Three years ago, my friend Paul wrote a blog about his choice Lenten fast that year--backspacing. His plan was to give up going back on his word, to give up saying things he didn't mean and to decide that he meant the things he did. I thought it was a very interesting concept, though one I couldn't get fully behind because, hey, I'd never practiced giving up things for Lent.
Growing up Baptist, we didn't do a lot of things that could be connected to any sort of liturgy or church calendar, other than the holidays of Christmas and Easter. No Pentacost, no Lent (that I was aware of, anyway), no Feasts for different saints.
When I got to college, I had some friends who gave up stuff, but I never really felt like doing it because hey, that wasn't part of my tradition. After going to England, however, I discovered that the tradition I was raised in didn't matter nearly as much as the traditions I chose to follow once I had given them thought. The idea of Lent intrigued me - in the days leading up to Easter, giving up something that means something to you in an effort to spend more time getting to know Christ. It's connected to the idea of fasting, a spiritual discipline that's been rather lost in the church.
Fasting is deliberately depriving yourself of something you want or need in order to concentrate more on your spiritual life.
This is the purpose of Lent.
Last year, I finally participated in Lent. It didn't necessarily give me a clearly spiritual life, but it did help me streamline my time management, and helped me get through my three graduate classes. I gave up Facebook, and participated in Blood:Water Mission's 40 Days of Water. The denial of my tri-weekly Common Grounds Earl Greyer tea was a bit of a trial, but it did save money, which I was then able to donate to build wells in Africa.
This year I'm doing it again.
Well, not 40 Days of Water, though the end of the Lent period will be celebrated in the form of a donation.
I'm not giving up my coffee and tea, but I am giving up a portion of my daily diet: Meat.
Yes, you read that right. For Lent I am becoming a vegetarian.
I would be silly to surmise that who I am is completely separate from where I grew up. South Dakota's meat industry shaped my view on eating animals--it was just something we did. Vegetarians were silly people who thought animals more valuable alive than they would be on the plate. And to some extent, that's true. Meat gives a number of nutrients that are hard to find elsewhere, that supplement one's blood iron content (a big problem for me) and provide energy and less fat than a normal all-carb diet. South Dakota likes to emphasize the economic concept of eating meat as well--just outside of Mitchell, SD, there is a large billboard reading: "We South Dakotans Reject Animal Activists! Meat is Our Industry!"
I didn't meet a full-fledged vegetarian until I went to England in my junior year of college--at 20 years old. Jennie was a brash, fun Brooklynite, the daughter of, I believe, Messianic Jews. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but still held to Jewish customs. Her hold on the traditions of her family, and of her own convictions made for an interesting friendship that sometimes clashed with my then staunchly conservative beliefs. She was a vegetarian on moral grounds and cared deeply about the animals she encountered. For Easter and Lent (which occurred while we were in England), she had to be on a rather strict diet because she had to follow the Jewish dietary system, meaning the week of Passover, she was restricted to forms of Matzo.
Her convictions were inspiring, and when I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer's most recent book, Eating Animals, I was inspired to try an experiment.
Needless to say, when I told my mom of my Lenten plan, she didn't react too kindly. She is worried that a diet consisting of mainly carbs and vegetables for a period of 40 days (with Sundays off, which makes it a shame that Chick-Fil-A is closed then) will result in my sudden and untimely death.
In addition to meat, I'm doing the additional cleansing of time-consuming activities: No Facebook, and possibly no Twitter for a time.
What are you giving up?