In this episode Kurt speaks with Fr. Aaron Damiani on the purpose of Lent in the Christian calendar.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a nice sunny day here in the Western suburbs of Chicago although Chris will be very pleased to tell you that it remains cold. Chris is here in studio along with our long-lost friend Joel, so thanks for joining us again Joel after a busy winter that you’ve had. We hope to see your pretty face around here a bit more often. Speaking of pretty faces, we’ve been having a little trouble with the livestream, but we’re going to be recording this locally so if you still want to watch this on video, you can go to the web site. We’re hoping we have that up for you, so if you think our faces are not made for radio and you don’t mind looking at them, and you want to see some of the graphics, check us out on the web site there.
Also, if you want to see some faces, not necessarily pretty, in person, next week we’re actually going to be doing the show from Faith Covenant Church in Wheaton, Illinois because we’ll be at the Reliable seminar. Can You Trust The Bible? So do you have questions about the reliability of the Bible? Do you know someone who does? The veracity and reliability of the Bible are at the center of the Christian faith. It’s no surprise then that the Bible’s one of the first things to be questioned or attacked. I will be speaking at this event along with Ted Wright. It’s presented by and hosted by Defenders Media and so we’re going to be doing this podcast from there on site and that should be a lot of fun. We’re going to be talking to Ted about digging for truth, that’s the topic of next week’s episode. Very much looking forward to that. Going to have a busy week here preparing for that and having the talks and such and should be exciting. Last week’s episode was on Islam. It was our worldview series where we interviewed a Muslim apologist, Nazam Guffoor, and we talked about the differences or at least what he thought were some of the key differences. I might have my own position on what exactly would be the defining features between the two religions, but it was good to sort of get his perspective and that’s what we’re trying to do with this worldviews series is we’re trying to learn about a worldview from their perspective.
Today’s episode is on the topic of Lent and so we’re going to be dealing with this question. What is Lent? There are many Protestants that sort of don’t pay attention at all to what Lent is about and so in order for us to talk about that, we have a special guest today. Father Aaron Damiani who has written a book The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent and so joining me here on today’s show, Father Aaron Damiani, thanks so much for joining us today. Are you there on the line?
Aaron: I’m here. Good to be here, Kurt.
Kurt: Great. Awesome. Thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your background, your story. You are pastoring a church in Chicago, but you’ve come and gone from the city. Tell us a little bit more about your journey.
Aaron: It was a while for me to discover exactly what God wanted for my life and some of that includes time in Chicago where I was working and living in the city, starting a family, and then some of it was on the east coast where I got really clear that the Lord was calling me to ministry. I spent eleven years in Chicago, four years in D.C., we moved to D.C. just with a sense that that’s where we’re supposed to be for the next season of our life. I was going to pursue further education and was intending to go into academia and then I was in the midst of researching public policy at a research center, the Potomac Institute in D.C. and in that year we were attending an urban Anglican church called Church of the Resurrection in D.C. and one of the things I saw was just how vibrant a Gospel-centered church was good, not only for my co-workers, but for the cultural renewal, spiritual renewal of the city, so that’s when I got clear that that was my path. I took it from there.
Kurt: Nice. On the show our listeners know that from time to time we talk about political and economic topics, so what interests you a little bit in politics and what got you interested there in the Potomac Institute.
Aaron: Some of it was good old-fashioned needing a job, but I knew I really enjoyed researching. I really enjoyed kind of digging into the substance of what was behind an idea and so I told people that. As I was looking for a job, I was sharing with them that I enjoyed making sense of complicated data and looking into the heart of things and so they said we have a policy research institute that looks at science and tech policies and making sure that it’s fair and also interpreting some of the latest research on science and tech and cyber and even terrorism and applying that to government policy. One of the things I didn’t know was that the director of their terrorism research center there, Yonah Alexander, was Jewish and he had a keen interest in the religious question as it relates to terrorism. How can reform happen from the inside of religious thinking and practice to create peace so we forged an unlikely connection there and so one of the things I enjoyed doing was just talking about, sort of inter-faith dialogue, and also just theological dialogue as it relates to building up peace, so I enjoyed it.
Kurt: Nice. And then after that you felt a call to come back to Chicago. Did you start the church, Immanuel, or was there a position available and you just felt God’s calling to come to Chicago and to make God’s presence known to the city?
