  That is, until I started thinking about how I should text a picture to my friend, and maybe I should Facetime my family so they could see it, or maybe I should journal about it.  I picked up my pen and journal and diverted my eyes from the beauty of the sky to begin writing.  The pen ran out of ink after three words were written on the paper.  I decided this was  a sign and maybe God wanted me to look up and enjoy the wonderful chance to watch His awesome sunrise through the palm trees.  Stop what you’re doing for a moment or two today.  Look up, take a deep, full breath into your lungs.  Put down your pen and your phone.  Look someone in the eyes.  Smell the air around you.  Touch a flower or a bush on your way to the car and notice the texture.  This is your one wild and precious life, so for goodness sake, don’t you dare waste it.

2. Yesterday I had a mom bring in her two fat, beautiful 4-month-old baby girl twins for diarrhea and cough.  I examined them and found no signs of anything other than “worm belly,” so I gave them the medicine for worms and briefly talked about watching for signs of dehydration.  As I talked to the mom, my eyes kept going to one of the twins who was a little smaller than her sister.  She was smiling the whole time and drooling a lot.  My eyes then settled on her almond shaped eyes and the shape of her head —  down syndrome.  That’s why she looked different (see photo of babies with my translator).  It was subtle, but the more I thought about it and got a few others’ opinions, it was quite obvious that one twin had Down’s.  Mom had no idea.  My translator talked and talked with mom.  As she pointed out each feature, mom would shake her head.  She honestly didn’t see any difference in the two girls.  Sometimes we are blind to what’s right in front of us.

3. Look at the strangers in front of you, don’t get that glazed look when you’re “dealing” with them.  One of our translators is a little on the haughty side.  This white haired lady grew up with missionary parents in Honduras, and she’s translated for hundreds of mission groups and aide organizations like Mercy Ships.  So maybe she’s a little fed up with helping people.  Yesterday I heard her loudly yelling in angry Spanish to some ladies to back up and move away from the farmacia (pharmacy).  She later said at supper that she could’ve punched one ungrateful old lady (this is making her sound terrible, but we all vent about our jobs at supper to some degree) because the lady had fussed about us running out of some of the medicines by the end of the day.  Our translator barked back at her in Spanish that she should be grateful that we were even there to give her any medicines at all.  This was a fair point, but if she’d stopped to look at the woman or talk to her, she would know that this was a 70-year-old grandmother who had walked many miles with three kids under the age of 6 to get medicine for them.  She may have seen that the grandmother didn’t look like two of the lighter-skinned children. The grandmother had been my patient earlier and I’d heard that she was raising three children who weren’t her own and struggling financially to keep doing so.  Only one was a blood relative.

Let your eyes notice those around you.  Make eye contact, smile, notice.  See them, really see them.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 22

by Alys Willman

Matthew 4: 1-3: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Last week, as we drove back from our spring break camping trip, I was struggling to think of a good idea for a Lenten reflection.  So I asked Oscar (7) who sat next to me. What he said was better than what I had, so this is basically a transcript.

ME:  Oscar, I’m thinking about that story where Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days to pray. What do you think it was like for him there?

OSCAR: Oh man! A LOT of sand. Zero trees. Zero water. It’s very rare to have a river in the desert. Actually it’s impossible. It would be crazy hard. You’d almost die.

ME: And do you remember the part of the story where the devil shows up and tells Jesus if he’ll just come and be on his side, he can have everything – food, magic powers, you name it. He tells him he could be king of the whole world.

OSCAR: I think Jesus would be a good king, actually. He’d probably say you can go to bed whenever you want, and eat whatever food you want. He’d let everyone join in all the games and not even punish people when they mess up but just let them think about what they did.  Hey wait, is Dad getting another speeding ticket?

ME (watching flashing lights pass us): Eh, nope! Looks like they’re going after someone else. Back to the story – why do you think Jesus said no to all that he was offered, and instead decided to do what God asked?

