Giving Up is Easy (aka: Why I don’t Lent)

Christians around the world have observed Lent, aka “The Great Fast” pretty much since Jesus ascended into the clouds. The idea is fairly simple: for the 46 days leading up to Easter Sunday, Christians choose to fast. The way that looks may differ, depending on one’s flavor of Christianity. For example, many Catholics choose not to eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten period. Orthodox Catholics take this to a whole new level, abstaining from all meat, oils, even eggs and dairy for every day leading up to Easter (They also celebrate a different Easter, but that’s another story). Evangelical Christians as a whole do not traditionally observe Lent in any organized way. However, many choose to “fast” from something else they consider important, such as alcohol, social media, or sex.

lent-cross-2

Regardless of how the fast is observed, the underlying principles are the same. Lent is a time to make oneself uncomfortable, just as Jesus was uncomfortable roaming about in the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat. And in our discomfort, we can learn to refocus our energy on God, to face our demons of complacence and gluttony, and to forgive the offenses of those who have sinned against us. It is not only just an exercise to see if we’re strong enough to give up something we hold dear; it is also a chance to hit “Reset,” to renew our spirits and get back on the right track.

I know that some of you readers may have already dived into your 40-Day fast with enthusiasm, and are already tweeting or blogging about your great journey through the desert after giving up coffee, chocolate, or texting. As for me? Well, I don’t plan to give up anything.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have zero plans to fast. (I know, I know. Sinner! )

abstaining

Here’s the deal. I have learned that I am a highly adaptable human being. Give up things that I once held dear? Break old habits? Abstain? No problem! I once spent more than a year abstaining from most food. It was oddly easy, and for the first (and last) time in my adult life, I got to unlock the achievement level of Skinny. These days, I eat food, but I’m abstaining from simplex carbs and real sugar, so that I don’t accidentally fall into the pit of Diabetes. I am also happy to eat mostly plant-based meals, so giving up meat is not a struggle, either.

Sex? Ha! I will win an abstinence from all forms of sex contest Every. Single. Time. Grandmaster level of sexual abstinence. Give up social media? Been there, done that. I even gave up the social without the media. Alcohol? Who needs it? Caffeine? I’ve been a decaf coffee and tea drinker for months now and don’t miss a thing.

fasting-noeating

I guess if I were going to really give up something I am attached to, then it would be giving up computers or reading. But these both have too many loopholes, like cell phones (technically not computers) and audiobooks. Also, giving up either would jeopardize my career goals, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the church has in mind.

Anyway, fasting doesn’t work so well for the highly adaptable. Giving up is far too easy to do when you refuse to become attached to necessities or vices. Don’t hold on too tight, and it’s easy to let go when the time comes. Even during Lent. The harder thing, for me anyway, is learning NOT to quit. Learning not to shrug my shoulders and walk away from everything and everyone. Learning that maybe, some things in life are worth holding onto.

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Offensive Coffee Cups (aka: #BoycottStupidity)

 

Red Starbucks Coffee CupsA sad fact: it does not snow in California. Okay fine – I guess it snows up in the High Sierra, where people still pan for gold and grow beards that would make Dumbledore envious. But throughout most of Cali, it doesn’t snow. No snow days. No adorable little snowmen in our front yards. No white Christmases.

I know what you’re thinking.

No snow at Christmas? I should boycott Starbucks. After all, for years, they have insisted on printing tiny snowflakes and snowmen on their red holiday coffee cups. So offensive! They totally left out the snow-less citizens of California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Florida. How dare a coffee company not represent our group. From now on, if Starbucks does not start printing little golden sun symbols on their red cups, then we should no longer buy their delicious, overpriced coffee drinks.

Oh wait – looks like I can’t jump on the #BoycottStarbucks bandwagon. It’s already full. A bunch of Christians have recently joined forces with the Anti-Political Correctness Club to raise their voices in outcry against Starbucks. Because of unfair labor practices? Because some company executive verbally insulted the Christian faith? Because of some blatant unethical behavior?

