Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ash Wednesday Identity

For the western church, this past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. It is the day that marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. It begins 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays). Lent is a time set aside to focus on the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. It is characterized by repentance and may include such practices as fasting and other spiritual disciplines.

Many churches commemorate Ash Wednesday with a service focused on repentance. The service itself is usually quiet and solemn, in keeping with the theme of repentance. It frequently culminates with people going forward and the pastor or worship leader making the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead with ashes. As the leader does this, she might say something like “repent and believe the gospel.” Or sometimes he will say “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Repentance is nothing other than turning from one direction and heading in the opposite direction. It is dying to self and rising with Christ. A change of direction that includes a change of allegiance.

The service I attended was in the morning so I walked around the whole day with this peculiar looking black mark on my head. Several times I had a polite person let me know that I had smudged myself and might want to take care of it.

But of course I did not want to remove the mark. Throughout my day, each time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I was reminded of who I am.

Better yet, I was reminded of who I was and who I am in Christ.

And I was reminded that this acknowledgement of my identity is a process.

I have been adopted by God in Christ. As with any adopted child, I must let go of my old identity and begin to live into my new identity. Or, to put it slightly differently, I must put to death my old self, the self that is attached to sinful practices, and I must put on my new self, the resurrection-life self given to me by Christ. This life is a gift of sheer grace, but a gift that is also a task. As the great German theologian Karl Barth wrote, “When one is called to discipleship, one abandons oneself resolutely and totally.”

That sounds so easy in some ways. Until I start looking at all the habits and practices that I need to let go of. Until I begin to see the loyalties and loves that compete with what should be my ultimate love: God.

This dying is not for the faint-hearted.

But dying and rising is the rhythm of the Christian life. Dying and rising is what Christian identity is all about. Ash Wednesday is nothing other than a focused time of what we should be practicing all the time: dying to self and rising to new life in Christ.

This is our true identity. This is who we are in Christ.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Super Bowl Ads

While I generally enjoy at least some of the Super Bowl ads every year – the eTrade ads come to mind – this year there was one ad that I not only did not enjoy, it infuriated me. That would be the Teleflora Valentine’s Day ad.

Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima was the sultry star of this ad. And while many people thought it was either drool-worthy or funny, I could not believe the message given to the thousands of viewers last Sunday evening.

Lima is pictured getting ready for a date. She slowly pulls on her stockings, applies lipstick, glancing provocatively at the camera on and off throughout this routine.

That is, in my opinion, bad enough. But I admit that I have become so used to those sorts of images on screen and in print that it barely registered with me. The rub was in the punch line.

At the end of the advertisement, Lima is shown with a vase of flowers. She looks at the camera and says, “Guys, Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give and you shall receive.”

I thought I had seen it all. Apparently not.

I was furious! In one of the most watched events on television, women had just been told that indeed, good treatment by a man – gifts, a nice date, etc. – demands payback. And payback equates to some sort of sexual favor!

It was insulting to our intelligence. Apparently women are the sorts of creatures that can easily be teased into sexual acts of one form or another by something as small as a bouquet of flowers. Sounds like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of porridge.

But worse yet, it was insulting to our humanity both as males and females. Are men really so tied to their genitals that they would stoop to giving gifts merely to get sexual pleasure in return? This isn’t about oneness or fellowship with another human being but merely purchasing pleasure with dinner and roses? Is that a fair portrayal of men? They don’t really care about enjoying an evening with a woman unless there is some physical reward at the end of the night?

The female side of this all should be obvious. Are we merely objects that can be purchased with a night out and a bouquet? Are we, in fact, for sale? And if we receive something beautiful from a man, does that mean we owe something to him?

Relationally, is this the sort of ‘give and take’ that we are talking about when we think about equal partnership? Are male/female relationships to be characterized by mutual self-giving or by the exchange of products, like everything else in the marketplace?