When it comes to church traditions, history, things like that, I’m kind of a philistine.
I grew up in the Baptist/non-denominational tradition that seemed to have some kind of crusade to make it seem like Christianity’s roots could be found in 19th century Franny Crosby hymns or early 90’s worship songs (As the Deer, anyone?). My family hopped around to different churches trying to find an evangelical church that believed in Jesus but didn’t embrace legalism, which was actually kind of hard to do.
So needless to say, my knowledge of church traditions and historical practices is a bit patchy.
When I decided to hand over my TV habit to God this Lent, I figured I should replace that practice with something else, something that would help center me, force me out of my usual routines and focus on God. Going to seminary full time and working two other part time jobs has made it easy for me to lose track of the present, since I’m always planning and getting my act together for future dates. What could I do to meditate and get in the God zone, so to speak?
That’s when I read a blog that advocated trying out praying the hours over the Lenten season a la Phyllis Tickle.
I didn’t even know what the heck praying the hours was, but I bought the book (I actually did know who Phyllis Tickle was, since I saw her name come up in magazines and conversations, and seriously: how can you forget a name like Phyllis Tickle?)
A couple weeks ago, when Lent started, I made the decision to try to at least pray the hours 3 times throughout the day. I’ve got a handy little kindle, so this made it feasible (it would be a little more difficult if I had to lug an extra book with me everywhere I went).
Honestly, this had a lot of appeal to me: something I thirst for (something a lot of evangelicals my age seem to also thirst for) is a greater sense of church tradition and structure to worship in every day lived life. Something I’ve been particularly aware of is the way our prayer lives and our songs at church can become a bit “me-centered” and about how I’m feeling and about my own, individualistic idea of what it means to follow God. And I’m not a fan. I’m not sure if it’s something we did on purpose, and I’m not trying to point fingers, but there’s something distinctly juvenile about having a relationship with God that is mostly about what God can do for me.
And I’ve found that a large source of my frustration in life comes from my inability to be present. How much of my life is spent thinking about later, about what needs to be done, and what my life will (hopefully) look like some day? And at the other end of the spectrum: how much time do I waste thinking and ruminating on stuff that already happened, stuff that’s bothering me, or things I wish I could’ve done differently?
That’s not what we were designed to be like. We were made to be here and to be living and loving God and other people the way we love ourselves. And when I’m stuck in the past or the future, I’m usually loving just me without even really living.
So here’s what I’ve found: praying the hours has been good. I’ve had some grace for myself, since sometimes I can’t even squeeze in the 3 prayers, but it’s been a great experience. I’m very fulfilled by these prayers; even though they aren’t addressing a specific prayer request that’s tailored to me, I find that they have been what my soul needs: focus on God, and focus on re-centering my heart on Him and his ways for a few minutes.
And I can’t help but think it’s like a sort of heart-calisthenics: because I do these soul-sit-ups now and then, I’m in better shape to live my day.
On Sunday, Vince’s message got at the ways we can use money to our advantage. Money itself isn’t “bad” or “good,” but it is a tool. We can use money to gain money later, use money to gain influence later, or use money to gain eternal rewards later.
Now, this might be a little intimidating. One of the biggest issues that we as American consumers need to consider is the fact that how we use our money impacts and has influences in ways that are hard to keep track of. I took a quiz yesterday to see what my “slavery footprint” was, and was shocked that it was 35. According to my possessions I tracked, and the things I buy on a regular basis, I have 35 slaves working for me.
Now it isn’t like I’m actively employing slaves or whatever; I don’t consciously go out and buy stuff for myself thinking about where it came from. I don’t really think about it much at all. And that’s the problem. If money is a tool, something we use to influence the world, and if we want to influence for good, it’s important to be mindful of where our money goes, and what it’s contributing to in the world.
In that spirit, I’ve come up with a small list of places where you can buy stuff and know that your dollars are influencing the world and people for good.
1.) Out of Print: As a former English major and avid reader in general, I’m a big fan of this company. Basically, they are a clothing and accessory company that takes their designs from out-of-print editions of classic literature. So that’s pretty cool; my husband Jeff has their Watership Down shirt, and I think he looks pretty dapper in it. But here’s the even better part: for every item you purchase from them, they give a book to a kid in need through their partner, Books for Africa.
2.) Warby Parker: Like Out of Print, Warby Parker is a business that gives something away when you buy something from them. Here, it’s awesome hipster glasses you can get for $95, so it’s actually a great deal. For every pair of glasses you buy from them, they give a pair of glasses to someone who needs them and can’t afford them. They also partner with different non-profits to invest in low-income entrepreneurs to start their own businesses in selling affordable glasses.
