Lent 2020: Soul Food – 40 lb Costumes

Lent 2020: Soul Food – 40 lb Costumes

This picture describes Lent better than 10,000 words…

…but let me offer a few for context. This past Saturday was a huge heavyweight boxing title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. I don’t know if any of you grew up with “fight nights” aka watch parties, but a big fight is tantamount to a cultural event. (Because I do something important on Sunday mornings these days, I watch almost all of the big fights in the same place I watched this past Saturday: in bed.) The man in that picture is Deontay Wilder. As the current champ, he was the overwhelming favorite to win, and you can clearly see that he understands the spectacle. This is his entrance costume.

Well…here’s another picture.

This is Deontay Wilder getting dropped. After the fight you know what he said? The costume weighed me down. It was 40lbs and my legs were done before I even got started. This man has incredible, generational talent, and was too weighed down to even use it.

This is one way to approach the next six weeks: to “lay aside every weight that so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12), and try to tap into that greatness – that divinity – that lies inside of you. What is in the way? What thinking, behaviors, and “stories” are operating inside of us? What scares, worries, or seduces us? If Jesus spends 40 days dealing with his potential weights, then let us do the same and spend time with our shatans/satans/obstacles.

But notice the phrase I’ve used here – “spend time” – which is a different invitation than the typical Lenten encounter. I’m not saying “get rid of” because for all the sacrifice, it’ll come right back after Easter…usually. Let’s instead use this season to really sit with those stories that for months I’ve been inviting you to explore. To really dig deep and ask, “What is weighing me down?” and then, because this isn’t a self-help seminar, to ask, “What of the abundance that I also have access to through God can I use to speak to this?”

Instead of, “How can we starve ourselves?”…How can we feed ourselves this Lent? This is about Soul Food.

Our worship committee has put together an incredible series to get your body and thoughts moving, stimulate your Christ consciousness and offer some tools to enhance your connection to God, so do come to worship, but even now you may have a sense of the practices and habits that may be able to feed you during this time. Maybe they have fed you before. Maybe it’s been on your mind to start doing this thing a little more often. What will connect you to God during this season of your life? For some it will be giving up and others it will be adding on, and as your pastor I will issue this challenge: let the goal be to feed your spirit every single day up through Easter. Let the goal be a steady diet of Soul Food.

I’ll be transparent and offer mine. I’m working on my prayer life, creating some time for stillness to orient myself, and I’m using a book a friend gave me, Prayer: Forty Days of Practice, to rebuild my prayer muscles. (I pray for you all the time!) This is a way of taking care of me. Here’s the prayer for tomorrow:

You see? It’s nothing profound, but every day I’m going to do it and try and hold onto it. I’m going to feed my spirit so I can be strong enough to speak to my obstacles. Because too many people have amazing gifts that never get put to use. As you hear me say so often: If I can be a blessing, I want to be.

What will you need to do to be ready? Only you know the answer to this, and I and your church are here to help.

Don’t hesitate to show up (Ash Wednesday is tomorrow can you believe it?!?), speak up, reach out, and invite others on the journey. The table has been prepared. Love.



Some time ago my uncle had a house in Gary, Indiana that needed major rehabbing. Though he tapped me — a lazy teenager — to help with these renovations, I still believe my uncle is a decent man. There is nothing on Earth lazier than I was at 13 years old: if it didn’t happen in a classroom or on the baseball field, for my taste it was totally superfluous (read: Why God are  you making me scrape tile from this floor?). In a million lifetimes I will never forget yelling at that forsaken device mislabeled a “tile scraper,” cursing its maker for being so inept.

The day I built enough courage to quit I went to my uncle in tears, hands outstretched towards him to return his infernal scraper. “This thing is no good,” I had calmed myself enough to say, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” My uncle got up from whatever important thing he was doing, walked to the bathroom, placed the scraper on the floor, and swiftly removed the remaining shards of tile. Seriously. He then turned to me, handed over the scraper and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this tool. Just have to use it the right way.”

That statement, my friends, is what you call a “homerun” (in case you were wondering). My uncle was spot-on:  there was nothing wrong with the tool but I was using it wrong. Results come when we use tools in the right way. The tool itself possesses no inherent goodness (or malevolence). It is like a gun that can start a race…or start a war.

One tool in particular has, since its inception, sparked more moral debate than perhaps any other invention in human history: THE INTERNET. One day I was arguing with a friend about whether The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was an actual album or a compilation of b-sides: the internet settled this life-changing debate for us. I can rate doctors and hotels, and find cheap airline tickets: awesome and awesome. But to highlight the ambiguity: I can participate in the denigration of women by watching hours of pornography, and I can copy-and-paste an entire paper for class. Studies have shown that intellectual plagiarism is at an all-time high, while the private life — once held sacred and inalienable — has all but disappeared. The Internet didn’t do a thing: WE DID THIS.

The Internet has never been a stronger or more reliable tool than perhaps over the past couple of weeks, when it was the center of a revolution story in Egypt. The people, tired of their leader, had written revolution songs and made appeals via…the Internet. The movement became so strong that the government SHUT DOWN the Internet, but the people got it back. Then they documented their mostly-passive protest via…the Internet. Most of us were kept current of Egypt’s happenings via…the Internet. Through the web Egyptians were able to create a network of supporters so strong that, seriously everyone knew that Mubarak was going to resign. The struggle of a city on the other side of the world became a local reality, and morphed into an international philosophical debate on democracy…through the Internet. The Internet was how we were able to keep in contact with members of University Church who are living in Egypt RIGHT NOW!

I am impressed but more importantly convinced that every tool has the potential to become a gift. This is why I look at humanity and cannot dare to judge a single life. Indeed, it is why we ought to take a serious look at developing our gifts. For our knowledge and experience is a tool…what if each of us used our tools to their fullest capacity?

Part of my work as a pastor is to help our community be attuned to our spiritual gifts and how we can make better use of them. For throughout history God has taken “tools” thought of for one purpose, then endowed them with the Holy Spirit to do totally new works through them! Take David the shepherd or Jesus the carpenter for instance:  I bet David was a pretty good shepherd, but he had more to offer. The farmer cultivates crops while they are yet underground in a belief that the seed has more to offer. In the same way I believe each of us has more to offer, and I’m hoping we will take the time to cultivate dreams and gifts for the life of our community. Now is the time to prepare (that is what we’ll be doing at the church-wide retreat, March 18-20), and while it is still cold we can ask:  “What more can I be used for?”  “How have I been misused over the years?”

There are some rusty tools that need re-sharpening, and some new tools we haven’t discovered yet! Exciting times we live in!

Your “tool” (in the good way),
 Pastor Julian