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Distracted by Digital? 3 Lenten Practices that Help You Turn Back to God

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Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Often this is what a minister or a priest says when a body is being buried or cremated. It is a sobering proclamation that is supposed to remind us of our frailty as human beings. As we hear this reminder, we are faced with the reality of the human condition. The words are stark but they also gently invite us to reflect on where we have come from and where all of us are ultimately heading.

They are also words that we recite and ponder when the Christian calendar comes to the season of Lent. Tomorrow, especially as it is Ash Wednesday, many traditions have a ceremony where a leader will smear some charcoal on a person’s forehead in order to remember this proclamation “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Practicing Lent presents a serious challenge, especially in today’s culture which is so often overconfident.

Lent presents a serious challenge, especially in a culture which is so often overconfident. Click To Tweet

We live in times of hubris where pride, self-assertion and arrogance are modeled to us from our leadership. Our national leaders are moving towards an “us-first” mentality that comes from a “me-first” ethic.

Moreover, many of our church leaders run conferences on how to grow churches faster and further than we have ever imagined and so we salivate wanting to know the formula for success in order to make our churches big and influential…all for the kingdom of course. Deep down we still long for the glory of Christendom from back when the church asserted itself more confidently in the public sphere..

We could rationalize all of this by saying that we are promoting our work all for the growth of the kingdom of God, and I don’t doubt that we are. However, Lent reminds us that the heart is more deceitful than we know and that our motives are always mixed.

Lent welcomes us to allow the Spirit to search our hearts to see if there is any twisted way present, and then know that as we repent, we can be confident that the gaze of a loving God will forgive, transform and bless. We are loved beyond measure, yet we are also flawed and in desperate need of turning to God who slowly makes us whole again as we turn and return to Him.

We are loved yet we are also flawed & in need of God who makes us whole again. Click To Tweet

We are also particularly digital. I often worry that my use of social media is making me more impatient, less able to focus and giving me more excuses to avoid meeting with people face to face. We read in articles that study our social media age, we are in fact becoming more distracted and restless due to the overload of information that we constantly access on our newsfeeds.

Who hasn’t felt the frequent twitch to reach and check the smart phone at regular intervals? Yet this is counter to the spirit of Lent which calls us to focus, pay attention to the heart, check for signals of death which then move us to return to life. How do we pay attention to the complexities of the heart when we are persistently bombarded with new information thrusting itself into our spheres with increasing speed?

We desperately need to observe Lent today.

There are many practices we can engage in over the Lent season. Here are three simple ones that help us live counter to a distracted, disembodied and arrogant world.

Humility- Become aware that it is the grace of God, not us, who moves the world

Our “platforms” often encourage us to believe that without us the world would not move. Without us, we secretly think, the kingdom stops advancing. This is hubris. Instead, what are some activities we can engage in to remind ourselves that we “return to dust”?

One way is to spend some time in the slow rhythms of nature to notice that the world continues just fine even without our frenetic activity. I think this well-known poem called The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry sums this practice up nicely:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

As we spend time watching and savoring God’s active grace in the world we realize that God’s presence is all we need in the midst of a world of platforms, promotion and drivenness.

As we spend time savoring God's active grace we realize his God's presence is all we need. Click To Tweet

Cruciformity- Promote others on forums like social media

Often people will give up social media for Lent. Lent is a time that many practice fasting and instead of giving up something like food, many take a break from Facebook, Twitter and the other forms of social media that we have become used to living with today.

However, what about practicing cruciformity in the midst of our social media usage? Instead of, for example, promoting our material, what about giving that up for the 40 days of Lent and only promoting the resources, blogs and material of others?

We could identify those who are marginalized in our world and need the help of a person who is more influential in order that their material might become more widely recognized and promoted.

Hospitality- Spend more time in embodied interaction.

The season of Lent is not only about observing humility, confession and attention to God. It also is a time to allow the Spirit to shape us into a service-oriented, redemptive community that embodies the alternate reality of the kingdom.

