reLentless Commuting – Day 8

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Day 8: Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour.
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4: 1-11)

One week in and what have I learned? That my friends will persistently tempt me away from observing Lent.

Evangelical types will no doubt tell me that they are awful, God-hating friends that I should cast out from my life. But these are the same people who would suggest I not read Harry Potter or listen to Nirvana or “be ye of the world” (because that’s the kind of language they use). Me, I say: “Away from me, ye evangelicals for ye know not to whom you speak.”

I don’t know why my friends and colleagues are doing it: the tempting.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve chosen to give up alcohol. I won’t flatter myself to imagine they want me to be drinking; I’m a mouthy drunk. It may be because my choosing to abstain from something indulgent challenges them to consider their own habits. I know that’s how I feel when a friend is on a diet, or regularly exercises, or is able to get up early every morning. I am instinctively challenged to consider why they can do it and I cannot.

And so I ask them why they do so and then why they don’t give themselves a break once in a while… I tempt them away in order to assuage my own sense of inadequacy.

I have chosen to give up alcohol because I drink too much. It makes me sluggish, it makes me belligerent, it makes me emotional and it eats into my disposable income. I have chosen to give up alcohol because it is not easy and one of the reasons it isn’t easy is that people will naturally tempt you away – not maliciously, often subconsciously (“I’m going to the bar, do you want a drink?”) – which is surely part of what Lent is about, if this passage from Matthew is anything to go by.

In the bible Jesus goes out into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. At the end of which time he is, somewhat unsurprisingly, hungry. It is then that the gospel writer brings in the character of the devil to tempt him. Meanwhile us feeble humans are asking: surely he had enough temptation the 40 days and nights before? Surely he spent a large number of those days and a longer number of nights thinking, “Why am I in this desert anyway? It’s not as if anyone is here to see me. Gosh, I’m hungry.”

If he had his disciples around they would have been saying, “Come on Jesus, why not have a piece of bread?” Especially if Mark was telling the story.

I don’t think this story of temptation is meant to be used by us in any particular way except to demonstrate that Jesus was the Son of God (an example of early Christology). I think we’re meant to read that second sentence – After fasting forty days and forty nights – and take up the challenge ourselves because it isn’t easy and it will set us apart.

Why have you given up, or taken up, what you have chosen to this Lent? Is it easy? Are you being tempted away? Do you feel that you are setting yourself apart?

Once you starting asking questions of tradition they themselves become reLentless…

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reLentless Commuting – Day 6

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Day 6: what is it about Mondays?

Mondays aren’t always miserable. Sometimes they’re bouncy and optomistic, full of hope and vitality. And sometimes they’re like, well, today. So what is it about Mondays? Why did I bother getting up this morning, drag myself out of bed, wait in the cold rain at the bus stop then sit myself at my desk, when every core of my being told me to stay at home and watch chick flicks?

In chick flicks – and most other American films – following the core of your being is a wonderful thing. It leads to emotive background music and meeting the man of your dreams. Being true to yourself and living through your instincts is, according to popular culture, the way to true happiness.

In reality it is more important to take the sensible decisions if you want a safe, and hopefully successful, life: it is joining an online dating site to improve the odds on finding an ideal partner, it is applying for every job going rather than the one that jumps out from the web page, it is listening to your instincts through double glazing with your eyes tight shut.

In Christianity, and other faiths, it is somewhere between the two. Instinct and feelings are as integral to being a faithful Christian as following doctrine and being a model citizen.

One of my favourite writers is Reinhold Neibuhr, who wrote – among many things – the prayer now known as the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things that I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I think perhaps this is the prayer that I should take to my heart on a Monday morning. My instinct to stay in bed was purely selfish, even the most saccharine of Miramax producers would find it hard to justify lying abed on a Monday for the greater good.

My instinct to get up and out and take on the cares of the world, despite their weight, is one that requires the Grace of God.

reLentless Commuting – Day 5

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Day 5: Will it ever end?

Not Lent, that will end (35 days and counting). I mean commuting, which has become relentless in our modern society.

Yesterday I was invited to my friend’s house to help her experiment with some new recipes. She lives in the same city that I do, but the journey took over an hour; over 2 hours’ round trip. The last time I visited her, it took me 2 and a half hours just to get home.

Going to see my family takes less time than getting across London from a night out. And yet, we continue to live this way because it is the destination and not the journey that counts.

Commuting is such an integral part of modern living that we think nothing of hours, cumulative days, even weeks spent in a cocoon of our own making, which celebrates little more than the power of outdoor advertising campaigns and exposes the loss of community living.

I am currently without a church, which worries my parents. For a while I was at my local church, but found myself the only one in my age group, living situation and with a liberal theology at odds with other congregants. And so I must shop around – a phrase I abhor, but feels most accurate in light of the investment most churches ultimately expect hope for from their members.

This is a chance to find out how reLentless commuting really is:

  • How far will I go to find a church?
  • How far do other people?
  • And is it a good thing that we choose to commute rather than find or establish community closer to home?

reLentless Commuting – Day 2

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Day 2: What if I missed Day 1?

“There was a man who had two sons.
He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
(Matthew 21: 28-32)

This passage is more often than not used to point the finger, to bring reproof to people who have not “seen the light”. But I prefer to look on the bright side, at the story of the first brother, who did work in his father’s vineyard, despite saying that he wouldn’t.

One of the wonderful things about commuting in an urban environment is that even if you miss the first one, there will always be another bus. You may be late for work, you might let the frustration of having missed the bus cloud your judgement and your mood, you may end up standing among a throng of noisy school kids, but you are on that bus and making your way to your destination.

So it’s no longer Ash Wednesday, so it’s 39 days left of Lent and counting… so what? The point of Lent is to take stock of your situation and reflect on where you’re going, with the grace of God.

I think that it is more important to enjoy the season of Lent for its peace and its opportunity for contemplation.

So you’ve missed yesterday’s bus? Get on the next one and don’t let your frustration obscure the journey.

reLentless Commuting – Day 1

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Welcome to Lent. All change here, please. All change.

Day 1. What – in your commute – will you sacrifice or take up?

It`s Lent, which is a time for reflection, for fasting and for preparation ready for the feasting and celebration of Easter. Ash Wednesday seems to have become the traditional day for deciding what you`re going to give up for the next 40 days… chocolate, swearing, alcohol, buying things, facebook among the more popular. Alternatively there`s a chance to try some new habits… regular excercise, healthy eating, carbon-consciousness, daily prayer.

I`m going to use today to think what this reLentless Commuting idea might become. Perhaps it will show over the course of the next few weeks that the world of commuting is so very soul-less that observation of Lent is impossible. Or I might find that there can be a greater purpose in the pursuit of B from A, and back again.

Rather than switch off as I sit on the bus, I will switch on. Day 1.