As we begin the season of Lent I am reminded of the insidious lure and gentle comfort of the token gesture. There is a pretty good chance that you will be asked, or have already been asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” We all know what the most stereotypical answer is: chocolate, of course. But what is the good in that? What good will come of your giving up chocolate for six weeks?
The danger here is that of the token gesture. A token gesture is usually a good deed or kind act of some kind that makes you feel better, and may even make a difference to someone else in the short term, but in the long term really just allows you to avoid real change. In his book Insurrection, Peter Rollins writes:
To give to someone in need can make us feel good. We can even gain much more than we give in these situations. But what if our real job is not to give to those who are poor but to help create a world where the poor do not exist?
The Church is particularly susceptible to the token gesture. If you say, “I believe in God. I am a Christian,” and your life is not changed by that, your very declaration of faith becomes a token gesture. You can feel better about yourself by saying you believe. You can be reassured that you are going to heaven, or that you have God’s protection if you claim to have faith in Jesus. Too often this is just a story we tell about ourselves and has no effect on how we live or how we relate to others.
Even our Prayer Vigil to End Gun Violence runs the risk of becoming a token gesture. If the people who participate in the vigil feel better because they have prayed for the victims but no action for peace takes place beyond the service, what have we accomplished?
The Prayer Vigil is meant to be a disruptive force in our lives. Participating in the vigil should make us both more aware of the cost of gun violence and more impassioned to do something about it. The success of the vigil is not in how we feel after the prayers and the music are done but in how we act in the world to bring about change.
The Lenten Challenge
You can still take the Lenten Challenge that I have been writing about these past few weeks. Go to the PrayWorshipServe.org web site and press the button titled, “Accept the Challenge.” You will be invited to give your email address and name. Then, each day during Lent you will receive an encouraging email supporting you in keeping the Lenten Challenge. Please be sure to let me know you are taking the challenge so that we can support each other.
Yours in Christ,