Familiar with Lent?
Unless you’ve been involved with the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches or Protestant denominations such as the United Methodist Church or Lutherans, you may not be familiar with the whole concept of the Lent Season.
And if you have been involved with these groups, there’s a slight possibility that the season of Lent you’ve known all these years was just another in the long litany of religious activities that consumed your mind and time.
To some of you, “lint” is just the fuzz in your belly button…to others of you; Lent is about equally as relevant to your life, as belly button fuzz.
But what if that was different?
What if it was all so different!?
Lent: The Back-Story
So a quick back-story on the whole Lent thing.
Lent is a season of religious ritual, usually starting with Ash Wednesday* and lasting 46 days until Easter Sunday.
Forty-six (but it’s really only 40-days, because Sundays don’t count. Those are “mini-Easters” and are days to celebrate.) days of fasting from something, anything, to show your sorrow for the condition of the world and to prepare your heart for Resurrection.
The fast is a sort of penitence for not only our wrongdoing but also the wrongdoing of the whole world.
In the tradition of Lent, people “give up” something for Lent, a form of fasting. People give up chocolate, booze, TV, movies, eating out (or eating altogether), or whatever they choose. During Lent, people find something they will “give up” for the Lent Season to show their sorrow.
So, this is Lent.
But what if we gave up something different?
I’ve found, in my life, that fasting has been a very beneficial discipline. I’ve fasted several times and it’s been a very rewarding experience. But therein lies the problem: fasting has always seemed to be beneficial only for me…and actually increased my focus on myself.
When I fast, I seem to inevitably focus primarily on ME, and the thing I’m giving up. Fasting from food is a constant reminder that I’m not eating food. Everywhere I turn there’s food that I can’t eat.
As rewarding as fasting is, it seems only rewarding for me.
(Now, I do believe we have to be the best “us” we can be, which sometimes requires some seemingly selfish self-focus. We must provide ourselves with proper nutrition, education, exercise and rest.)
But self-focus, sometimes turns to self-centeredness, which is often what rears its ugly head during my times of fasting.
So, how can we turn Lent, a season of fasting, into something that turns our focus outward. Outward to something beneficial to society…outward to humanity?
Not everyone reading this would consider himself or herself to be a “Christian” or even religious, for that matter. But, if you are a person who believes, or even regards the words of scripture in the “Bible” you may find some of this interesting.
An ancient prophet named Isaiah addressed the issue of fasting. (We labeled the address as being Isaiah 58.)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
WHAT THE WHAT?!?! This is INSANE!
It’s almost as though this dude is suggesting that fasting is about reaching out to show love to others, rather than focus in on our self.
So, if you’re one of the people who believe in the Bible as being the word of God, then you’ve got to believe that what God wants for his followers, is to reach out and meet the needs of others.
But, wait…there’s more!
Several hundred years later, a guy named James wrote something else (And by the way, lots of smart people believe this guy is Jesus’ kid brother.):
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
(Hint: the word “religion” here isn’t religion as in a “belief system,” but religion as in “an act of worship.”)
It’s almost (well, it actually IS) as though James was saying that worship is really more about serving the needs of others than it is about the songs we sing and the prayers we recite.
Again, INSANITY! (We call this tone sarcasm.)
So, um…Lent. Giving something up for Lent, right?
Here’s my proposal for this Lent…my manifesto…my thesis I’m nailing to the door of whatever religious establishment each of us follow.
What if we gave up our SELF for Lent?
What if we turned our focus this Lent season from the “thing” we’re doing without to all those everywhere whose whole life is “doing without”?
To put it a little more plainly: my idea is that we dedicate ourselves this Lent season to giving ourselves up…that we would spend this Lent season serving the needs of others.
MAKE A DENT THIS LENT!
I know this is a cheesy little rhyme. But what if…what if we could?
What if during this Lent, instead of focusing on ourselves and what we’re giving up…what if we could have a positive effect on the world and the people that fill it?
