Lent is upon us. Not to bore you with too much history, but while it seems the popularity of lent among protestants is a semi-recent phenomena, we can find the roots of lent as far back as the early 200’s. Unfortunately, like many other things that become a fad, lent too, has been turned into something shallow - an excuse to drop some pounds, ignore chocolate for a 40 days, or something for individual bolstering all under the guise of religious jargon.
This was never the purpose of lent. As far back as we can find, which is around 200 CE, lent was about the idea of preparing oneself for the coming of Holy Week via repentance. By the early 600’s Pope Gregory stated, "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs." If you follow the evolution of lent, you can follow an amazing developmental process that lead us to today.
All that said, in all my years in the church, we found Lent, was a great time to find some action we did as a church, family, or individual, that was based on a dependency that was unhealthy for the larger community. All in all, this is really how I personally define “sin”. Before sin is an individual thing I do, it is, in my opinion, a broken structural and systemic reality (spiritually, economically, politically, culturally, etc…) that oppresses. I, as an individual, am born into this system, probably see it as normative, and as a result, act it out on an individual (and often unconscious) level, based on the script I’m handed. Until this is revealed to me, I continue to play my role in the oppressive narrative.
Here’s an example. Whether or not you believe in global warming, it is hard to ignore the fact that we, as a society that values excessive consumerism no matter the cost, are doing our share of degrading this beautiful home we call Earth. A home that we are commanded to steward, not destroy for our own “immediate and excessive benefit”. There are many ways we participate in this. Much of our consumerism…
…demands deforestation around the world.
…demands the existence, exploitation, and use of slavery and unfair treatment of individuals and entire communities around the world
…the production and then use of single-use plastics or disposable plastics, plastics that cannot be recycled such as the shopping bags we get at our local grocery store. These plastics end up finding their way to ever-growing land fills or plastic-Islands such as the Great Pacific Garbage patch. This effects our water, which effects our sea-life, and the domino effect continues.
So, we picked one. Our family, began to ask ourselves, “how dependent are we, as a family, on this plastic that is harming creation?” So, we decided to “fast” single-use plastic for the 40 days leading up to Easter. This practice really opened our eyes to how much we, as the Hansen family, participated in the destruction of our planet. We couldn’t believe how much we used plastic. We brought glass mason jars to the grocery story to buy our bulk products. We used paper or reusable bags at the grocery store. Any product that we had previously purchased (on a regular basis), we quit purchasing. We couldn’t believe how convenient it was to participate in the destruction of our planet, and how hard it was to be an advocate of shalom. We were amazed, saddened, and this lead to repentance, which ultimately lead to us implementing new practices in our family.
In the book of Isaiah, God defines, through the prophet, what true fasting is. For God, fasting is “freeing those who are wrongly imprisoned; lightening the burden of those who work for you. Letting the oppressed go free, and removing the chains that bind people.” This is the work of shalom and justice. This hardly sounds like abstaining from food for the heck of it or to loose weight or praying more. If you abstain from chocolate for lent, do so because you realize the inequality and slavery used in the production of non-fair-trade chocolate. If you abstain from meat, do so because you plan on repenting for supporting a system of mass-mistreatment of animals. If you give up a specific food, do so because you want to rely less on the GMO system, not because you want to lose weight. Notice the Isaiah text tells us the only fasting God recognizes, is fasting that is purposed for the good of other humans.
So, if you practice lent, do so for the good of humanity!