When giving up for Lent becomes taking up The Way

Happy Shrove Tuesday! It’s Mardi Gras, and everyone is getting ready to celebrate! What many people do not realize is that this day is considered holy. Shrove Tuesday … Fat Tuesday … whatever we want to call it is the day that we indulge ourselves of all the good stuff we will have to give up for Lent. It’s about feasting before the fasting. Ultimately, anyone who has ever truly fasted can tell you that feasting the day before is really not a good idea, and generally the stuff we feast on is stuff we really can do with less of anyway.

For us, Super Bowl Sunday was our Mardi Gras, of sorts. We pulled out all the stops with chips and dips … good stuff to eat and drink. Of course, there were only five adults and one two-year-old, but it didn’t matter. We feasted from afternoon until the end of the game.

But now Lent is here, and we are ready to give stuff up. Most American Christians really take Lent as kind of a restart on their New Year’s Resolutions. We think that maybe this is the time to give up stuff that makes us gain weight or that otherwise makes us unhealthy. Some use it as a spiritual endeavor to give up bad habits … letting God help them break the addiction or give up bad things. Nothing really wrong with those endeavors, but it really isn’t what the season is about, is it?

We are people who are so busy figuring out how to let go of those things we enjoy but that we know we should do without that we forget the real reason of this journey. It isn’t as much about giving up as it is about taking up. As Christians, we are called to take up The Way.

The earliest Christian movement wasn’t called a church. It wasn’t institutionalized. There were no doctrines or dogma that explained the intricacies of how God and Jesus related to each other. There were no ecclesial structures telling us who has authority and who doesn’t have authority. Such matters were decided in each community of people who were known as followers (not believers … followers). They didn’t go by fancy names like Wellspring or Holy Cross or Trinity, and there were no “First” Churches … they simply called themselves The Way.

They lived a radical life of communal sharing. They cared for one another. They declined to be involved in government or the military. They were subversive in that they clearly proclaimed that Jesus is Lord, which was their one common confession throughout all of the communities of followers. It was subversive in that their proclamation was that Jesus was Lord instead of Caesar, and it led to the persecution of the earliest followers.

So here I was planning to get ready for Easter in the usual fashion when a friend and leader in our church family handed me a book called The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus by Robin Meyers. George knows I get deeply invested in what I read, and he figured that this would be a good step to my own growth as a spiritual leader. (At least I hope that’s why he did it, because any other motive would have just been mean.) You see, what he doesn’t know is that this has caused me a great deal of heartburn and stress … not because Meyers is wrong, but precisely because he is right.

It is so easy to just give things up. As hard as it is to give up chocolate or carbs or cigarettes or liquor or fattening foods or meat or even whole meals for that matter, it is so much harder to take up The Way.

The Way of Jesus you see means that we give up ourselves entirely. We hand everything over to God that we might follow Jesus more closely. We take up mission and ministry in an intentional way that moves us toward engagement with people we might otherwise avoid.

So what would happen if, instead of just giving up Starbucks for Lent (yeah, that is a hard one for me), I took the money I spend there and committed it to providing job training for low income people who have no skills training? What would happen if, instead of buying that fancy dinner out, I decided that I could give that money to help build bridges between our family of faith and those whom we normally shut outside our doors? What would happen if, instead of going to that dinner out, the family went to work the evening at a homeless shelter or give back at The Caring Place or some other outreach ministry in our community? Following is a whole lot harder than just believing. Even doing these things don’t take us nearly as far as Robin Meyers would push us in taking up The Way.

Lent suddenly just got serious for me. It was so much easier when I just had to give stuff up to be a good believer, but then I realize that Jesus didn’t ask me just to believe.  Jesus asked me to follow. There are times when, as a believer, I just get in the way. When I follow … when I follow Jesus … it is then that I begin to take up The Way.

May your journey in Lent be that of giving up on “just believing” and then taking up The Way as a follower of Jesus Christ!

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