Wednesday, February 25, 2009

lent and holistic jesus-following

today is ash wednesday. many from various christian traditions see the forty days before easter as a time for reflection on and preparation for easter. fasting is a common practice during lent.

i have something to confess: i grew up in a christian tradition that looked down at people who fasted for lent. lent is all about show, right? it's all about following tradition, right? didn't jesus go off on people who fasted for show and teach that it's all about what we believe in our hearts?

yes to the first, no to the second.

dallas willard makes a rather simple, yet profound, observation in his book, the spirit of the disciplines. he says that maybe jesus' teaching are linked to the the way he lived his life in the body. jesus held up a very high view of life lived in the Kingdom of God. but for jesus, that lived-out-Kingdom-life was supported by spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer, solitude and silence. 

is it possible that jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek and loving enemies is inseparable from his daily routine of loving people, healing them and showing compassion. is it possible that jesus' crazy teaching on everyday relationships - that we shouldn't lust over anyone, opposite or same sex - is inseparable from his extended times in the wilderness alone and fasting?

in short, is it possible that being and doing are in fact joined together?

i'm come across this recently in a class on poverty by bryant myers. myers worked with world vision for 30 years, "tackling the problems of poverty and injustice," before teaching in seminary. he believes that poverty ultimately is about the poor's marred belief about themselves and marred vocation. the world's poor don't believe that they are worth anything (and the non-poor agree) and the system keeps them from making a difference by a lived-out vocation. bryant believes that identity is what we believe inside and what we do outside. these two are both together, never separated. (this has huge impacts on how we view God too...God is who is says he is AND what he is doing in history.)

i think that i have tried too long to follow jesus' teachings on "internal things" without following his example in "external things" like spiritual disciplines. i'm going to start small in my practice of fasting during lent. maybe someday soon i'll try a harder fast.

in the end, it all comes down to motivation. is fasting a part of our holistic jesus-following? is our point to be like him in all things, centered in what he taught and how he lived, died, resurrected? if so, then i believe that we might be started on a path of actually living out jesus' radical Kingdom teachings in everyday life and making a real difference in the world.

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