Lent has officially begun for those who celebrate it. For non-Christians, look at it as a very long red carpet that takes 40 days to walk down and eventually leads to and ends at the death and alleged Reserection of the Jewish rebel Jesus of Nazareth, what in the commercial world is known as Easter.
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, events most people have heard of, are all related to this holiday of the Christian faith tradition.
[For historical clarification, “Easter” is a much older pagan holiday that predates Christianity by hundreds of years that was annexed by the Romans. For hundreds of years prior to Jesus it celebrated the spring equinox and the rebirth of the goddess from winter’s crone to spring’s beautiful young goddess of the harvest. Persians still celebrate the original intention of the holiday in Norooz. (The Romans also pulled the same switcharoo when they turned the centuries old holiday of Yule, which celebrated the winter equinox and the goddess Mithras, into “Christmas”, not having any idea of the actual birth day of Jesus, a fact we are still in the dark about. But don’t shoot the messenger. These are just important points of fact for context.)]
Over the past week we have once again started to personally participate in different small groups and forums with spiritually like minded folk to more deeply explore Lent and the Lenten practice.
[Note: Despite my more extreme cynical skeptical and agnostic views of the christian faith tradition from knowing far too well the questionable origins of it, I still find the opportunity to gain deeply needed spiritual fulfillment and social engagement from the practice helpful. And helpful is always good. So rather than let the gross imperial nature of Christianity as a whole (and lest we forget, Christianity, especially as it relates to the wicked and nefarious Holy Roman Empire, Vatican and Catholic Church, has been one of the most destructive and harmful institutions in human history, full stop) darken my heart and bar me from something that might do me some good, I embrace the more noble paths it has to offer, just as I do with Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Krishnaism, and even Islam. All heinously brutal and deadly power structures, but each offering their own moments of sublimely poetic spiritual nuggets.
If you got through that last paragraph head intact, gold star for you!
This last week the discussion subject has been about “what does it mean to take up the cross” as Jesus advised? We’ve heard a variety of answers from people.
One point of note we encountered was interesting: there’s a real distinction between the common phrases “to take up the cross” and “your cross to bear”, even though many people use the phrases interchangeably. “To take up the cross” implies more of a mission. Something you proactively do. “Your cross to bear” has a more passive implication, implying a burden you must carry whether you want to or not. Very different indeed.
The one thing I heard from others more than anything that stuck my attention was how people in today’s modern world have shifted in their own minds the meaning of Jesus’s admonition to “take up the cross” into a more new age call to “get more active and ambitious in achieving their own goals.” As if he was some metaphysical self-help guru or success coach helping people become wealthier or more successful.
That’s a rather peculiar take on a message that came from a man who encouraged his followers to abandon their jobs, money, homes and worldly possessions to more wholeheartedly go out and serve people. I copied and pasted some comments I made this week to various friends in some group chats below…
I believe it’s obvious what taking up the cross means in this context of following Jesus and what he advised. “Loving God with all your heart and serving your neighbor as yourself”. I.E. helping others. Serving those in need. Helping your community.
It’s not really about the self at all, and certainly not about ones personal ambitions. Volunteer. Serve others. Help wherever there is a need. Forget the self and reach out to and for other peoples. Give everything you have and more.
Jesus wasn’t talking about our personal goals or primaries. That’s just the new age materialistic view modern people turn it into because they’re so afraid of giving up their materialistic way of life so they can’t even consider what it really means. We’ve turned Jesus into a new age motivational speaker ala Joel Osteen because that better suits our mentality and desires in this day and age. But it couldn’t be more removed from his actual teachings.
What did Jesus ask Simon / peter to do? Get primary about catching more fish?!?! Hell no. He said quit fishing altogether and come follow me and help me HELP PEOPLE.
What about Saul/PAUL? Did he ask Saul to get more ambitious about working for the Romans and Jews to go kill even more Christians? Heck no. He blinded him for three days to get his attention and told him to join him in helping people get closer to God, become better people, and spread the good word of love and forgiveness and charity and giving.
Did he ask Matthew to get more primary about collecting even more taxes and make even more money for himself to rise up higher in his career? No. He said quit collecting taxes, forget your career and come follow me and let’s help some people.
Personal success and collecting money ONLY helps in so far as it permits us more time to be of service to others and make the world a better place. Collecting houses and material possessions is the exact opposite of taking up the cross. It’s a burden that distracts us from taking up the cross and helping make a positive difference in the world around us.
Think of the TV show Billions. These are the exact people Jesus would be going after if he were alive today.
Someone replied to me: “well Jesus taking the up the cross was HIS mission. My taking up the cross may be different. He didn’t say “go feed people.”” But of course, yes he did. That’s exactly what he said. And he certainly didn’t say “hey go create your own mission and if that’s becoming super successful and rich so you can live in a giant house ten times bigger than your own needs, so be it, that’s your cross.”
The cross just represents his moving forward with his ministry despite the fact that he knew he was going to be killed (on the cross). And he encouraged and sometimes pleaded for others to join him. So we have to ask “what was his ministry?”
His ministry was helping people.
He could have quit. Started playing by the rules. To avoid getting killed. But he didn’t. He went forward toward the cross. Kept on with his ministry.
Of course it wasn’t just about feeding people… it was also…
- speaking truth to power against lies, money grubbing, being greedy and materialistic instead of sharing ones money with others who are needy.