What does it look like to live a life of sacrificial service to God? We move towards doing that in the season of Lent. Instead of connecting with people over emails, texts and messenger, what about taking the 40 days of Lent as a time of investing in face to face interaction, especially with those who we know are struggling?

Instead of texting someone “r u ok?” perhaps we could ask them out for a cup of coffee and actually spend time in the flesh with them. If we believe in a God who put on flesh in order to show us his love, we also must flesh out the gospel by showing up and being present to people.

If we believe in a God who put on flesh in order to show us his love, we also must flesh out the gospel by showing up and being present to people. Click To Tweet

These are just some simple suggestions for observing the much needed season of Lent in our world today. As we model this, hopefully, a watching world will ask us why it is that we do these strange yet evocative things and then they too might be tempted to join us on our journey in the presence of the Risen One.

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20 responses to “The Scandal of the Evangelical Memory, Part 2 of 5

  1. Interestingly, one of the ongoing debates among those who have “followed” Blade Runner for decades now (it is the topic of several academic theses!) is whether Dekker himself, the Harrison Ford character is a replicant and doesn’t know it, either . . . though in the Director’s Cut version some scenes suggest he is beginning to suspect it.
    Along that same trajectory, re: your own suggested “commonly-held memory” of evangelicalism’s history as created, you say, by neo-Reformed in our day, maybe that memory of a memory is an artificial and unreliable construct.     I (a couple of decades older than you, I think) remember quite vividly that I was brought up to “know” that the real evangelicals who fought against the onslaught of liberalism were Arminians like Charles Finney and General Booth of the Salvation Army , later-to-become dispensationalists like D.L. Moody and before him Darby, and entertaining enthusiasts like Billy Sunday.   On the other hand, the Reformed purveyors of “eternal security”  and other objectionable doctrines, still addicted to priestly-like gowns and robes in the pulpit and thinking they needed extensive education to “rightly divide the word of truth,” were almost as suspicious as Roman Catholics.   Those among them like Warfield and Machen who were rumored to be potential fellow-travelers with “true fundamentalists” were still awfully dangerous – they’d studied in Europe and interacted with Germans: how could anyone trust them? 
    I suspect from your notice given here that you are going to correct, in your next couple of entries, the “memory” you described, by discussing earlier movements that don’t fit it.  As such, we’ll probably find that our views of the history of (American) movements leading into today’s evangelicalism are more compatible than this first exchange might look like.  I appreciate your correct (and correcting) portrait of the founders of Wheaton College and Gordon College, for example.  But I do not share your portrait of the “implanted memory” which you apparently see as pervasive among today’s evangelicals; I don’t think it is how “most” or “typical” evangelicals think. And it is rather harsh, not to say unfounded, to propose that (if they do think that way) it is the result of a nefarious “memory chip implantation” on the part of the Neo-Reformed or Liberals.
      Artistically, let me say I appreciate the value of metaphor, and in this Blade Runner case, you’re to be congratulated for making a most excellent and persuasive hermeneutical connection.  But I think differences in memory can be attributed to much less sinister causes.  Jimmy Carter says (probably in hyperbole) that when he wrote his memoirs of the four years of his presidency, it was the closest he and his wife ever came to divorcing — discussing this or that event at which they were both present, their memories of who said what, and what it meant, etc., were so disparate that they simply could not arrive at agreement.  We have all experienced the same thing, about that of which we were ourselves a part.  So one doesn’t need to attribute inaccurate memory of history to sneaky deliberate perversions (even while acknowledging that the phenomenon DOES exist, viz., those who try to deny the Holocaust).

  2. Gene Smillie Gene, thanks for your great comment. Don’t steal all my “Blade Runner” thunder. 🙂  I plan on adding a little PKD twist to the end these posts.  
    Yes, on the one hand I don’t think there is any overt conspiracy to wipe peoples’ memories, but it is more like those who tell the narrative don’t know any better (which I think is generally the case).  
    But I would love hear more about the “memories” of the Arminian Evangelicals and how they have felt about their position within the broad evangelical movement.

