Jared Witt l March 2, 2017
Last night at our first ever Ash Wednesday service, a few of us spiritual pilgrims from the Castle Church community wrote down our confessions on paper, set them ablaze, and used that for the ashes to mark our foreheads and say to each other, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
Just as we will one day lie back down in the dirt, so will our faults and failures. Nothing we have ever said or done is ultimate. Only God’s love is. In doing this ritual, we also decided that a good practice this Lenten season would be to give up bashing “the other side” for 40 days. For many of us, at this particular juncture in our society, the other side is going to be a political opposition. But obviously it can be more broad than that: a mother-in-law, the coworker who always wastes your time with slow, meandering stories, or really anyone whom you might snicker about behind closed doors.
One of the main critiques that spiritual idealists have of Lenten practices is that, if something is good to do for Lent, it should be good to do year round. If it’s spiritually beneficial to give up chocolate or fast on Fridays, then why would you ever not do it?
But this is a bit like the person who looks around sheepishly at dinner time and says, “See, the reason I just dug into my lasagna without praying first is because I’m the kind of person who prays at all times without ceasing.” I probably don’t need to tell you that this holier-than-Lent attitude almost always amounts to just never trying anything spiritually.
Jillian Michaels designs short 20 minute workouts, which my wife and I have been fairly religious about for the last seven years or so. Are they horrific? Yes. But you can do anything for twenty minutes. Would an hour long workout be better? Sure. But as of yet, none of my friends who have tried the much longer and more grueling P90X videos have stayed faithful to it for a month, let alone eight years. And when they ask Nikki and I what our secret is, none of them ever guess that the secret is doing less, not more. Part of the rationale here is that you can do anything for 40 Days.
So that’s what I’m encouraging everyone in the Castle Church network to try: no more lambasting, mocking, skewering or whatever you want to call it for 40 days. We’re going to try to find some common human ground with our enemies and build from there. If you’re willing to try this, I’d love to hear your stories.
For me, this means getting over a grievance I have with a colleague (not Castle Church related) whom I perceive to be slow-witted and emotionally dense. Get over it, Jared. He is a child of God.
For my wife, this means giving up Stephen Colbert and other satirical mockery of the right from her entertainment schedule. As she said last night at worship, she is pretty convinced that satire serves an important truth-telling purpose in our society. And I tend to agree with her. But is there never a point (I’m looking at you, other educated liberal and moderate elites) where we reach satire overload? It was one thing for a Voltaire to write a book like Candide and make a mockery of the prevailing zeitgeist once every generation or so. But what happens when that mockery is constant and the victim is never “us” but always “them.”
What happens when we skip from The Onion, to the Borowitz Report, to John Oliver, to The Young Turks, to Babylon Bee with little thought for the humanity of the people whom we’re roasting. And I’m not even talking about the humanity of Trump or of Sean Spicer. It’s more productive to talk about the humanity of the person we actually might interact with: the grotesquely imagined person down the street, who may be just as backwards as the day is long, but whom Christ still beckons us to call brother or sister?
Yes, I too have heard and have mocked the clarion calls to “stop the hate” from a group that apparently only sees hate for what it is when it’s directed at other white people and doesn’t pick up on the irony when they immediately turn around and say venomous things about entire hemispheres of people.
But I’m not talking about them, this Lent. I’m talking about us. And we know exactly who we are. Did I really think that when Christ said I need to reach out a hand of love toward the godless Samaritans that he didn’t also mean the CINO (Christian In Name Only) neighbor on my block with the Confederate and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags hanging out of his pickup? Yes, that neighbor actually is super wrong and, I have to imagine, racist. But we're not talking about rightness or wrongness here. If my rightness on the issue of the confederacy causes me to write off his value as a person entirely, then I’m afraid Fox & Friends has a point. I’m a hypocrite.
And I’m only kidding myself if I think that my hatred of “Don’t Tread On Me” guy is some great service to the people of color who pay the consequences for his worldview. It’s not. It changes their circumstances not one iota. If anything, it just causes him to double down on his opposition to me, the mocker, and vote even harder against their interests really for no other reason than that he's been backed into a corner. If I’m so educated and smart, maybe I should’ve been the bigger person and kept him in the dialogue the last several decades rather than ostracizing him and causing him to retreat deeper into the extremes of his ideological group. Wouldn’t that be the real mark of educated societal leadership on my part? To be big?
So try it out. Give up mockery this Lent. What’s the worst that could happen? You decide it’s not for you after 40 days? Or otherwise, you fail and get that much closer to God's grace.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.