Timothy McMahan King is the author of the forthcoming book Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us, available June 11 from Herald Press.
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How a Week With Monks Changed My Views on Lent
At the heart of the Lenten season is an interesting paradox.
Lent is not observed in the making of Lenten commitments, but you can’t actually observe Lent without making a commitment.
Elsewhere at Sojourners, Jarrod McKenna reminds us that Lent is not ultimately about “giving up stuff” but about “the preparation of our hearts for what God has done in Christ.” Adam Ericksen encourages us that, “The worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favor through self-denial.”
To both these points and posts I say, amen.
But as a lifelong Protestant who recently returned from spending time with Benedictine monks and nuns in New Mexico, I’ve come back with some evolving perspectives on fasting and other ascetic practices from the Catholic tradition. This isn’t in contradiction to either of these authors’ perspectives but more of a summation of my recent convictions as someone who has tended to skip the Lenten fasts altogether.
Here is what has struck me. I do not believe most Western Christians today are so focused on giving up their creature comforts for Lent that they are in danger of making their faith dependent upon physical fasting. Maybe I’m generalizing too much. So I’ll make this statement more personal:
My greatest struggle has not been that I have been so committed to “giving up stuff” for Lent that I have forgotten that God’s grace is unconditional. Rather, I have tended to avoid the discomfort of giving up my daily habits and physical dependencies by using a vague sense of “inner attitudes” of preparation as an excuse. As a result, I believe I’ve been missing some real opportunities to be receptive to God’s grace.
There are few reasons I believe this to be so important.
5 Simple Living Tips for Millennial Christians
Jesus was clear.
You cannot serve both God and money.
Throughout my 20s, this was not a problem I thought I struggled with.
First of all, I didn’t perceive myself as having all that much money. So, how could I be serving it? (I deal with the inaccuracy of how I perceive of my own wealth here.)
Second, money was never a part of my thought process when choosing my career. If money wasn’t the motivator for choosing my job, how could I be in danger of “serving two masters?”
It’s been said that one of the greatest tricks devil ever played was convincing most of the world he doesn’t exist. His greatest encore might be wrapping up vice in the midst of a big ball of virtue and letting the whole thing rot from the inside out.
I might not struggle with being a slave to money in the sense that I obsess about how much I make. But, in looking back over the past 10 years of my life, I’ve found myself serving the master of mammon precisely in the ways that I DIDN’T think about money.
Four Challenges for Christians After Brittany Maynard’s Death
Death never makes for easy conversation. But the choice of a 29-year-old Brittany Maynard to take her own life over the weekend has a lot of people talking. There are the sad and belligerent comments in the name of Christianity, as well as those from supporters of her decision and still others who seek to be empathetic but strongly disagree.
Nearly five years ago, I was laying in an ICU, on oxygen, catheterized, wearing a diaper, and on a constant flow of the most potent narcotics the hospital had available. I could not eat, drink, or even hold an ice cube in my mouth and was unable to get out of bed under my own power. Much of my family had gathered in the room to hear the doctor pronounce that there was nothing more they could do.
My situation was not the same as Brittany’s or any others’ with terminal cancer, but this experience left me with a heightened awareness of some areas where Christians need to do better when faced with death and pain. It’s beyond the scope of this post to lay out all of the theological and moral implications involved, let alone all of the political and legal implications, but here are four areas for thought.
Why Every Christian Needs Doubt
The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson is worth reading. In fact, it’s worth getting the book just to read the last nine pages of his final chapter that beautifully and poignantly describes a Christian life well questioned.
The theme of the book is the challenge of questioning well. Anderson argues that not only is questioning important to a well-reasoned faith, but it is core to the development of Christian intellect and character. Writing out of a conservative Christian context that is often characterized as an anti-intellectual space that discourages those whose questions would disrupt the status quo, Anderson makes a critical case for questioning’s importance to that community — a case that applies well to the Christian community as a whole.
The End of Our Exploring includes his critique of a culture that prizes “sincerity” above all else (35), his distinction between easy access to information and pursuing understanding (72), his condemnation of the constant pursuit of novelty in place of truth (117), and his encouragement that churches allow “belonging after believing” for those who have turned away from their faith (204), just to name a few. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the section in which he points to our personal friendship as “good for America,” as we are friends who believe that the other is wrong about nearly everything (160).
