#LentTogether: Too Close to Touch

#LentTogether: Too Close to Touch

Lent Together Marty Schoenleber bannerGuest Post by Marty Schoenleber III  for the #LentTogether Blog Series on Behind the Books

When I was in junior in high school, the worship director at my church covered my torso in dental cement.

I grew up in the church. My father was a pastor, and moreover, one known for “having big vision.” He had this idea to create a participatory Stations of the Cross as a way to focus on Easter weekend. It would run over the forty days of Lent; we called it Experience the Passion of the Christ.

When your father is a pastor, it can become weirdly easy to separate yourself from the programs and liturgy. It’s like you’re there all the time—at church—and you see behind the scenes so you start to think of yourself as an insider. You know everything before anyone else does. When I was a kid, I would tell my friends that if they were mean to me I would tell my dad and he would tell God and they’d be in trouble. I always thought I was on the inside. It turns out that childish way of thinking made authentic worship and real understanding of Lent difficult—if not impossible.

There I was thinking I had it all figured out, like I was wearing a “Staff” t-shirt at the God show. It was happening all around me, this authentic worship, but I couldn’t touch it. I was totally on the outside because of my attitude.

It was happening all around me, this authentic worship, but I couldn’t touch it.

One of the Stations of the Cross that congregants could interact with was a speared body of Jesus. For that we needed a body mold, so, like any good pastor’s kid, I volunteered. The worship director dumped about 10 pounds of pink goop on me and let it harden to a torso-shaped cast. (Turns out that dental plaster also absorbs heat and moisture, and it became mildly dangerous near the end…you live and you learn.) That cast was then mounted against the wall in our sanctuary, curtained off, and stabbed through with a prop-spear.

As you moved from station to station you found yourself drinking vinegar wine from a sponge, trying to wash your hands of the guilt like Pontius Pilate, listening to audio in the background of Jesus screaming: “eloi eloi lama sabachthani.” Eventually you would come to my body cast, and you could pull the spear out and put it back into the body of Jesus. All while thinking about how your sin, ashes on your forehead, was what put him there, arms out to the world. It was visceral but effective. I remember seeing men and women leave the curtained room where the body hung. Many left that experience moved to tears. Some people would remove the spear from the cast, but not have the heart to put it back in. They’d leave it on the floor. We’d have to pick it up after each group wandered through the sanctuary.

Participants were more moved than I was. And I was the body of Jesus. Something was wrong.

I think, when we spend a lot of time in the church, years and years in the church, it’s easy to forget how important and personal and powerful this season is. It’s easy to think you don’t need it. Not this year, right? It’s easy to not participate. It’s easy to stay at arms length. It’s easy to stay on the outside. But Lent is an invitation for us to touch. To remember our need, Jesus’ grace, and refocus our hearts, minds, and bodies.

It’s easy to stay at arms length. It’s easy to stay on the outside. But Lent is an invitation for us to touch.

About the Author

Marty SchoenleberMarty Schoenleber III is a spoken word poet and novelist who serves as eCommerce and sales analytics manager for InterVarsity Press. With hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, his spoken word has also been featured nationally on NPR and Moody Radio. His first novel, Captain Tomahawk and the Sky-Lion, is a steampunk adventure with a poetic metaphor that sets it apart as the anti-young-adult story—where innocence is not lost, but found. He has also published Oh, Sleepur!, a collection of poems.

Connect with Marty at his website anthempoet.com, where he posts his latest written and spoken variations. You can also follow him on Twitter: @so_what_marty.

Recommended Reading

Empathy for the DevilIt can be hard to authentically enter into the story of Jesus’ sacrifice during the Lenten season. In the same way, it can be hard to empathize with the Bible’s so-called “villains”. Empathy for the Devil by JR. Forasteros gives us a new perspective for when we see ourselves as un-temptable and unaffected.

“Every reader will benefit not only from JR.’s insights into these cautionary tales, but from the exercise of entering empathetically into their stories and allowing the Holy Spirit to shine the flashlight into the darkest corners of our souls.” —Brannon Hancock, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University