REAL Dialogue: Lenten Reflections on Being Christian
For many people, Lent is all about subtracting – giving up chocolate, Facebook or alcohol in observance of the holy season before Easter.
For third-year MDiv student Peggy Jean Craig, this Lent was all about adding – adding to the conversation of what it means to be a Christian.
Craig, who is finishing her education with a semester in Washington, D.C., at Wesley Theological Seminary, says that her stint in the nation’s capital during an election year has highlighted for her the limited ways Christianity is presented in the media.
“The current conversation is very polarizing,” she says. “People are being told ‘This is what a Christian looks like,’ and that narrow image doesn’t reflect the true diversity of Christianity.”
At a social media conference, she met the people behind “30 Mosques in 30 Days,” a blog that tracked two Muslims’ visits to mosques in 30 states over the course of Ramadan; the project garnered acclaim for the way it upended stereotypes about Muslims in the United States. Craig began thinking of how she could use that model to aid in discussions about Christianity, and she came up with a Lenten discipline for herself entitled “40 Days and 40 Nights.” Every day during Lent, she has posted on YouTube a two-to-three minute video of a Christian talking about his or her faith and has maintained “40 Days and 40 Nights” Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“With ‘40 Days and 40 Nights,’ I’ve made an effort to show a broad range of Christians, from evangelicals to Greek Orthodox to those who consider themselves both Christian and Buddhist,” says Craig. “There’s diversity in race, gender and age.” Craig herself is a licensed candidate for ministry within the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
There are also a few familiar faces from the Candler community. Craig recruited Candler professors David O. Jenkins, Elizabeth Corrie and Luke Timothy Johnson to take part; in fact, Johnson was granted one of the few exceptions to the two-minute model – his video, in which he explains his views on contraception as a Catholic, is more than seven minutes long.
Candler students and alumni also participated in the project. MDiv student Jason Myers reflects on how poetry and gardening affect his faith life, while MTS student Justin Rose explains how his Pentecostal background informed his approach to biblical studies. MTS student Scott Muir, who calls himself a “summer camp Christian,” explains how cooking simple meals for fellow campers at music festivals starts conversations about Christianity, and Chris Rapko 11T, an Atlanta-area disc jockey, talks about the intersection of hip-hop lyrics and scripture. Current students Tim Moore and Patrick McLaughlin also appear, as well as former students Cory Bishop and James McSavaney.
“40 Days 40 Nights” is a one-woman show: Craig selected participants, scheduled their interviews, and filmed and edited the videos all on her own, on top of a full course load and jobs with the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the General Board of Church and Society. Yet despite her immense efforts and the fact that she might turn the camera on herself near the end of the project, many of Craig’s friends may not know that she’s the one behind the videos that she posts on her Facebook. At the end of each video appears a title card that reads “Mitsui Davis.”
“Mitsui is my paternal Japanese grandmother's maiden name, and Davis is my Southern, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother's maiden name,” explains Craig. “It's a way of honoring women whose names are no longer heard, lifting up their voices, their witness, and their stories.”
“My grandmother was disowned by her family after she married an American man and moved to Alabama. She didn’t allow herself to speak Japanese in her home, because she didn’t want her children to get confused, but she couldn’t speak English, so she very literally lost her voice.”
With Easter in sight, Craig’s tenure of lifting up her grandmother’s voice alongside the voices of many diverse Christians is coming to an end. She hopes that the project might become a Lenten discipline for others.
“I think it would be a great challenge for student groups,” she says. “Most of my contacts are from Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and while those are theologically diverse places, it would be great to see videos from another part of the country. It was a lot of work, but I think it fosters a more balanced conversation about Christians.”
To learn more about “40 Days and 40 Nights,” visit the sites below: