How I’m Flunking Lent

Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for saving my Easter.

Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can reach, reach out your hand…

It’s the story of tonight and the story of practically everyday since November 8th, 2016.  It’s an ache that has ebbed and flowed but could never be fully shaken.  The death of what I once knew as my country and my church has shaken me to the core and forever changed me.  These posts are where I chronicle my Micah 6:8 Journey.  These posts are where I process.  To say that there’s been A LOT of *processing* in the last year-plus would be the understatement of the century.  Writing helps me sort the myriad of thoughts and feelings.

Confession: as cathartic as writing has been, there have been many more moments when I don’t feel strong enough to stand or write or do anything.

I Gave Up Donald Trump

A year ago, I gave up Donald Trump for Lent.  No, it wasn’t a joke.  It was a serious and deliberate effort to manage my election-induced anxiety and create space for God to remind me of the hope and promise of Easter Sunday.  I first got the idea after reading Diana Butler Bass’s article in the Washington Post.  It was an effort to actually understand a well established and Biblically based tradition that I’d somehow ignored during my evangelical years.  This year, though… my spirit is too weary for a program or plan – just sitting with my dog and listening to Found Tonight on repeat.  I need a new practice, a different kind of fasting as I find “myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness,” as Sarah Bessey puts it.

Wrong Test

I can’t blame Donald Trump entirely for the craziness of recent weeks.  Just over a month ago, my husband had a heart attack.  One minute, we’re walking around town while our boys are at karate.  The next minute (okay, 90 minutes), he’s being wheeled into the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.42.08By most measures, he was healthy.  Cholesterol, weight, blood pressure – all within normal limits.  Diet and exercise – decent.  He’d even done a stress test about a year prior and he passed with flying colors.  Every test he and/or the doctors had done pointed to a healthy heart.

But he was wrong. They were wrong. They had the wrong tests and measurements.  And ,that wrongness nearly killed him.  You see, most of us can pass stress tests, even run marathons and live life without much difficulty – until the blockage is more than 70%.

My husband likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Something had to change.  His very survival required it.  For weeks, he poured over stacks of books, reading everything about cardiac health.  One gut-wrenching realization: this *new* information was there ALL ALONG.  Literally.  Two of the most impactful books he read had been sitting on our bookshelves for YEARS – untouched.  I guess they waiting for a time when life slowed down or we made a New Year’s resolution to ‘eat healthier’.  Or, as proved to be the case, we were *truly* motivated to change.

As Oprah likes to say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’  And, we were ready to ‘do better’ by making major changes.  We wanted to not only prevent further heart disease but also reverse it by prioritizing diet, exercise…even mental health.  In a nutshell, we needed to decide this mattered.

 

 

The American Church (especially, white, evangelical) has some serious health issues, including heart ones.  We’ve forgotten to love what He loves or let our heart be broken by what breaks His.  We’re addicted to power clothed pseudo religiosity and we’ve turned faith communities for serving the world into legalistic clans that serve ourselves.  And, we’ve done it without a guilty conscience by Screenshot 2018-03-24 20.14.37using the wrong measurements and taking the wrong tests.

For decades, Americans surveyed have described Christians as ‘judgmental’ or ‘hypocritical’ – a far cry any of the nine ‘fruits of the spirits’ Paul lists in Galatians when saying how we will be known.  Instead, we see “misogynistic,” “colonial,” and “white supremacist” added more recently to the list.   Put simply, we are better at preaching about love than actually doing it – especially when it comes to loving the least.

Newsflash: the world isn’t fooled.

Don’t get me started on continued support for Donald Trump, even as the onslaught of Cabinet resignations, porn-star lawsuits and Mueller indictments continue at an alarming rate.  It shouldn’t be shocking that the latest Pew reports indicate Americans have warmed up to every religious group EXCEPT evangelicals.

Hybels & Zuckerberg

The *usual suspects* on the far right are not the only ones who have made mistakes.  For progressive believers seeking change, our credibility is on the line if we do not advocate for truth and justice – no matter what.  It’s not easy, but it’s essential.

Case in point: Bill Hybels and Mark Zuckerberg.  In just the last two days, these two leaders, have both come under intense scrutiny in the face of serious accusations of gross misjudgments.

Facebook is facing tough questions related to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.  While I never thought Facebook was perfect, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some pride living in Silicon Valley, residing in the very town where Facebook has its headquarters.  This is undoubtably the biggest ‘hit’ that Facebook (and its founder!) has taken since its founding.

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.00.10.pngIn the same way that Facebook revolutionized social media, so did Willow Creek blaze a trail for churches around the globe.  I spent my young adult years at Willow, discovering a faith that put faith into action.  I mention or quote Bill Hybels in at least four of my blog posts.  He was a pastor that I respected and saw as an example for leaders around the globe.  I was shocked when I read that for many years, he’d been the subject of investigations into sexual abuse/harassment.

