July 4, 2020

Lenten Brunch Lite 1: February 29, 2020

Photo by Alan Creech

Lenten Brunch Lite 1: February 29, 2020

During the Lenten season, we will offer a “lite” version of our Saturday Brunch. Each week, I will set forth one question (or set of questions) related to keeping Lent and ask us to focus our discussion on it.

Today’s set of questions is simple:

How does your tradition/denomination/church mark Lent?

What do you appreciate about these practices?

How do they help you in your spiritual formation?

Do you question any of them or any of the emphases set forth?

If you are part of a group that does not mark Lent, do you know why they don’t?

Comments

  1. https://fencepostblog.com/what-is-the-protestant-to-make-of-lent-699c02bc7e90

    Being raised in a Baptist home I would have to say the link above captures my views on this subject. Your formative years are hard to shake.

    • That blog post is an unfortunate combination of unnecessarily confrontational and, to be blunt, cluelessness. First off, many Protestant traditions have observed Lent all along. He is mistaking his own corner of Protestantism for the whole shebang. This might be due to ignorance, or perhaps he is being intentionally offensive. I always have the same question when an Evangelical uses “Christian” to mean Evangelicalism, in a way that excludes other traditions.

      Then there is this gem: “Now, if you are a Protestant who observes Lent, let me ask you this: Do you believe that your forty-day fast is justifying you before God?” The natural response to this question is extremely rude. I won’t write it because people would get the vapors and want to talk about that, rather than the substance. The cleaned-up response is that no, neither this nor any other actions we might take justify us before God. And here is my counter-question: If you agree that we are not justified by works, then do you believe it follows that we should be utterly unconcerned with works, good or otherwise?

      • First off, many Protestant traditions have observed Lent all along. He is mistaking his own corner of Protestantism for the whole shebang. This might be due to ignorance, or perhaps he is being intentionally offensive.

        As you know, many evangelicals don’t consider mainline Protestant churches, or the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, or many of their practice — such as Lent — to be truly Christian. Given that, chances are the offensiveness of his assumptions is baked into his ecclesiological understanding rather than intentional — offensiveness born of unconscious but not-really exculpatory ignorance.

        • But that certainly hasn’t stopped them from allying themselves with Catholics politically for culture war issues…

          • That’s because politics and its manifestation in culture war, in American nationalistic exceptionalism and identity, is so fundamental to the religious outlook of many American evangelical Christians. They are often driven by it more than by specifically religious perspectives; and I’m afraid many American Catholics are moving in the same direction, and some Orthodox too — you have only to lurk on Rod Dreher’s blog to see how political he and his commenters are to for an example of the latter.

            • I would actually say that politics is more central to the belief systems of Americans than religion, across the political spectrum of those religiously affiliated, from left to right, not just evangelicals.

              • Well, we know they can’t be kept entirely separate. Both deal with real life, from different perspectives. But once again, we always run into the thorny problems of interpretation and application when trying to view one in terms of the other. And we do not understand well that our interpretations and applications are rooted more in our personal moral perspectives than in our religious beliefs. Most people tend to use those to justify the positions they take from their own moral sensitivities.

                In my view, this is one great blessing of the Lenten season. If we observe it with thought and care, it gives us time and space to examine the inner life that is actually there, rather than the one we like to think is there (which we deem righteous).

    • Dan, this article represents why many of us now consider ourselves post-evangelicals. For 20 years now, this blog has been a voice protesting that point of view.

      • He did offer something of a lame apology as a one-year later postscript, but it was of the “I’m sorry if you took it bad, but I *am* right” variety. :-/

      • Chaplin Mike, of course this very fundamental explanation of not observing Lent is not the majority view of most here as they are as you state past evangelicals . I think the article stated in way too harsh and accusing manner the views of most fundamental Christians and why they do not observe Lent. Is Lent Biblical etc. you know the drill. however most evangelicals do not know that much about Lent or certainly do observe Lent. Do they have too? Of course not, can they if they so choose , of course they can. In any case , we are talking religion observances or lack of more than faith.

