Last week, Kelly and I saw the musical Fiddler on the Roof downtown at the Aronoff Center (big thanks to Julie Keyse for watching our daughter so we could attend). The story of Tevya, an impoverished Jewish family man in a small Russian town, centers on his transitioning faith. The entire show is encapsulated by the driving song of the musical: “Tradition.” Will Tevya continue to live within the framework of tradition or will he cede that some things change and that life can go on? Christians, at least those of us within the "evangelical" tribe, are the antithesis of Tevya. While we too are uncertain as how to engage both modernity and the faith of our past, we choose to eighty-six the tradition without a second thought. We are especially leery of those practices connected with Roman Catholicism, dismissing the lion's share of them as having been tainted by its hierarchy. This is precisely why many of us refer to ourselves as "New Testament Christians," claiming that this is the only tradition that has any value.
Within the spectrum of “tradition,” two extremes emerge: either we WORSHIP tradition as if it's biblical, or we WIPE IT OUT altogether like it's paganism. As with most positions, extremism is rarely healthy, but it tends to unify adherents so we acquiesce. As a result, many of us are cautious of moving away from the pole, fearful of being identified as "one of them." But at Echo Church, where we continually unite believers from various backgrounds under the banner of biblical authority, we're able to indulge in certain aspects of tradition while clarifying its place within our faith.
And that's precisely why, this year, we're observing Lent.
Lent isn't Catholic, it's Christian, dating back to the second century. The word "lent" is derived from an old English word meaning "springtime,"* and the Latin adverb "lente" means "slowly," providing us the opportunity to downshift our lives in anticipation of Resurrection Sunday. The length of Lent, approximately forty days, correlates with Jesus' desert temptation in Matthew 4. We observe the season with a renewed emphasis on prayer, giving, and (the most popular discipline) fasting. Most people use Lent as the opportunity to fast from something particular that they love.
We just need to remember why we're giving it up. We're not fasting to flex our powers of self-control; if you're trying to prove you can deprive yourself, this isn't the time. We don't fast because we're trying to merit God's approval; nothing we can "do" will get us saved—Jesus did that on the cross. We're preparing our hearts for Easter. Really, Lent is a lesson you get to re-learn. Through the experience you recognize that you love the Lord more than any one thing. Yes, you already know this, but it's a helpful reminder.
"So what are you giving up?"
Ah, the popular Lenten question. So here's my answer: Diet Coke.
In the summer of 1995, I switched over to Diet Coke from regular soda. I've always loved drinking pop, but couldn't keep the weight down will absorbing mass quantities of it into my system. So almost sixteen years ago I switched over and it's been a part of my life ever since. I’ve likely not gone two days without drinking it since then. Even when we were in Israel, I was able to locate Coke Light, the Asian/European equivalent. I've become known for my Diet Coke addiction, so it's the perfect thing to temporarily abandon.
Of course, in the scheme of things, this isn't a huge deal. All over the world people suffer and I'm going without a beverage? While it's not impressive, it will force me to alter aspects of my life. When I get a morning longing for a Diet Coke, I’ll remember why I don't drink one. And hopefully those moments of unfulfilled desire, I can focus on my faith.
So what about you? Maybe it's a food or a beverage. Maybe it's some kind of media (Facebook, the internet, Twitter, or television). Maybe it's a hobby like reading or sudoku or the crossword puzzle. Just ask yourself: what do you love? And is your dedication to it comparable to your love of the Lord.
As our church observes Lent, I'm going to write some thoughts on it to send out to people. I'll post some of them here.
The journey towards the Empty Tomb begins Wednesday. What can you give up?
*Yes, Lent is likely another pagan ritual that was Christianized and, therefore, isn't necessarily biblical. But if you've ever touched an Easter Egg or exchanged Christmas gifts, don't take the religious high ground and call this unbiblical.