I was even more heartbroken when I read an email from Willow to friends/members (I’m still on their distribution list).  Its content and tone denigrated those who had brought the accusations and/or had pushed for more thorough inquiries (which included, my current pastor, John Ortberg).  In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my stomach turned as I saw pastor protection elevated above pursuing truth and affirming victims.  I thought of the sexual assault and abuse victims I know and love.

There can be no sacred cows (or golden calf’s).  No exceptions if we are serious about the Micah 6:8 life; truth and humility are essential to justice.

 

How Are YOU?

400dpiLogo (1)Equity and justice have become central themes over the last year plus, with my holy discontent manifesting as work with  Community Equity Collaborative.  (Interesting things happen when you study white privilege and racism….).  Our three focus areas are:

  • Encouraging equity in education by promoting greater early childhood/preschool access
  • Creating career pathways for early childhood educators
  • Increasing family engagement at K-12 schools through PTO/PTA Roundtables, along with other resources that facilitate greater diversity and inclusion.

At our latest Roundtable, PTO reps sat around tables, brainstorming ways to recruit more leaders through a more inclusive process.  We talked about the steady decline in volunteerism and the challenge in recruiting new leaders.  Maybe folks are overwhelmed and tired.  Maybe some moms have gone back to work.  Maybe volunteers who helped in the past are now burnt out.  Then, a leader from a predominantly Hispanic school spoke up.

At my school, we make a point of asking parents, ‘How are you?’.  We want them to know we care more about how they’re *actually doing* than trying to sign them up for our project or ask them to do something.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.49.04We all just sat there.  It was as if she’d simultaneously revealed the most profound yet blatantly obvious mindset flaw….  We’re all just marching towards glorious goals without pausing to reflect on the gap between our best intentions versus our actual impact.

In a room where most of the representatives came from wealthy and/or white communities, I was reminded of how much we gain when we are intentional about building a bigger table where people/relationships prevail above programs or privilege.

So, church – do you ask?  Are you opening your eyes to our *actual impact* as opposed to our pretty programs and best intentions? Do you connect with marginalized people or communities and ask them how they are?  I didn’t ask whether a black person sings in your choir or you’ve created a special Spanish-language advertisement to your Easter Sunday service or collected an offering last month for your favorite Christian charity.  I asked if you’re getting out of the pews and to the people, with an authentic interest in finding out when you get there – how are they doing?

March for our lives

IMG_1791My little boy marched.

I hadn’t made a big deal about the #NationalWalkout.  He’s ten.  He loves Legos and Star Wars.  But, on the morning of the Walkout, I made a last-minute decision to mention the walkout to him, in case it became the topic of conversation or even action at school.  Our drive to school is short, but it only took him a few seconds to decide how he felt – he wanted to join.  I was honestly surprised, so I hastily said I’d let his teacher know.  As soon as I got back home, I sent her a note and she replied back to me that if he wanted to participate in the Walkout, he’d need to go to the middle school.  I quickly changed out of the plaid pajamas I’d driven him to school in (Lord, may I never need to get out of the car during school commutes!) and into my yoga gear (standard issue mom uniform).  I printed a picture of my grandmother, with the words #NeverForget, then ran out the door.

Soon, my son and I were joining hundreds of middle schoolers, marching around the school campus.  He didn’t need instructions.  There are moments when opportunity and purpose converge in such a way that instinct naturally takes over.  And, this was one of those moments for him.  He held up high the picture of his great-grandmother.  He was evidence of pain and horror that had rippled through the generations, from the Easter Sunday when she was murdered over 60 years ago – to this moment, as he marched in the rain.    At the end of the march, students read prepared speeches and poems.  They said the names of Parkland students killed, followed by a moment of silence.  I could see it in his eyes; a fire was lit.

These kids….they ARE making a difference.  They ARE changing the world.  #NeverAgain #Enough 

Vegan Easter

So, my bacon loving, steak eating husband made a bold decision to become a vegan.  The evidence for improving his cardiac wellness and overall health with better nutrition was undeniable.  It’s not a miracle cure or a guarantee – but it’s the right choice, in light of all he now knows.  The rest of us joined him.  It wasn’t just an act of solidarity but rather of sanity.  How could we not?  Now we knew!  We not only realized that the old tests and measurements had been wrong but also that there was a better way.

Lenten sacrifices are intended to grow compassion, not simply be a reluctant exercise in giving up chocolate or swearing.  The fact that I didn’t have a program did not mean that He did not have a plan.  Last year, He met me in the spaces I carved out for Him, by eschewing my daily doses of political satire and news.  This year, He’s showing up EVEN in the midst of the madness, teaching me that Jesus is more interested in changing my spiritual diet (and measurements!) 365 days a year than He is a token gesture for forty.  He’s reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I ace my own test but fail in every aspect by which He measures faith.

