I’m Not Giving Up!

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Doing Lent without Giving Up Something

I could fund an orphanage if I had a quarter for every time I heard someone proudly declare that they were giving up chocolate, soda, liquor, cigarettes, or carbs for Lent. Better yet, I could fund two if had a quarter for each aghast look I get when I tell them I (a minister no less) am not giving up anything! Judgment runs down their faces like rain. It seems as if we have forgotten God’s words to Isaiah: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?”

The purpose of Lent is not to improve our physical health by increasing our exercise or curbing our wanton diet. The purpose of Lent is to take stock of our spiritual health and then adapt (or begin) our spiritual practice to improve our relationship with God and thus one another. It is a time of reflection and introspection on our relationship with Jesus, not Doritos or M&M’s. From my experience, simply drying out from a sugar, alcohol, or salt addiction does nothing for my spiritual fitness. In fact, most of the time it makes it worse as I am either so self-righteously proud of my accomplishments or plunged into the depths of unworthiness by my failures that Jesus doesn’t even enter into the picture.

An additional pitfall is the tradition of giving up _______ every year for Lent! It takes only a year or two for this annual ritual to become “just what I do” rather than something that invites creativity and authentic need. For several years now, I forgot how many, I removed any regular jewelry that I wore daily. I limited myself to my watch, a plain cross, and purple (the color for Lent) earrings from Ash Wednesday until Easter. This was a reminder to me that I was to live more simply… and I confess that I experienced an additional joy on Easter morning when I put them back on. However while it provided some superficial benefit during the 46 days of Lent, in actuality it did nothing for deeper and longer lasting spiritual growth. Did I become closer to Jesus because I wore less jewelry? Not by a long shot.

This year I am committing myself to journal each day. No, I will not do it perfectly as it will require daily effort (which was lacking with my jewelry abstinence). And that too is a spiritual growth… God does not require our perfection but our practice.  When I miss a day… as I most certainly will, I will not allow the excuse of perfection to derail me.  I will just go and grow with it. So NO, I am not giving up anything for Lent – except perhaps the most precious and limited resource I have: my time and heartfelt attention.

I invite you to join me as we make this Lenten journey together…. I’ll even share my M&M’s!

 

Let’s Party! Reclaiming Mardi Gras

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Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.com

LET’S PARTY!- recapturing Mardi Gras
My calendar and inbox are already stuffed with plans for Lent: deep devotionals, dark reflections, penances, and pious practices. Lent is traditionally a time of reflection and spiritual health check-up. I don’t know about you, but for me the wow and wonder of Christmas (when I swore that I would rededicate myself to a closer relationship with Jesus) has faded. My journal and my book of devotionals are both collecting as much dust as my heart. My spiritual practice has gotten rusty and I am feeling the aches and pains of letting myself go, as it were.
Well, what does this have to do with Mardi Gras? Just saying the words conjures up images of wild, beads and bawdy, drunken, gaudy, and raucous behavior. Somehow that seems to be “outside” good church behavior. But in reality it has its roots in Christian observance. What the French explorers of 1703 understood, and what we need to reclaim, is that Fat Tuesday aka Mardi Gras is an essential prelude to Ash Wednesday. Too often we church people take ourselves too seriously. Church becomes all where we have fallen short and penance and not enough of the Good News that we are redeemed and loved by God always.
With winter storms, taxes, bills, and bitter temps assailing us every day; this time of year is not exactly a spirit booster. Daylight is a precious commodity and it can be a struggle to stay motivated and positive. We New Englanders need Mardi Gras more than anyone! In fact, I believe that it is Lent is deeply diminished without it! Although we do not need to use up all the “fats” in our larder before Lenten fasting as our ancestors did, we still need to feel the giddiness of life, laugh, and treat our taste buds and our souls to FUN! Otherwise we begin our Lenten journey (which grows ever darker as the weeks progress) from an already dismal place. The observance of Lent is not some limbo exercise with prizes given to the ones who can go the lowest. God gets no pleasure (and I believe is quite disappointed) when we glorify martyrdom and ignore joy!
Let us embrace joy, wear beads, eat great food, and lift our spirits on Mardi Gras! Otherwise we will not have either the desire and energy to experience a meaningful Lenten journey. Jesus’ first miracle was not at a solemn prayer meeting but a party… a feast… where people reveled for a week! Jesus was no dour Puritan to be sure. So why should we be? Let’s truly follow Jesus! First into the party and then into reflection. I hope that you will join me and New Hope UCC on Tuesday, March 5th from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Sturbridge. We will be following Jesus by capturing the joy of living in “Letting the Good Times Roll” or as they say in New Orleans “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”