Aaron: That’s right. It was Church of the Resurrection, which is in the western suburbs, the fine fine western suburbs, as you know, of Chicago. It was a church that Laura and I were at for many years and they were looking to plant in the city and what we did not know was that the Chicago partnership for church planting, which is a city-based organization, certain collection of churches, they were looking to not necessarily plant an Anglican church, but they were just looking for as many Gospel centered expressions of church plants as they could get behind and so we felt the call to move back to the city in part from encourage from Church of the Resurrection as well as the Chicago Partnership for Church Planting, and so we began in a living room and started from there, we threw a lot of parties, and those parties grew into gatherings and before too long we were having weekly services at a school called Uplift Community High School which is where we are today.
Kurt: Very nice. Okay, so tell me a little bit about the book The Good of Giving Up. What was your motivation for writing a book on Lent? I’ve got a few guesses myself, but I’d rather hear it from the source.
Aaron: Sure. Yeah. One thing that happened in my life, it was kind of an unexpected interruption from God was that Laura and I found ourselves in a church that was practicing Lent and we did not, we had not ourselves practiced it. It was kind of an intimidating thing that we didn’t quite understand why people were doing it, and one of the most impactful things for us was watching them celebrate on Easter and kind of the seven weeks of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus with a level of joy which was really stunning and profound for us, but also we saw them experience joy in the midst of sacrifice which is always a challenge. I think whenever we see people following Jesus with less than we have or willing to make sacrifices and they’re not doing it to show off, they’re doing it out of tender love for Christ, there’s something that’s transformed about them, I think that’s always compelling. We didn’t do it the first year. We were focused on preparing for our wedding and our honeymoon and I just remember coming back from the honeymoon and feeling flat in the sense that we were on a ten-day cruise and it was all about the midnight chocolate bar and the excursions along the way to, you know, in the Caribbean, and buying the T-shirts and things and it was fun, but it got, the whole experience of the all-inclusive resort as it were got really old and it was just such a stunning, striking contrast between that and what everyone in our new church was experiencing which was the joy of associating with Christ and His death and resurrection through the season of Lent and Easter which are a pair and so the following year we were like, let’s give this a try, and we didn’t go far with it, but the little sacrifice that we were willing to embrace was very transformative and it kind of in some ways just took us off-guard and so in the following years we kept going, each year going deeper in the season of Lent and experiencing that joy in Easter and along the way I became a pastor and that was not on the plan either, but what I’ve seen, especially when we were planting a church and shaping a community together following Jesus together and sort of taking on practices that were really going to shape what we loved and care about, is I thought the incredible power not just for my own individual life, but for the people of God to practice Lent together and so what I saw was two things. #1, the opportunity to open up what we had experienced for others that were kind of in some ways half-convinced about Lent, intrigued by it, but also intimidated by it. I really wanted to take the intimidation away and communicate in such a way that people would see how joyful it is. And #2 in some ways to dispel the suspicion and some of the theological hang-ups that people have as it relates to Lent because honestly, we’re living in an age where our biggest dangers I believe are the individualism of the late modern West and everyone getting sort of the preferences and any desire we have can be met with a push of a button on our phones, any app for any need, but what we really need is to be formed into Christ’s image and I think that means, there needs to be a resource to explain what that would mean.
Kurt: If you had to give me a brief summary, when I grew up, Lent was about giving up donuts from church, not eating five donuts. Lent seems to be so much more than that though. Can you give us a short summary and then tell us the case for it? What is Lent then? Maybe I should ask that.
Aaron: Yeah. Lent is a forty-day spiritual pilgrimage where we grow to become like Christ and walk with Him on the way to Easter and along those forty days, it’s a bit of an adventure, but Jesus is both the path as well as the end of Lent. It’s about Him. If it stops becoming about Him, it’s not the path of Lent that the writers of Scripture talk about. They don’t use the word Lent. You often find people praying, fasting, giving away their money, as an act of devotion to the Lord and as an act of preparing for Heaven and preparing for the fullness of who they are in Christ. Lent is about Jesus. Lent is a forty day spiritual pilgrimage where we become like Him and draw near to Him.
Kurt: For me, I study some monks from the 5th century of southern France. That’s my Ph.D. research. Lent is kind of like being a monk in certain respects for a short period. Would that be an apt analogy?
