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A Collective Lent

I’ve always loved the honesty of Lent. When else but on Ash Wednesday can you remind everyone, no matter how young or old you are, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Period.

My son, Gabe, on his first Ash Wednesday on February 26, 2020

This year, as I was considering what things I might give up and practices I might take on, it dawned on me how individualistically I have often approached Lent. One of my most important tasks in leading the Synod Partnership for Disaster Recovery is helping individuals to connect with something that often feels enormous and too overwhelming for one single person to feel like they have a place in the world of disaster ministry.

The devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has already claimed over 51,000 lives and impacted hundreds of thousands of people. The need is enormous. The road to repair and recovery seems too overwhelming.

Let’s not forget how the intensity and frequency of disasters like tornadoes, ice storms, and hurricanes occurring across our country are being fueled by our changing climate and the degradation of our planet. The transformation our world needs is enormous. The healing of our planet seems too overwhelming. If I allow myself, I can be paralyzed by these feelings of despair.

In Isaiah 58, the Israelites are wondering where God’s justice is. They ask themselves why their fasting seems to have zero impact on the state of the world around them. God reminds them that justice and righteousness does not come when they simply stop oppressing others, but rather when they live in a way that accepts the truth of how their lives are intertwined with the lives of the poor and the oppressed. Our collective generosity and compassion is what will liberate all of us.

If you have been on the edge of giving up or taking on anything for Lent, then I hope this offering speaks to you. Below are six weekly suggestions for small steps towards transforming individualistic living closer to our communal healing. If you come up with your own ways of embodying our collective and connected lives this Lent, please share them with us below!

Six Ways to Give Up Individualistic Living & to Take Up Building Community

Week 1: Give up eating alone.

Make a meal from scratch, resourcing ingredients from local sources and share (or even cook) this meal with friends, people who might be homebound, experiencing homelessness, or going through a difficult time. Go one step further by investigating where the food deserts are in your communities. If there is a community fridge in this neighborhood, ask some friends to join you in stocking the fridge with those locally sourced products and produce.

Week 2: Give up screen time.

Step away from the computer, phone, or TV and go into nature. Organize a group hike, prayer walk, or picnic. Bathe in the trees, feel the grass between your toes, breathe in fresh air, and listen deeply to the sounds of Creation. Go one step further by learning what parts of your community have the least amount of green space and trees and what plans there are (or are not) to bring back tree canopies into those spaces.

Week 3: Give up purchasing.

Other than food, what can you cease from purchasing this week? Ask your neighbors or friends to borrow or make an exchange for whatever it is that you happen to need this week. Trade some extra toilet paper rolls for a tube of toothpaste if you happen to run out. Join or start a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood. Go one step further by pinpointing where your municipal waste is disposed, and which neighborhood resides closest to that site. What is the history between the waste site and that neighborhood?

Week 4: Give up being overcommitted.

Slow down. Take an honest inventory of how your time is parceled out. What is on your plate because of social pressures, the desire to perform or gain approval, and the difficulty of holding boundaries? Write down your top 5 values and consider how your weekly activities line up to your values. What can you let go of and where can you go more deeply? Go further: If there is an area of passion or social justice you want to explore, join a group (the good kind of social pressure!). If not, that’s okay. Take this week to be more present with the good people and good things already in your life and give thanks.

Week 5: Give up outdated facts and narratives.

Sometimes we learned something in the 5th grade and hold onto that for dear life. I’m still not sure if Pluto is a planet or not. As the voices of people and communities that have been silenced start to gain some attention in our world, listen and learn from their stories. What indigenous wisdom that was once written off as “primitive” might be the balm we need today? Exposing ourselves to a fuller narrative about your community or the institutions you are invested in, even if it means learning about the suffering inflicted upon others and Creation, just seems appropriately Lenten-y to me.

Week 6: Give up hopelessness and inertia.

Yes, you can be the change you wish to see in the world! Talk to your church about creating an Earth Day worship service and explore what it might look like to form an Earth Care team in your congregation. Join and support your local advocacy groups working to protect your water sources, wetlands, indigenous species, and people.

Lent is a time when we look most honestly at how we are living our lives. What is working for us? What is not?

Our beloved Creator, and all their infinite wisdom, knit us together as one vulnerable ecosystem – where, yes, our collective power can destroy us (and it certainly feels like we have this part down), and we belong to an ecosystem where our collective strength has the beautiful power to bring forth new life and new communities, nurturing paths towards our collective healing to which we will joyously bear witness with the dawn of Easter morning.

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