  3. I recently read _An Island in the Lake of Fire_, by Mark Dalhouse: The book traces the rise of Bob Jones University from its founding as a fairly ordinary conservative religious university (poised, true, against perceived liberalism but in that not so different from other universities of the time) to its ultra-separatist stance today, which (interestingly enough) began in the 1940s and 50s, when Billy Graham left the school and Wheaton became Bob Jones’s “liberal” evangelical rival. Your discussion of the importance of Holiness / Wesleyan strains of evangelicalism, especially in the early to mid-1900s, is an interesting addendum (reformation?) to my understanding of that time period. 
    In any case, I wanted to encourage you to write a book on this. Much as I’m enjoying your history, I get the sense that there’s so much more which could be said on the topic. I would be interested in reading a still-more-developed history of evangelicalism as it really happened.

  4. I recently read _An Island in the Lake of Fire_, by Mark Dalhouse: The book traces the rise of Bob Jones University from its founding as a fairly ordinary conservative religious university (poised, true, against perceived liberalism but in that not so different from other universities of the time) to its ultra-separatist stance today, which (interestingly enough) began in the 1940s and 50s, when Billy Graham left the school and Wheaton became Bob Jones’s “liberal” evangelical rival. Your discussion of the importance of Holiness / Wesleyan strains of evangelicalism, especially in the early to mid-1900s, is an interesting addendum (reformation?) to my understanding of that time period. 
    In any case, I wanted to encourage you to write a book on this. Much as I’m enjoying your history, I get the sense that there’s so much more which could be said on the topic. I would be interested in reading a still-more-developed history of evangelicalism as it really happened.

  5. This is why I’ve always been passionate about the Missional conversation. There are important things we can all do together in a post-Christendom world. Then we can leave individual’s own intellect to work this out.
    That being said, the rhetoric of the neo-Reformed church leaves many of us being painted into a corner. Mind you I said rhetoric, not doctrine. It feels like they paint anyone they disagree with as heretic, and make it seem that no conversion matters unless it’s a conversion to their mindset.
    Recently, I spoke with a leader from The Meeting House, an anabaptist church in Toronto. They have spent two entire summers inviting those of different denominations to speak from their pulpits and explain why they’re are different. When I asked why, he told me “we’re Anabaptist, so we have to model how to discuss our differences in a peaceful way.”
    Perhaps these “false memories” are a result of a less-than-peace-driven mindset, where we have to fight and win.

  6. Lady Julian Thanks for the encouragement. I’m still learning as I go, but I think that is how many of us are feeling.  🙂

  7. Oooh! Oooh! How will you play this? By the way, have you listened to Derek Webb’s So-la-me album (soundtrack to Nexus movie)? It’s along the Bladerunner lines. But if you hone in on Abolitionism as the crucible of evangelicalism, well… maybe we should have a phone call!

  8. jurisnaturalist I haven’t heard DW’s new album.  But, yeah, let’s talk.  I’m not sure that I would say it is the crucible, but it was important.

  9. Geoff, 
    Maybe you’ll get to this (or maybe not) but how do you see Anabaptists fitting into this?  I would argue that many people in Mennonite circles in America today don’t have an Anabaptist memory.   Rather they have been given an evangelical memory through all the ways you mention.  Do you see a benefit in deconstructing the false memory and replacing it with a memory more rooted in a wider view of history?  Will this, in your opinion, hedge against the neo-reformed crowd positioning itself as the heirs to mainstream evangelicalism?

  10. MichaelDanner You Anabaptists will need to set your own record straight. 😉  But from what I’ve been hearing, Anabaptists seem to have either split into mainstream evangelicalism or mainstream liberalism, and have forgotten their own Anabaptist past. Does that sound right?

  11. geoffholsclaw MichaelDanner From my experience, that sounds right.  Most Mennonites I know in the MC USA world describe themselves as evangelicals who don’t believe in war.  This is especially true among the boomers.

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