Lenten Discipline Roundup

The nice thing about being Protestant during Lent: there's no prescribed set of disciplines.  You don't even have to observe the season at all.  And if you do, you can customize it to your own situation and growing edges.

The frustrating thing about being Protestant during Lent: there's no prescribed set of disciplines.  You don't even have to observe the season at all.  And if you do, you can customize it to your own situation and growing edges.

Particularly if you're a person who observes Lent in a congregation that doesn't, this often means a frantic realization on Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, or even a week or two into Lent that you haven't even given a moment's consideration, much less prayer, to what discipline one might take up to prepare for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  Or maybe I'm the only impious one with this problem.

Anyway.  I've seen a lot of interesting discussion about chosen disciplines around the web over the last few days.  This might be a few days/weeks late to be of optimal usefulness, but I still thought I'd share:

Facebook, et. al.

Giving up Facebook and/or other Web 2.0 applications or, more radically, all Internet use, seems to be a popular option this year.  Pastor Bob Hyatt clearly expresses why this might be a valuable discipline in our hyper-connected lives.  

If this is the right choice for you, more power to you.  (Is that an appropriate thing to say? Maybe "more grace to you" is better?)  Just do the rest of us a favor and give us one last status update about your plans before you sign off so we won't start to worry about you.  (It was so much less complicated to give up Web 1.0 for Lent...)


Mustard Seed Associates have published this Lenten guide: A Journey into Wholeness, which is particularly suitable for group use.

More than one person has recommended this set of readings from the Church Fathers for those who wish to take on a discipline rather than give something up.  You can even get the full text as a .pdf.  Alas, I had already committed to participating in Read the Institutes in 2009, sponsored by Princeton Seminary in celebration of Calvin's 500th birthday, and I know that adding a second daily reading of classical theology would only wind up being an excuse for me to spend less time praying.  So I'm saving these links for another year.

(Of course, if I followed the suggestion of Tammy Wiens at the PCUSA church leader's newsletter literally, I'd give up Calvin for Lent, and then maybe I'd have time to pick up the Fathers.  But I think I'll stick with plan A.)

Chris (link is to his Lent-dormant blog; he made the suggestion on Facebook) had another good suggestion for reading from the fathers during Lent -- rather than (or in addition to? not sure) covering the 205 pages of the above-mentioned reading plan, he's focusing on less than one page, but allowing it to saturate his soul by reading it every day: Augustine's Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 5.

Another Chris suggests a twist on the idea of reading classic theology for Lent: reading classic critics of Christianity, to allow our convictions to be purified by the encounter with the strains that have led some to passionately reject the idea of god.  (Here are a couple of useful essays on the idea of Atheism for Lent: by Merold Westphal and Rowan Williams.)

(Speaking of atheism and Lent, there's an interesting conversation going on at Friendly Atheist about anti-Lenten observances, with some suggesting that this is an especially appropriate time to "stop worrying and enjoy your life," as the atheist bus ads counsel, by deliberately flaunting the restrictive practices of religion, while other commenters bring up the idea that deliberate acts of self-denial for personal growth and/or the sake of others needn't be a purely Christian or theist or religious activity.)

Some Miscellaneous Ideas

Pastor Diane Roth has a really lovely post about giving up Perfectionism for Lent.

Muser has been musing on some very rich yet unconventional spiritual disciplines: Dancing at Clubs (pt. 2) and Intentional Mediocrity.

The Mutanga Challenge suggests a variation on a fast that is oriented to global inequities in food supply: restricting one's food budget to $2/person/day.  

Toilet paper.  I am only partly kidding.

The first comment at the Emerging Scholars Blog discussion of Lent reminds us of the value of weaning ourselves off of pleasures or practices we mean to give up, especially the sort that can be a shock to the system if changed all at once after a last-minute gorgefest.  This can be accomplished intentionally in the weeks leading up to Lent, or it can be incorporated into one's Lenten observance in a sort of "graduated fasting." After all, if a canonical Lenten fast from food is cutting back to just one meal in a day rather than not eating at all, there's no reason one's Lenten observances in other areas can't be gradual or partial.  

Several years ago now Lauren Winner gave up reading for Lent.  This has always stuck with me, because I'm confused about the logistics.  She was, at the time, I believe, a graduate student, teaching assistant, and book review editor, so it was basically her job to read.  I wish I could give up working for Lent.  Did she make an exception for vocationally-essential reading?  What about the reading we need to do just to navigate daily life -- like utility bills, or traffic signs?  Is it really possible not to read?  I suppose these questions reflect the sort of pedantic legalism (my phrase, not his) that Dave Bruno has observed afflicts some observers of his 100 Thing Challenge.  Pedantic nit-picking aside, both Lauren's essay and Dave's blog are worth a look as we think about discipline.

... and a Few Bad Ideas

One year, I tried to give up a certain category of obsessive thoughts for Lent.  I don't even remember the details anymore.  All I remember is that, whenever someone asked me what I had given up for Lent, or mentioned Lent at all, it reminded me of the thing that I had pledged not to think about.  So the whole idea backfired.  Not recommended.

My brother once knew a young man who gave up kissing for Lent.  That in itself is not the problem; the problem was that he didn't even consult his girlfriend before he made the decision. In fact, I'm not even sure whether he told her about his "fast," or if he just stopped kissing her. Either he really didn't get the idea that relationships are supposed to involve communication and cooperation, or he really wanted out of the relationship and was too chicken to tell her.  Either way, bad form!

My brother knew another young man who gave up "wasting time" for Lent.  Problem was, this young man defined almost any social activity as a waste of time, and already had a tendency toward antisocial workaholism.  This is one of the chief troubles with the Protestant do-it-yourself Lenten observance -- it's so easy to choose "disciplines" that reinforce rather than challenge our vices.  Community can come in handy for things like that.


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