Giving Up “Giving Up”

Science: How Does it Work?

Butter, coconut oil, cakes, biscuits, sausage, bacon, cheese, ice cream, pie – are all delicious delicious foods. And they have one thing in common: Saturated fats. Saturated fats, often fats that come from animal fat, are heavily saturated with hydrogen because of double bonds or something like that. If you actually want to know about the chemistry of saturated fats, ask Shelby, not me.

Since the 1950s, Saturated fats were considered to be linked to cardiovascular disease and this was a commonly held fact by the scientific community. As a result, it had been suggested that we watch how much saturated fat we consume as a way to better take care of our bodies. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, expressed that the evidence tying saturated fats to cardiovascular disease was weak, some arguing that limits on consumption were not warranted. Now I am not a medical professional, so before you go home and start pounding sticks of butter, I would suggest talking to your doctor, who actually knows how to read studies and is up to date with the science.

W’ve experienced conversations around the topic of science, like this one. One does not need to think too hard to remember the weeks early on in the pandemic where one day cloth masks were considered effective against COVID and the next week were considered pointless based on different studies. Then the next week studies would find that they were effective, but only if everyone in the space wore them.

Whether its masks, or saturated fats, this is the scientific method at work. Hypothesis, test with an experiment, analyze data and draw conclusions. If the results align with the hypothesis you may have found significant results. IF not, you go back and ask a new question, create a new hypothesis and start again. Test, experiment and Test again.

Science + Politics have failed

In American Politics, we have responded to this method in two different ways that have made conversations around science really difficult. The left has argued that Science creates truth, but they fail to articulate how the scientific method works – that the most recent evidence from the scientific method, is the most recent evidence, and as more science takes place, the conclusions will be changed by more scientific evidence. So when new findings come out, the right wing starts arguing that science has no clue what it’s doing, because it is always proving itself wrong.

The Left never wants to say science is wrong. And the right never wants to recognize any of its findings because they are always, at some point, proven wrong. Both conclusions are all or nothing, and leave a lack of space for the scientific method to breathe. To find new things. Test new things. And make ongoing new discoveries and conclusions via the method that has given us so much the last few centuries: medicine, vaccines, cured diseases, and so much more. When it’s all or nothing, there is no space for uncertainty. This lack of spaciousness makes it hard for anything to breathe.

Proving Ground

Today’s theme is proving ground, fitting with our Lent “ground theme.” The proving ground is the place where technology developed from scientific findings are tested. Something new is tried. Sometimes it fails. Sometimes it succeeds. Either way, learning happens.

When we test something out, we do not know what will happen – or it wouldn’t be a test. When we try an experiment, we don’t know what might happen.

What does this have to do with faith? As people of faith, we must accept a level of uncertainty. When faith becomes all encompassing. All certain, it lacks the gaps that are needed for the spirit of God to move. It is no longer faith, but certainty.

Today I would like to consider our scripture texts through the lens of testing – a little bit of experimentation – and see how these tests create a level of spaciousness for the spirit to breathe.

Clearing the Temple

Today, we have the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. Jesus stepped into a complex social space when he entered the temple. The temple was the location where money changing happened to insure the creation of sacrifices. The “court of the gentiles,” where this story takes place in the book of Mark. In King Herod’s rebuilding of the temple, this was a location of many shops that were part of the section of the Temple where non-Israelites could go.

Then enters Jesus – flipping the tables of the money changers in a fit of rage – frustrated the way that their tradition had evolved.

I imagine in many ways that Jesus’ action disrupted the status quo – the buying and selling, the commerce of everyday first century Palestinian life. This disruption was an attempt to shake up what was daily life. Perhaps a description that could create space of the spirit to breathe new life into the community.

I can easily forget that these stories were at one time fresh for us. At one time fresh for the first readers of the gospel. At one time fresh for the disciples. Jesus is offering new ground to stand on. It might feel like old to us in this story. But how can we, like Jesus, invite disruption into our everyday lives?

Disruption is a type of experiment. When something is disrupted, what is disrupted is life as usual. Go to the temple, buy some meat, say hi to your neighbor. And so on. The practices and ways of being go on unquestioned. You do not know what will happen with a disruption. A protest. It reminds me of how several of the folks from our congregation talked about the ceasefire protest in DC or in Columbus before they went to either. There is a level of anxiety not knowing what will happen. It was an experiment with the hope that this kind of disruption would shake up the lives of those around us enough to remind them of the now 30,000 palestinian that have been killed. A tiny hope for change.

Ten Commandments

Let’s check out another story. Our Hebrew Bible Scripture for today is the reading of the 10 commandments. How were these ten commandments a bit of an experiment?

