Friday, February 23, 2007

New Perspectives on Lent

As a Baptist, I don't normally give much thought to the liturgical calendar of the church, let alone the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. But my friend Michael Westmoreland-White has just posted Lent: One Baptist's Perspective on his blog that has challenged me to reconsider.

Michael explains the reasons that the early church adopted lent:
When the emperor Constantine made Christianity legal (and Theodosian made it the official religion of the Empire), suddenly there were far more Christians--with far lower levels of commitment than when Christians were persecuted. Suddenly, it was hard to tell Christians from everyone else. Lent--the 40 days prior to Easter--was instituted to help Christians remember that they were disciples of Jesus and needed to be different. The practice of fasting (later just giving up eating meat or some other food item or giving up something cherished) was to instill spiritual discipline and guide the believer's focus on Jesus journey to the cross. Lent is to help us lead cruciform lives.
Here in the Bahamas, we find ourselves in similiar circumstances to those of Christians under Constantinian Rome. Like them, we too live under the domination of Empire. First the Spanish, then the British and, currently, the neocolonialism of Pax Americana. Christianity is the prevalent religion in the Bahamas, claiming 92% of the population, and most Bahamians believe that we live in a "Christian Nation."

For most of us, being a Christian is clearly an important part of our family heritage and national identity and, likewise, frequently translates into some sort of committment to participate in the worship and activities of a local church. But for the most part, we are cultural Christians--meaning that our faith often has little impact on our lives outside the narrow confines of our church activities and national ceremonies. Put differently, our Christianity does little to address the spiritual and social crises facing our country.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called both to be different and to make a difference in the world. Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent, then, is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to this most important task.

So next year, just maybe, I'll make it a point to find and attend an Ash Wednesday service. In the meantime, I'll be thinking long and hard about what I can do--as a follower of Jesus Christ--to make a difference in the world.

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At Friday, February 23, 2007 at 7:23:00 PM EST , Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Thanks for the shout out, Daniel. You've done much on this blog in the short time it has been up. I can see good things coming from it.

I'll give other reflections on the liturgical calendar, some coming from my days as a pastor, and how my Free Church identity allows me to make use of its strengths without being enslaved to it.

At Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 4:42:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks for your words of encouragement, Michael! I look forward to reading your further reflections on the liturgical calendar.

At Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 10:27:00 PM EST , Blogger Mike Broadway said...

I have a stash of dried out leaves from past Palm Sundays. We did the "Jeopardy home version" of an Ash Wednesday service by burning a few leaves and dripping some olive oil in the ashes.

I passed your blog on to some folks here in Durham who have Haiti connections.

I left off blogging as grades came due last fall, and I have not gotten back. Thanks for the reminder to get back to it.


At Monday, February 26, 2007 at 9:48:00 AM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks for stopping by and helping to promote my efforts, Mike!

I look forward to your return to regular blogging.


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