Have you ever been to an art gallery and seen some beautiful sculpture? I don’t know much about the art of sculpting stone, but word on the street is, the way these artists work is by making thousands and thousands of tiny dents in the stone. Chiseling away at the stone until the beauty of the inner sculpture is revealed.
From what I understand, these artists don’t grab a slab of stone, give it one giant whack, and then wheel their masterpiece into an art gallery.
I think we can do this. I think each of us can make one of these tiny dents in the stone. If thousands of us would make a little dent, maybe we could change things. Maybe we could create something beautiful…
I’ve got a couple tattoos. I love my tattoos because their meanings are very significant to me.
My first tattoo is the summation of what I describe as my “Crazy Idea.”
It’s simple…nothing elaborate.
It’s just an image of planet Earth, sculpted into a misshaped heart.
This tattoo is my constant reminder that love can change the world.
Want to change the world?
Give up your SELF.
I know I’m crazy!
I know I’m simple-minded.
I’ve freaking ADMITTED all this!!
But what if, just what if it works?
What if this Lent was just a prelude of what we could do in the glorious light of Resurrection?
Who do I give myself up to?
This is where it gets a little bit subjective…a little relative to YOU!
I certainly don’t think we should all jump on the same bandwagon.
My dream is not that thousands of people could come together and focus on the same need, the same issue.
My dream is that thousands of people would find thousands of things to focus on. You’d be amazed at how life changing your one little voice and action could be.
So whom do you help?
I have two suggestions:
Suggestion 1: help whomever it is you have the most passion to help! Maybe you’ve got a real passion for helping the homeless, or special needs kids, or single moms, or people in Third-World countries, or maybe even .
Go help them! Find an organization you could with which you can volunteer, give money to their funds, whatever. Help them!
Suggestion 2: help whomever you think deserves help least!
Jesus once told this story to religious people about how he was hungry, naked, sick, in prison, etc. and no one helped him.
The religious people asked when he had been in these conditions and been helped.
Jesus said, “When you did these things to the LEAST OF THESE my brothers, you did this to me.”
Who are your “least of these?” Who do you see as being the least worthy of help?
GO HELP THEM!
You can do a mission trip; volunteer at a shelter/organization, whatever…my only encouragement is that you do your reaching out throughout the entire Lent Season. Not just a one time thing, or a once a week thing, no I encourage you to give yourself up for FORTY DAYS (take Sundays, or whatever day you choose, to rest and celebrate…recharge your batteries!)
If you’re going to give yourself up for Lent, you need to start planning now.
Now, December 9th. Before you even get through with Christmas.
My friend Josh, keeps reminding me AdVENT is not even over…and I’m pushing LENT!
You need to figure out whom you’re going to help.
You need to figure out how you can AFFORD to help!
You need to figure out how you can help people, while not deserting your family and friends.
You need to figure it out…you need to plan now.
You’ve got four months to get all this figured out…start now!
Lent starts in four months.
Beauty for Ashes
*Lent begins, in most traditions on Ash Wednesday, which is March 9th, 2011 this year.
On this date, in tradition, Lent-ees attend a special church service in which a “sign of the cross” is placed on their heads with ashes.
Ashes are ugly.
Placing ashes on one’s forehead is ancient symbolic gesture showing one’s sorrow.
That same guy, Isaiah, also wrote this thing about how ashes would be exchanged for beauty.
Doesn’t that sound like an amazing thing? We give ashes and the pay back is something beautiful?
Can you imagine how beautiful it would be, if beginning Ash Wednesday, we all reached out and shared LOVE with those around us (or around the world from us!)
There’s a word for that shared love: BEAUTIFUL.
Now, I’m going to ask you to do the most difficult part.
Commit to searching yourself and finding the way you can give your SELF up for Lent.
Part of my “Crazy Idea” is this: we can take what may be an irrelevant religious observance…or something you’ve never heard of…and do something beautiful to make a DENT THIS LENT.