Three things Progressives should think about progress

imageThese boots are made for walking towards justice

“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“I have a dream…”

~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Daniel Pink says there are three truths about mastery. I think they apply to progress as well.

1) Progress is a mindset.

You either believe progress is possible or you don’t. Those who believe that things can and do get better are really the only ones “making progress.”

They believe it about themselves. They believe it about society. They believe it about everything. They ignore those who would like to remind them that, as the Human Race, we are awful, awful people. They ignore those who say, “No, we just have new and better ways of killing/oppressing/marginalizing each other.” They do not believe that goodness is a fixed reality, and that all we can do is figure out how to manage the destruction. They believe that people have the capacity to grow and change and mature.

Progressives have Hope.

2) Progress is hard.

Stony the road,” indeed.

Progress is not an easy task. There are more setbacks than anyone cares to admit. There is more opposition than anyone thinks there will be.

But Progressives don’t get fooled and give up because someone says “No.” They press on because they have Faith that one day they will say “Yes.”

3) Progress is never fully realized.

Progressives take steps with the full knowledge that each step forward is not the final step. Each step is just one more step, and there is always another one after that.

With every victory comes an assessment of “Where do we go from here?” With every person set free comes a survey of “Who needs freedom now?”

Progress is never done, but more progress will have been made when we pass the baton than when it was passed to us.

Giving up chocolate and beer for Lent is not what Jesus had in mind

In three days, it will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Naturally, folks are all abuzz about how to best observe. As I read through Facebook comments, tweets, and blog posts, I find that I have had all of the typical responses.

  • “I’m gonna give up chocolate or alcohol.”
  • “Giving things up is ridiculous. God wants us to live fully live. This whole practice is just stupid.”
  • “Instead of giving something up, I’m taking something on this year.”

Like I said: I’ve said and done each of these things. I’ve given up something that was that important, I’ve wholly rejected the practice as a part of my rejection of conformist religion, and I’ve tried to reframe “self-denial” into “self-giving.”

But each of these responses makes a mistake, in my opinion. Notice that all of them are about me. They have very little to do with what God might be doing, but about something that I’m doing. Each of these responses betray a belief that I am the one in control, that I am the one, ultimately, who matters. As Richard Rohr says,

Resurrection takes care of itself. It’s getting people into tombs that’s hard. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, most contemporary people, both liberals and conservatives, abhor boundaries.

This realization was a hard truth for me, and so I have returned to the classic Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I encourage you to do the same.


Prayer is not about asking God for things. It is about establishing, maintaining, or strengthening your connection to God in Christ. We do this so that we can begin to see the world as Christ sees it.

This is the first, most foundational Lenten practice. If you do nothing else during Lent, commit to the practice of daily prayer (preferably silent and contemplative, like Centering Prayer or praying with beads). Lent is the perfect time to reignite your prayer life. It is the time of the year when we intentionally focus on dying in order to rising.


Fasting (what we typically mean when we talking of “giving something up”) is not about doing without “something you LOVE,” but doing without something you need. We should be limiting our chocolate and alcohol intake anyway. What do you say we not use Lent as an excuse to go on a diet?

The point of fasting is to recognize our dependence on God’s provision. Typically, fasting is done once or twice a week. Try John Wesley‘s practice of  sundown to sundown on Mondays to Tuesdays and Thursdays to Fridays.


If you are submitting to Christ through prayer and fasting, you will begin to see Christ in “the least of these.” When you do, offer yourself to the Christ you find in them. It’s really very simple, and it can be planned or spontaneous. Either way, it will be countercultural.


If you’re anything like me, you have to fight making spiritual practice into a self-improvement project. The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the best ways to avoid that impulse that I’ve found. As Craig Dykstra wrote in Growing In The Life of Faith, Spiritual practices are actually not ours. They are the practices of the Holy Spirit that we get to inhabit. That these practices are not mine is important, in my opinion. Whereas Lenten disciplines are intended to remind us of our dependence on God, we more often inhabit these practices as if we are the ones responsible for the outcome of our lives and the world.

In the end, whatever you do during Lent is between you and God, but let’s commit to engaging in disciplines that remind us of our dependence on God not ones that prop us up as the saviors of ourselves.