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Yikes, do I have to use that word? Even if it is Lent? (see my former blog about Ash Weds).
Let me start from the beginning: My faith community began Lent this year by worshiping at common cathedral. Stop here: check out www.ecclesia-ministries.org. Common Cathedral is a church made up entirely of the homeless. It is a robust community, seeped in the gospel. During that first Lenten service Father Brian spoke about repentance. Initially, I wanted to flee the moment he uttered the word. My knee jerk reaction questioned his choice; shouldn’t he be speaking love to this group of marginalized people? Thankfully, I continued to listen to his faithful and loving words.
Father Brian reminded everyone gathered about the Lenten practice of repentance, why it was foundational in our faith journeys as we sought ever to grow closer to God. All things I had heard before. But then, he talked about Jessie Jackson Jr. He mentioned things most who had watched TV or read the papers knew: a Rolex watch, Michael Jackson’s fedora, corruption. Jackson apparently said to the presiding judge that he hoped people would remember him for the good he had done, instead of his “misuse” of campaign funds. And then the judge spoke powerful words to the corrupt politician: if he wanted to make things right, then Jackson needed to return the money.*
Wham! Repentance: Give back the money. Make things right. Sorry isn’t enough. Change.
I looked around me at the many faces that surrounded me that morning. I knew everyone in that crowd, from homeless to pastor to those in my own community, needed to repent of something. But I wasn’t thinking about the sort of repentance too often associated with an inability to live an “ideal” Christian life (whatever that is). But a difficult, authentic repentance in which we recognize the brokenness to which we cling. The judge at Jackson’s trial was calling the politician beyond a cheap repentance of regret to the difficult repentance of change.
Against my knee jerk reactions, I have tried to practice some repentance this Lent. (Don’t look to me for any serious advice on this matter, I am still a novice). I have tried (being the operative word) to at least acknowledge my own brokenness. I have tried to move beyond sorry to acting differently first. I have tried to do the real work of spiritual change. I’m still clinging to my brokenness, but in some small way this Lent, I recognize more clearly how that brokenness gets in the way of my relationship with God and with others.
Repentance? I can get on board if we in the Christian tradition start talking about real change.
*I have looked tirelessly for the newspaper article that confirms this is what the judge said, but I cannot. This is only what I remember from Father Brian’s sermon. As many know, we hear what we need to hear in a sermon, not necessarily what is spoken. Father Brian allowed me to hear that morning that repentance is about change, not guilt or some old fashioned doctrine. Thank you Brian.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.