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Make Lent count this year. March 13, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben’s mother used to joke that in her family, they gave up watermelon for Lent. This sounds eccentric rather than funny until you understand that when she was a child, watermelon was only available in late summer, long after Lent and Easter had come and gone.

Our friend Ben has tended to be more prosaic about the Lenten sacrifice, giving up chocolate or dessert or Coca-Cola. I have always felt that the point of the Lenten sacrifice—unless one is trying to give up a really bad habit, and actually, even then—is not to deny one’s self pleasure or luxury but to turn the mind to God. So the more ordinary the little indulgence you give up, the more often you’ll think of the reason for your sacrifice.

Let’s say you decide to give up eating out for the duration of Lent. If you typically eat out once a month, this is not much of a sacrifice. But suppose you eat lunch out with your coworkers every day, you often stop for takeout on the way home, or habitually stop for takeout coffee and a doughnut or Egg McMuffin or breakfast Subway sandwich on your way to work, and you go to a nice restaurant once or twice a weekend. Now, you’re making a constant sacrifice: making coffee at home, buying a box of doughnuts or whatnot from the grocery for breakfast rather than heading for the drive-through, packing your lunch every day. Stopping at the grocery to put supper together rather than heading to another drive-through or calling out for pizza or Chinese. Cooking more elaborate meals on the weekends rather than heading to your favorite restaurants.

All this requires not just sacrifice, but thought. As your car automatically turns into the Dunkin’ Donuts lot on your way to work, you realize that you’re not supposed to be there. Then, if the sacrifice goes according to plan, you think about why you’re not supposed to be there: If Christ could give his life for you, you could give up Starbucks for Him. You get to work and find yourself reaching for that nonexistant paper cup. Where’s my coffee?! Oh, right, I’ve given it up for 40 days. Bye-bye coffee. And this is why I’ve given it up…  Dozens of times a day, you find yourself thinking of, longing for, or reaching for that pack of gum, that candy bar, that bottle of Coke, that slice of pizza. And each time, you bring your thoughts back to God, to the nature of faith, the nature of sacrifice, the difference one person’s sacrifice can make, in your own life and in the world.

Plenty of people deride giving up things for Lent, unless they’re huge things. but our friend Ben thinks that giving up the small, automatic, constant habit is most effective in driving home the point of the sacrifice, because it turns the mind to God far more often than, say, giving up your seats at the opera (or, God forbid, basketball court)  for 40 days. And there are strong, positive side effects: Giving up your favorite TV show—or giving up TV altogether—may have another benefit: Giving you more worthwhile things to do with your time. Giving up fast food may help you not just shed pounds, but learn to love cooking and eating with your family. Giving up that pricey cuppa Joe three times a day may give you a surprisingly large amount of disposable income, or cash to put against your credit-card debt or add to your mortgage payment or put in your savings account, at the end of the month.

Our friend Ben thinks that all these are wonderful reasons to give things up for Lent. But this year, I’ve found a far more powerful way to help your Lenten sacrifice benefit the whole world, thanks to an article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call yesterday. The article, by the Reverend Sharon Solt Joseph, is called “A new Lenten fast—for the planet;” you can read  it at www.themorningcall.com. This “fast” is all about reducing our carbon footprint and saving our earthly paradise from our own heedless destruction.

As Rev. Solt Joseph says in the article: “This year we have a new way to observe Lent and find the joy. There is a growing group of Christians who are calling for a fast from carbon during Lent. Citing scientific data which shows that 2010 tied with 2005 for being the hottest year on record and that in December 2010, Arctic sea ice cover was the lowest on record, a group of religious leaders challenge us to use Lent to confront climate change as a moral issue.”

Our friend Ben is completely on board with this. God Creator made this world for our delight as well as God’s own; how dare we destroy it in our greed and selfishness? Rev. Solt Joseph continues: “If you sign up to participate in this fast (put ‘Lenten Carbon Fast’ in your favorite search engine or find their Facebook page), you will get a daily e-mail throughout Lent with a suggested carbon-reducing activity. It will also tell you how that activity will reduce your carbon footprint.”

Yes!!! I rushed to my good friend Google and typed in “Lenten Carbon Fast.” I found numerous websites where you could sign up, typically by denomination: Catholic, Lutheran, Church of Christ, etc., allowing believers to access the information through their own faith. As a Catholic, I was delighted to see that there was a Catholic Climate Covenant site (http://catholicclimatecovenant.org/) with a calendar with daily suggestions for reducing carbon emissions. It opens with a quote from Pope Benedict, “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.” Our friend Ben would add, and towards all life as a whole.

Our friend Ben thinks the Lenten Carbon Fast is fantastic, even if Silence Dogood and I can’t put every day’s suggestions into practice. Living as we do in the middle of nowhere, we can’t walk or ride a bicycle to much of anyplace beyond our closest gas station, the chocolate store at the end of the road, or the new local park. But we can definitely unplug appliances that draw energy even when we’re not using them and follow the many other excellent suggestions we’re now receiving via e-mail each day. We invite you to join us.

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