Question: If Lent is Spring Training for Christians, then what is Easter?
Answer: Opening Day
Baseball officially began at the beginning of the month, but for Christians, the new season begins this Sunday morning.
Lent, which I have described as Spring Training for Christians, is about preparation, about getting into spiritual shape. It is a time of turning inward, looking under the hood and doing a gut check. Where have I been? Do I like what I am doing? Do I like what I have become? Where do I want to go and how do I find the direction, the fortitude and the energy to move in that direction?
So if Lent is indeed a time of reflection and pause, then Easter is the opposite. It's time to turn outward. Easter is a time to insert oneself firmly into the world boldly, creatively, and joyfully. It is a chance to live with grace, joy, commitment and love. In the journey from Lent to Good Friday to Easter, we move from:
Brokenness to wholeness,
Despair to hope,
Doubt to faith,
Winter to spring, and from
Loneliness to community.
But what does this new season look like, and -- to paraphrase Peter Gomes -- how can the good news of the gospel not be bad news for everyone else? When I became a minister, I did not anticipate how often people would assume they knew my theology. When I challenge their assumptions, they are often incredulous, and some respond, "You can't believe that, you're a minister!" So how am I different than the stereotypes that many assume that I embody? What is it that I believe?
As a candidate for ordination in my church, I was required to write a Statement of Faith. I poured myself into the process. The day before it was due, I proudly handed it to my friend and colleague, Mark Orten. He read it, paused, handed it back and said, "This is beautiful, but what the heck is it?" When I told him, he shook his head, got out of his chair, pulled down the Book of Worship, turned to the Nicene Creed and said "Rewrite this, in your own words, and keep it to a page." So I did. I passed.
But reciting the Nicene Creed is not very effective when I am having a conversation about faith with someone in line at the airport or in a meeting with a team of AmeriCorps members or with a college classmate who is skeptical of anything Christian.
When I share with people the message of Christian hospitality it often flies in the face of the news and the narrative that people hear about Christians. Like,
- When a pastor gets reprimanded by his denomination for participating in an interfaith worship service in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Massacre.
- When the church defrocks one of its own clergy for officiating at the marriage of his son.
- When a minister gives a keynote address at a Christian student conference where he states that Muslims worship a false God.
- When churches split because of the conflict surrounding gay and lesbian ordination.
- When Christian leaders predict the end of the world and it does not come.
From this narrative, the story of Christian leadership gets formed. Christianity gets defined as being insular, anti-family, mean-spirited, judgmental, and foolish by these very public acts. Many people, especially young people, will not tolerate those who are not accepting.
After years of looking to walk the talk, I realized during this pre-season of Lent that I needed to put words behind the feet. So this Easter morning, when the church leader gets up and asks the congregation: "What do you believe?" I will say:
I believe as Christians:
We are called to be grateful, loving, forgiving, reconciling, joyful and kind.
We are instructed not to be judgmental, exclusive, mean-spirited, arrogant or violent.
We live to strengthen our faith through prayer, hospitality, community, worship, scripture and advocacy.
We engage in the world by:
- Being respectful and engaging different faith traditions
- Seeking to be good stewards of the earth
- Standing against all forms of violence and standing up for the abused
- Including and celebrating diversity and difference
- Ending poverty locally as well as throughout the world
- Treating all humans with dignity and respect
These are not exclusive claims of the Christian church, but they are the root requirements of what it means to live into the Christian call to love and serve, both in our personal and public life.
When people find out that I am Christian, they often want to know if I am a conservative or a liberal. They want to know if I am left wing or right wing or if I am a fundamentalist or a Universalist, but I don't fit in any of these boxes.
Recently, I responded by telling someone that I was a Radical Christian. The word radical comes from the Latin "radix" which means root. The word is defined as "relating to the origin," or something that is "very different from the usual." By claiming a radical Christianity, we are going back to the basics, to the root, to a story of a man who was "very different from the usual." Like Jesus, the Radical Christian is loving, non-judgmental, socially active, kind-hearted, and welcomes anyone and is hospitable to everyone.
On Sunday, I will attend the Easter Vigil with Lighting New Fire with Rev. Peter French. It is the most important, renewing and hopeful two hours of my year. We gather at 4:30 in the morning on the steps of the Princeton University Chapel where a bowl of fire is placed. There, we light our candles. Eventually we walk down the long stone aisle in silence and darkness, save for the candles we hold. As the service continues, the darkness is confronted and eventually overcome by the morning light. And from that, "the horizon leans forward offering space to place new steps of change." And I can hear a voice in my heart shout, "Play Ball."