For the first Sunday of Lent, I'd like to remind other Christians to be welcoming of others, especially those who might not be the most regular of church attendees, or who may have trouble with certain aspects of Christianity.
Why am I reminding people? Well, I saw a comment on Facebook that seriously troubled me. Here's the quote in question, without naming names:
Don't participate in Lent if you don't participate in church or your religion regularly at all. What's the point in that? Oxymoron. Is there such a thing as a seasonal Catholic? Let me answer that for you. NO!
It troubled me. Greatly.
I'm going to try to break down exactly why it disturbed me.
First, Lent is a time of repentance. Why shouldn't people participate in the prayer and fasting of Lent? Even if they can't bring themselves to attend church on a weekly basis doesn't mean they can't join the rest of us in asking God for forgiveness. We shouldn't be telling people, "well, you were a lousy Christian the rest of the year, so you don't deserve to take part in Lent." We should be encouraging non-church-goers to participate in Lent.
Second, Christianity is about welcoming, about community. To deny people the opportunity to join us at any point in time, to increase their participation in faith (now matter how small that participation is) goes counter to Jesus' message. Did He spend extra time on earth with those who were strong in their faith? Or did He focus on those who needed the extra help? Likewise, people who struggle with their faith need the extra help that a Lenten observance can provide.
Third, by participating in Lent (or anything else for that matter. Easter, Advent, Ordinary Time, etc), even if they don't otherwise participate in church, these people may be changed in small, incremental ways by the workings of the Holy Spirit in their heart. Such statement the person made only works to deter the unobservant or semi-observant Christians from wanting to participate in in church at all for fear of being judged, of being shamed.
Fourth, faith is messy. People are at different levels of their faith journey.
A commenter pointed out another aspect to the person's statement above that I hadn't realized initially--it's a statement of being either all-in, or all-out. The commenter said that she had trouble understanding why some people feel the need to pick and choose what to believe, and why some people disagree with their denominational teachings and yet call them members of that denomination. I don't disagree with the ideal situation of people ascribing to exactly what their denomination teaches.
But in reality, it's not so easy. People often fall short. Even church leaders can and do fail when trying to interpret scripture, reason, and tradition for the modern world. And in those cases, people need to be wise and discern when their leaders might be wrong. I know it's such a common example, but the Reformation is a perfect example of this. So, perhaps these people who don't ascribe to 100% of the teachings of any denomination are incorrect in their own discernment. Or perhaps these people are correct, while the leaders are incorrect. That's why I think the exclusivity inherent in the person's statement above does a disservice to Christians who are in the active process of faith discernment.
Fifth, I think the term "religion" in the statement above is odd. To the best of my knowledge, only Christians participate in Lent. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, but I want to take this moment to gently remind people that other Christian denominations aren't "religions." They're just that. Denominations. Just like the Catholic denomination, the Episcopal denomination, Protestants, Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, etc etc etc. Just because some don't follow the Pope doesn't make them another "religion." Just because some don't accept the fillioque doesn't make them another religion. So, I want to try to nip that slip in the bud.
I know I'm not perfect. I still fall into traps where I might judge someone for their "picking and choosing," for their nominal faith, or for their lack of faith entirely. It's so easy to judge. Oh so easy. Perhaps I am being judgmental in this blog post, though I sincerely hope I'm not. The point of this post is to remind people to welcome others, just as the father welcomed the prodigal son. And Lent is the perfect time for that. (Really, any time is perfect. But Lent even more so.)
Filed under: Becoming Episcopalian