I can almost picture God up in heaven, chuckling at my misguided attempts to jump through so many hoops, check so many boxes.  Easter is the ultimate new covenant.  It’s not the day for ham dinners or egg hunts or fancy dresses.  And so, our family is remaking Easter, not just with vegan recipes but with new practices and different measurements.

Maybe we need a redefinition of ‘right’

Bill Hybels always said that there’s nothing like the local church when the local church it works right.  I agree.  (Still!)

But….

Screenshot 2018-03-24 15.35.14Maybe ‘right’ looks less like mega churches with celebrity pastors and more like my friend who worked quietly behind the limelight to bring kids affected by gun violence in Chicago together with the Parkland kids so that together they could march this weekend in DC.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like the fancy programs we do on Sunday morning and more like the people we serve in our communities Monday through Friday.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less ‘blessing the blessed’ and more like advocating for the poor or marginalized.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like sleek videos and hip worship leaders and more like true allyship with POC or LGBTQ communities.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like upgrades to our own infrastructure (whether a new sanctuary building or fancy remodel) and more like support for more just systems in our communities, whether that’s clean water in Flint or early childhood education for kids across America.   Maybe ‘right’ looks less like building shoebox campaigns and more like campaigning for investments in education and livable wages for teachers across America.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like vinyl wall decals in our Pinterest worthy-kitchen and more like teaching our kids about white privilege and systemic racism.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a pro-life platform that is obsessed with my uterus and more like a people who are willing to stand with the thousands of kids marching through the streets today, begging that they not be slaughtered with military assault weapons.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like fancy Easter outfits and more likeScreenshot 2018-03-23 14.26.50 books that teach us about love in all its forms (thank you, Marlon Bundo and John Oliver).  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a Tesla and more like a donkey.

My boys want a Tesla.  The Tesla Roadster, to be precise.  (Unless we win the lottery, we’re not getting it!)  But, you can’t fault my boys for wanting one.  Tesla’s abound in Menlo Park.  And, they’re pretty cool.  I’ll admit.  But, the biggest problem with the church right now is that we have become vehicles for power and privilege and we think that by slapping a ‘blessed’ or ‘grateful’ decal on the back, the world will recognize our good intentions and forget our impact.  The world’s not stupid.

The world sees the true fruits of our efforts, the impact of our power and privilege.  And, while they might be okay with our Jesus, they’re less impressed with us.

This Sunday, we remember the day that Jesus, Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only days later to wash the feet of His disciples before carrying a cross to Calvary.  We wear the cross, but do we carry it?  Do we wash the feet?  Instead of just waving palm branches for a moment this Sunday, would we take the time to also remember what Jesus did so long ago AFTER he rode that donkey?  He cleared the temple courts.  It’s telling that the bookends of His ministry have Jesus teaching us that His house is not a place for power and privilege or profit but a place for prayer and for His purposes.

As we begin Holy Week, it is clear I am flunking lent.  By conventional standards, I’ve failed the test.  All my good intentions for reading a Lenten devotional or joining #40 acts or picking something to ‘give up’ have fallen by the wayside.  And, then I remember….”for all have sinned and fallen short…”  No amount of good works or best efforts could ever help us ‘pass the test’ or bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God…for 40 days or 365, let alone a lifetime….which is why He so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

Jesus held the first March For Our Lives; one man carried a cross up a hill to save all our lives, and in so doing, bridged that gap.

Maybe *this* IS Lent.

To nobler heights

My grandmother was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class.  Her laura2commencement speech was titled, To Nobler Heights.

Tonight as we pause at this worthy goal, our hearts are gladdened for we feel we have accomplished something worth while on our march thus far…Our hopes like towering falcons aim at objects in airy heights, for we realize that upon, the youth of today, rests that great responsibility as citizens of tomorrow.  As we look forward into the future we see great and noble heights that we may attain if we but climb steadfastly onward.  We know not how much time we are given and must constantly move onward if we would not fall back.  To those who are older and perhaps great than we, it may possibly seem that our progress is slow and our achievement nothing.  But we are not discouraged, for we desire above everything else to climb upward; to give our lives in service to humanity, and thus in a measure repay the world and our Master for what has been done for us. 

 

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.18.09As Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt’s song Found Tonight begins…

We may not yet have reached our glory, but I will gladly join the fight….and when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

 

To nobler heights!  Let’s be broken, together.  Let’s be stronger, together.  Let’s be better, together.

This is the march for our lives.

This is the march for her life.

For God so loved the world that He marched first, so that you could be found.

One thought on “How I’m Flunking Lent

  1. This is one of my very favorite posts!!!

    On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 1:48 PM, Over Coffee and Wine wrote:

    > Dayna Chung posted: “Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for > saving my Easter. Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can > reach, reach out your hand… It’s the story of tonight and the story of > practically everyday since November 8th, 2016. It’s an ac” >

    Like

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