Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SEVEN: A New Kind of Fast

     I like to blame things on my parents.  They gave me their genes--wide feet, chubby cheeks (all four), and the-caterpillar-for-eyebrows.  Thanks for that, Mom and Dad.  They nurtured me too.  That meant tea parties with Mom, endless hours soaking sun at the lake (so yeah, that's gonna mean skin cancer), loving food, loving the outcasts and misfits (never a holiday where we didn't sit elbow to elbow with some eclectic conglomeration of people who may not have had any other place to celebrate that year), and loving Jesus.  With Dad it has always been about the underdogs of the world.  His heart is tender; he cries over chickens squashed in cages and about went bankrupt feeding stray cats who I swear migrated from all six other continents when they heard he was filling Rubbermaid bins with food for them.  He is color blind for real, but it wouldn't matter if he could see color correctly.  He still wouldn't see it.  The world, for him, is shaded by justice, inequality/equality, and thinking critically about what we believe to be true.  So, what you are about to read is entirely their fault.  You've been warned.
      I just can't accept status quo.  I can't NOT rock the boat.  Not in my nature.  I think about things. (I explained this in the first paragraph.)  For quite some time now I've been uncomfortable with a few things--namely, I don't go hungry, nor do my children, but starvation manages to murder a child every five seconds, I live in a large, comfortable, 72 degree house while almost 1.5 million (can't even fathom that number) were without shelter in 2011 in the US alone, and a few pesky verses like that one about how religion that's pure and faultless tends to look after widows and orphans, and there are something like 15 million without mother or father in the world. So, while most of us are thinking about where we are taking our annual beach vacay, I'm haunted by the justice gene, the loving of the downtrodden gene, and I can't manage to pull the trigger on all the new GROUPON vacation bargains to viva la Mexico.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Dad.  
      In reality, I'm a tough nut to crack.  God has to peel back the scales that seal my eyes to the truths of His Word and how He intended them to be applied.  If I'm being honest, both spiritually speaking and economically speaking, in comparison with the rest of the world, I'm a saturated sponge.  Completely saturated.  I grew up in church, learned to read using the King James Bible as my primary text, and I've never gone hungry a day in my life.  Never.  So, that puts me in a privileged category.  Privileged and so full, I can't always fathom what it means to need, to want, to hunger, to thirst.  And in a spiritual sense, I've read the red words of Jesus so many times, heard the sermons so many times, sung the songs, that they have become like white noise in the background.  So, God has to peel back these scales, cause a bit of a ruckus until I'm raw, squeeze the sponge until it thirsts again for Living Water.
     Enter a chance post from a dear Canadian friend (Hi, Dani!) that linked me to a random blog that tugged at scales like you tug at a Band-Aid when you're trying to rip it off fast.  Ouch and Wow!  It was here, at Jen Hatmaker's website that I first saw her book Sevenan experimental mutiny against excess.  (Leave me alone grammar police; she didn't capitalize the letters in her title, and she has an editor!  K?)  Jen's premise?  We have far more say in what happens in our world than we realize.  We vote everyday with our wallets, with our forks, with our garbage, with our time.  We are called to love God and love others, and we are doing a shoddy job at best.  She started with herself and decided to commit seven months to purge seven specific areas of excess in her life.
     Her words:  "I started praying about what God wanted; what would move me closer to His agenda and further from mine?  How could this be meaningful, not just narcissistic and futile?  What areas needed the most renovation?  How am I blind and why?  Where have I substituted The American Dream for God's kingdom?  What in my life, in the lives of most westerners, is just too stinking much?
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Possessions
  • Media
  • Waste
  • Spending
  • Stress
     Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices.  I'm embarking on a journey of less.  It's time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble.  7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal:  to create space for God's kingdom to break through.
     I approach this project in the spirit of a fast:  an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life.  A fast creates margin for God to move."  (pg. 4)
    How am I blind and why?  Mmmm.  Most people unable to see are aware of their deficiency, but I'm afraid I've been a blind gal thinking she knew where she was going.  And when Jesus said, "Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God," (Matt. 6:33) I'm afraid I understood Him to mean, "As long as you seek me a lot, squeeze in everything else you possibly can, Sarah."
     Where have I substituted the American Dream for God's kingdom?  Okay, I'm reading Radical for the second time through.  This whole American Dream vs. God's kingdom business?  Just.Starting.To.Sink.In.  Just starting.  I don't even know if I should say it's sinking in--remember the saturated sponge problem?  We can spend so much time listening, reading, hearing about God loving us that we become sopping,heavy, wet with love and yet it is that very love that "compels us" (II Cor. 5:14) to motion.  Mary, sweet Mary (I kinda hate her) may have chosen the more excellent thing when she sat, soaking at Jesus' feet, but I can promise you that if she remained at his feet, he would have eventually told her to get up, go pick up her cross, and FOLLOW Him.  Surely He didn't praise her choice because she was sitting; I have to believe it had to do with the fact that she was filling herself up.  But, fellow Americans, our threshold for fullness is broken.  We are so prone to excess we no longer even know how to stop feeding.  We are a engorged people.  I am an engorged woman.