- encouraging people to be honest, have integrity, be more virtuous, less villainous.
- encouraging people to not be greedy with their time but using it to volunteer and help others…. and help the community around them.
- helping people not be so self focused on personal success and fame and approval but to humble themselves to get closer to god and serve those who are more needy.
That was his whole trip.
It’s hard for us now because we live in a deliberately materialistically society based on consumer capitalism to keep everyone buying so the society runs smoothly. So we’re blinded by that. So that other way of living is hard for us to contemplate let alone even consider imagining for ourselves. I get it. I’m the worst.
But I do remain hopeful that every step I take in the direction of helping others and selfless service brings me closer to at least knowing that cross is there to take up. I even look at the little things… marching for Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQ rights, donations to Feeding America, taking those few extra minutes each day to sing happy birthday to people, or calling older folks who are in lockdown and might be lonely, remembering to text friends to tell them they’re awesome and I appreciate them.
The thing is that we live in a very public and very selfish and competitive world now. Its always been this way. But it’s gotten much much worse. Getting a lot of money and fame has become the predominate way to stand out and feel good about yourself or others. Gone are the days when good deeds make someone cool or famous or popular.
I’m Gen X, and if there’s one primary aspect of Gen X it’s that we shunned attention. Being UNcool and UNpopular were our calling cards. We tried hard to NOT try hard. We absolutely disdained the money grubbing extreme bougiouse ambitious trying and showing off of the boomers. Hence the nickname Slackers.
It’s not that we didn’t care. We cared. A lot. We just didn’t care about those kinds of things. We did hallucinogens to explore consciousness. Our focus was the intellect the spirit the community the climate justice and quality rights for all. The world. Our souls.
When we think of the anti-heroes of generation x we think of Matt Dillon in The Outsiders or Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club or Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Three of my personal favs. Deliberarely shunning the materialistic societal norms of working hard to buy more stuff and climb the corporate ladder to look better in the eyes of others.
Get that new car. Lease it if you can’t afford it. Buy that new house. Brag about your new job so you can tell your friends about it over dinner at that new place in town. Made me sick back then as a kid. Still makes me sick.
There’s also Ferris Beuller… skip school which is what society says you’re supposed to be doing and instead go take advantage of being alive and enjoy it. The boomers were materialistic posers. Authenticity and sucking the nectar out of each minute was our thing.
NOW it’s all changed of course. The new gens are not just focused but obsessed with proving to other people they exist and they’re relevant by showing it off publicly and from getting the approval of others. They don’t go look at mountains. They Instagram mountains. If they happen to see a mountain while they’re at it, so be it. But that’s not the goal. It’s a sad state of affairs. And we’re all to blame for letting things get this bad for them.
The end result being that they’re so obsessed with keeping up appearances to prove their self worth through the eyes of others that service to others has all but left their cultural consciousness. If they march for some cause it’s to get a good shot for Snapchat or Insta, more like attending a rave.
Social media celebrities and influencers have become their heroes. You ask “so what’s their cause? What’s their big mission?” And they respond “what? Being famous silly!” It’s fucked up.
I’ll share a little anecdote with you here because it’s appropriate for where we’re at in this post. Our oldest daughter was in lockdown with us for almost a year. And one day my music career came up.
Fast forwarding twenty minutes into the conversation she asks me “hold on now! You and your band deliberately tried to NOT have hit songs?!?! What the f*^k?!?” “Yeah dude. If I heard us skating too close to something that sounded commercial I knew we were on the wrong track and I’d change it up to make it more experimental or artistic. Our goal wasn’t to have hits. It was to be cool, smart, artistic. More like Picasso or Einstein or David Lynch.” “But You’re IN the music business! Having hits is your goal!” “Nah dude. Being known as brilliant artists is our goal little dude. Ask mom.”
Princess Little Tree chimed in: “Honey I couldn’t believe it either. When I first met Ed and he told me about Rise and Shine and how he was singing in ten different languages and the songs were all five to ten minutes long… I asked him “how is thst ever going to be played on the radio?” And he replied “well hopefully it never will be.” I couldn’t believe it! I thought he was joking! But he wasn’t. His goals were totally different than what we normally think for musicians. He thought he was Michaelangelo! I had to BEG him to make ONE album just for me that was commercial. Just as a favor to me. Which he did thank God. Ballad On Third Avenue. But i had to produce it for them!!!! So we could eat and have a roof over our heads! Silly boy!”
So yeah that’s a bit off topic. But it exemplifies the differences in generations. Gen X takes pride in shunning the cultural norms of fitting in, sucking the corporate teet to show off for the approval of others. Celebrity means nothing if you didn’t get there authentically and organically and on your own terms.
And to us there has to be a big dose of being of service. Helping others. To serving the world. We take up the cross by not giving in to societal pressures that tell you that you have to show off or fit in or be somebody in the eyes of others regardless of what you’re actually doing to help people or not.
We are committed and determined to work tirelessly till everyone enjoys equal rights, till homelessness and hunger are eradicated, till everyone is accepted and embraced for who they are, till political lobbying is outlawed, till politicians start actually working for us as they’re supposed to, till the imperialistic power structures that have dominated human society are brought to their knees. So corporations don’t pay 40% fewer taxes than hard working struggling people, and on and on and on. We’ve accomplished a lot. But we’re just getting started. Join us.