Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lent and the IGUC

There's an old saw that says that two topics one should probably stay away from in polite conversation are politics and religion. So... let's talk about Lent.

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday in many Christian traditions, a day marking the beginning of the 40 day season of Lent. Now these days I consider myself Catholic++, by which I mean that I come from strong Catholic faith, but have found that the Catholic church has left me behind in recent years. Call me a "cafeteria Catholic" if you will. I am one who finds the Catholic church a good place to worship God, but who no longer accepts the authority of the church hierarchy. I bring this up because it's from this perspective that I approach this Lenten season.

Now let me say up front that all beliefs expressed here are my own. (Duh!) I have no issues with the spiritual beliefs of anyone, as long as those beliefs do not cause harm to other people or cute animals. My intent here is to look at one aspect of Lent, what I think of as the "I gave up" clause (IGUC for short). You know the drill. "I gave up XYZ for Lent." XYZ being anything from chocolate to sex.

I think there are two approaches to the IGUC. The first may be that the IGUC is a sacrifice, the modern day equivalent of a burnt offering, something you have no intention of giving up post-Lent, but which shows great will power on your part for 40 days. For most people, I'd say chocolate or sex fall into that category. (That is unless you're striving to give up either permanently.) In talking to people I hear a lot of food sacrifices of this type: pizza, desserts, chinese food... It seems a great many foods are declared "sinful" for Lent. Recreation activities (golf, television, video games) get whacked a lot for Lent as well. None of these sacrificial IGUCs ever struck me as quite right.

If God were to come to earth today to look around at our Lenten efforts what might he think? "You gave up watching 'Heroes'? Is that the best you could do? Do you think I care? I've got bigger agendas here!" That's why I think there's a second, maybe better (my point of view remember) class of IGUCs. I think of them as the "better person" IGUCs. This is where you take something you suspect God would want you to do anyway, that you're not, and just do it. This approach is somewhat more of an affirmative or positive approach. Instead of subtracting something from your life for punishment, you add something to make yourself a better person.

But does adding something even fit the "I give up" requirement? Of course it does. If you vow to be more friendly for Lent, you're giving up being mean and obnoxious. If you vow to help your wife out more around the house, you're just giving up being a schlub. See how it works?

I like the whole positivity approach to Lent. In fact, that's my IGUC. For 40 days I'm going to try very hard to be more positive. Looking back over the years I see so much negativity. It's especially evident in relation to jobs I've had. Sometimes in the past it seems that if a few co-workers got together, the only possible topic of conversation had to do with putting down other (not present of course) co-workers, the company, the world. How much negative gossip have I heard, and participated in?. No. I think there's plenty of room in my life just to be positive (or not be negative if you're a Lent purist). I'm working on it, and if God drops by today to check me out, I think he'll be cool with that.

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