OSCAR: Yeah, that’s weird. I mean, did he know he was actually going to get killed?

ME: I don’t know.

OSCAR: Well, even if he did, maybe he just missed Joseph and thought if he died he could see him again in heaven.

ME: Can you think of a time when your Dad or I asked you to do something, and you really, really didn’t want to do it?

OSCAR:  Yeah. Today on the beach I was playing football and we were winning and you said it was time to go.

ME: Imagine if some dude had shown up right then and been like, “Hey Oscar, come be on my team and you can play football for the rest of your life!”

OSCAR: That would be so cool! I would definitely go with that dude.

ME: Seriously? You don’t even know this dude.

OSCAR (thinking hard): Well, yeah. And you know what? This dude might be tricking me. I mean, after a while he would probably have gotten all bossy with me and made me do everything he wanted. And you and Dad and Nico would have left and I’d be stuck with him.

ME: Maybe it was like that for Jesus in a way.

OSCAR: You want what I think? I think Jesus did the right thing. Because what if the devil was lying? What if he made him king, but then instead of a real crown he put that crown of thorns on, and then he ended up dying anyway? And God was always the one who was nice to him and took care of him.  It’s probably better to go with someone who is honest with you and that you know instead of someone who’s just tricking you. Can I have a sandwich?

 Prayer:  God, you know us better than anyone else, and you know the ways we are tempted.  Help us to seek out and pay attention to your voice and your guidance so that we will know it when we hear it.  In Jesus’ name we pray.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 21

by Maxine Easom
This contemporary song by Ryan Stephenson has especially spoken to me during the last few months.  Perhaps it will to you.

Prayer:  Everpresent Lord —

“In the eye of the storm you remain in control,

In the middle of the war, you guard my soul.  

You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn.  

Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm.”  Amen

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 20

by Robert Foster

Isaiah 31:1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, seeking salvation from horses and putting their trust in numbers of chariots, and riders because they are very strong.  But they have not looked for salvation from the Holy One of Israel and they have not sought the LORD.              

Around the same time that we learned that our focus during this Lenten season at Oconee Street UMC would be on listening, I received a request to write a little piece on the importance of contemplative prayer in the work of racial justice and reconciliation.  I have been contemplating that assignment ever since and have finally had some space to write on the subject this week.

To me, contemplative prayer differs from my regular praying in that, in my regular praying, I tell God about things going on in my life and world and how I wish God would act in each of these circumstances.  Contemplative prayer seems to me to reverse this process.  In contemplative prayer I listen to what God seems to be telling me in Scripture or perhaps a line from a song or the content of a recent conversation or news about a recent event, and so on, with a commitment to act on what I hear from God.  And, just as I find it more difficult to listen than to talk in conversations with family and friends, I find it more difficult to hear what God says to me than to tell God what I want and need from God.  Contemplative prayer requires contemplation, slowing down to mull things over, until I finally hear what God has to say to me.

So, even if I have an understanding of contemplative prayer in comparison to my regular prayers, I often do not practice contemplative prayer simply because it takes more time than my regular prayers.  Yet, if I am honest, maybe the major reason I do not engage contemplative prayer more regularly is because in contemplative prayer I am more likely to hear God’s demands of me.  Emilie Griffin, in her wonderful little book on prayer entitled, Clinging, writes that many of us should admit that a major reason we do not pray, period, is because we have heard stories of someone who was “just praying” and suddenly found themselves selling their home and moving to Madagascar to follow the call of God on their lives.  If this can happen during regular prayer, how much more dangerous might contemplative prayer be?!  In contemplative prayer I commit myself to listen and then to act on what I hear from God.  I can hardly imagine a more foolish act in the known universe.

