For the 2018 Lenten Journey, I am excited to once again be creatively collaborating with Little Britain United Church. Each worship service and blog will be informed by a resource created by Matthew L. Kelly, who is currently in ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, USA. I pray that this “Giving It Up” Lenten Journey proves of interest and nurtures the gift of this ongoing conversation with you seekers and readers, who continue to graciously extend trust by engaging with A Deacon’s Musing blog.
4 1-3 Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
5-6 For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”
7 Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”
8-9 For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”
10 Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
11 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.
The beginning of Jesus’ time in the desert, those 40 days of trial and test, hold meaning that is deep and rich, difficult and awkward for the listeners who have since followed. Those who endeavour to follow Jesus and continue his work hear this story in different ways depending on our context, which ranges from such factors as time, gender, privilege, race and education. These factors all influence how we understand control and what it might mean for us to let it go, to give it up
My previous exploration of control had to do with it in respect to communities of faith. In this Lenten musing, I have found myself reflecting on control as a distraction – a temptation – for those who Have and benefit from the suffering of others. Should I be honest in this Lenten space, I acknowledge that I do indeed wear the clothes of one who benefits and would rather not acknowledge such temptation, except perhaps intellectually and academically. Yet the passage from Matthew serves well to illustrate the visceral, even literal, implications of confronting what it means to give up control.
Having named this, I have been confronting a sense of inertia.
Where do I go with this naming?
What does it mean to let go?
I believe that my particularity speaks to the generality that is, in many ways, the reality for main stream Canadian Protestant churches, who are wrestling with Call and identity in a generation in which old assumptions and moorings have become dislodged. This wrestling occurs because this place of Have is founded upon such realities of colonialism, misogyny and racism. Human constructed realities that separate people from one another. This sense of dislocation is, I would offer, contrary to Jesus’ ministry that we spy clearly in the Christian Sacred Scriptures.
What I understand is key to that ministry, for Jesus’ followers, is what is called the Great Commandment:
If Love is the key to the law, then control, in the context of those who Have, must confront this Holy command. This does not mean to imply that it is any easier, but the lens or criteria becomes discernible. If control, from this position, requires me and the inheritors of colonial privilege to let go, then this ultimate law helps us begin to gauge truthfully the degree to which we are willing to be humbled by Love’s statute.
I would offer two provocative Canadian examples that help me understand how this Love command helps in beginning to give up control:
- In respect to Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, Canada has begun a journey toward reconciliation. The possibility for healing for all us is directly connected to letting go of control. This letting go, however, is so difficult that it is well evidenced in a recent judicial ruling that concerned the right of Canada’s First People’s religious calling over against non-Indigenous for-profit activities. If Love’s command is the ultimate law, then such decisions beg us to ask whether such choices reflect the degree to which we are loving others as ourselves; and,
- Canada, like many western democracies, has been greatly affected by the #MeToo The reality of the oppression suffered by women has not only become clear, but the underpinning patriarchal systems that perpetuate control based on gender is now openly critiqued and appropriately challenged. In the ongoing debate, Love’s statute confronts all who benefit from a culture that utilises violence to silence and marginalise. How we collectively respond to these horrific revelations speaks directly to letting go.
Giving up and letting go, like Lent, is a journey. It does not necessarily occur immediately, although, in some cases, it does. Letting go of control, whether as an individual or culture, takes both trust and vulnerability. Regardless of where you find yourself on the continuum of possessing control, reflection and discernment are rich tools with which to begin. But ultimately, this is not an individualistic endeavour. It requires us collectively to take seriously Love.
Love is too often framed romantically or as an intellectual exercise. As followers of Jesus, however, what does it mean if we consider it as an active verb – an act of being in the world. With the two examples shared, how are our decisions in relation to one another reflections of loving you as myself? And, should it be clear that Love is not the way I am treating you, then how I begin to let go to be Love requires both humility and courage. Both of these virtues require relationships, otherwise we simply perpetuate false human divisions that invite temptation to keep us apart, lonely and longing …