     Follow Me.   "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)  Jesus called us into action, motion.  And in truth, He modelled it for us, didn't He?  At the cross?  Like dressing the the sun or the moon, Christ clothed his holiness in the cloak of mortality, and walked among wayward, willful, wandering humanity.  And though there were only a few steps up the Golgotha's hill where carried his crucifixion cross, he had carried it his entire earthly life, hadn't he?
     So I'm thinking of His words--the follow me words--and wondering, where?  Where will I follow Him?  When I was young I thought the ultimate test of my willingness to follow would be geographical.  Would I go to Africa?  Would I?  But now I'm not so sure.  It turns out Africa might have been easier for me than denying myself here in the have-it-your-way-right-away culture of North America.  In fact, it turns out, you can run clear across the globe shouting the salvation of Jesus and never once pick up your cross and follow Him. 
     And what, my friends, if that's me?  Plucking at keys and yakking in small groups and I'm only a resounding gong, a clanging symbol whose sound causes Christ to cringe?
     What if when we post Joshua's Words in walnut frames on the walls of our homes, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord..." (Joshua 24:15) we are foolish enough to think that our commitment to go to church on Sunday, maybe teach a Sunday School class, attend a small group, and tithe exactly ten percent reads as a life of solidarity with the man who obeyed God in CRAZY ways (Would you fight a battle by walking around some city walls in silence repeatedly, day after day?)  when in reality we are really hiding behind a modern version of the Mosaic Law?   Solidarity?  I'm thinking not.
     What if I raise my hands in worship on Sunday, but my life is a pair of hands clenched into fists grasping, gripping, groping for my American Dream when the world is hungry for true worship.  The worship of a life lived out of love.  A life of motion.  A life that sacrifices in this life to gain that which cannot be taken in the next life.
     What if I'm a part of a corporate body of Christ that has gone into a sugared-life induced coma and we lay, lifeless, motionless while the world dies?
     What if my two cup of coffee a morning habit is the cause of a Compassion child NOT being sponsored because I say there's no room in the budget.  I mean are you kidding me?  I can't give up coffee in this temporary life so a child will have a chance to live, period? To one day hear of Jesus' love?  I mean don't the rivers flow Columbian brew in heaven?  Could I not wait 'til eternity to continue the habbit? Yeah, what if?
     I read her entire book in a very short amount of time.  (Okay, it may have been a good distraction from the ten million pages of our Family Book Club book, Atlas Shrugged.  Sorry, guys, I'll get back to it, I promise.)  You should too. (Read her book--The verdict's still out on Atlas)  Go here to find out more about SEVEN.  Three words in and I knew I'd have to do this.  Knew I needed to do this.  Knew God brought me to this.  And the timing is perfect.  One week before Easter, I'm a little late for Lent, but maybe I'm right on time to Follow Him into the Garden.  I see Him there, praying.  I see his face, washed red with blood vessels broken--a foreshadowing of what would come.  I see Him there, releasing every single ounce of personal ambition and desire.  My Savior, planting surrender.  My Savior, watering it with drops of bloody sweat so it would grow into a ransom for my muddy mired heart, and not just for mine, but for mankind's.
     I too want that level of surrender, and I wonder if a fasting time might not be the way to train myself.  In her book, Jen Hatmaker says, "After saying "no" to things I wanted for nearly a year, I guess I gained some control over my emotions and impulses.  God used fasting as a tool to curb my appetites and regulate my reactions.  It was a concise realization:  "Something in  me has deeply changed." 
     Perhaps this is why Scripture calls us to the practise of fasting--from food, from greed, from selfishness, from luxuries.  It isn't just the experience; it's the discipline.  It changes us.  Fasting helps us develop mastery over the competing voices in our heads that urge us toward more, toward indulgence, toward emotional volatility.  Like consistent discipline eventually shapes our children's behavior, so it is with us.  Believe it or not, God can still change us.  Not just our habits but our hearts.  Say "no" for a year and see for yourself." (Seven, pg. 219)
     I'm going to see for myself, friends.  Along the way, I hope to share with you what I'm learning, what I'm seeing.  For now, I'm standing aware of the thousands of competing voices demanding I seek them first, but my hands are open, my ears are strained.  I'm listening for the still, small voice.

Pray with me:
Lord, what are my SEVEN? 


Anne Arnold Pierce said...

Praying with you Sarah,
He is my brother...
Jesus is my savior...
The same large picture of humanity calling me brought me up...
Praying with you Sarah...
May we find our path...
fall upon our path..
open our eyes Lord...and with our eyes open fill our hands with your work.

becks said...

Very meaningful prayer too Ant. Wonderful time of reflection this morning.

Sarah said...

Beautiful poetry prayer, Ant. Love you guys.