Tag Archives: Lent

Are You Giving Up Something for Lent?

Today is Ash Wednesday. If you’re a “planning ahead” type of Christian, you may have over-indulged yesterday on whatever delicacy or vice you seek to avoid until Easter. Or maybe you don’t observe Lent that way and wonder what all this “giving up something” is about. Personally, I have always marveled at this relationship between behaviors and beliefs. Would giving up potato chips for 40 days make me a better Christian?

When I was a kid, I noticed that all my little friends carefully considered what treat they planned to give up for Lent. As the lone (it seemed) Presbyterian in a Catholic neighborhood, the concept was foreign to me. I mean, Lent was a thing, of course, but no Sunday school teacher ever implied we should observe it by giving up anything.

My friends, however, were deadly serious about it – they solemnly selected a favorite thing (usually sweets) and then abstained. Friday school lunches were meatless and desserts went un-touched. The collective willpower was impressive.

Despite the prevalence of Lenten sacrifice throughout my childhood, I didn’t get the reason for it until I was an adult. The behavior alone was significant enough to make an impression on me, so I never wondered about the beliefs behind it. Now, anyone can Google it: Lent is associated with penance and abstinence to reflect the 40 days and nights that Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

I don’t know how much my young friends really understood about Lent while they fastidiously avoided temptation for 40 days. So much of their religious behavior perplexed me: all the kneeling and sitting in church, making the sign of the cross, and most of all their descriptions of how priests would assign them repetitions of the “Hail Mary” during Confession.

Does participation in rituals and strict observation of rules make faith more meaningful? Does behavior equal belief?


Fun Fact: To satisfy Venezuelans’ appetite for capybara meat during Lent, the Catholic Church classified this oversized rodent as a fish.

Not always. I know Catholics whose children are being schooled in all the rituals my childhood friends observed, but the parents definitely don’t believe in all the values of the Catholic Church. A friend of mine who’s an Orthodox Jew (observes Shabbat, keeps a kosher home, threw a huge party for his son’s bar mitzvah) told me matter-of-factly that he considers himself an atheist.

And yet…traditional behaviors can be comforting. They connect us to others in our faith community and if performed thoughtfully, can remind us of the beliefs behind them.

I am partial to Lenten behaviors that are additive. Any daily activity – like prayer or Bible study or reading a devotional – is a perfectly acceptable way to practice Lenten self-discipline. But after missing out on all that “giving up something” as a kid, I admit that I feel drawn to consider the practice now.

That’s why I had a spectacularly huge bowl of potato chips last night. It was divine. After getting the most out of my own personal Fat Tuesday, I am now ready for Lent.


The Lenten Season

If college football is a religion, last night was Fat Tuesday. In a giant marketing expenditure shaped like a football stadium, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks put on a show for the faithful. The much-anticipated College Football Championship (do I have pay someone a dollar to write that?) was like the last day of an evangelical tent revival: players knelt in prayer, swore oaths, and sang the songs of their people. Can I get an AMEN?

Today, however, the Lenten Season begins. My calendar says there are 233 days until the next Michigan football game, when I will worship my team freely once more in front of my flat screen every Sabbath, oops, I mean Saturday.  Hail to the Victors!

Until then, we all must wait. College football fans will have to be content with a trickle of news reports about who’s committed where, and which recruits are split seconds faster than which other recruits. We will pay way too much attention to high school athletes with big potential and even bigger biceps.

Eventually there will be Spring Games, but they are nothing like The Real Thing. A Spring Game is like fish on Fridays – a sorry substitute for red meat but something we choke down anyway, having nothing else to nosh on. The red meat comes in 233 days.

This time of year, I miss my weekly dose of team worship. I miss carefully selecting my team apparel each Saturday, hanging the flag outside to broadcast our religious sect to passersby, and blasting the fight song from an old marching band CD. I miss partaking in the sacrament of chips and beer.

College GameDay

Going to church (watching ESPN) isn’t the same when college football season ends. Where are the Holy Trinity of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso behind the alter of their sports desk? No one is preaching the good news, because there isn’t any. And don’t say baseball season is around the corner – that’s blasphemy.

This year’s Mardi Gras, including last night’s bacchanalia, was a fun party if you are a fan of The Ohio State University. Someone in Columbus bit into the King Cake and found a baby named Cardale Jones, a third string quarterback who was raised from the depth chart by luck both good (his) and bad (J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller). How TOSU managed to have more QB talent on its bench than most teams get in a decade is a mystery to everyone. I’m not saying Urban Meyer sold his soul to the devil, I’m just asking the question.

Like all religious holidays, Fat Tuesday had to end. And like many parties at mediocre state schools not particularly known for intellectual reflection or scholarly restraint, the party in Columbus ended with dumpster fires and tear gas.

Fans of TOSU can spend their 233 days of Lent nursing their hangovers and wondering if Tom Brady himself could be any better than Cardale Jones. Fans of Oregon can spend Lent taking solace in the fact that their team’s uniforms in last night’s game were virtually unrecognizable, containing no trace of their school colors (green and yellow).  Unless you look very closely at slow-motion game film, you might actually believe that the Ducks had nothing whatsoever to do with that game and cannot be blamed for the outcome.


I will spend my Lenten Season in hopeful hopefulness. This time of year can be dark and dormant, but Michigan has hired Jim Harbaugh as its next head football coach and the atmosphere in the congregation of Michigan fans has quickly shifted from “it’s the apocalypse” to “it’s the second coming (of Bo).”

Anything can happen when you have faith! Except the speedy passing of 233 days.