March 6, 2009
As is often the case, my son’s and my birthdays fall just after Ash Wednesday. Since he visited this past weekend, we celebrated on an extended Sunday (since Sunday is never a fast day) with, among other things, cake and ice cream, two things from which I typically fast. Now he is headed home, my “birthday month” is over, and Lent has settled in.
The discipline of Lent reminds me once again how much I hate to say, “No,” to myself. The simple fare, minor self-denials, and dessert-free meals sooner or later (typically sooner) make me cranky or, more precisely, they reveal my inner crankiness.
I used to think that fasting made me cranky, anxious, and angry, but at some point I realized that this was not true at all. The truth be told, I am cranky, anxious, and angry. Why? For the same reason most people are cranky, anxious, and angry: I want what I want when I want it and I do not always get it. Food, entertainment, and other treats—for the most part legitimate pleasures—keep my crankiness, anxiety, and anger at bay or at least out of sight. But take away the occasional handful of M&Ms and the truth comes out.
When we fast, we rediscover the sin in our hearts and our need for Christ crucified. In St. John’s words:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)
Fasting, rather than being something we should feel proud to have done, is instead a humbling insight into our hearts. It pulls off the veneer of normalcy and lets us see what we really love and value. It quickly becomes clear that our hearts are ruled by our cravings, lusts, and boastings, not by the Father. And it has been thus since the Fall.
It was in light of Lent that I read “Love, Sex and Mammon: Hard Times, Hard Truths and the Economics of the Christian Family,” the editorial in the March issue of Touchstone, written by Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Moore begins, “We are not, we pray, on the verge of another Great Depression. Still, we see signs of economic failure all around us.” As a result, we worry about the state of the economy, the proposed fixes for the economy, and the price tag on those fixes. Most of all we worry about how it will all affect us. Jobs, savings, retirement, and homes are in jeopardy.
It all makes me feel cranky, anxious, and angry. Or, to put it more accurately, like fasting, the recession has pulled the curtain back on my cranky, anxious, angry heart. So I have been thinking: maybe fasting is the best way to think about the economic crisis—treat it as an extended Lent.
An economic Lent can, like the forty days of preparation for Easter, give us the opportunity—probably long overdue—for self-examination and repentance.
Looking at the American evangelical church culture, Moore notes:
Too many of our churches, too many of us, have made peace with the sexual revolution and the familial chaos in its wake precisely because we made peace, long before, with the love of money. We wish to live with the same standard of living as the culture around us (there is no sin in that), but we are willing to get there by any means necessary.
And therein lies the sin. Moore lists providing abortions when it is our daughter involved, parents encouraging young adults to delay marriage, the silence in most churches about divorce, and parents outsourcing most of their child rearing responsibilities as examples of compromise with the world. Economic decisions, he argues, drive them all: we want our pregnant daughter to live a “normal” life, our son to be financially secure and established in his career before marriage, the divorced to stay in the pews and learn (and continue to give), and our children to live in the best neighborhood.
The results are daughters with the devastating spiritual and emotional fallout of abortion, contributions to the hook-up culture that even exists in the Church, weak defenses of marriage leading to weaker marriages, and children who grow up and betray their parents’ values because they never really shared those values to begin with.
Perhaps these times will cause us, like our Lord Jesus in his wilderness temptations, to turn away from the momentary satisfaction—whether of our consumer or sexual “needs”—and toward the more permanent things.
Such turning (repentance) is the worthy goal of Lent. It also makes a worthy goal as we seek to profit from an economic downturn.
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