Lent is a time for renewal.
And usually when we think of renewal we think about going back to recapture or connect to something we’ve lost. But what are we supposedly going back to? I’ve heard it said that we’re re-newing an earlier faith that was simpler yet passionate. Or back to a golden age like the 1950’s were faith felt central to community. Often denominations call for renewal as a return back to the origins of their movement. Some espouse “radical” renewal – back to our roots – that reconnects us all the way back to the New Testament church.
But I don’t want to go back to any of these time periods.
In fact, I don’t want to go back at all, certainly not to my burning Junior High faith. I’m definitely not going to “take back” what was lost from the 1950’s where racism and faith went hand in hand. And the Middle Ages are gone, and with it many of the assumptions that birthed our denominations to begin with. What worked for us in those times will not sustain us in our time.
So what’s a model for renewal that doesn’t involve going back?
If we’re committed to renewal as growth how about a forward-focused model designed for “winnowing the truth from lies and delusion.” The Scientific Method is, by its very definition, a verbal commitment to follow the truth wherever it leads. In other words, the scientific method is a tool for renewal. Having no bias for any one answer, it’s committed only to the truth. The parallel for our spiritual lives is a commitment to God as God, and to faith free from tradition or veneer.
As one website says, “The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion.” How? Through testing, modification, willingly admitting when wrong, and being as open to falsification as to verification. The website sounds nearly religious when it says we repeat the method “until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.”
As people of faith we repent, confess, lament, reconcile, and renew ourselves until there are no discrepancies between our espoused and lived values. What if these human practices were as vibrant, used, and useful for Christian renewal as analysis and experimentation are for science? What if we were committed to pure faith in the same way that the scientific method nurtures truth?
Here are a couple examples to clarify what we mean. Wolves, bears, tobacco, food additives, chemical flame retardants and carbon emissions have all been portrayed in scientifically un-factual ways. And yet many believe the lies despite all evidence to the contrary. Wolves and bears are portrayed as human hunters, when the facts simply do not support such egregious lies. Tobacco and the others have all been spun in the opposite way – as being perfectly safe, when they in fact are the proven human killing hunters.
Who are you going to believe – Little Red Riding Hood and the Marlboro Man, or the clear facts?
In Matthew 15 & 16, Jesus calls us to use one thing (in this case, the commands of God) to evaluate, falsify and clarify another thing. The “tradition of the elders” is put to the test in several back to back stories – Jesus interaction with religious leaders and later with a Canaanite woman, as well as Peter’s mental model of who and how the Messiah would be. In each the tradition of the elders is eviscerated by God’s vision for faithful living. Tradition has been falsified; and our commitment to faithfulness and truth can now take an enormous leap forward.
Neither scientific falsification nor spiritual renewal is a backwards step. As they both clear the path for our ongoing journey, uncovering what once was merely a perception and not reality.
My personal growth has always been integrally connected to following the truth wherever it leads; truth about myself and my relationships, God and our world. Renewal isn’t so much a call to go back as it is a call to shake things up. It’s an invitation to charge forward beyond our imagination where the “peace of Christ surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).” Are you willing to change, and to follow the truth wherever it leads?
Like a scientist more committed to a method than to a particular outcome, lent calls us to be committed above all else to a life of following Jesus, wherever he leads. It’s one thing to see and be inspired by the gospel stories. It’s another thing altogether to follow, to go and do likewise, to lay down our lives and value the things that Jesus values.
This lent, may the lens of renewal filter the truth from lies and delusions. And may you have the courage to follow the truth, wherever He leads.