Aaron: I believe so. I’m no expert on monks, but it sounds like from what you’re studying, you’re studying monks that really love Christ and they took on the mundane and ordinary means of grace to become like Him. They really centered their lives around Christ and so I think that’s what Lent is doing and in some ways we’re joining the saints, broken and beloved as they were. We’re joining the saints and the practices that they’ve done for thousands of years to form the Christ image and it’s sort of a gentle harness and it’s weird to think about people needing a harness, but we really do. Our appetites need to be harnessed and our wills need to be harnessed and our egos need to be harnessed. Not so we can be limited, but so we can be trained for glory, the glory that we’re made for.
Kurt: Yeah. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control and Lent provides an opportunity for that Spirit to be made manifest in our lives and having the forty days in a regular calendar year provides a structure for us to do that, but there a lot of Protestants that don’t really observe Lent. It’s mainly, at least, again when I was growing up, it seemed like a Catholic thing even though people in our church talked about it. So why should Protestants, why should we be observing something in the church calendar which to start off doesn’t seem like a very Protestant thing?
Aaron: Sure. I think of it as this is a gift of the early church, that we’re not compelled to take up and receive, but there’s a lot of spiritual benefits to taking it up and receiving it. For instance, what the Council of Nicea did back in 325 was to give us a series of gifts and we’re familiar with the ones that are more theological, for instance, they were able to define what was Christ’s nature. Christ was fully God and fully man and He’s equal to the Father. He wasn’t created by the Father. He’s equal with the Father. He’s always existed. That’s a life giving truth. That’s a life giving doctrine, and it’s good for us to receive that. Another thing that they came up with was, “Look. We think that since Christ died and rose again the church was formed, the practice of Lent has been incredibly formative for people who want to know what the way of cross looks like and to stay close to Christ. Now that the bridegroom has gone, we want to fast so we can stay close to him. Let’s do a forty day season of becoming like Christ which will include fasting but will also include prayer and generosity and it’s just a really full, rich season”. I look at that as a gift from the early church, that’s a gift by extension from Christ and so when we as Protestants take it up, we’re not switching denominations, loyalties, we’re not taking on works righteousness, we’re receiving a gift, and that gift, when people receive it and take it on with the vision of becoming like Christ, with the vision of Easter Sunday, many Protestants of all denominations have found when they’ve taken up the process of Lent that it’s really life-giving. It’s not a pointless guilt-ridden exercise in overcoming on whatever we did…
Kurt: It was for me in my childhood. Maybe more guilt-ridden. Don’t have those donuts and if you do!
Aaron: Yeah. Then you’re not a good Christian. I should clarify that. It can very easily become a forced march or it can very easily become peer pressure and you’re absolutely right Kurt, that not everyone who takes up the harness of Lent or not everyone who walks the road is given the vision and is given the right motivation. I want to acknowledge that. Sometimes I give my kids the motivation of guilt just because, I’m come on, let’s finish your homework here, instead of reminding them of why they’re doing their homework and that’s always important to talk about.
Kurt: Aaron. That reminds me of how I try and bribe my three year-old, because it might not be with homework, but I’m trying to get her to eat green beans. I sort of entice her to have a cookie so that reminds me, we should spend time and explain to our children why it’s important to do these things in and of themselves. That’s a good reminder. The next question I have for you is sort of, during this process of Lent, what does it meant to receive the humility of Christ?
Aaron: One of the things that Lent does is that things don’t go our way and it shortens the arm of our will. One of the ways I’ve experienced this is that when I’m fasting, I have less energy to get done what I want accomplished. When I’m giving away my money that I normally spent on myself, my will is not accomplished like I’m normally accustomed to accomplishing it. There’s fewer things in my control, and that’s a really humbling thing, but when we’re becoming like Christ, one of the things that’s happening is that we’re not thinking about ourselves as much, and this is a freeing thing, part of the freedom of Lent as it were. We’re thinking more about Him and we’re thinking more about our neighbor and so what happens is, sure, we’re not curating our reputations with as much energy as we’re accustomed to. We’re in some ways brought to the end of ourselves. We see how weak we are. We see in some ways how few things are actually in our control, but what that does is we’re not gripping tightly as much to our reputations, to our comfort, and we’re thinking more about Christ. We’re thinking more about our neighbor, and we find along the way that Christ’s humility becomes more deeply rooted in our lives so we’re not, it’s not that we’re thinking less of ourselves, but as Tim Keller says, humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less, thinking of yourself less often, and so what it does is it gives us an opportunity to serve more, gives us an opportunity to love more, and it also gives us an opportunity to disappear more, and maybe even keep silent more often. It’s a freeing humility and it’s a beautiful humility.
