A Lenten Challenge

For much of my teen and adult life the church calendar was not much of a factor. And because of that, Lent was not much of a factor. Over the past few years I’ve tried to focus on rhythms of life and so I’m giving an ever-increasing place to the church calendar. As far as […]

by bob

Feb 8, 2016

For much of my teen and adult life the church calendar was not much of a factor. And because of that, Lent was not much of a factor. Over the past few years I’ve tried to focus on rhythms of life and so I’m giving an ever-increasing place to the church calendar. As far as Lent, while I sometimes do the traditional “giving something up” for Lent, I’m more likely to try a spiritual practice for those 40 days.

This morning while I was in the gym, I was listening to a couple of podcasts by Brian Zahnd. The first was on Silence, and the second Jubilee for Everybody.

Silence is something I’ve been re-committing to lately. Being who I am, I regularly have silence in my life, but recently I’ve tried to be a more intentional integrating it into my day. Between my working through that, and Zahnd’s message on silence I got an idea. Kind of a Lenten challenge.

But first a confession. 

I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh back in the 1990’s. A lot. I mean if he was on the air I was listening. I first heard about him from the pastor of the church I was on staff at in Albany, NY and it was at a time where I was spending too much time in a car, so I had a lot of time to listen. I moved to Ithaca, found the radio station with Rush on it and kept listening.

Even before discovering Limbaugh I was politically very conservative.

But, when I arrived in Albany and began to interact with some of the students there, I began having many of my views challenged and changed. Many of the students were from NYC, and had quite different backgrounds that I did. I learned so much from talking with them.

However, my faith and my political views were still very much intertwined.

In 1998 we were preparing to shift from the campus ministry we had begun at Cornell, to planting a church in Ithaca. [Yesterday was actually the 17 year anniversary of the day we started it…in a blizzard]. During our previous 4 plus years in Ithaca, one thing that had become clear was that there were not a lot of political conservatives around. In fact, in Ithaca there was not Republican party. 

Anyways…as we (me, Liz and our friend James Cherian) we getting ready to plant a church, we knew that we wanted Jesus to be the main focus (you’d hope, right?). And to do that, we knew we needed to get rid of anything that distracted, or kept people away from Jesus. What quickly became clear to me was that included my politics. If I didn’t address that, I had something in my life that would make a large majority of the people in my city refuse to listen to anything we had to say.

So I quit cold turkey. No more talk radio. No more watching talking heads on the tv.

What was amazing for me was how much I began to change through that process. Instead of playing the part of the choir, to various people who happened to be preaching what I already believed, I had a lot more conversations with people. I listened to others, and tried to understand their point of view.

A few years later I tried listening for a few minutes just to see if anything had changed, and discovered I simply didn’t have any tolerance for it anymore.

What’s my point?

What you fill your brain with shapes you.

DSC0274915November 11, 2015

this is much more enjoyable then hearing another story about the Donald or Hillary’s emails.

I don’t care which side of the political spectrum we happen to be talking about, the loudest voices are usually the angriest, and most disparaging of those who would dare disagree with them. Allow that into your head for hours ever day…and it is shaping you. (is it difficult to love your neighbours if you hear over and over how they are “what’s wrong with America”?)

If you watch your side’s political news channel for a few hours every day…and read scripture occasionally, which one is shaping you? If you have political pundits yelling in your ears throughout the day…and silence only when the electricity goes out, what is shaping you? If you spend hours scrolling political Facebook feeds, and can’t remember the last time you read a good book…you are being shaped.

So here’s my Lenten challenge.

During the 40 days of Lent take a break from the political tv and radio. Maybe even unfollow the Facebook feeds of those who post political stuff…whether it is the crazy fringe political stuff or not. Just take a break. Read a book. Read your bible and pray daily. When your favourite can’t miss political program is on…go for a walk with your kid or your spouse…or a friend. Or download some worship music on your iPhone.

Okay, maybe you’re thinking, I couldn’t go without that for 40 days…how about this…during Lent, commit to ready scripture for at least as much time as you watch political news. And afterwards, you can even treat yourself with a piece of chocolate or a bowl of ice cream.

Trust me, after Easter it’ll all still be there, and you’ll be able to jump right back into it…

Or perhaps you might not even want to.

What about Bob?


I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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1 Comment

  1. Rebecca Rowley

    Ha! I’m so spiritual, I already read my Bible infinitely more than I listen to political talk radio or news media…hahaha.


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