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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Today, my political theory class discussed Socrates and Crito. The Crito is a discussion between Socrates and one of his followers, Crito, where Crito tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Socrates to escape Athens after he has been convicted and sentenced to death.  The question our teacher ended up posing to us was “Is it possible to be loyal to the state while you disobey its laws?”  I answered in the affirmative.  I believe in the ideals of our country: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives the way we want (assuming we don’t harm anyone else), social mobility, meritocracy, everyone is equal under the law.  But I also know that our country doesn’t, has never fully, lived out those ideals.  We are a country that shuts out its religious minorities, oppresses its racial minorities, degrades its women, and gives advantages based on birth from the second you begin to get medical care or education.

 

Many conservatives complain that liberals don’t love this country, that they only want to focus on America’s flaws and changing its awesomeness. Liberals, particularly many of my young friends, all but shout back, “But it is flawed!  This is wrong!  How can you praise your country when one out of six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and a black woman is much more likely to end up in jail or killed rather than college?”  They’re angry—and rightly so.  Anger in the face of injustice is understandable and perhaps, when channeled productively, is even the most rational, ethical response at times.

 

I understand. I share the frustration.  However, I also believe that a country is more than its individual politicians, its court decisions, its flawed laws.  I can still love this country because I love it at its best, at what I want it to become.  Whistleblowers, practitioners of civil disobedience, are all willing to take risks, take the consequences of their actions out of a desire to make our country better than it is.  Our class discussed the difference between laws and Laws.  Laws being the highest ideals, the underlying principles upon which we try to found everything else.  Patriotism doesn’t require obedience or lip service, in fact, an institution like a state should be strong enough to withstand criticism and discourse.  The fact that we have these ideals, often, I think, is what makes all of this so hard.  Something in our national consciousness cries out that this is not right, because this is not how it should be. This isn’t who we should be.

 

As I was thinking of all of this, I couldn’t help but suspect that part of this trend of disillusionment is why many millennials are opting for spiritual rather than religious, for personal development rather than a church. They look at hypocrisy among church leaders, abuse scandals, dogma that denies facts…a system that doesn’t live out its ideals, because it is made of flawed men and women who have not been able to live up to the promise of God’s true church.

 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. For me, Lent is a time where we try, in our own lives, to get closer to that idealized version of ourselves.  It’s a time where we have to face our own brokenness and how far we have to go, but commit to trying nevertheless.  I think our country could use some Lent.

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As promised, the second installment!

Some basic rules around choosing and giving up something for Lent:
1) Do not compare yourselves to others. You need to do what’s best for you. Something that others might find silly could be a real problem for you. It’s not a competition and you’re not trying to win. This also means that there are things that you might not be able to give up and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. If you have a medical condition, fasting is probably a really bad idea. You can find plenty of alternatives to celebrate Lent, you don’t need to rely on other people’s ideas.

2) Particularly if this is one of your first times celebrating Lent, start with concrete things. It’s a lot easier to modify behaviors than feelings. I know people who have given up things like condescension or procrastination for Lent…admirable, but many of us likely find that unrealistic for ourselves. Try to translate that goal into something tangible. Instead of thinking, “I’m not going to get angry with my kids during Lent” think, “I’m not going to yell at my kids during Lent”. Focus on what you can control.

3) Make clearly defined goals. Don’t leave it fuzzy in your brain. Write down what you what, draw lines and definitions.

4) Adding things in and giving things up are not either or, try to do both. Better yet, find things that complement each other (I’m giving up soda and I’m going to the gym three times a week…I’m giving up TV and I’m adding in board games with the family, etc.)

5) Don’t give up something you know is really easy. I could very easily say, “I’m giving up eating salmon.” Statistically, in the Lenten period I probably would have eaten salmon a maximum of three times. This isn’t something that’s going to be very fulfilling.

6) Be willing to be brave. Challenge your assumptions about what you can live without. Do you really need your cell phone on you all the time? Or do you think you could find a way to rely on e-mail and your home phone? You’ll find your brain will make all sorts of absurd excuses for why you need to keep playing tetris…it helps me relax, I talk to my husband while playing it, I get my best ideas while playing tetris…uh-huh…usually when your brain is making absurd excuses that means a) you are able to give it up and b) you should.

