Lenten Greenery

Lent is upon us. The pancakes have been eaten, carnival (and this year, the superbowl party) is done.

And so we turn our ears for a moment to the voice of clergy, in hope of some reminder of what this season is supposed to be, what it's supposed to give and what it's supposed to take from us.

On Wednesday morning, though, I heard a brief summary of Bishop James Jones' (Liverpool, not Jonestown) Ash-Wednesday "Carbon fast" shtick. I was touched, not by the man's orthodoxy, but by what seems an inability to understand the very point of Lent. (Apparently he's been doing this for a few years, because the best links I found were from 2008...)

I'll confess that my own church's pastoral team had nothing whatever to say about Lent. Pentecostals, you see, tend to ignore the church calendar except for six crucial dates: There's Christmas and Easter, of course; in February The Feast of St. Valentine, upon which all partake in the Cherry Chocolate Eucharist; the day of Mothers comes in May, upon which we celebrate the holy order of motherhood; in summer the day Fathers, upon which we celebrate BBQ and the awkwardness of expressing emotion; in the Fall we round things off with the feast of All Hallows Eve, whereupon we emphasize the teaching that children should never go anywhere near the dwellings of their neighbours, and should stay with their churched bretheren and engorge themselves upon the “Hallows” (which is a word contracted from “hard marshmallows”--i.e. cheap candy.)

Bishop Jones, though, comes from a long and rich liturgical tradition, and has (one must assume) been to seminary to learn about such things. Here's the bit that I heard repeated on the radio:

The Bishops of London and Liverpool, Dr Richard Chartres and James Jones, are launching the Carbon Fast at Trafalgar Square with aid agency Tearfund.

They hope to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint for 40 days.

The scheme aims to raise awareness of global warming to help protect poor communities around the world who are already affected by climate change.

Besides some of the most dubious advice associated with this sort of campaign, (“Ensure your mobile phone charger is unplugged when not in use.”--the writer is obviously more concerned with the idea of conserving energy than the realities of electricity...) the main thrust of this campaign seems to be along the lines of "Carbon-intensive living is bad, so we should encourage everyone to give it up for Lent."

Now, I'll admit once more that I have no formal training in the ways of liturgical orthodoxy. I do, however, feel that my adolescent fling with monasticism gives me some small amount of insight.

Lent is a season for preparation, and for reflection; it is not a soap-box upon which we stand. (as someone wiser once put it: "liturgically, lent is the question for which Easter is the answer.") Lent is a time to give up the good for the better, not a time to feel guilty about the bad and take a "holiness break" for a few weeks.

If Carbon-intensive living is evil, (understand, I'm not denying that in any way) then Bishop Jones should be encouraging us to do these sorts of things year-'round. This 'blog pairs the idea with a telling image:

"Dieting" is precisely the opposite of Lent. "Dieting" is a change you make in the hope of sustainability: altering bad habits, and replacing them with good ones. Lent, on the other hand, is a season to give up perfectly good and healthy things for a period of fasting. Fasting has nothing to do with sustainability; anyone who expects to "diet" by not eating will be in for a nasty surprise. Rather, fasting is an exercise of discipline over one's whole being--I say with my body "I am blessed with good food, but I choose not to eat it for the sake of meditation, reflection, and remembrance." If you give up chocolate for Lent, don't do so because you hate what chocolate does. Instead, give it up because you recognize how good it is, and at the same time how much better it is to be in good relationship with your neighbours, to have so much "boring" food that you can share it with them, and to be fulfilled by a radical and life-giving relationship with the God who created you. People who give up the things they feel guilty about during lent will only feel more guilty about them by the end. People who give up good things that they are truly thankful for, on the other hand, will be even more thankful when they get those things back.

So, while I've been thinking about how to make my use of energy and resources more sustainable, I'll not be "carbon fasting" anytime soon.

I've had a difficult time deciding what I should do for Lent this year. (I lost my phone on Monday, and was sorely tempted to give it up for the whole 40 days... only to realize that being out of touch with people wouldn't make me more thankful, it would just get me into trouble.) I've settled on Espresso; switching to brewed coffee might not seem like much of a sacrifice, but I don't actually have a drip-machine or French Press at home, just my $20 Espresso machine. Perhaps I'll try tea again.

Any lenten stories from the readers? Am I misreading Jones' intent, or even the nature of Lent itself?

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