        • Dan, marking seasons and days with special celebrations and rites is indeed what the Reformers called “adiaphora.” These practices are not absolutely required. They are not “biblical” in the sense that they are commanded by scripture with specific instructions. However, it is my conviction that the Holy Spirit has guided the church throughout her history to initiate traditions that are beneficial when viewed and practiced in Christ and with his family. You will find many articles in the Internet Monk archives that commend the use of the Church Year as one of the wisest and most Christ-centered ways to walk with Jesus in unity with his people.

          Michael Spencer used to lament the disdain for tradition in evangelicalism and suggest that one answer for the shallow, consumer-oriented, entertainment-saturated, and historically ignorant path of American evangelicalism is to look back at the rich history of the church and restore a connection to the tried and true ways of Jesus-shaped traditions rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel on our own.

          So, our concern is not so much to insist that people have to follow any particular practice or ritual, but to be more historically informed and respectful of what the Spirit has taught the church throughout the ages.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWSoYCetG6A

            Great song from great play/movie. Tradition good? Tradition bad? What replaces tradition? So many questions in this song. What happens if a Catholic does not observe Lent? I do not honestly know, I am asking .

            Chaplin Mike, excellent summary and observations. I do not observe Lent but understand why those do find value in it. M. Spencer was a seeker of knowledge and on a journey of faith, in my opinion. HIs pursuit and zeal for expanding his understanding of faith and is personal journey is obvious and admirable that he shared it so well. Most people accept their teachings of faith at face value with little questioning. Sometimes it the difference on why we do something instead of how. However accepting Jesus as the only way to find everlasting life is not a tradition or an option , it is the very foundation of our faith. As someone said, perhaps CS Lewis that many ways to get to the truth but the truth is the truth. So traditions if used as a tool to foster, keep or enhance your faith is of course a good thing. In the early Christian Church traditions were vital , no doubt in my mind.

            • Part of the issue regarding church traditions in general is centered around the question: If we are Christians, how should be spend our time, or, to put it another way, how should we hallow our days? The Church Calendar, which includes Lent, is an answer and response to that question that developed gradually over the first centuries of the Church — we hallow time by remembering and reenacting the story of our faith in a regular annual cycle. If we eschew it, due to it not being necessary for salvation and therefore optional, what do we do with our time instead? The answer seems to be that we get wrapped up in the nonreligious cultural activities of our society: Mother’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, lots of television and movies (even those produced expressly for Chirstian consumption), etc. We become just like everybody else, only more so.

  2. I’m officialy a lapsed Catholic (taught by penguins and Marist Brothers) now attending a pentecostal church near where we live.

    Interestingly enough they follow Advent and Lent and most of the established Christian calendar noting that it is part of the rich lore of Christianity throughout the ages.

    I feel quite comfortable at the church, find it great as they haven’t “thrown out the baby with the bathwater” like some churches I attended in the past.

  3. I grew up in churches that rejected any notion of following the seasons of the church as too catholic. It wasn’t until I started studying church history and learned these practices date back long before the establishment of denominations. I have come to love the richness of following the church seasonal calendar. I now attend a church that practices Lent.

    For me, Lent provides a time for solemn spiritual reflection, a gift of time to examine my devotion to Jesus and how it is expressed through prayer, fasting, and generosity. Living in an age of hectic busyness, Lent provides me the opportunity to make time for “spring cleaning,” that I may lengthen my devotion to Christ, not for receiving any favor from God–but because of the great favor He has shown to me. I love counting the 40 days till Easter when I can celebrate the resurrection of our Savior with as much joy as I celebrate Christmas. C.S. Lewis called Lent a season of “happiness and wonder that makes you serious.” May you have a seriously happy Lent!

    • Any church that bases its worship on whether or not it is too Catholic has a serious problem. I think it was on this blog, many years ago, when the topic was how frequently to observe the Lord’s Supper. One commenter was a Baptist preacher. He acknowledged that he would like to observe it more frequently, but if he did he would be tossed from his church as being too Catholic. That is just sad, on so many levels.