Which brings me back to Isaiah 31:1.  At first glance, maybe God’s simply upset that the people of God seek help from mere mortal like the Egyptians not giving due respect to God.  Is the Creator of the Universe and Redeemer of Israel not enough for you?  Seriously?  But, as we keep reading in the following verses, the prophet takes this passage in a different direction.  After reaffirming that the people should turn to God instead of consulting Egypt—or idols of silver and gold (Isa. 31:6-7)—the prophet proclaims a word of assurance:

Behold, a king will reign with social justice and princes will judge uprightly.  Every one of them will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm….And the work of the just will be peace…and my people will dwell in peaceful homes and in secure dwellings and in untroubled places of rest.  – Isaiah 32:1, 2, 17, 18

According to the prophet Isaiah, the downfall of Israel did not the result from the formation of bad political alliances.  No, real problem that precipitated the exile of Israel was that God had hoped to find in Israel justice in the courts and, instead, God found injusticer justice in the streets and, instead, found iniquity (Isa. 5:7).  The people of Israel did not need better political alliances.  They needed leaders committed to working for justice in all its aspects.

And this is one of the reasons I think contemplative prayer is so important in the work of racial justice and reconciliation: I need God to remind me that the problem does not (solely) lie “out there.”  When I stop to listen for God, contemplate what God might be saying to me in a Scripture from the book of Isaiah or in a line from a song by Kendrick Lamar or in a conversation with my friend Broderick or in the chained bodies of black women and men appearing in the local court system, I often enough will hear God speak to me.  I hear God telling me to stand up for justice.

God challenges my commitment to ongoing work of racial justice and reconciliation.  I hear God telling me, “Go,” use my words, my time, my energy, my monies, my life for the cause of racial justice and reconciliation in the world.  To be fair, I often don’t practice contemplative prayer because not because I find it difficult to comprehend or that it takes more time; I simply don’t want God to confront me with my  need to change.  I would rather just cast aspersions on those people “out there” for their failures in racial justice and reconciliation.

Prayer: Dear LORD, Holy One of Israel, give me courage to stop speaking and, once again, to listen.  Tell me what you want me to know, what you would have me to do.  Speak, O LORD, for your servant is listening. 

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 19

by Robin Whetstone

What Is the Point?

A tour guide told me recently that John Wesley was run out of Savannah for writing down everyone’s sins in a big book he carried around with him everywhere. (This same tour guide also said, “Who’s he?” when I pointed out Flannery O’Connor’s house, so.) A major point to being a Christian for Methodists, and for a lot of Calvinists I’ve not had beers with, is personal holiness.

The liberation theologians in UF’s religion department believed that justice was the point of Christianity. Christianity upends oppression and unjust power structures. People who identify most with this aspect of Christianity say things like “It was only when King started talking about class that they shot him, you know.”

Russians and Catholics focus on Christ’s suffering, because Russians and Catholics are always suffering. Pain is a big part of life, and Mary and Jesus help you bear it. A lot of white Americans think God is an ATM.

Lately, I think a lot about the fruits of the spirit and my own experience, and I think that Christianity does something to your heart. Inoculates it from fear? I don’t know. It transforms it, definitely, but not for your benefit. It doesn’t make things easier. I sometimes think the point of Christianity is that it makes you able to do the things you must do for others, whatever those things may be. Is this what it means to be holy? Is this what it takes to do justice?

This is why I love Lent. Lent gives me space to ask bigger questions than “should I eat this?” Giving up or taking on something makes me stop and ask, for what? What is the point of being a Christian?

The smartest people I trust the most answer, “glorifying the creator.” They don’t specify what that means. Maybe figuring out through prayer, listening, ritual, and asking questions how each of us glorifies the creator is the point of Christianity? I’m seriously asking.

Would anyone be up for a Sunday school class on this topic? I could host a class called “What’s the Point?” It could be followed by a second class (probably led by my husband, har har) called “Why Does There Always Have to Be a Point?” We could also consider another Renovare class, which talks about areas of spiritual focus and growth. Anyone?

Happy Lent, everybody.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV): But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.