What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

14 February 2021

New Every Morning

Every time I think there's no reason for me to do an updated version of an old post, I get new inspiration. It's like clockwork. This year, that clockwork comes via the usual place: Evangelical friends who've decided that maybe they might like to try out the Lent thing, just once, to see if they like it. But they aren't sure where to begin. Indeed, we've come a long way since the days when I had to hide from everyone I knew that I was observing Lent. I'm like a Lenten hipster.

What I am not, however, is any kind of an expert, which is why it baffles me that people keep asking me questions. All I have to offer is long experience as a once-Evangelical (these days I think of myself as a boring Protestant, nothing more) who spent many years treating Lent like a cafeteria line before finally settling upon my own observance. If my experience is of any help to you, come on in. If you already come from a high church tradition, or if you're horrified that your Evangelical friends would even think of doing Lent, this post is not really for you. (If you aren't interested in Christianity at all, it's extra-really not for you. Sorry; it's part of who I am, but if it doesn't work for you, maybe my next post will be more your speed.)

You know what my neighborhood has a lot of? Churches. I went out in the pre-winter-storm chill to take pics of a few.

With those disclaimers firmly in mind, here's my FAQ:

1) Lent? But why? Isn't that a Catholic thing?
It's not an exclusively Catholic practice, and as your friend I urge you to Google a bit. As for 'why,' it's a practice that I find helpful and comforting. As always, YMMV.

2) Are you judging me for not doing Lent?
Fortunately, this question has gotten less frequent over time, and thank goodness, because it's awfully silly. No. You do you.

3) Don't you think we've already given up enough in the last year? Why would we want to add another thing?
I absolutely do think that. If you just can't face adding Lent to your life right now, no worries. It's okay if you skip a year, or relax a bit from the things you would normally do, or wait until 2022 to try it for the first time. OTOH, if you think, "here is one thing in my life I can keep unchanged," go right ahead. 
Everything has changed in a hurry; it's okay to make your Lenten observance serve what you need right now. Jesus himself said that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.

4) Do you have any Lenten resources to recommend?
This is an area that's wide open to your own interests. If you're looking to dive into a particular area of your faith more deeply, that's a good place to start. Perhaps you have a daily devotional guide that you opened a couple times the first week of the year but have been neglecting ever since. 
As for me, I will usually pick a book of the Bible and read through it multiple times throughout Lent, and I've never gone looking for other resources beyond that. Maybe that's a new thing I can try for 2021 so I finally have an answer to this question next year.

5) Should I announce my fast on social media?
In my experience, people get a little worked up about this one, which is probably why I've heard a lot of strange reasons in favor of blowing a virtual trumpet on Shrove Tuesday. Here's what I got:
  • Before you decide, please read Matthew 6:16-18 and carefully consider your motivation for announcing your fast.
  • If you're asking me as someone who's done this many times and has some experience of the value of people knowing my fast vs not: no, you shouldn't.
  • If you're asking because you're looking for some accountability: I'd suggest you find an offline human, or if it must be online, that you approach someone you trust via private message.
  • If you're asking because giving up Facebook is your fast and you want to let everyone know where you're going: I'd only do it if you know for sure your absence will upset someone. A social media fast is a good exercise in humility, because you'll realize upon your return just how well that world keeps on spinning without you. (I say this from astonished experience.) If you absolutely need to let someone know you're going, this is probably best done via private message rather than a public announcement.
  • If you're asking for spiritual guidance, I refer you again to Matthew 6:16-18.
5.5) But don't you think that if I announce it on Facebook, it might start a conversation about faith that could lead someone to follow Jesus?
I absolutely do not. If we've learned nothing else from the last decade or so on social media, we've learned that productive conversations rarely happen on Facebook. Facebook is where civil conversation went to die quite a long time ago. It's not going to happen.
If you want to try anyway, then I admire your faith in humanity. Good luck. (Although I would add that if you are into proselytizing, Lent is probably not a great tool to use for that. So... good luck.)
6) Do I have to do the food part of fasting, like meatless Fridays?
Are you participating in Lent as part of your faith tradition, and does that faith tradition ask you to go meatless? If so, in order to fully participate with your community: yes. If you're creating your own community or going it alone, then you have a bit more leeway to decide which elements, if any, of the traditional fast you're going to adopt. If you've never done any fasting from food before (and do not have a medical condition that precludes fasting), this could be an opportunity to try it.
7) Did you know Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 46 days, not 40?
Yes. Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days because Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on those days, and that celebration supersedes the mourning/fasting of Lent.

8) Does it matter what I give up?
Yes, it matters, but maybe not in the way you're asking. (And it's okay if you haven't decided yet.) Some things to consider:
  • What are you trying to learn from Lent? What areas of your life need growth? Think about that and let that shape your fast. Also keep in mind that your fast, if it's helping you learn/grow, may not be something you want to stop at Easter. You can absolutely use these six weeks as a starting point for something more permanent.
  • You may feel like giving up chocolate or TV or something small is silly. But if you're a first-timer or you choose something small that will be a genuine challenge, there's no reason to feel less than because you gave up coffee. Growth can come from small things, too.
  • Consider how you will keep yourself in check when your chosen fast starts really tugging on your brain. If you give up coffee and the trade-off is that you're unbearable to your coworkers for six weeks, maybe you're not quite displaying the love of Jesus in the way you'd intended. Have a plan for refocusing yourself when needed.
  • It's not so much what you're giving up; it's what you replace it with. So before you say, "Got it!" take some time to consider what you're adding to your life during Lent.  
8.5) If there's something in your Christian life that's a problem, shouldn't you fix it all the time instead of just six weeks a year?
I didn't realize for a long time indeed that there are folks who believe this is the point of Lent--to temporarily stop doing the things that shouldn't be part of Christian life at all. That's not it. Lent is intended as a time of fasting, which is a different thing than abstaining from vices.
Of course, if this six weeks is a good starting point for making a change you've been wanting to make, great! I hope it goes well for you. But that doesn't mean it *has* to be that, and for many people, it's not. So, if that's your concern about Lent, you can stop worrying.
9) What if I don't start on Ash Wednesday or fizzle out by the end?
It happens. It's okay if you're human. The Israelites prayed, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (That's Lamentations 3:22-23.) Make a new beginning as often as you need to; the important thing is that you keep going.

10) What else do I need to know?
Get in there and do it, and be open to what changes in you. Six weeks is a nice length of time to focus specifically on the things you want to give attention to--it's long enough to be a challenge, but short enough to feel doable. Come Easter Sunday, you may be surprised by what you've learned about yourself and your Christian walk in so short a time.
If you have a community to do this with, by all means, embrace that community whole-heartedly and do this together. God has placed you in a community for good reason, and fasting together as a shared experience can multiply your joys and divide your struggles. Do not neglect your community this Lent. Embrace them. And if you have to embrace your community via Zoom this year, so be it!


    Courtney said...

    I always look forward to your wisdom and knowledge on Lent. Thank you for your dedication to love and service of others.

    Unknown said...

    Thanks! That's so kind. I'm glad I can be helpful.