399. Lent, 2015 (part 1)

I’ve never been a liturgical sort of person and as such, Lent really hasn’t held much meaning for me. Maybe because of that, I tend to think WAY outside the box when it comes to what I do with this church season.1 This year, I’m going to take up another rather odd lenten practice.

But first, some context.

There’s a kind of bait-and-switch that happens in some forms of evangelical Christianity.2 Prior to salvation, the church promises unconditional love and forgiveness. This is the bait. The switch happens after someone accepts Christ and has been at the church for a while. In the switch, the “forgiveness” bit mysteriously disappears and the “unconditional” bit gets replaced by a severe sort of legalism. Worst of all, “love” takes on a disturbingly dark hue.3

I used to attend such a church.4

Image by: David Hayward

I’ve written before that this church

…taught a really strict, particularly moralistic version of Christianity. They taught a view of God where God was an all-seeing deity who was always looking for the tiniest ways that we fell short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)…

It’s as if God was on a hair-trigger pivot… We could only have a relationship with God when we lived righteously because that was the only time when God was pleased with us. But this hair-trigger God would immediately snap 180 degrees away from us any time we sinned in any way. And the back side of God radiated shame – shame that reminded us that we were weak and disgusting and not worthy of relationship with a holy God.

Our worth only came from God, but only when we lived in a way that didn’t repulse God.

(As an aside, given this view of God, it’s no wonder that I wrote a pair of posts last year talking about how I believed that God was kind of an asshole.)

Image by: David Hayward

But you know what?

I’m done believing in that God. Really done.

But now what?

I figure there are a few ways I could go. I could try Peter Rollins’ atheism for Lent project. Or I could disbelieve in God for an entire year, the way this Seventh Day Adventist pastor did.5 Or I could give up belief in God altogether.

And I’ll admit, I was really tempted to take one of these non-belief stances, to join the growing ranks of the nones and dones.

But I’ve chosen an entirely different route:

This year, for Lent, I’m going to believe that God really does love me unconditionally, that God never stopped loving me, and that God never will.

And that may seem like a lovely, simple thing, but given my history with the church, it’s anything but. This is a lenten choice laden with baggage and seeded with landmines.

For me, a part of this lenten discipline will be blogging about the thoughts surrounding this decision, thus the “part one” bit in the title. I don’t know how regularly I’ll be posting for this series, but I’m hoping to get at least one post up per week.

Stay tuned!

(Prayers deeply appreciated.)

Image by: David Hayward


1. For example, two years ago, I tweeted “This year for Lent, I’m going to give up singleness.”

2. Usually on the really conservative end.

3. In a previous post, this is how I described this dark form of “love”

[Sexual] desire outside the context of marriage is dangerous, it’s unpredictable, uncontrollable, and wrong. It’s so dangerous that if you choose to entertain it in any way, shape, or form, it will seriously and permanently screw you up for life. It’s so unpredictable and uncontrollable that you should have nothing to do with it whatsoever because you can’t predict what you can’t control and you can’t control what you can’t predict. And it’s so wrong that we’re going to immediately brandish you with white hot shame if we even suspect you’re dabbling in it in any way whatsoever… because that’s how much we love you.

4. Well, technically, I attended a really conservative para-church organization that taught me these things, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to call it a church.

Also, I’ve since found much healthier Christian community, but (as I’ll outline in future posts in this series) the scars from those early experiences are still with me.

5. At the end of his year, this pastor came to this conclusion: “I have discovered no evidence that a God exists.”


7 thoughts on “399. Lent, 2015 (part 1)

  1. i applaud your bravery. It’s hard to believe in something that so many experiences defy, even if it’s just for Lent. Way to go.

  2. Great Lent practice for you this year! I may have to do that for next year. I’d forgotten this was your blog and started reading the post b/c it showed up in my Reader and I was like, hey I like this person! And then..duh, it’s R.

  3. I don’t want to be a penis, but I take exception to your using “church” when you mean “para-church organization.” It may seem like not much of a distinction, but that para-church organization isn’t set up like a church, and it’s not governed like a church, and it’s seen by most of us not in the organization as nothing remotely church-like. Maybe I’m sensitive because I’ve never cared for that organization and I feel I’m being lumped unfairly with it, but it seems like if you’re going to slam a certain projection of God and his love and it comes from a specific place (rather than the general body), you could do the rest of the body the courtesy of calling out that one distasteful body-part.

    • First off, thank you for reading the footnotes – I always wonder if anyone bothers. 😉

      As to the para-church/church bit, I see your point, but if the teachings I’m criticizing were only limited to para-church organizations (or to this specific one), I think it would be important to make that distinction. However, there are numerous examples of actual churches that teach the same theology that this para-church did. Indeed, the leaders of this PCO taught a lot of the same theological points in the church they attended.

      Another way to approach this is to think about how the NT writers thought about the church. They were writing primarily to small, loosely organized house churches. Today’s average church (let alone megachurches) and PCOs would have been completely foreign to them, but they would recognize both as places where groups of believers gathered to worship and learn about Christ. In that way, they would basically see both as churches (very odd churches, in their eyes, but churches nevertheless).

      All that to say, I hear your point, but I fear if I only talk about learning what I did from a PCO, some might get the impression that this sort of thing doesn’t get taught in “regular” churches. But it does, still, to this day. A large church here in Seattle closed down last year after all sorts of abuse issues (both interpersonal and financial) came to light.

      Thanks again for reading and for commenting. I respect your thoughts a great deal and don’t take them lightly.

      Not sure when I’ll be back in Hawaii again, but we should grab a beer!

  4. Pingback: 399. Lent, 2015 (part 2) – getting punched in the faith | Flavor and Illumination

  5. Pingback: 400. Lent, 2015 (part 2) – getting punched in the faith | Flavor and Illumination

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