Kurt: That quote from Keller, that reminds me of someone I know who I can tell that they think less of themselves and you can sort of see it in the way that they think about certain actions that they do and so it’s a fine distinction, but it’s an important one because I think Keller’s right, we just need to think of ourselves less and think of others more. That’s a great quote. Okay. So one of the things in Lent, I guess even at my church they emphasize this a little bit and at other churches a lot more, I know this because I’ve gone to a different variety of churches in my life is confession and how confession is played up more during this time of Lent. Why is that?
Aaron: I think what we’ve seen is that there are certain times in the year, the rhythm of walking with Christ, where there’s a heightened awareness of what’s coming between us and Christ. A married couple could experience the same dynamic where everything’s for awhile, you’re existing at a certain level, but when you go to counseling what happens is that what he counselor does is brings up the issue and kind of stirs the pot a little bit and then you realize that “Wow. Even though I thought we were in a great place in our marriage, our relationship, there’s actually a couple of areas where I have a habit or a practice or said something and there’s a wall in between us as a result. There’s a distance where there could be intimacy.” What happens with sin is most of us are not aware, we’re focusing on the wrong things, we don’t see what God sees, and I think the path of holiness is where Jesus Christ is able to reveal to us the practices and the habits and the ways of thinking, and really the deep level desires that are out of place, that don’t belong in our life. What happens in Lent is that the practices of Lent and the observance of it gives us some space, it stirs the pot as it were of the soul, and even of the community and we begin to see our individual blind spots and our communal blind spots and Lent provides a space for confession and any church tradition in the context of a worship service. There’s a place to confess your sins corporately or make an appointment so you can confess your sins to a mentor, to a pastor, not to earn favor with God, not to seek our a mediator. There’s only one mediator between man and God, but to become unburdened and to recognize, to see what God sees, to call it like He calls it, and in that space where there’s been sin you can experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.
Kurt: Yeah. I know in the Scripture there’s private confession, confess your sins to one another, but there’s also public confession, when someone’s screwed up they’d have to go before the people and talk about that and we don’t see that all that frequently today. There’s certainly some cultural differences, but maybe that’s one of those cultural things we should consider taking up for the good that it provides to us. Okay. Lent is about assessing ourselves in the present moment and looking back upon how we screwed up and ways we can improve, but how is Lent also about the future?
Aaron: Yeah. What Lent does is I think is it trains us for Easter and by extension is really training us for heaven so the future that we have before us is that of a wedding feast, the wedding feast where Jesus Christ and His church are forever united and there’s nothing in between them anymore. There’s no more waiting. There’s a consummation. Heaven and Earth are finally brought together and God, Emmanuel Jesus, God with us, is dwelling with man. There’s no more tears, there’s no more crying, and it’s that garden city that all of Scripture is pointing to and in Lent we remember this world is not our home. Not to say that we don’t invest our love into this world as we are called to. We carry out our mission here. In this world, that’s what we’re given, but what Lent does is it prepares us to long for and have a taste for our true home. A lot of us, we just forget, we forget that the best meals and the best relationships and the best experiences here on Earth cannot begin to compare with what is coming and also that our, I think we forget that our citizenship is in Heaven, that that’s where our primary loyalty is. I’m a Chicagoan. I love my city. I love the Cubs.
Aaron: But my primary love is not the Cubs or the city of Chicago or even as a U.S. citizen. My primary loyalty is to that of heaven and so the saints that have gone before me and the King of Kings, that’s my true home, that’s my true country, and so what happens in Lent is I train for that. I train so that I can take up my heavenly identity and be secure in that and when I show up on Easter Sunday or any Sunday, because every Sunday’s a little Easter, I am reenlisting as it were, I’m reupping on my baptismal identity as a citizen of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
Kurt: Great! We’ve got to take a short break. If you’d like to have your voice heard on this show you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483, and also did you know that you can text in to our show? Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. Once you do that you can send me a message or any question you might have or even some topic or guest requests. We’ve got a question from a texter towards the end of the program today, but we’ve got to take a short break from our sponsors, and after that Aaron, let’s talk about, you said we sort of train for that so we’ll explore some other questions on that.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I’m here today with Father Aaron Damiani and today we’re discussing the Christian observance of Lent, but before we get back into that it is time for a newer segment of the show which we introduced to you last week. I am so excited for this one. It’s an opportunity for you to send me some of those images that you might see on the internet, a picture or a photograph with some text on it. They’re called memes.