3.) Noonday Collection: Okay, so maybe the dudes won’t be super excited about this one. But this could be helpful when they’re buying their moms something for their birthdays. Noonday is a Christian company that supports women in struggling economic conditions around the world by giving them work as designers and jewelry makers. Their jewelry gets sold by reps and through the company, and these women are thereby able to support themselves and their families. I love this company and own a couple necklaces (and I’ve had total strangers compliment me on them, too).
4.) H&M: These guys don’t necessarily need any publicity or anything, but they recently made a change in business that no other major retailer has done: after that sweatshop in Bangladesh collapsed and killed over 1,000 people, they decided to reevaluate their clothing production and working conditions in their factories. They made the decision to raise their clothing prices so that their workers could be given a fair wage.
Money is a tool. Leverage it intelligently. Use money now to gain more kingdom money later, more kingdom influence later, and more eternal kingdom rewards later.
Money is a test. Pass it quickly. Handle this small thing faithfully so God can give you bigger things.
Money is a power. Choose decisively. Let God master you and your money (or your money will master you).
I wasn’t planning on giving up anything for Lent this year.
This was mainly because of past experiences. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t handle it. It was mostly because I wondered what was so significant about it. For instance, one year when I was in college, I thought it would be clever and worth it to only listen to Christian Music. What ended up happening was that I mostly listened to a bunch of old music (since I hadn’t actually purchased Christian Music in a very long time), and it didn’t really do much for me. It wasn’t a real sacrifice, actually. It was just kind of lame.
And the other part of it that was lame was that when I really thought about it, there really wasn’t much I could give up that really was a sacrifice. At least, nothing that would somehow help me get in the zone of suffering with Christ. Not eating dessert for 40 days? Maybe my mom would disagree, but I would say that pales in comparison to public flogging, execution, etc.
I also wasn’t crazy about picking something, labeling it as somehow “not of God,” and then denying myself for a month. What was the point of that? Isn’t creation a good thing? These are things that God made, these are things that humans who God loves made and I’m saying it’s “bad” because it’s not a worship song, or doesn’t fill the “Jesus Quota?” Also: lame.
So I didn’t really do much for Lent in recent years. And I wasn’t going to do anything this year either.
Until I read this. Now, I grew up with an ex-Catholic dad, a WASP mom, so I didn’t really “get” Lent. But when I read that article, I got it: Lent is when you hand things over to God so you can grow closer to Him in anticipation of Easter and the resurrection.
Basically, I was doing it wrong.
And that’s when I realized something: I did have to give up something for Lent. There was something in my life that used up enough of my time that it was keeping me away from God.
The good ol’ Boob Tube.
So, I think I should foreground this for you all: I love TV. I have always loved TV. My dad’s nickname for me when I was a kid was “EmTV.” I got a kick out of TV. Still do.
I think I fooled myself into thinking I somehow separated myself from the rest of America by not having cable or even network channels. The old “Oh, we don’t have TV” thing. But as it turns out, my husband and I actually do have TV because we have Netflix and Hulu, which actually is a terrible thing for a TV addict. I don’t even want to admit how many seasons of certain shows we got through in a week. It’s a little sick, packing 4 years of a television show into a month or so.
Now, again, there isn’t actually anything inherently bad about this, exactly. I don’t have an ax to grind with TV or TV watching, really. It’s a lot of fun. But the problem was the way I liked to use TV: it fills time and it distracts me. Those things, again, aren’t really bad, but I was spending my free time distracting myself and filling up space between the workday and sleep.
Even worse: I spent a lot more time with TV than I did with God. That’s kind of weird, since I claim that God is the most important thing in my life. But if I broke it down, in a given day, I actually gave God a bit less time than I gave, say, House of Cards, or a soap opera about Nashville country singers.
So, that did it.
After week one of No TV Lent, I feel pretty good. I definitely miss vegging out in front of the screen after a long day, a long commute, while I’m grading, etc., but as my husband pointed out: suddenly, we have more time than we used to! Which is awesome, since this is the busiest we’ve been in a long time. And while I’m going to save it for another post, I also started trying to pray the hours, which has been a great experience for me so far.
And I think it’s doing what it’s supposed to: I’m focusing more on God, Jesus, and the resurrection as a part of my daily life, and I am reminded of that when I don’t press the on button on the remote control.
Jesus is talking about eternity. Someone in the crowd interrupts because his brother has taken his stuff. Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.
Don’t be a rich fool who covets more stuff now.
Don’t be a worrying fool who fears there won’t be enough stuff for later.
But be a wise child who knows that God will provide everything we need for now and for later.
*67 words for those counting