No. The #BoycottStarbucks / #WarOnChristmas Christians are outraged, because Starbucks chose not to print any little white snowflakes on their signature red coffee cups this year.

Snowflakes.

Snowflakes.

I wish I were joking. I wish I could find some redeeming value in this religion-fueled coffee-cup protest, which apparently now has Donald Trump as an unofficial spokesperson. But I can’t. In fact, the whole controversy is so ridiculous, that I feel like starting a #BoycottStupidity hashtag on Twitter. I also have a sudden urge to go to Starbucks and buy a half-dozen Grande Double-shot Peppermint Mochas to hand out to my coworkers. But I won’t. Not because I am offended by the company’s decision not to put snowflakes or snowmen or even sun symbols on their red holiday cups. But because just outside my neighborhood Starbucks, there are people shivering in the cold, who have had nothing to eat today. And the money that I could spend to treat myself to a sweet, syrupy drink could instead help a struggling fellow human being.

Some things are more important than coffee cups.

Businesses never exist purely to promote and defend specific religious ideologies. They exist, first and foremost, to make money, and though some owners may have and express certain values, looking to businesses to enforce the cultural symbolism of your faith is a bad bet. (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 11/10/2015)

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The Great Fast (aka: Why I Would Make a Lousy Catholic)

Today marks the first day of Lent, and I have decided to observe it by giving up soccer. Haha, no, I’m just kidding. That’s crazy talk. But still, today marks the first day of Lent for many Christians around the world. While I myself do not observe the 40-Day Lenten period, I am fascinated by the idea of it, and the reasons for which some people choose to observe. Lent cross

The first time I ever heard of Lent was in high school, when a Catholic acquaintance of mine was showing off the ashes smudged on her head on Ash Wednesday. I, an evangelical Christian at the time, stared in wonder, having never heard of such a practice. Even more amazing, the girl explained that, during Lent, or the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, her family abstained from eating meat. It was then that I decided I never wanted to be Catholic.

Ashes for Ash Wednesday

Then, a few years ago, I made an acquaintance who was an Eastern Orthodox Christian. She happily explained her faith traditions to me, which make the Catholic Church’s rules pale by comparison. During the period of Lent (in this case, the 40 days leading up to Orthodox Easter Sunday), Orthodox Christians observe a very strict fast. They choose to abstain from eating any animal products, meat or dairy. They also abstain from eating oils or fats, and drinking wine. Basically, their meals during this period are very simple dishes, such as lentils, vegetable soup, and bread.

“But why would you want to forbid yourself from eating such things for so long?” I asked my acquaintance. To me, it seemed unreasonably strict, like a self-inflicted form of punishment.

“When you live your life constantly treating and indulging yourself,” my acquaintance explained, “then it becomes less pleasurable. But imagine choosing to abstain for a while from the things which bring you great pleasure. When you finally end the fast and indulge, then the reward is far greater.”

It made so much sense then. Of course, as she also explained, there are other reasons for fasting during Lent, such as being more spiritually awake and in tune with God, dedicating the body and spirit to prayer and thanksgiving, and helping the poor. Some people see it as a type of spiritual self-discipline, which helps them to be less focused on fulfilling the desires of the self and turning their focus outward, toward God and others.

Reasons to observe lent

And the thing is, I really like that idea. Religious or not, it seems such a positive thing to observe a period of being spiritually awake, and of denying the self and focusing on God, or the poor, or on being a better human being. On living as simply and humbly as possible, in order to realize, in the end, how blessed one truly is.

Now, I don’t think that I could spend an entire 40 days eating as strict a diet as an Orthodox Christian. And the Catholic version of fasting does not seem like a fast to me at all, since I already don’t eat much meat. However, many evangelical Christians, though it is not required by doctrine, choose to observe another form of the Great Fast. Some people give up money by giving to charities. Others give up their time by volunteering to help the poor. Still others give up some luxury that is important to them, such as chocolate, television, or caffeinated drinks. If I choose to participate in Lent, then perhaps I would consider this route. As long as I don’t have to give up soccer. Or tea. Or my iPad… Okay fine, I would probably suck at observing Lent.