In that vein, I don’t want to spend too much time pointing out my areas of agreement when we both have a lot more fun jumping in on the areas of contention.
3 Reasons I Didn't Give Up on the Bible
It was in my senior year of high school that I began to lose my faith in Scripture.
Then, my first year of college I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, and that pretty much destroyed what confidence I had left.
The Bible, I discovered, was full of polygamy, incest, murder, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities, and a whole bunch of screwed-up people who never seemed to get anything right.
The more I studied the “perfect” word of God, the more I expected that doctrine would become clear and consistent, the authors exemplary, and the stories contain distinct and readily discernible meanings.
When I read, I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations, and was more likely to feel disrupted than tranquil.
I almost gave up entirely.
Wrath: The Deadly Sin of the Divine
Wrath is the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins we attribute to God. And, as pastor Bob, my confirmation teacher in 8th grade would be glad to know I remember, the definition of sin according to the catechism of the Evangelical Covenant Church and similar to most Christian traditions is that sin is “all in thought word or deed that is contrary to the will of God.”
This definitional conundrum raises a few questions. Is it wrong to speak of God’s wrath? Wrong to list wrath among the Deadly Sins? Or are there certain things that are only sins if humans do them but are appropriate to the Divine?
I would argue that yes, wrath can be sinful, but it is not necessarily so. And that during this Lenten season the challenge is not always to suppress wrath but expressing a wrath that is in fact the appropriate response to injustice we see around us every day. In fact, a misguided attempt to avoid wrath can lead to a sin of omission in the failure to practice the “Cardinal Virtue” of justice.
Shooting at the Family Research Council Offices
Another senseless act of violence today was targeted at the Family Research Council. A security guard is now in stable condition at a local hospital after being shot in the arm by a 28-year-old assailant. The suspect is now in custody. Multiple outlets are reporting that the young man specifically intended to attack FRC staff because of their conservative advocacy.
My prayers goes out to the security guard and his family as he recovers. His actions may have saved the lives of many. Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, “The security guard here is a hero, as far as I’m concerned.”
My heart is with the rest of the FRC staff. Their place of work will not feel safe after this. It will undoubtedly be difficult knowing there are those who would do violence against you because of your convictions.
Is Michelle Obama a 'Missional' Christian?
With approval ratings a good 15 points higher than her husband, there are probably some strategists wishing they could run the Michelle Obama re-election campaign right now. While the White House legal counsel looks into the constitutionality of a husband/wife switch, the campaign is trying to put her popularity to work.
Last week, the First Lady spoke to the quadrennial General Conference of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church. While the speech was a get-out-the-vote plug, it also shed an interesting light on both her personal faith and the theological tradition of the nation’s oldest independent, predominantly African-American congregations.
In reading the First Lady’s speech, I was intrigued to see a strong emphasis on some concepts I often associate with “missional” churches.
Former Barclays CEO Feels 'Responsible,' Not 'Culpable'
The WSJ is reporting today on the testimony of Robert Diamond, the recently resigned CEO of Barclay’s before the British Parliament:
"A day after abruptly resigning amid a mushrooming scandal over interest-rate manipulation, former Barclays PLC chief Robert Diamond on Wednesday was assailed by British lawmakers for the bank's actions, in a preview of the scrutiny likely to lie ahead for other big lenders that are under investigation."
What caught my eye in particular, was the WSJ choice of a pull quote from Diamond’s testimony on the front page:
"I don’t feel personal culpability. What I do feel is a strong sense of responsibility."
In other words, he feels that he is somehow accountable for the wrongdoing in his organization but he also does not deserve blame or consequences for what has been done. To see the tenuous nature of his logic you just need to invert the situation.
If Barclays was having a year of record profits would there be any set of possible circumstances in which he would forgo his bonus by saying that while he was responsible for the growth he did not deserve the rewards? If not, why would we buy the argument that while he is ultimately responsible for the company’s wrongdoings he does not deserve the blame and resulting consequences?
Retelling the Story
Chicago's North Park offers a model for honest conversation.