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05 March 2019

Shrovetide, Lenten fasting, and naysayers.

Getting ready for Lent… assuming you do Lent.

LENT lɛnt noun. A time before Easter for Christians to fast, abstain, and practice self-control. Usually 40 days, like Christ in the wilderness, starting Ash Wednesday.
[Lenten 'lɛnt.(ə)n adjective.]
SHROVETIDE 'ʃroʊv.taɪd noun. The Sunday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when Christians customarily confess sins (or “shrive”) before Lent.
[Shrove ʃroʊv verb tense. Shrive ʃraɪv verb.]

I didn’t grow up with Lent. I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies consider Lent a Catholic thing and dead religion. And popular culture’s irreligious shrovetide activities seem to confirm all their suspicions.

In the United States we’ve got Mardi Gras. The term is French for “gross Tuesday,” a translation I like way better than the usual “fat Tuesday,” because while there’s a lot of awesome jazz, there’s also a lot of shameful behavior going on in these festivals. I’ve been to the New Orleans festival once, as a kid. All I remember were floats, beads, and coins which annoyingly wouldn’t work in vending machines. I vaguely remember drunken revelers, but Mom definitely remembers that part of it, and found it so horrifying she sought us refuge in a church building.

In other parts of the world they celebrate Carnaval, Latin for—I kid you not—“flesh party.” The general idea of these parties is you indulge your flesh and get all your vices out of your system. ’Cause during Lent you’re meant to practice self-control… so do your drinking and fighting and fornicating now, while you still can. As if we weren’t supposed to put away that stuff once we started following Jesus. Ga 5.16

See, this behavior is what makes me suspect these festivals were never created by true Christians. More like lapsed Catholics who wanted to have some ironic fun at the expense of the devout. ’Cause you notice who actually goes to these functions: Pagans and irreligious Christians. The devout stay home… unless they’re actually trying to evangelize the revelers, as my brother tried to do one year. (Hey, Jesus loves ’em too.)

Enough about what they’re up to. My point is Fundies, and other Christians who really don’t wanna practice any more self-control than they already do (assuming they practice any at all), use the revelry as their excuse to abstain from abstaining. You think I didn’t catch their underlying bad attitudes? “Look at those people. They sin their brains out, then go to confession. As if that wipes their slate clean.” And yeah, if you’re a bad Catholic that’s how you think: Sin Tuesday, repent Wednesday; cheap grace cures all. But that’s like assuming every drunken Christmas party is a Protestant thing, or shopping mall riots are how we thank God for his blessings every Thanksgiving.

Don’t confuse the secular madness with any actual religious observance. Got that?

…No? You don’t believe me and you’re gonna skip Lent regardless? Well, there’s no convincing some people.

I’ll just say this and be done with it: Most Fundies forego Lent not because it’s Catholic. They’ve no problem with plenty of other customs which originated among the Catholics. Like hymns, sermons, and nativity crêches. It’s because when it comes to fasting, they deprive themselves nothing, then use the excuse, “It’s not explicitly in the bible, so I needn’t do it.” Thus they justify their lives of excess. They presume they’re righteous because they trust God, not tradition; that their doctrines are orthodox. But in truth they sin just as much as any Mardi Gras reveler—just in quieter ways. And rant over.

Okay, let’s set aside the smokescreens and distractions and ask the question: Should we practice Lent? And if so, how?