O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

The LENTerview

A conversation:

Seriously? “The LENTerview”? That’s horrible.

Sorry. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, like when I got that figure-skating demon tattoo.

Which is also horrible.

Agreed. I have my regrets.

So the season of Lent begins today, right?

Yes. Today is Ash Wednesday. Lent continues from today until Easter, which is April 4.

I didn’t know you were Catholic.

I’m not. My denominational background is Southern Baptist.

But isn’t Lent something that Catholics observe?


Well, yes. It’s also something that Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other high-church Christians have observed over the years. Lent is not exclusive to a certain denomination, though. It’s been a part of the Christian calendar since, like, the 2nd century. Since before Catholics were called Catholics, and before there was such thing as a Protestant.

Ok, then. But I totally didn’t know Baptists were into that kind of thing.

Uh, they’re not. Not really. The Anabaptists in our history tossed out any religious practice that seemed too Pope-y back in the 17th century, which meant the Christian calendar and Lent got pushed aside. Growing up, it wasn’t just that Lent wasn’t much emphasized in my church. It pretty much didn’t exist at all. Easter was a big deal, and the church was closed on Good Friday. But that was it. Never a word about Ash Wednesday.


The first time I ever heard about Lent was in the movie Fletch 2, when Chevy Chase’s character said he’d given up rattlesnake for Lent. I was in high school, I think.

Fletch 2 was totally underrated.

No it wasn’t.

So why do you observe Lent now?

Because I think observing Lent — which I’ve done for 4 or 5 years now — is one of the most valuable spiritual practices in my life. It’s something that I honestly believe all Christians ought to consider making a part of their faith. Not to earn some kind of holiness points or heavenly crowns or anything, but just because it makes Easter that much more meaningful.

By “observing Lent,” you mean fasting, right? Giving up something for Lent?


Yes. Fasting during Lent is a way to acknowledge (with great humility) the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In observance of Lent, Christians give up something they love — coffee, sweets, alcoholic beverages, shopping — for a few reasons. First, it’s a mild form of discipline and self-denial. And let’s face it: there’s not much discipline or self-denial in the life of the modern Westerner. Second, you replace whatever you’ve removed from your life with something of benefit, like prayer or scripture reading or service. Third, giving up something helps keep your small personal sacrifice at the front of your mind, which means it’s a great way to focus on the larger sacrifice of Jesus and remain conscious of his death during the weeks leading up to Easter.


So the fast ends at Easter?

Exactly, and that’s the point. Before I began observing Lent, it seemed like Easter just kept sneaking up on me. Suddenly it was there, without warning. You’ll notice this never happens with Christmas. Christmas never sneaks up on us, because we start preparing for it as soon as we get the dishes washed after the Thanksgiving meal. That’s the role the Lenten season plays: because you’re fasting from something, it makes you anticipate the coming of Easter and the end of your fast. You start looking toward Easter several weeks beforehand. In a small way, this deepens your celebration of the resurrection.

What should I give up?


I’m not going to say you should give up anything. This isn’t a rule you have to follow. Lent isn’t a biblical command or anything like that. It’s just a religious tradition, and God doesn’t love Lent-fasters more than he loves everyone else. But it is a valuable practice. Anyway, to answer your question, there are plenty of things you could do without for the next six weeks. Give up sodas the whole time, or your morning coffee. Give up television on one day a week. Give up the game apps on your iPhone. Stop eating sweets. Stop snacking between meals. Give up Twitter or blogs or–

Gasp. You’re not giving up blogging, are you?

No. Not this year. I can certainly see the value of something like that — and it may be something I do in the future for Lent — but not this year.


Thanks. I was worried.

Whatever. The first time I observed Lent, I gave up listening to my car’s radio or CD player when I drove. No music or NPR or anything. Just silence. I used that time to pray. It was very quiet and pretty cool. And the result was that, by the time the Lenten season ended, I was ready for Easter. I had been thinking about it and preparing for it for those 40 days.

Wait. There’s more than 40 days between today and April 4. It’s something like 47 days.

Right. There are seven Sundays in there, and you don’t count Sundays. A lot of churches recommend you break your fast every Sunday, because the sabbath is a day for celebration — not self-denial. Take away the Sundays and you have the 40 days of Lent.


What about your atheist or agnostic readers? Is there any virtue in them observing Lent?

Well, I doubt the part about making Easter more meaningful will entice a nonbeliever into a Lenten observance. But I definitely think there’s some personal value in taking a few weeks every year to do without something. Self-denial is an important virtue, and its one that separates us from the animals. People deny themselves stuff all the time because of a perceived benefit. Dieters do it, then add exercise to their lives in order to become healthier. If you decide to train for a marathon, you’re willingly going to give up a lot of free time and replace it with jogging. I guess, if they wanted, a nonbeliever could observe a fast during the Lenten season without having to connect it to religion. Environmentalists might give up driving their cars the whole time. Take public transportation and let the planet benefit. Or you could go without sweets for a few weeks and let your body benefit from the sugar detox.


But to be honest, I wouldn’t expect atheists to derive much meaning out of Lent. And that’s OK. My Southern Baptist heritage doesn’t put much stock in it either. :)

Although Protestant enthusiasm for the practice is definitely growing…

Any other words about Lent?

Not really. But if you’ve never observed the practice, and if you’re a Christian, I’d encourage you to try it. Just to see. I have no doubt you’ll see the value in it.


Update: You might consider joining Blood:Water Mission for their 40 Days of Water campaign. Drink only water during Lent and donate the money you save toward building clean water proje
cts in Uganda.

Comments read comments(17)
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Tom E.

posted February 17, 2010 at 8:53 am

As a Lutheran Pastor I want to thank you for your thoughtful "LENTerview." I couldn't have said it much better myself! Blessings on your Lenten "fast."

