Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Like a Moth to the Flame: Recontroversializing Lent for 2012

By far last year's most controversial SWNIDish topic was our critique of the Lenten fast.

To acknowledge Fat Tuesday, we foolishly deign to reiterate. We are prompted to do so by that highly visible ascetic, Shane Claiborne, who writes for the chronically esteemed Jim Wallis's modestly named "God's Politics" blog.* With that combination of bait, we had to bite fast and hard: hook, line and sinker.

Here, then, are some of Claiborne's ill-conceived commonplaces about the Lenten fast, the gravity of which suggests that they were composed when his blood sugar was already dangerously low from having given up eating anything that casts a shadow, followed by SWNIDish rejoinders:

All the major world religions have an element of self-denial at their core. Jews have Yom Kippur. Muslims have Ramadan. Christians have Lent.

Fine and good, but let's talk about the Christian religion. Did Jesus die on the cross to attain higher spiritual awareness for himself? Oh, he died for the sake of others. Since "deny himself" is followed by "take up his cross and follow me," in Jesus' invitation to be like him in his death, is the end of Christianity's self-denial the attainment of something for oneself or the giving of oneself for others?

In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to fast -- so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have. In a world where virtual friends are replacing real ones, it is an invitation to turn off TV and computer screens so we can spend time with real people again. 

Did Jesus die so that I can slow down and appreciate a simple life? Let's concede that finding rest in Jesus is important to the experience of discipleship. Is the pinnacle of our observance of the heuristic church calendar a modestly contemplative retooling of our daily schedules or patterns of incidental consumption? Or is that at the optimistic most a modest baby-step toward something that reflects the true gospel?

It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.

Wow! If the thing is doing that, shouldn't I give it up entirely? And do things like foods or entertainments really suck the life out of me? What is life anyway? Jesus says that if you lose your life--again with the aim of serving--you find it. Seems like we might be removing the dominical sayings from their theological contexts, making ourselves into forty-days-a-year neo-Platonists, doesn't it?

[In Lent] there is an invitation  -- an excuse – to try something new. Some folks may choose to not only give up something, but to take on something new – to exercise, read, learn a new craft, or pray. So whether it is giving up an old bad habit or taking on a new holy habit… May we each use this Lenten season as an excuse to do something that empties us of ourselves so that our lives make better music.

There we have it. The aim of Lent is self-improvement. Get your holy on, which is all about you. Nothing about what to do with the money or time you save.

We say it again. The Christian faith is about the good news of the cross. Jesus gave himself for the sake of others, to bless those who don't deserve it. His followers, when they follow him, do the same. If a Lenten fast or any other attempt to practice Christianity doesn't deliberately aim at that, it surely misses the bull's eye, if not the entire target.

Or to borrow a phrase from last year, in the end our inherited proxies for genuine discipleship may be no better than pious distractions from the real thing.

*Yes, we know there's nothing modest about our blog's name, either. But there's much more sarcasm about it on this modest site.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Obama Believes, Obama Cares: Obama Doesn't Understand, Obama Owes

What's to be said in the big picture about BHO's utterly inept mandate that every employer who provides health insurance must provide 100% coverage of prescription contraceptives?

One, that BHO is a sincere Christian believer who doesn't really understand other people's faith perspectives. He is, in effect, a progressive Christian fundamentalist. There is no religious truth worth thinking about other than his. People who disagree need to accept what he has to say and understand that they have no choice.

Two, that BHO doesn't understand insurance or economics. That was well demonstrated by Cato's John Cochrane, who offered in WSJ about the best refutation of the left's reasoning on mandated free contraceptives, while at the same time offering a refresher on why the whole approach to health insurance in ObamaCare is so utterly, utterly bereft of economic common sense.

For more of the same, witness this week's Friday night White House news-dump: that BHO offers as a compromise that insurance companies must not "explicitly charge" Catholic organizations for the provision of contraceptives. The lunch is free, but the beer costs ten bucks. Wow. Would someone on the President's staff introduce him to the definition of the term "fungible"?

Three, the President, really, really cares about women's health. In exactly the way that the left-wing base of the Democratic Party prescribes that all Democrats care: the provision of contraception and abortion. Apparently for the political left all women do is have babies.

Of all the lame moves that this President has made--and not every move he's made has been lame--which ones were not the consequence of placating the left wing of his party? Clearly, Obama understands that he owes his success to the support of MoveOn.org and its ilk, so that whatever he does, he dare not offend them. Foreign policy has been a qualified exception, but we are hard pressed to identify others.

And we are sad to note that Obama's political strategy may well win him a second term. No GOP candidate stands much of a chance against him presently, we believe. Is it really too late to prevail upon Mitch Daniels?