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Traditional Polish pączki

Paczki! Image via Wikipedia

*March is a month of extremes–excess and denial. It’s amazing to think one month includes Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday and Lent. This dichotomy struck me and inspired this post. It’s not meant to demean anyone or the religious beliefs that they hold, merely to express my feelings on the subject and start to discuss it.

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve never celebrated a Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), Ash Wednesday, or Lent period before. This may surprise you, as you are used to reading about my views on things from a religious standpoint. Suffice it to say, I’m just not that kind of Christian.

I’m not opposed to the concept of Lent. To my understanding, Lent is specific sacrifice/fasting of a sort. Christ fasted for forty days and nights. It seems to me to be a worthwhile pursuit, whether it is a fast (something you intend to resume doing after a set amount of time) or a change. What I don’t really agree with is our concept of Mardi Gras and how some people use Mardi Gras and Lent as “get out of jail free” cards. I think it cheapens the value of the whole practice.

As someone who does not observe anything on Mardi Gras (except maybe one of those doughnut things–Paczki), I can only go by what I have observed, and what I have observed is not something I want to be a part of. Maybe what I’ve observed is not typical behavior, and I’m in no way saying that it is the practice of everyone who does observe the festivities; I understand that. I’m merely presented the things I’ve seen and am against (I’ll get to  things I’m not against a little later). I’ve seen many people use Tuesday as a way to get in all the debauchery they possibly can as a last hurrah to bad behavior. People go out and have sex with random people, get drunk, smoke a thousand cigarettes, and indulge any other vice you can think of. After this sanctioned pandemonium and lasciviousness, they get up on Wednesday, hungover and very sorry, and vow not to do anything of the sort for 40 days and nights.

As a Christian, this particular observance bugs me. Who sins on purpose, stops sinning for an agreed upon period, then goes back to sinning and expects that to make things right with God? Certainly not me. Be hot or cold, people, not intentionally lukewarm. I mean, this really burns my biscuits!

When I was in college, one of the Campus Crusade girls that I knew, a very sweet girl, decided that for Lent she would read “The Purpose Driven Life.” There were forty days, and she would read one day’s lesson each day as her observance of Lent (at least, I think that’s how it worked out). She said she grew a lot from the experience, and I can believe that. Having that focus on being purposeful about God’s will for your life for forty days couldn’t hurt (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t have any thoughts on Rick Warren or the book specifically). This is one of the few instances I’ve heard of someone actually starting something during Lent.

Many of the things people give up for Lent are “good”–i.e., there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but giving them up can be beneficial. I’ve known people who don’t spend, stop drinking caffeine, eat no meat, give up Krispy Kreme, by pass McDonald’s, don’t eat out, stop watching TV, and give up social media. It’s amazing how much people can get out of giving something up. Sacrifice is wonderful, good for the soul. Things can be revealed to you that couldn’t get through because you were always “connected” via your cell phone or social media.

But, as the Bible says, obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22; to do what is right and just is better than sacrifice–Prov. 21:3). If God asks you to do something through His word, doing that is better than any sacrifice you can make.

Just something to keep in mind this Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday/Lent season.

Do you observe Lent? What is Lent to you? Are you giving up anything/starting anything for Lent? What’s the deal with Ash Wednesday (I never knew what to make of the ashes on the forehead)? Leave your two cents in the comments section.

P.S. I included some links from folks who seem to know more about Lent than I do in the related articles.