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posted February 17, 2010 at 8:54 am

I have been practicing lent for 2 years. This will be the third and wonderful year. In the past I've given up pop, french fries, ice cream, hamburgers, facebook. This year, I've been praying to see what the Lord wants me to do with out. So far, Pop – this goes along with the 40 days pledge… (just drinking water) and facebook. I'm praying about other contenders. I've also decided to go to a vegan/vegetarian diet. I pray that this time of fasting will be a new chapter in my life. I'm not catholic, lutheran, etc. I go to a nondenom church…

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posted February 17, 2010 at 9:03 am

This is a wonderfully balanced explanation, Jason. I think many haphazard observers of Lent understand the giving up part but forget the substituting part. Someone spiritual and smart once said, "Fasting without prayer is just starvation."

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Mike Miller

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

Those were weak questions! Get a real interviewer in there! (But the answers were decent.)

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Mike Miller

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:05 am

(love your Pocket Guides btw)

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Maven Creative

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:23 am

Thanks Jason! The Maven boy really enjoyed this article. We're all going to participate this year.And here's our title suggestion:If You Love Me You'll Lent MeThanks, and Fletch 2 was awful.-Chris

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posted February 17, 2010 at 9:26 am

I too was raised Baptist and somehow found myself joining a Baptist church as an adult, in spite of fighting against it for years. But I do miss the church seasons I celebrated when I attended an Episcopal church for a while. But to its credit, my church does celebrate Advent, so that helps a little : )As someone who, before this week, filled her awake time with noise (the TV or music is ALWAYS on), I love the idea of taking on silence for Lent.

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Benji Zimmerman

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:47 am

Great post! Well done!

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Nicodemus at Nite

posted February 17, 2010 at 10:17 am

I'm giving up adultery for

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posted February 17, 2010 at 10:31 am

the call to Lent as a discipline was just another example of God calling me to pay attention to Him… to how much He loves me… to how far He will go to draw me close to Him… to His purpose for my life. my practice for each season has varied over the last 10 years or so but the process never fails to teach me something new. BTW i am still a baptist. :)

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posted February 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

I've been waiting for this post since your teaser last week, but while waiting, I did a little Lenten research of my own. I'm excited/apprehensive to be observing Lent for the first time this year.I'm tackling gluttony, one of my comfort idols. It's so culturally acceptable in America to eat to excess. I'm fasting from added sugars and sugary products. It's already hard and I'm not even to lunch on Day 1 (ugh). This shows me how much of a hold food has on me. I'm excited to replace it with more focus on Christ and remembering his suffering for me. By the end, I think I'll be glad for this time.And any interviewer who thinks Fletch 2 was underrated needs to be fired.

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David Henson

posted February 17, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Very nice post, says the Episcopalian. :)One thing I wish there was more of was a connectedness of our Lenten fasts to social justice, such as eliminating something from our lives that in some way perpetuates an injustice that we often turn a blind eye to. If we take a consumer approach to Lent and give up things we consume, perhaps it might be wise to see just how our consumption affects the world and allow that to transform us as well.Just an additional thought to your post. I appreciated the tone as well.

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posted February 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm

"I guess, if they wanted, a nonbeliever could observe a fast during the Lenten season without having to connect it to religion."Ummm????Would a Christian fast during Ramadan because Moslims happen to be fasting as well (Ramadan in 2010 will start on Wednesday, the 11th of August and will continue for 30 days until Thursday, the 9th of September).?A non-believer who wanted to fast would do so any time during a year… not because sects of Christians practice Lent or Moslims practice Ramadan.Or am I missing something or misreading what was meant?- Fastthumbs

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Jason Boyett

posted February 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm

@fastthumbs:Sure. A nonbeliever can fast whenever. So can a Christian. But because Lent provides a framework for it — and because one may be around others in the community who are observing it — it seems like a good time for a nonbeliever to do something similar, even though it would have no personal religious meaning.For instance, I've known Christians who have observed the Ramadan fast along with their Muslim friends. Not because it meant something to them in relation to Islam, but because their friends were doing it and it was a way to experience community with them. Despite the religious differences, they knew (as Christians) that it had some personal value, even removed from Islam. Both of them — Lent and Ramadan — offer a societal framework for fasting.But, yeah, you can do it whenever. I can fast from sweets whenever I want. But the shared sense of sacrifice makes it more meaningful to do it in community, regardless of what you believe.

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posted February 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I'm with you on the Protestant Lenten observation. I even went and got the ashen cross on my forehead today at school (I study at a Catholic university) – in fact, I haven't washed it off yet. I'll probably wanna do that before I go to bed tonight..Funnily enough, though, Christmas always sneaks up on me much more than Lent does. Probably because I'm a student and the weeks before Christmas are the busiest of the semester with all the finals and papers and general running-around. This is my fifth Lent (if you think Baptists don't hold with papist practices, try the calvinistic Dutch churches!) and my church is focusing on environmental sustainability this year, so a lot of my fasts have to do with that (for instance, I'm radically shortening my morning showers so I a) save water and b) actually have time for morning prayer). I'm also going to leave my iPod at home for my bike rides in the city so I can focus on the silence for once.anyway, good luck with your fasts and I hope they help you in your spiritual journey! (wow, that certainly sounded pious ;))

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Cecelia Dowdy

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:40 am

Great post! Loved your explanations! But there is NO WAY I could give up my morning coffee! I'd be grouchy all day, hard to get along with!

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Sarah Elizabeth

posted February 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Thank you for including Blood Water Mission at the end! I've participated in it before and was excited to hear some of my friends wanted to do the 40 Days this year. We got these cool Livestrong-esque bracelets to remind us everyday. I love knowing people will have water as a result!

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