  4. Grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, where Lent is obviously a serious practice. Fasting was enjoined at certain times of the week during Lent (most notably on Fridays, but also Wednesdays), Ash Wednesday was a special day of fasting and penitence, individuals were expected to undertake personal Lenten disciplines. My family didn’t take it so seriously, though they loved to go get ashes smudged on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday. As a young adult I became Episcopalian, where Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday services and imposition of ashes, was observed with a real yet lesser degree of rigor than in the Catholic Church, mostly dependent on the free and unpressured choice of the individual to participate or not. Now I am Lutheran, where Lent is also observed with less rigor than the Catholic Church, and it’s up to the individual how seriously they want to observe it.

    Personally, for many years I put effort into observing a semi-serious Lent, fasting and praying more during the season with not much success or sense that it was forming or shaping me at a deep or even superficial level. In recent years, though I attend Ash Wednesday services (usually in the evening after work) and mid-week Wednesday Lenten services (with my wife, who is the church musician and responsible for playing organ for these services), I feel mostly detached and like I’m going through the motions of Lent rather than engaging them at a deep and soul-shaping level. I don’t anticipate that my attitude about or feeling for Lent will change much in the remaining years of my life; it is there, I will observe it, but it is not terribly meaningful or spiritually formative for me.

  5. WHAT! GIVE UP SOMETHING FOR LENT!!?? GOTTA BE KIDDIN’…

    44 years in the churches of Christ where anything that smacked of Popishness was flat-out rejected. Hard to escape that mind-set but I have for the most part.

    In the past 12 years or so we’ve been part of traditions that pay attention to the Church calendar–Episcopal, Emergent, Presbyterian.

    At this point in life I’m more into a Peter Rollins approach, Atheism For Lent.

    • Engaging theological doubt for Lent would be intriguing to me if I didn’t do it all the rest of the year. As it is, it’s standard practice for me, if you can call it practice, although it’s more like I’m driven to doubt and reside in doubt as one half of my faith.

      • Same here.

      • Truth be admitted, most of us are functional atheist a significant part of the time.

        • A lot of the time, it’s hard for me to think in terms of trusting God — but for some reason it’s easier, just a little bit easier you understand, to trust that the universe is not out to get me, that existing and existence are good in spite of the counter-evidence. I’m not sure why the latter is easier than the former, but it is….

  6. As a former lifelong Baptist, now communing with the Lutheran church, Ash Wednesday has become my favorite service of the year. I am melancholy by personality, and the ‘happy happy’ nature of some sides of evangelicalism has wore thin, the melancholy nature of Ash Wednesday is a welcome relief. “Remember You are Dust and to Dust You Shall Return”.

    This year was particularly meaningful. Last summer we lost my beloved Father in law. Then, on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm we were out on the family farm digging a grave in the cool dampness for a long lived family pet. Wednesday was a rough day at work and emotionally. I wanted to hibernate Wednesday night, but Ash services were at 7:00 at our church. I am glad we went.

  7. It’s frustrating to me how much tradition evangelicals who grew up in the mid-20th century threw out just in the name of “not being like the Catholics” – or more recently, “not being like the mainlines.” I attend a church that claims to be Bible-centered but that only celebrates communion once a month. It’s literally the one and only part of Christian worship that was mandated by Jesus himself, but our denomination de-emphasizes its importance for purely cultural reasons.

    On the other hand, we do celebrate Lent and the whole church year. But I usually use Lent as a time to take on some new spiritual practice and to take stock of how my relationship with God is doing, rather than always thinking of it in terms of giving something up.

    • Even in a tradition like Roman Catholicism where Lent is taken with great seriousness, it has never been a matter of just giving something up. Fasting, “giving something up”, and other ascetic practices are meant to make room for prayer and positive practices, in large part by illuminating ones truly immense dependence on God for doing so, even when what is involved is giving it the most minor legitimate pleasures.

  8. My Lutheran pastor made an interesting observation this week. For him and our church, Lent is one of 3 days in the year with 3 services. Lent, Easter, and Christmas. It shows its importance.

  9. En Chile, la mayoría de las iglesias protestantes no observan la Cuaresma, pero no tenemos problemas teológicos si alguien lo hace. Solo respetamos la Semana Santa y además tenemos viernes y sábado feriado.
    Si todo lo que se hace es para la mayor gloria de Dios, está bien, como dice el apóstol, “cada uno esté convencido de lo que hace” (Romanos 14:5)
    Un saludo cordial.

    • Que tengas una Cuaresma y una Semana Santa.