Kurt: So what do you mean is what Bieber is saying, but he doesn’t really pronounce that n so firm so in our opinion it’s What Do You Meme? So we’ve got a couple memes here that we’re assessing. We’re going to try to pick two on any given week. This meme here, there’s a news article with a photograph. It’s a call for female walking traffic light equality, so all of Victoria’s pedestrians crossings, I think this is Victoria, Australia, all of Victoria’s pedestrian crossing could eventually have an equal number of female and male walking signals in a push for gender equality and of course here’s the meme text that says, “Did you really just assume my gender?” and it’s the standard walking guy, so this is a meme that we found on the interne that’s shared around. There’s a lot of stuff out there of course. My first impression was, I’ve never really considered the guy walking across the street to specifically be male and guy would there just be a generic term. Hey you guys.
Joel: Hey person. Yeah.
Kurt: What’s that Joel?
Joel: It’s just a person.
Kurt: It’s just a person. Another thing I thought of when I saw this, because really this segment is just my reflection on the meme, not necessarily that I’m in agreement or something, it’s interesting the push for equality here, at least for some people might be the attempt also to downplay gender distinctions, but what does this do? This image of the new crosswalk is of a person wearing a dress, and it’s implied here that this is a female, and I guess that for some people males can wear dresses too, and in some parts of the world that’s what they do. At any rate there might be a push and tug here between what people are wanting…
Voice: Anyway there is to define the genders makes a difference out of them. Any symbol that differentiates them makes them different.
Kurt: Yeah. Interesting. That’s that meme. Then we’ve got a humorous one that was submitted to us that we figured we’d talk about because if you’ve got questions about how we should understand memes or what our thoughts are you can send these our way and if you want to know the best way to do that, you can probably just send the image to my email, Kurt@Veracityhill.com. This one here is a picture of Darth Vader holding up what seems to be a rebel soldier, and it reads, “Strong people don’t put others down. They lift them up.” So here’s Vader lifting him up. I take it this is more of a humorous one, but thank you to our listener that submitted this one. I’m not sure if I’ve got much of a thought, there doesn’t seem much of an agenda here in as much as to just make people smile, which it’s done. Strong people, like Vader, don’t put others down. They lift them up. Thank you. A Star Wars fan definitely sent that one in to us. And that is our segment.
Kurt: Chris is displeased with that Justin Bieber there. Alright. So, let’s get back to the more serious topic at hand here. We’re talking about Lent, the Christian observance of it and we are here with Father Aaron Damiani whose written a book, The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, which you can go ahead and check out there on Amazon.com if you want to get a quick look at it. Aaron, before our break we were talking about what I guess we could say is the case for Lent. What are some of the reasons why we should do it, but then right there before we went to the break you said something about how we train and what does that look like then to train and to do Lent? What are some of the things that we can do and why are those things beneficial?
Aaron: Yeah. If Lent is about becoming like Christ and growing to love what he loves and love him, the path of Lent is very much about, there’s what we call the gentle harness which has three strands and they weave together over time to shape us into Christ’s image and that includes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which is a quaint word for generosity, and you might also throw confession in there as well. It’s not an official, maybe we’d call it an unofficial part of the harness, but prayer, fasting and almsgiving. What this does is when we put this on and we put this on with the people of God, it shapes us individually and communally to be ready for Easter Sunday.
Kurt: Tell us a little bit more. Can we dive into those topics, prayers, fasting, and almsgiving, and what all that is about?
Aaron: Absolutely. So yeah, we have fasting is sort of withholding from things that we’d normally be eating
Kurt: Like Donuts.
Aaron: Yeah. Like donuts. Things normally associated with feasting, so desserts and sort of alcohol
Kurt: Caramel machiatos.
Aaron: Yeah. I know someone who gave up a specific Starbucks drink for Lent one year and then he was able to drop it for the rest of his life.
Kurt: Yeah. There you go!
Aaron: So the things of creation that God gave us to enjoy can also in some ways hook us and we can become, we can look to them for a sense of peace, for a sense of wholeness, for feelings of control.
Kurt: You’re not talking about Dr. Pepper by any means. You’re not talking about Dr. Pepper. Right?
Aaron: Dr. Pepper excluded of course.
