Monday, March 26, 2012

Resistance, Repentance, & Sobriety

I am one of those strange souls who typically looks forward to the Lenten season as an excuse to simplify and quiet myself, to get in touch with what is most important and most real in a spinning, cacophonous world of falseness. It is not easy. I miss get-togethers with friends during the week when we would normally eat out.  I miss the camaraderie that is the fellowship of movie-going, planning, anticipating, and discussing.  But Lent is a beautiful moment of tuning myself to a different story - not the "Christian calendar" honestly, but simply God's story and God's story in me.

It is also more than that for me. I have this unsettling desire to embrace a lifestyle of tuning myself to God and his story, of remembering the way that the Israelites were instructed to remember.  Like them, I want to found my identity in what God has done.  Like them, I want to regularly consider what it is that I have been delivered from.  Like them, I want to shape the practices of my life in keeping with my covenant with God, remembering what he has taught me so that I may take the Land.  Perhaps that is why I see in Lent such opportunity.  It is a unique season to remember in specific ways, ways that are particularly effective in that they often involve silencing competing narratives and other more present demands.

But I have found my spirit strangely resistant in the last 30+ days.  I think I have experienced literal withdrawal symptoms around giving up movies, and mostly I have simply traded that fix for incessant reading.  There were things that I gave up for only about a week and then had to give them up again.  My focus has seemed ... off ... my tuner out of tune.  My rememberer seemed set on spin cycle.  The truth is, it has just been harder to give things up this time around, and I've started to wonder if the wonderful freedoms I have in my Christian walk haven't become a new set of task-masters.

"I have the right to do anything," you say.
But not everything is beneficial.
"I have the right to do anything."
But I will not be mastered by anything.
I Cor 6:12

At what point does a freedom become an entitlement and then a detriment?  For me, I start to get concerned if I have even an inkling to refrain from something and then I somehow do not actually refrain ... almost as if I can't.  I start to wonder, "Who is the master here?"  Of course, it's pretty easy, normally, to set the whole question aside as a moot point because, well, why give something up if it's a freedom in the first place?  But Lent doesn't let me off the hook.  Fasting is a remarkably efficient and effective tool for exposing the heart.

Sometimes repentance isn't about having done something wrong, but the need for something to be made right.

I have things in my life that aren't necessarily wrong but that need to be made right.  In fact, I need to be made right. Constantly.

I think this whole notion ties in to the idea of sobriety. 

It isn't a popular word.  For those who associate alcohol consumption, for example, with uninhibited life, joy, friends, camaraderie and stress relief, sobriety can draw a picture of the world in grey tones and hangovers.  For those who do not consider the word in the context of alcohol, it can connote seriousness possibly to an extreme - pessimism, negativity, or the inability to have fun.  To 'sober up' is usually to come face to face with the hard facts and realities of life - which usually are not terribly pretty.  It can be equated with somberness, drudgery, perhaps even an aspect of surviving instead of really living.

But I kind of like the word sobriety.  I find it to be earthy and, yes, real. It invites me through the looking glass of self delusion, escapism, and insanity into the stark and daunting adventure that is living.  And I don't buy the belief system that says reality is only hard, hurtful, painful, scary, or depressing, so sobriety  is not monochromatic and desert-like to me.  The realities of sin and hurt and loss are painful, but a real relationship with God, for example, is also present and sustaining, joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Real beauty, real character, real life is far more glorious than the false images and false promises of denial, vain hope, and delusional faith that does not produce fruit, the substance of things not seen.  I believe Jesus when he said that he meant for us to have life in abundance, and I don't think that has to do with the circumstances of my life (or my pocketbook).  I think it has to do with the fruit of the Spirit being produced in me in and out of season.  I think it has to do with living in a real and sustaining relationship with God in the truth.  It is, after all, the truth that sets me free - free, even, from being enslaved by the law or by my own freedoms.  And repentance is less about good and evil, the law and freedom, and more about aligning myself with what is true.

That is all very philosophical, I suppose.  The point seems to be this: As I make this journey through Lent, as I notice my own struggles with being human and being Christian and seeking God, I recognize that which grounds me is a lifestyle of pursuing God's story, which I have come to understand only and ever in the context of sobriety, reality, truth.  This is the part of the Covenant of Life that I commit myself to and practice so that I might take the Land of Promise, bearing his fruit in me in and out of season, producing abundant life.

In the midst of giving up and giving in this season, I look back to recognize that this has been 40 days of pressing into that which is real and living there.  I have faced and seek to face difficult circumstances, attempting to see things as they are, not as I would have them. I have sought God and I have acted on his truth, longing for his story in the hopes that, once again, the fruit of his Spirit might be born in me and I might know the abundance of new life, resurrection life.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:2


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