THE COMMON RULE
Don't Give Up Chocolate,
Give into Communal Habits
5 Reasons to Try The Common Rule for Lent
Reason 1: Preparation for Easter Means Rearranging Your Life
Lent is not an experiment in personal discipline. It is a season of preparation for the awe of Easter.
Lent is a season to focus your worship on the Jesus who came to die on Good Friday and Rise on Easter Sunday. As such, Lent is sort of rhythmic, annual reminder that to live our lives in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus means to rearrange our lives accordingly. When we use Lent to prepare for Easter, we are reminding ourselves - not just intellectually but totally (heart, mind, body, soul, etc.) that Easter should change how we live. Let us prepare for it. The tradition of 40 days of restraint mimics Jesus' days in the desert, where he prepared Himself for ministry. He rearranged his life dramatically in light of the work that was before Him. During Lent, we do the same.
The Common Rule is a set of daily and weekly habits designed to help you rearrange your life around habits of love for God and neighbor. As a set of daily and weekly micro-habits, the Common Rule tries to get you to think about how your everyday under-the-radar habits are actually leading you in liturgies of worship to false gods. It aims to help you begin to see the little habits of work and technology that capture your worship, and then help you practice habits that bend your lives towards the love of God and neighbor.
Reason 2: You are not alone
The Christian life is a communal life. It also happens to be true that communities and belief are two essential ingredients for habit change (see Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit for a fascinating commentary on this). This means that even the simplest habits – let’s say giving up chocolate for 40 days – are way more likely to succeed in community, and specifically in a community who believes that there is a reason for doing it in the first place. This is because community practices are what make and break habits and lifestyles.
This is to say that major, personal life change is rooted in communal formation and belief. The Common Rule doesn’t simply acknowledge this, it is based around this. The Common Rule is a set of communal habits for formation so that you can be challenged in your daily habits of work, technology and presence along with others. Moreover, the habits themselves are supposed to get you off your phone and talking with others, out of the internet and into your neighborhood, out of your office and into a communal sabbath. In this way the form and the content of The Common Rule is to lift our faces to each other. Because to love God and neighbor, we need each other.
Reason 3: An Outward Life
The direction of the Christian life is outward. It’s worth noting that Jesus spent his hermit-like, inward, solitary days in the desert so that He could go be public, communal and outward. He was prepared for ministry. If our love of God doesn’t push us into the love of neighbor, we’re not loving the right god. This is why the metaphors of the Bible push towards blessing to neighbor: the light is given so that it might be shone into the world. How do we love and glorify God? By “doing unto the least of these,” by “feeding his sheep.”
Many Lenten restrictions are thinly veiled efforts at dieting or increasing productivity. I am, incidentally, pro-healthy eating and a student of productivity. But I’m a fan of these things insofar as they fit my body and schedule to live a life of love for God and neighbor. We are always susceptible to living a life bent inward - Augustine and Luther both talked about sin as curving us inward.
This is why The Common Rule is deliberately focused on habits that push out of ourselves. Up toward the love of God and out toward our neighbor. While most habits of the rule begin with personal practices - like turing off your phone one hour a day and fasting from something one day a week - these habits have a direction. They help you resist one thing - distraction or appetite - in order to embrace something else, presence with others and sacrifice for others. In this way they are practices that lead us outside of ourselves and into the world to love.
Reason 4: Making Way for Justice
I believe the biggest threat to our ability to “do justice and love mercy” are our modern habits of media consumption. Not only does the constant consumption of media deform our perception of what justice is, the endless static of streamed video silences the already quiet cries of the vulnerable who need our attention.
It is hard to imagine letting justice flow like a mighty river when the stream that actually forms our lives is the endless stream of mainstream media which keeps us heads down and doors shut to the world of suffering and need.
The Common Rule has multiple habits focused on breaking malformational habits of smartphones, but limiting media consumption is specifically directed at cultivating a love of justice by breaking the noise of unjust, apathetic, or consumeristic voices. The inward habit of restraint is directed towards freeing us to the outward cultivation of justice.
Reasons 5: The Easter Imagination
Busyness silences the imagination. It is hard to imagine a world renewed by the resurrection when we walk the narrow hallways of rush, hurry and too much to do. I think one of the church’s greatest challenges in contemporary America is to be a sabbath light to this anxious and depressed world of constant busyness. Being an Easter people - or being a people prepared for Easter - is then a process of taking on spiritual habits that cultivate a presence in time, and an openness to new kinds of time. Where the unexpected things like resurrection suddenly change everything. The Common Rule is entirely aimed at exchanging busyness for rest, hurriedness for presence, and the darkness of anxiety for the light of the Christian imagination. But these virtues of character, these fruits of the spirit, don’t just happen, they are slow cultivations of grace. To live in light of the resurrection is let Jesus renew everything, even your smallest habits.
If you’re interested, find some friends, download The Common Rule guide for Lent, and spend 40 days trying new habits. You’ll fail a lot, and you’ll find Jesus a lot. That is, of course, where He waits for us.