    • Thanks, Toyita. Here is a Google Translate rendering of your post in English:

      In Chile, most Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but we have no theological problems if someone does. We only respect Holy Week and we also have Friday and Saturday holidays.
      If all that is done is for the greater glory of God, it is fine, as the apostle says, “let everyone be convinced of what he does” (Romans 14: 5)
      Sincerely.

  10. My traditions have been congregational and baptist. No Lent observed in either.

    At First Baptist, there have been several references to things “Romish” as the reason why we don’t do them, but not in the case of Lent. It simply isn’t mentioned, as if it didn’t exist. The “Romish” practices include the veneration of Mary; transubstantiation; the offices of bishop or pope; confession, etc.. But at least these are acknowledged. They exist, and we don’t do them because they are Roman Catholic practices. But not Lent. It simply isn’t on the radar, and neither is a church calendar beyond Christmas, Easter, Mothers Day and the 4th of July.

    First Baptist also does not include the Lord’s Prayer (maybe once every several years) and Communion is faithfully served only on the first Sunday of each month. Despite the insistence on “biblical” practices, these practices–or commandments–are ignored.

    At the congregational church, the Lord’s Prayer is recited every Sunday without fail. It may be the only thing we know how to do besides the Doxology. But Lent isn’t a thing there either.

    Our failure to observe Lent may not come entirely from anti-Catholic sentiments. It may come from mere tradition, as in, “We’ve always done this (or never done this) so why change now?”

    Or, the practice of Lent may seem un-American to some. Is it patriotic to deprive one’s self? Doesn’t this fly in the face of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism? From what, if not squalor and deprivation, did our ancestors leave their homelands and cross the oceans to come to a better land?

    I’m not sure people really think about this a lot. It could be that we do (or do not) observe Lent because that’s the way we’ve always done it. There seem to be other things to argue about. Like evolution, or women preaching.

  11. Susan Dumbrell says

    I wipe the tears which I cannot dry.

    The tears for the Christ who I know will die

    The tears for the Christ with china blue eyes who pleads why

    My tears for myself as I know the outcomes past and future

    What shall I give up for Lent

    Pray God, my tears

  12. Former Baptist, now Catholic.

    I like Lent for the chance to cut back on unnecessary things, and I enjoy some of the things I add, such as late shift cleaning after the fish fry. I get to talk to friends who also do that because I don’t see them much anymore due to being employed again. I try to add more spiritual reading as well..

    I don’t go to Ash Wednesday services, because I don’t get much out of them. (Death is not a stranger, but a hated enemy that I have had too much contact with). Also, at some of the places I worked, some would go to a service with ashes during their lunch break. They tended to be the least friendly, least Christlike of my co-workers. I dislike hypocrites and I try very hard not to be one.

  13. In Eastern Orthodoxy, our calendar calculations are different (Julian, not Gregorian), so there may be as much as 5 weeks between us and the West; usually it’s one or two – this year it’s one.

    Lent begins at Sunday Vespers (liturgically Monday), at the end of which we ask each other for forgiveness as the choir sings the long, joyous Paschal Canon, without the refrain “Christ is risen from the dead”. The response is “God forgives”, and some people also add “and I forgive you”. Since we do everything “more”, we’ve been preparing for the last 3 Sundays with Gospel lessons about Zaccheus, the Prodigal Son and the Last Judgment. We’ve just finished a week without meat and are using up our dairy, eggs and fish this week, so we ease into the food aspect of it. Of course, the very young and very old, pregnant women, and people with health issues requiring dietary needs have permission to observe the food part of it differently according to need, but we all observe the fast somehow (including fasting from screen use to whatever degree we have the strength for…), and especially fasting from lack of love – because the enemy and his associates don’t eat, so the fast isn’t about food per se. Weekends we’re allowed wine and olive oil, and on Annunciation Day we get fish.

