As a Catholic kid growing up Lent mostly sucked. It pretty much took the usual layers of fear and guilt and heightened it even more with obligation. Year after year during my childhood my vows to “give something up for Lent” failed faster than my pickup lines during my teen years. Eventually I pretty much gave up giving something up and Lent hasn’t bothered me much since.
Thankfully dynamic communities of faith are recalibrating the ancient spiritual traditions that have fallen out of favor because of obligation, fear and drudgery, all things I am convinced suck to God as much as they suck to us. The purpose of these spiritual calendar events get lost in the translation. Now some, like First Mennonite Church of San Francisco are bringing them back.
But don’t let me tell you, let Pastors Sheri and Joanna invite you:
Lent is a season during which followers of Jesus are traditionally invited to repentance and renunciation of sin — which means, literally, “to miss the mark.” But of what sin are we to repent? Christianity, as we know it today, almost entirely emphasizes personal sin — greed, sloth, lust, lying — with little notion of “structural sin” or “systemic evil.” Yet most of the sin in which we engage is structural or systemic in nature, encoded in unjust power arrangements that form our economic, political and cultural systems.
However, this structural injustice is relatively invisible to many of us. The first task of repentance is to literally see structural sins such as racism and classism. To see the children who do not eat because their farmlands grow our exported strawberries; to see the worker whose low wage keeps the cost of our goods cheap, forcing them to choose between paying for medicine or food; to see the criminalization and mass incarceration of African-American men and the detention of immigrant men, women and children.
Fortunately, the Bible sees structurally and gives us a rich understanding of structural sin. From the Hebrew prophets to Jesus, Scriptures cry out against the “domination system” of that day and proclaim an alternative kingdom based on “upside-down” power arrangements and nonviolent love for all of us enmeshed in these structures.
During Lent, we hope to hone our moral vision, to begin to see structural injustice and to develop a common language and understanding together. Each Sunday will feature a sermon plus two “mini-stories” of how people in our community have experienced structural injustice. Each Sunday will also feature special music and singing that will stir our souls and embolden us to resist injustice.
Adult Education during Lent will delve further into the content of each worship service using case studies, discussion, a “people’s history” tour and other learning tools. In addition, Joanna and Sheri will be sending out a weekly Monday email that will provide additional educational resources to engage the past Sunday’stopic.