Kurt: Awesome. Glad we got that out of the way!
Aaron: I wouldn’t even think about knocking Dr. Pepper. I haven’t thought about Dr. Pepper in a long time, but thank you Texas. Dr. Pepper.
Kurt: Yes. That’s right.
Aaron: So yeah. There are things that go, there is probably something for each of the people listening. There’s probably one or two things where it’s, you’re not talking about this are you? I know someone who gave up coffee one Lent and his wife was like, you need to ask me first because you’re Lenten fast affects me as well, so think about, yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it? We’ve got to include our loved ones before we choose, but there’s these things that we gotta have and Lent is a time where we say, because I’m a free creature in God’s Kingdom, because I belong to Christ, there’s nothing that I will not willingly sort of give up so that I can gain more of Christ. Nothing. I count it all as loss. I count it all as something that would just be a hindrance, so I’m going to remove all the hindrances so I can be closer to Christ. That’s called the partial fast. This is what Scot McKnight refers to abstinence. This is where you’re abstaining from certain things for the duration of Lent, but then there’s the whole fast and that’s where you go “I’m not going to eat a meal or two meals or three meals for a couple of days even.” I’ll take in enough calories through juice and broth to love my neighbor, but not enough to satisfy hunger, and you have the partial fast which is like I’m not going to eat donuts except for the feast days and then you have the whole fast where once or twice a week I’m going to go without food altogether and that’s fasting.
Kurt: That’s one. We also then have prayer. Why is prayer something that we should be emphasizing and doing more of during the time of Lent.
Aaron: Yeah. Prayer always wanes. I think we’re made to pray, to commune with God, and prayer is kind of that communication, but it wanes, and to return to the marriage analogy, our marriages can get stale unless we set aside maybe a retreat where we give ourselves an opportunity to communicate with each other and hear each other out and in some ways to waste time together as it were, to just enjoy each other’s company and there have been times when I’m like, I don’t enjoy God right now, or I feel stale or I feel distant, and so what Lent has given us in some ways a chance to reboot. Now that we’re cutting some things out, not just with our food but in our schedules, we’re cutting some busyness out and we’re making space to enjoy the presence of God and what Lent does is it gives us an opportunity to see how much we need God and so when we’re grouchy because we’re fasting or when we recognize our sin in a new way, prayer all of a sudden becomes much more of a taking in of something we really need rather than an add-on, because we feel guilty. It’s more of a place of trust and joy and renewal, so a few different practical to do this is just showing up to church. Some of us have gotten out of that practice, but that’s where we pray with the saints. Church services are meant to feed into our prayer life for the rest of the week and so maybe we start going to church every Sunday again and we say, “Alright. I’m going to take in all the spiritual nutrients I can and pray with the saints here on a Sunday and then I’m going to take what I’ve learned and take the spiritual leadership of the pastors that they’ve been providing and I’m going to let that shape my prayer life this week.” We show up to our small group and do the same thing. So praying with other saints is important. I think also praying our weakness is really important. One of the ancient prayers of the church is the Jesus prayer. Jesus, savior, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s a way to pray the name of Jesus when we’re feeling tempted, when we’re feeling grouchy, when we’re sort of not okay and we’re willing to see that in a new way, praying variations of the Jesus prayer, where calling on the name of Jesus is another very basic way to begin to pray.
Kurt: In that prayer there’s that concept of sinning. We are sinners. For confession, I know we’ve talked a little bit about confession, but what are some of those practical ways that we can do confession during this time?
Aaron: A very basic thing that Christians have done for millennia is to read the Ten Commandments prayerfully and just open up the Scriptures and say, “Okay. Where have I strayed either in thought, word, or deed against God’s revealed Law,” and if I have it gives me an opportunity to confess that to God and then you confess to a friend and ask them to pray for you. We’re not looking for people to play the role of Jesus. We’re looking for people who can be ambassadors of His grace to us. So yeah, open up Exodus 20 and read the Ten Commandments and you’ll be like, “Oh yeah. I’ve been coveting my neighbor’s new car.”
Kurt: Or Nintendo Switch.
Aaron: I don’t remember the Sabbath day any more. What’s that?
Kurt: Or Nintendo Switch.
