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An Appreciative Lent

Posted: February 15, 2013 by Rob Voyle

What is appreciative inquiry's understanding of sin?

Because of the Appreciative Way's basic positive view of humanity the question of what we do about sin and problems is often raised at my training programs.

My basic answer is that I think sin is a bad thing. However focusing on stopping sin is usually ineffective, as St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans graphically portrays. The harder he tries to stop sinning the worse it gets. Sins only power is to keep you sinning. it will also keep you miserable.

Notice how utterly useless guilt is to stop you sinning. We feel guilty after we do something not before we do something. Since it comes after the action it won't stop us from doing the thing we now feel guilty of. Making someone feel guilty won't change the past it will keep you trapped in doing what you feel guilty about. Alcoholics know this all too well. They feel guilty about drinking, and they know that for a brief moment they can assuage that guilt by drinking. This St. Paul's vicious conundrum.

The answer to sin is not less sin, it is to grow in grace and love. In the pure light of grace you are free to sin and free not to sin. And it is in that light that sin becomes uninteresting and loses its power. For those with a historical theological perspective there is nothing Pelagian about the Appreciative Way.

So what would an appreciative lent look like: Consider the goal, what is your desired outcome? Do you want people to have less sin or more grace? Do you want people to have less death or to have life? Do you want people to be less afraid or to grow in love?

Use your goal to shape the focus of your lent. Make sure anything negative is but a temporary waypoint in the pursuit of something profoundly life-giving.

There is absolutely no life in what we say no to. There is only life in what we say yes to. If lent is a time of denial it will be a time of death. On the other hand if the we deny or say no to some temporal distraction to grace and love, then the "little no" can be a window to a profound Yes!

So we could transform the typical lenten discipline of inviting people to focus on how they have failed to keep the commandments by asking:

"How has keeping the commandment been a blessing in my life?"

Think for a moment: How has only worshipping one God been a blessing to you? or How could worshipping only one God be a blessing in the future?

Here is a simple blessing that many church leaders could benefit from. Worshipping one God, means you have one Lord, and you don't need to acquiesce to the bullies and tyrants that inhabit your congregation, nor do you have to worship at the altar of personal approval, or the fear of losing a parishioner. Which God do you really serve and how is that a blessing?

So pay attention to your questions this lent. Take sin seriously, and take grace even more seriously.

With Lenten Blessings
Rob Voyle

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