"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
This is how Lent begins. We have the opportunity to be marked with ashes and these words. We’re reminded that we have this life - this one life - to pray and serve and to live fully. We have the opportunity to reflect on how we get in the way of living in to this faithful life. We’re reminded that we’re called to make sure that we don’t get in the way of our sisters and brothers having the same opportunity, too.
It feels as though Lent started early this year. Even though the problems exposed were far from new, the events in Ferguson, Missouri reminded us how far we are from the kin-dom of God. We have a political, religious, economic and social system that was initially built to perpetuate the values of those who were white, heterosexual, Christian, American and male supremacists though enslavement, genocide, economic oppression, religious oppression and social engineering. Its a system that establishes a supremacist ideal of logic, beauty and physical ability that considers those who don’t match up as insane, ugly and physically deficient. Its a system that is so weak in its initial premise that it requires forced or underpaid labor to uphold it. Its a system that only sees the value of what is natural in the profit it can bring. It is a system that incarcerates, tortures and sometimes kills those who won’t serve it’s ends; those who rebel against it; those involved in crimes it does not authorize; and anyone who comes close to threatening it.
I walk in to Lent knowing that I am complicit. No, I’m not always conscious of how I’m complicit but that’s a form of privilege, too. No, I’m not always the most direct perpetrator of the most heinous of these actions but - through my taxes and the way I spend my money - I have funded them. No, I don’t speak in favor of any of these actions - I frequently speak against them - but I’ll sometimes choose the comfort of an even more deafening silence. No, I didn’t start these systems but I am frequently willing to receive the benefits these systems dole out.
These systems are the children of the systems that conspired to torture and kill Jesus. This isn't all of what Lent's about but its a large important part of what Lent's about.
I know that for many people, giving something up during Lent or doing something differently is an important part of living into Lent. Sure, for some folks these practices resemble New Year's resolutions more than anything else but I also recognize that for many others giving up something - also known as fasting - is a deeply moving spiritual practice. Even for those folks choosing to do something different for Lent its a choice to make room for God or deeply living into our humanity. Both practices set aside things filling up our lives so that more room can be made for a practice of experiencing God and listening to God's leading.
Many of our churches have within their worship services a Prayer of Confession followed by the Words of Assurance and then the Passing of the Peace. What if, for the rest of Lent, we used the Prayer of Confession to focus on our complicity with systems of oppression and fasted from the Words of Assurance and the Passing of the Peace? What if the time normally used for these things was used for sharing ways people can resist these systems or to drill down more deeply into one aspect of these realities? What if white churches reflected on their complicity with racism? What if affluent churches reflected on their addiction to money? What if this time was left as an aching space in which instead of asking for God's assurance, we ask for God's help? What if this was an act of protest by churches to reject comforting words when so many are in need for us to be partners in liberation? We would fast from assurance as a reminder that too many are never assured. We would fast from passing the peace as a reminder that for too many, peace has been denied.
Within church tradition, one way Lent was recognized was by not using the word "Alleluia" during worship; a word that celebrates God's presence. Some churches even have a service during which they "bury the Alleluia" and Alleluia doesn't return until Easter. Fasting from the Words of Assurance and the Passing of the Peace would be inline with this tradition.
This fast wouldn't exclude giving comfort to those who are suffering or sharing peace with those who need it. It would be a way to, corporately, recognize we have a long way to go and need Christ's help to get there and living in to the spiritual discomfort.
Think about it. Pray about it. Try it. No justice? No passing the peace.