Tag Archives: religion

What are you giving up for Lent?

I was raised Catholic, and we are currently members at our local ELCA Lutheran Church. And for 36 years, that question has been the bane of my existence once a year as Ash Wednesday rolls around. What are you giving up? The answer is always the same — hell, I don’t know!

I think as a kid I was so conditioned to give something up for Lent that I never really got the point of it all. I’d pick something that I really like and just stop doing it for 40 days. No fast food. No candy. No pop. No swearing. Last year I gave up beer, and that was just stupid. I was super thirsty for a cold one and everyone thought I was pregnant.

I don’t remember the reason for giving up something ever really being explained back in my St. James days (although I am sure it was, we just weren’t listening). As I got older, I just assumed it was because Jesus suffered, so we have to suffer. But while I am not a terribly religious person, I should know that being nailed to a cross and not drinking Pepsi for six weeks can hardly be put into the same sacrificial category.

So today I looked it up. I found this explanation on a Lutheran website:

Lent is all about meditating upon and learning more and more about what Jesus underwent FOR YOU. Giving something up for Lent isn’t about feeling guilty or trying to take away something you like so that you can feel bad about what Jesus did for you. Observing the holy season of Lent is all about receiving more and more of those very gifts that deliver salvation to you: living in your baptism, confessing your sins and being absolved, hearing the Word taught and preached, eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood which was given into death for the forgiveness of all of your sins! That’s why most churches offer additional times during Lent to hear the Word preached and to receive the Sacrament.

Jinkies… thanks for clearing that up. The post continues to explain that abstaining is not to benefit you, but to benefit your neighbor. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how giving up beer benefits my neighbor, other than to give them something to gossip about as they ponder whether I am pregnant. Which basically means I have the whole spirit of Lent all mixed up.

This morning, Jim sent me an e-mail asking what we should give up for Lent. I had no idea what to say. So I thought about it seriously, and decided that this year, we needed to focus on the spirit of making things BETTER for others rather than making things HARDER for ourselves. There’s the usual things to “give up.” No fast food. No excessive spending. But this year I want to focus on what I can do to, you know, maybe make the world a better place.

To that end, Jim and I have made our decision about at least one thing we will do this Lenten season, and hopefully beyond. We plan to feed the hungry. Our church has a food pantry, and I plan on buying a few meals every week and bringing them over. Mac & Cheese and boxed dinners and maybe even some Spam (which is not as disgusting as people assume it is).

Here’s why this is important to me — I am a total fatty. Okay, I’m not popping the buttons off my Gloria Vanderbilts, but I am definitely at least 25 pounds overweight. My pantry is full and I have a home full of nice things and my children are happy and never miss a snack. I absolutely hate it that right here, within miles of where I am, there are several parents who just can’t afford to feed themselves or their kids, or both, while I throw out half-eaten food on a regular basis. We are not even close to rich. We have a tight budget and sometimes we have to wait to get to the store until payday, which means no milk for a few days or no bread for sandwiches. But we are never, EVER hungry (and we have the fat pants to prove it). We are blessed people. We are lucky people. And we need to feed the hungry.

So to answer the question, what are you giving up for Lent? This year, the answer is, I am giving up being selfish with my food. I am giving up stuffing my face while a mother down the street goes hungry so her kids can have some tomato soup. If I can feed just one family one night a week, I think I am helping make the world a better place. I’m not a religious person. But I think Jesus would approve.

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Truth and consequences

So there we are, sitting in church. No seriously. We belong to a church. Me. And Jim. We go to church. No really. This is new for me, newer for Jim, and unfortunately and much to my own surprise, he is far more open to it than I am.

So there we are, sitting in church, and much as I did back in my grade school days at St. James, I found myself sitting in church and being as judgy as possible. If you could peek inside my mind, my thought process was something like this:

Why is that woman wearing that SHIRT? Lady, that haircut is doing you no favors. Maybe next time they could get less tone deaf people in the choir. That kid needs to be smacked… oh man, his Dad shouldn’t hit him so hard in church! Man, I want a taco. You don’t have to be rich, to be my girl, you don’t have to be coooool, to rule my world….

Yeah, that weekly time of reflection… I generally use it to daydream and give random strangers the stink eye. Godly? Not so much, I guess. But I do tend to pay attention from time to time. My loss of ability to pay attention usually happens when the choir is on the fifth verse of a song that was too long at verse number two — and you just KNOW they’re going to hit the chorus again, twice. For some reason, I revert to the attention span of a first grader when this happens.

But yesterday, we got to the second reading, and it came from James. It compared the tongue to the rudder of a ship, that a ship needs huge sails and strong winds to move, but the tiny little rudder is what actually guides it. Much the same way as you have this body and this life… but how you speak determines where you go. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing,” the passage read.

Naturally, I found the reading very political. It immediately made me think of Mr. Joe Wilson and his shout-out at the President the other day.

“YOU LIE!”

It made me think of the moral superiority that people in this country believe they have versus the rest of the world. It made me think of Keith Olbermann referring to Mr. Wilson as “stupid,” and of Glen Beck referring to the President as a “racist.” It made me think of a little girl committing suicide because a grown woman, disguising herself as a teen boy, was cruel to her on Facebook. It made me think of the kid we harassed mercilessly at St. James. It made me think of Rush Limbaugh’s nastiness toward the President, and Al Franken’s nastiness at Rush Limbaugh.

Naturally, there are some people who rip apart others, and I think, “right on.” And at other times, I think, “well, how dare them!” But while I found myself agreeing with the passage, that it “ought not be so” that we curse some and bless others with the same tongue, I also thought, it’s impossible NOT to. It’s impossible not to curse those who hurt you, and praise those who help you. It’s impossible at least for me.

I considered that maybe I was taking the passage too seriously, too literally. That it wasn’t about forcing us to NOT speak badly, to NOT be judgy, but instead, to think about it before we speak, because our words have consequences. Like, say, if you utter out nastiness at the President before thinking about it, suddenly your opponent has an additional $1 million in his campaign fund. Or when you call the President a racist, your advertisers don’t like you so much.

But then again, when you spout hate against the President every day, sometimes you are rewarded with a huge audience and an eight-figure checking account. And when you write books calling someone a “big fat idiot” in the title, you are sometimes rewarded with a seat in the United States Senate.

So what gives? This is the kind of thing I struggle with as we return to church these days, is understanding the lessons brought forward. I hate to be so cynical, but sometimes I think, get real already. It’s naive to think we can all just be nice to each other. It’s just not going to happen.

But I’ll continue to sit in church on Sunday. Not because I am looking for absolution. But hopefully, I’ll start taking the lessons to heart, and hear them as a way to live rather than as a political commentary. I’ll try to listen to the whole thing, rather than get lost in Prince songs and dreams of Taco Bell swirling around my head. I’ll try to ignore the fashion choices of the woman sitting in front of me.

I guess we’ll just see where this goes.

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