Ash-WednesdayWhy Trendy Lent Turned Me Off

A few years ago I noticed that a lot of the trendy Protestants were embracing Lent.

Let me begin by admitting that my first impulse is to suspect and reject just about any trendy Jesus-Jazz. I’ve been following Christ for over four decades, and that’s long enough to learn that today’s trend is yesterday’s forgotten idea.

Once I got past that, I had some theological questions. Are we agreeing to some religious practices grounded in works-righteousness? Did Jesus or the Apostles teach this discipline? Where did this originate? What does it mean?

The self-righteousness of some of the people answering these questions made me gag a little, or a lot. A smug air of “we’re the committed ones because of what we gave up for Jesus and you’re not willing” always made me walk away rolling my eyes. I’ve been down too many of these paths proving my devotion to Jesus in shaming comparison to others who don’t measure up. I’m done with that expression of christianity with a little “c.”

Oh, and I’m absolutely done with shame and guilt moralism.

Finally, it just seemed weird. Really? Walking around with this mark on your forehead? What about the unbelievers in your life? How do you explain this to the person serving your latte at Starbucks?

Why I’m Reconsidering Lent

Over the past few years God’s Spirit has challenged me to reconsider the whole idea of Lent. There’s your headline: Conservative pastor reconsiders Lent!⇦Tweet that!

It’s not that I feel compelled to actually practice the discipline in ways the trendy, judgmental crowd does. But I’m thinking that the principle may have a part in my own life.

A couple of reasons:

Most importantly, I’ve met some non-trendy, quietly spiritual, and authentically responding to the Holy Spirit believers who are all in. Not to bring attention to themselves but to draw closer to the Master.

Hmmm…

Add to that some research and articles on Lent from some of the scholars and writers I trust and admire.

Sandra Glahn is a professor at my alma mater, Dallas Theological Seminary. Oh, and she’s also a brilliant writer. Last year she posted a piece, Lent 101: Five SuggestionsHer opening paragraphs described my former view pretty accurately:

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

For many Protestants, our only knowledge of Lent is what we perceive as excessive asceticism on the part of other Christians, often preceded by binging on Mardi Gras. We connect the season only with “giving up” something.

Because today is Mardi Gras, I propose that we take a closer look. Just because some people abuse a spiritual practice, does that warrant our dismissing it altogether?

After tracing some of the pretty healthy sources of Lent from church history, Sandra explains in one paragraph why I’m personally reconsidering Lent:

The point of Lent is not to prove to ourselves that we can deny ourselves and therefore walk with our noses in the air. Rather, the reason some give up chocolate or snacks between meals or new purchases or meat or shoes or Facebook is to constantly remind our flesh that the Son of God gave up everything for us. And with the absence of such luxuries or distractions, we can better focus on dying to self. But Lent does not necessarily have to mean giving up something. It might mean adding something such as extended periods of prayer and meditation culminating in a silent retreat. Or it can involve both the “putting on” and the “taking off.”

Lent Doesn’t Have to Be Weird

So here I am. Sixty-seven years old and once again realizing that I have a lot more to learn than I know.

Thanks, Sandra Glahn. Your writing has once again provided a fresh perspective.

Lent doesn’t have to be weird, but it does have the potential to cooperate with the Spirit’s lifelong work to form Christ in me.⇦Tweet that!

I’m all for that!

Question: Do you have a Lent story that might help all of us reconsider Lent?