7) If you are giving up something really hard for you, like coffee or cigarettes, particularly if it’s part of socializing for you…try to get your friends and family on board and supportive.

8) You can’t make someone else give something up just because you are. While it is admirable to give up all desserts, you can’t either stop anyone around you from eating desserts or be resentful that they are eating them. This is between you and God, you shouldn’t expect anyone else to join you unless they want to. They have every right to eat that delicious chocolate cake.

9) Don’t half-way give up things if you can avoid it. Sometimes, this is worse than not giving up anything at all. Say, you want to give up facebook but that’s the way that your college sports team communicates. It is a bad idea to give something up except for weekends or “I’ll only do it once a day”. It means that not only are you not giving something up entirely, but you are then focused on it and trying to figure out when you can get it next. It ends up making you miserable because you are without…but it’s still dangling over your head with temptation. Try to find a way to give it up entirely, if you can’t, think seriously about whether this is something you can do. My worst Lents have always been when I tried to give myself these sorts of outs. It was incredibly frustrating.

10) Children can give up things for Lent. Some general guidelines around this. If your child is out of elementary school, they should be choosing what to give up. You can suggest, cajole, but Lent is only beneficial if it’s a willing choice. Also, if you have younger children in the house, it might be good to do something family-wide. It’s a lot easier for a child to grasp that this isn’t something bad if everyone isn’t watching TV instead of just them. Usually children are used to thinking that if something is taken away from them, they’re being punished, you want to make sure that they know that they’re not being punished but that everyone is doing it. It also can be a really good way of fostering a more communal sense in the family.

11) Experiment and do the things that you always feel you can’t commit too. Are thinking that you should read to your child before bed every night? Try it for Lent. If it works for the both of you, keep doing it, if it doesn’t, it’s only 40+ days.

12) Cut yourself some slack. While it’s good to be disciplined, you are not a failure if you forget or if you slip up. That also doesn’t mean Lent is ruined, you get up and you go back to your habits the next day. The most important part is to just keep going.

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It’s Lent!

I get very excited for Lent, it’s my favorite time of the year. I’m certain that a post shall ensue explaining in great detail why I think Lent, which most people associate with dark misery, is one of the best times in the Christian calendar. (I’m pretty sure whenever I giddily say, “I love Lent” my atheist friends think to themselves about how this is just proof of religion’s deep brainwashing because what rational person could like willingly going without?)

However, in the meantime, I’m just going to discuss a few reasons why you should consider observing Lent and some fun tips for doing it.

Why you should give up something for Lent:

1) Lent is not only for Catholics. Catholics have more specific traditions around it, but as Protestant, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it was simply a Christian tradition. I’m sure that the atheist or a member of another religion could also benefit from certain aspects of Lent without feeling all of the theology around it.

2) Giving something up doesn’t just have to be something you desperately like (because you think you don’t deserve to be happy) or something you don’t care about (because you think you should do this but you really don’t want to put in effort). The point is not to just take something random out of your life, but take out an aspect of your life that you feel that you place too much value on or is unhealthy for you. Example: a cliché is giving up chocolate for Lent. I’ve done that once, but I didn’t do it because I liked it, but it was easy to cut out, I did it because I had this habit when I was little, of every time I was in the kitchen, of sneaking my hand into a chocolate chip jar. Obviously, this was a habit that it was good to break.

3) Lent is a wonderful time to give yourself extra motivation to achieve goals. Do you want to diet? Take out carbs. Do you want to cook more for yourself? Take out frozen dinners.

4) You don’t just need to take things out, you can add things in! Exercise, reading the Bible, cleaning your room on a regular basis, praying for a set amount of time every night. Get creative!

5) Most people agree that creating goals and breaking bad habits help if you are accountable to someone. Hence the benefit of Lent, you find yourself being accountable to God.

6) While I do go back to many of my less-than-ideal habits after Lent, I’ve found that they never have quite the same hold on me afterwards, and this is one of the most important things that you can get out of Lent.

7) Lent is a time when you can try to decrease the noise that fills your life, take out distractions or habits that you’re embarrassed about (Compulsive angry birds player, binge Netflix watcher, I’m talking to you…), and you find that you have more room in your life for God and for yourself! It also is a time when you can learn that the things you think you “need” are sometimes dispensable, and you are not bound to these habits that you don’t like.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow will be a post on choosing what to give up/add in and for actually living out the goals.

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