Aaron: Yeah. Exactly. Right. Fill in the blank. I think another thing that happens, and this is a work of the Holy Spirit, is that when we place ourselves in a posture of openness to God, I think we’re surprised that when He is able to put His finger on something that’s bothering us, we’re able to see some flawed expectations that we had in relationship to Him. That gives an opportunity to confess and in some cases, starting, this is a Dallas Willard thing, is you start with a question, “What’s bothering you?” Maybe the prayer and confession in Lent just begins with that question. Open up your journal. Open up in conversation with a friend and just talk about, “Hey. What’s bothering you?” And then let that conversation, let that time of prayer, with an open Bible and an open heart reveal some things that are out of alignment in your relationship with Christ. Like I mentioned before, church services can make space for corporate confession as well. You can include some basic liturgies there so everyone can confess their need for God and their sin together.
Kurt: Okay. So let’s move along then to almsgiving and you mention that a little bit, briefly that’s just an antiquated word for giving, right? For giving to charity. Tell us more about that and what are some ways that we can do that during the season?
Aaron: Yeah. Almsgiving is good old-fashioned parting with your money out of love for neighbor even if you don’t feel the love. Maybe you’re just doing it because you want to feel the love and this is training. One of the things that really helps with almsgiving, with generosity, is your committing to give, but you don’t start with the gift, you start with the relationship. Probably the best context, best environment, to give money is when you’re just spending time, when you’ve made space in your time, made space in your schedule, for your neighbor, especially neighbors that are suffering. I think actually for Americans in the late modern west starting with the calendar is a necessary step so that our generosity does not become harmful to people. Maybe it starts with one hour a week or what’s one hour a week where I can go on a prayer walk around my community and maybe it’s your neighborhood or around your workplace or maybe it’s a part of your community within a five or ten mile drive that’s in greater need. Hanging out at the underresourced school or library or hospital or nursing home and just spending time with people. I think that might even be a costlier thing than money and from there we get in touch with peoples’ needs and we can then begin to meet that need in a way that is relationship-based rather than transactional base. Hey, I need to give my money somewhere in Lent. You look like a decent enough person. Here you go. But starting with relationship, another thing to do is to think about the global and suffering church and to look up some organizations, like the Barnabas Fund or Voice of the Martyrs, and give to our brothers and sisters who are suffering a great deal and in a way to just let them know that we stand with them, we’re proud of them, and we want them to be faithful to Christ. Really, I think the best way to give money is to be in relationship, but don’t let the lack of relationship stop you from giving money. I think we can come up with excuses.
Kurt: Right. People can go to Defendersmedia.com/donate if you don’t have a relationship.
Aaron: That’s right! Maybe even ramp up on your tithes to your local church.
Kurt: 10% darn it! 10%!
Aaron: Right. Yeah.
Kurt: That’s very true though. We’ve got to have that consistent giving. It’s not required. The New Testament just talks about giving generously and especially when Christian churches talk about 10%, that’s just sort of a rule of thumb, which of course studies have shown that people don’t, generally speaking, people don’t nearly give that. So Lent is an opportunity for us to explore giving our money as you’d mentioned it’s not just necessarily merely transactional. There’s a relationship involved and there’s a great benefit to that. We can then experience more and sympathize with people whose experiences are not as well off as our own.
Aaron: That’s right.
Kurt: It’s a different experience than maybe what a lot of us are used to here in the 21st century in America.
Aaron: Yeah. I think it’s a wonderful way to escape our individualism, not because we hate ourselves, but because there’s real joy in joining with others and joining with Christ and giving ourselves away.
Kurt: Okay. So we’ve talked about why we should do Lent. You’ve given us some practical ways we can do that. How do we lead our friends and family through Lent?
Aaron: Yeah. I think it’s important when we’re leading our friends and family, that it begins with an invitation, not an expectation, so I was talking with my kids this year about Lent and some of them are choosing to not fast from some things and then as their Dad I’ve just like, Okay, I’m going to tell you why we do it and then I’m gonna make invitations along the way that you’re welcome to participate in. When some people start to feel forced, that’s where it becomes problematic. What we’ve done, what we’re doing this year, is we are going through a resource which just gives a basic liturgy for our kids and for us to go through, a little Scripture reading and Scripture memorization and questions for discussion and song and we’re also going to give away our money together so we’re going to give our kids some coins and we’re going to take up a collection and give our Good Friday gift to the persecuted church along the way. I think one easy thing if you’re leading a family is to think about one night a week after dinner, like for fifteen minutes. Just make it real sustainable and give your kids a chance to light a candle and then open the Scriptures and read from a Gospel passage or from the Psalms, talk about it and pray together and then maybe just make soup that night instead of a larger meal and give the money that you’d normally spend on yourselves that night and give it away to beyond yourself and that’s kind of a way to keep the Isaiah 58 vision for fasting, prayer, and generosity together. You can do that as family. That’s one for families, or for roommates even. You can do soup night in any household.