    We have a different Sunday Liturgy, that of St Basil rather than the usual St John Chrysostom; the former is about 10 minutes longer, with a much more detailed prayer of consecration – it’s basically Salvation History 101. (Do look it up; search for “anaphora of St Basil Liturgy”.) Each Sunday we commemorate something/someone different: the restoration of the veneration of icons (which is a theological statement about Christ being truly God and truly Human), St Gregory Palamas (a great teacher on how we know God in our lives), the Cross (midway point), St John of the Ladder (who wrote a spiritual guide for monastics), St Mary of Egypt (the greatest penitent), and then Palm Sunday. Technically, Lent for us lasts through the Saturday before Palm Sunday; Holy Week is its own thing.

    What I appreciate is the deep focus on the Cross – it is always in view – and the journey toward humility and seeing the extent to which God seeks after us. One of the marvels, to me, of Orthodoxy is the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, which we read the first three days and then again on the fifth Thursday of Lent. It’s basically a long prayer in which we identify with Adam and pray to God to restore us. It’s very different in character than the usual Lenten meditations.

    Every year, the spiritual formation aspect is different. I can’t predict what it will be, but it’s always something that is germane to my life at the time. Every year I look forward to it happily as well as with a sort of salubrious dread, because every year the emphases have been helpful for me in ways I can’t predict. I have no problem with any of it, even after +30 years as a Protestant who, most of the time, thought it useless. The great emphasis on the whole Church engaging in it together and at once helps me feel supported in the real struggle, which for me is coming to grips with how much I forget/take advantage of God’s immense love that manifests itself in his immense humility.

    Dana

  14. Growing up Evangelical, much of the liturgical calendar was foreign to me, if it even registered on my radar at all. Working in a Christian bookstore environment allowed me to connect with people of all denominations, and so I became aware of Advent, and today in our corner of the world, many Evangelical denominations light Advent candles and incorporate the themes of each week in the teaching time. I hope this is more than just appropriation.

    Similarly, I seeing Lent becoming increasingly visible. While some of the above comments have centered on its profile in the Roman Catholic church, I think we can look to the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition for a good model of how to process through these 40 days and also make a better distinction between Good Friday worship and Easter Sunday worship. It’s so easy in our North American and Western European mindset to rush through the observances in light of how we know the story ends. But as Jesus moves toward the cross knowing the bigger picture, his disciples have no such luxury; the story will only become clear to them with the benefit of hindsight.

    This was best expressed for us in a Tenebrae service we attended. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss it. There is simply darkness at the end. And you feel it. That day, that holy Saturday between crucifixion and resurrection. Who could possibly know the mind of those disciples during those hours? And then later, you consider that 90% of your Evangelical friends have probably never been to a service quite like this.

    To which I say, ‘Lent? Bring it on! Bring on the deeper meaning. Bring on the silence. Bring on the identification of Christ’s death.’ We’ve done it the other way. We need this greater measure of awe, mystery and reverence right now.

  15. I’m not a Christian (I suppose you could call me a humanistic pagan,r evering nature and the cosmos without the deities and “magick”), but I was raised in the Lutheran church and understand the liturgical year. For me,the pagan observance of the Wheel of the Year very much mirrors Robert F’s “how shall we hallow our days” and the development of traditions to do that. Even though I observe it from the outside, I can definitely appreciate the way that the liturgical year celebrates the life of Christ in the Advent through Pentecost half of the year, and the study of his teachings in the Ordinary Time. To me these are natural approaches to how we learn and how we immerse ourselves in our beliefs, and I’ve always found the evangelical/fundamentalist approach of “sola scriptura” to be depressingly dry and barren.

    I also am a great lover of the music of J.S. Bach, and I post his cantatas on my website every Sunday, following his following of the liturgical year. Of course, I have to scramble to find cantatas not attached to the calendar every Advent and Lent, because at least during his career in Leipzig, he wrote no cantatas for the Sundays in those seasons because in that area concerted music was forbidden in the churches then. Oh well, Bach certainly wrote enough music for occasions outside the calendar to fill in the blanks!

    Even though I’m not a Christian, I’ve been subscribed to this blog close to 10 years now, commenting occasionally, because I find it so refreshing to find intelligent discussion on spiritual themes. Michael Spencer started something unique and precious here, and I’m glad to see it continue. Keep up the excellent work!

  16. anonymous says

    Lent is a good season for ‘intentional’ living

    to focus us

    to help us know the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’

    and to bring us nearer to the foot of the Cross

    to kneel for a time