The Ten commandments were the list of laws that Moses brought to the Israelites, after consulting with God on Mount Sinai. The very first. Untested, Untried. This was the law that was brought to the Jews who were a marginalized group, fresh out of slavery in Egypt.

Walter Brueggemann writes that the ten commandments did not have any ruling power, any institution or tradition holding them up. It was a set of Laws that were part of a covenant with the God who liberated them from slavery. Something that the Jews wanted to opt into because they desired to be connected to the God who saved them from Egypt. It was created for their survival as a minority.

It’s a little different context than seeing the 10 commandments written in our courthouses – a state institution that has placed more people in prison than any nation in the history of humanity.

For a historical Jew to follow the 10 commandments and the rest of the law, was to place your faith in a covenant with the divine who rescued you from slavery. They took a huge risk escaping Egypt, with chariots chasing them down. This law brought them spaciousness. It nurtured their newly found freedom. I imagine it was nice to have a sense of boundaries and expectations for your community after fleeing egypt. If not, would total chaos have ensued?

Breaking the Routine: Testing During Lent

The proving ground is a place where we experiment. Where we test new things. But to test something you have to put yourself out there and try it. If you don’t, then the possibilities in the future are closed off.

The only option when one does not try something new, is to repeat the same things over and over, and over again. There can be something great about routine. Especially in a chaotic world like we live in. However, when we only live in routine, we can easily not be aware of the other ways God may be calling us. Excessive repetition is a slow death closed off to the spirit of God.

For the followers of Jesus, Jesus brought a disruption to the repetition. To the temple routines. To some of the Jewish practices at that time. He brought a different way for people to engage the world.

For the Isrealites fresh out of slavery, the law brought from the chaos a new way of living in community and in covenant with God.

These changes only happen if we try to test something new out.

I am reminded of a story from a friend when I was a student at Lancaster Mennonite high school. We were attending a mandatory high school chapel service that concluded in a call for folks to come forward for a blessing of some sort. I don’t think it was an altar call, but pretty close to it. My friend was curious. Do people really feel anything when they go up for stuff like this? My friend was more of the type that would scoff at events like this, filled with skepticism. But all of sudden, there he was, going up to the front.

After the service, I asked him why he went up – it was unlike him. He said “They keep having stuff like this, and so I thought I would try it out and see if I would feel anything”

I asked, “Did you feel anything?”

He said “No.”

This friend still has little interest in anything faith wise today. I look back at this admiring his decision to experiment. To Test it out. And I also look back at it sad that this was one of the only tests that I know of, that he did. There are a lot of other ways to experiment with faith that don’t involve a grand public jester like going up front.


Lent is the perfect time for this. It is the chance to experiment.

Some folks like to give something up for those 40 days. When one gives something up for lent, its like having a sudden hole in your life. What do we do with this space?

Giving up video games, TV shows, screen time, phone scrolling, certain foods, certain routines, certain repetitive activities, is an experiment. It might totally fail. You might give up screen time and feel like nothing in your life has changed. Or you might find yourself doing something different than you thought. Different than before.

When we remove our repetitious activities, we can create spaciousness – holes in our lives that allow for space for the spirit to disrupt and to speak. When Jesus cleared the temple, there was a vacuum. An emptiness left in its place. What was to come of the blank space?

Meditating on that emptiness could be a meaningful activity. Reflecting on what is lost. Reflecting on one’s urges to repeat a routine. It could be meaningful to prayerfully ask what might fill that emptiness. Or maybe it needs to just stay empty, because, well, our lives can be busy.

It’s all one big experiment.

Some of us live with no routine to start off with, so perhaps following in the way of the Jews fresh out of slavery might be a better experiment for lent. Maybe your life could use a bit more structure. Some rules that would help you. Some routine that would disrupt the chaos of your life. Like afternoon walks. Or morning prayers. Routine journaling. Setting work boundaries for more evening time. Or maybe something way out of the ordinary, like Pastor Carrie Mast, who, though she only took a couple years of piano lessons as a kid, is willing to play piano at our All Age, All Skill Recital.

These experiments can create space for us to learn about ourselves. They also create space for the subtle kingdom of God to break into our reality.

We worship a subtle and disruptive God. The kingdom of God does not arrive on tanks and bombers, but through the subtle force of God, breaking into our world. If we are open to the grand experiment, the spirit can disrupt each of us so that change can happen.

Who knows, you might start eating a lot more butter.

May the uncontrolling love of God break through and into the world as you try new things and create space for the spirit to move.