Kurt: How do we tell the believers that we’re at on Sunday morning, how do we get them more involved in Lent in our churches?
Aaron: I think it’s important if your church does not currently practice Lent, one thing I’d recommend doing is to practice it just yourself this year and to really seek Christ without pressure of leading your whole church and one thing that I appreciated about Pete Scazzaro and his book Emotionally Healthy Leadership and Emotionally Healthy Churches is that whatever happens in the life of a leader and this is maybe your pastor, but maybe you’re just an influential person in your church, that that spreads out, that impacts people in a way that you can’t see, it just does, whether you’re healthy or unhealthy, that ends up getting into the system, that gets into the water, and so you can be confident that Christ will do work in your church even if it’s just you do it, so maybe this year you do it and take a friend along with you. Maybe next year you take your elders through it or you take your small group through it so you can pick up The Good of Giving Up this year and read it and give it a shot and then maybe take others through it the following years and then from there there’s ways of really involving people. I think people want to know whether they practice Lent or not, they want to know the history of Lent so you can teach them about a basic background of church history and maybe this convinces you or maybe you have more questions or let’s do a Bible study on fasting or on how fasting prayer and generosity, where do we see that in Scriptures, and what could that look like here in our life? I think giving people an example is very important and then giving people teaching and instruction as to why and why we do this and what does it look like? That can actually be very motivational and then from there you can really go, okay, we’re going to do this this year and no one has to do it, but we can all practice it together and that’s how I learned. I came along for the ride because I saw other people doing it, they were setting an example for me. It was compelling.
Kurt: Great. Awesome. Well Father Aaron Damiani, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Aaron: Thank you so much for having me Kurt.
Kurt: Alright. That’s sort of an introduction to the practice of Lent. You can check out his book The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent at amazon.com or you can also go to his website at Lentbook.com. You can also visit his church’s website at Immanuelanglican.org. Now it’s with great pleasure that I play this little clip.
Kurt: That jingle. That is such a, boy it just gets me in the sort of jazzy mood. So we’ve got a question here submitted, and again for those of you that are new listeners. That is the mailbag. That’s the sound of the mail bag. When someone submits a question or comment here to the show we are happy to read it and answer that for you. This question comes from texter 3888 which by the way if you want to join the texting plan, it’s totally free, just text the word VERACITY to 555-888. The question is can a Christian or practice some Zen Buddhism techniques in good conscience? The reason why I ask is because I’m considering ways of being more mindful.
To texter 3888 I want to tell you this. We need to first ask ourselves what is Zen Buddhism really about? If it’s merely about meditating on something, now for Buddhism it might be meditating on nothing and maybe that’s a concern I’d have because if you’re meditating on nothing and you’re just sitting still and trying to lose one’s self, which is what Buddhism teaches, I would be concerned about that, but if you’re just meditating, the suggesting I have is what should you then meditate on? If you read Joshua 1:8 we read, “Keep this book of the Law always on your lips. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do all that is written.” We certainly see the concept of meditation in the Scripture and not just there in Joshua but elsewhere, Psalm 1 has the concept of meditation. Other passages. So the question is, what would you be meditating on? If you’re meditating on the Scripture, on the teachings of Jesus, on a passage that’s deep in theological reflection, not a problem by any means, please do that, but if you’re going to do Zen Buddhism according to sort of how the Buddhists want you do it, I would caution that against because of the positions and what they would want you to meditate on or rather the lack thereof, but yeah, meditation in and of itself is not a wrong thing. I hope that maybe answers your question for that, but thanks for texting in and asking that question and I appreciate you listening to the show so thanks for that. That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that might be doing almsgiving here in Lent. Those are folks that give up a couple bucks a month for us to be putting on and producing our show. I’m also thankful with the partnerships with the many sponsors we have, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois, Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Traffic Buffet. Thank you to the team today, Chris and Joel and I want to thank our guest today, Father Aaron Damiani, for talking to us about Lent. It’s a great sort of introduction to what it’s all about so I’m very glad to have him on the show today, and I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.