Throwback Lent: What Tech-Free Sundays Taught Me


Things are not always as they seem. View of Graceland from the bustling Highway 51.
Things are not always as they seem. View of Graceland from the bustling Highway 51.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Makes you realize things aren’t always what they seem, huh?” She answered.

My cousin, Britainy, and I were parked at the gates of Graceland, the mecca for those who travel from as far away as Japan to pay their respects (and allegedly bawl) at the graveside of a different kind of “King.”

I do not live and die for Elvis, so we did a drive-thru in the stone-walled, narrow street erected for people like me—the curious but not devoted.

The Presley homestead is located just outside downtown Memphis on Highway 51, a four lane road that cuts through the city. I balked when my cousin offered, “We can drive by Graceland if you want.” “That’s OK,” I responded, imagining a two-hour delay in our trip to an isolated mansion on a billion acres of Tennessee farmland in the middle of nowhere.

But, Graceland is actually in town. Small bungalows dot the urban edges of the property, and proud neighbors adjacent to the Colonia Revival structure can boast, “We live next door to Graceland.”

From the road, Graceland seems modest against the metropolitan sprawl that surrounds it, even at an impressive 17,552 square feet and 13.8 acres. Buckingham Palace, home to Britain’s Royal Family, is over 250,000 square feet and resides on 40 acres.

The King’s former residence offers an Lenten lesson: things are not always what they seem. My mental perception of Graceland was a pristine palace the size of six royal dwellings, sheltered from the mundane. Instead: Elvis’s estate is in the thick of things—surrounded by parking lots and ordinary people’s lives.

Sometimes, our perception of Jesus seems similarly off: a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, white-robbed King; an opulent and exclusive my God,” and not yours. But, Jesus’ “reign” was spent dismantling perceptions and destroying walls of marginalization, not building them. Christ’s message is rooted in renunciation and poverty, an upside-down kingdom which is loving and merciful—and at work in our messy lives.

Things are not always what they seem.

During this year’s Lent, Fred and I made a spiritual promise to “throwback” the clock twenty years ago to 1995, when you had to stay home to answer the phone and cyber space came in on an AOL CD-ROM.

Even our Lenten Sabbaths, dedicated to returning to this simpler time, were not what we thought they would be.

I had grandiose Sunday plans of slow afternoons spent alone, in silence, meditating on Christ, reading, organizing photos, note-writing, button-sewing, spring cleaning, organizing closets, and hosting long, slow suppers in the name of hospitality.

We did some of that, but the time filled up when I wasn’t watching, even without the aid of my smart phone.

There were many Sundays when we had to lean into the doldrums of ordinary life: anxiety over inclement weather, a sabbath spent not feeling well, bitter grocery store shopping, airport travel, and laundry. While these were disruptions from the sabbaths we’d hoped for, we found beauty in the mundane. Abandoning the technology we’ve come to rely on made us more present when some Sundays brought stress–but also the best opportunities: being with others.

Perhaps this was the Lenten lesson I needed to learn? The spiritual journey is not about perfection, but grace. Jesus did not hang out with only those who were well put together and managed their time well. Faith is not about living in an a blemish-free Graceland of our minds, but rather, it’s about the messiness of reality: best laid plans that go awry, relationships that need mending, suffering from which to be healed. Faith is about finding our own dynamic way–and not in isolation–but, in the midst of blessedly messy community.

Things are often not what they seem.

Here’s what we learned from our Throwback Lent

1. Tech-free sabbaths give us space to test our perceptions.

2. Tech-free sabbaths gives us space to embrace the unexpected.

3. Tech-free sabbaths give us space to see the beauty in the ordinary.

Share your Lenten thoughts below. Did Lent turn out to be what you expected? What did you learn this year?

Missed a Throwback Lent post? Click and enjoy:

Throwback Lent: Doing Church Like It’s 1995

Throwback Lent: Ashes and Boomboxes

Throwback Lent: Why You Should “Blow Up Your TV”

Throwback Lent: What the Grocery Store Teaches Us About Life

Throwback Lent: What to Read in 2015


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