Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm all, 40 days? Try 40 weeks.

If you're religious, maybe don't read this one. Also, if there's a Hell, I am probably on the express train.

My calendar says Ash Wednesday, which made me realize two things.

One, I have never had any idea what Ash Wednesday is about. And two, this is the first day of Lent.

Lent is something I find fascinating. It's something so many people who aren't actually good-in-their-soul kinds of people do. And then they talk a lot about what they've given up.

At least, this is how it seems to me.

Having been raised a heathen, I think I first learned about Lent in college. Which was also the first time I saw people my age going to church voluntarily, instead of bitterly being dragged by their parents to Mass like we were for those few years.

Not having been raised with a religion - or really, having been raised with four years of hurry-up-cram-it-in Catholicism, which didn't stick because I was too old, I just don't think I'll ever actually get organized religion. Or Christianity, anyway.

And then in the Peace Corps, all the Catholic priests we worked with in our communities were such hypocrites. They were all preaching goodness and sharing - not to mention telling women that they weren't complete human beings if they weren't mothers - and they were mostly kind of crappy people.

Even the young, dynamic one I really, really liked as a person spouted the official "have more kids, birth control is wrong." And eventually it came out that he had an entire secret family in another village. They all did. And the archdiocese knew about them, and always looked the other way.

All this to say, I've not been raised with or developed a whole lot of respect for the only church I know anything about.

If you're not religious, there are a whole number of things you can give up for Lent.

And so when someone who doesn't really know me asks me if I've given up anything for Lent - and bizarrely, if rarely, this does happen - I tend to say wicked things like, "Jesus," or "Mass," or "tithing."

But this time around I'm all, "Giving up for Lent? My whole fucking life is Lent."


  1. I would give up self-pleasure, but then I would be required to pleasure others, and where's the fun in that?

    Save me a seat on that train, will you?

  2. Exactly. Where's the fun?

    And certainly. I'll bring a flask.

  3. I think it is so odd when people ask what I'm givin up for lent. Why would anyone assume other people are Catholic?

    Last night I was explaining Ash Wednesday, Lent and the whole thing to Josh. Then we (the atheist and the jew) just sort of shrugged and went back to reading our books.

  4. I'm Catholic, grew up Catholic, in a country that's 80% Catholic, and I never heard of Lent until I moved to the US twelve years ago. On that note, I had also never seen ashes on anyone's forehead until then.

    In Brazil? We give up meat on Good Fridays. THAT'S IT. Not any other day (or any other Friday), not any other thing.

    A friend of mine put as his Facebook status "I'm giving up Lent for alcohol" I thought it was awesome!!

  5. I have been a "thoroughly lapsed Catholic" for longer than my Mother admits. Yet for some reason, I still try to observe Lenten rituals (except the ones that actually require me to, you know, enter a church.)

    I too have no idea what I will be sacrificing for the next two fortnights, but I love your "Mass" answer.

  6. I spent K-8 in catholic school, with nuns who told me on my last week of school in 8th grade that I would become a whore and a druggie because I was going to public high school. Yeah, i pretty much gave up being catholic after that....

    It is still odd that I feel guilty eating meat on fridays during lent though...

    Could not agree more that you are undergoing 9 months of lent right now though, and since i'm hoping to be in that condition at some point this year, i think i'll just make my lent objective to "not be an asshole" since kharma is always a good thing to work on.

  7. Dr. Taggart is very concerned that her family not eat meat on Fridays (or today) during Lent. So I make sure I do that, because it's such a small thing, and makes her happy.

    The church I went to at home, though, started doing something of which I approve - asking people to DO something positive for Lent.

    Also, you and freckledk are welcome to crash at my place once you get to Hell, if you like. I'm certain I've sinned sufficiently to score some pretty nice digs.

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  9. I gave up 5% of my salary and 401K matching for Lent. Oh wait, that was involuntary. And longer than 40 days. Still counts.

  10. I'm going to give up cheese. Not because it's lent, but because I like challenging myself, just to see if I can do it. One year I gave up TV, another year I gave up bread. The next year it was sugar.
    Although to be truly honest, I'm wicked, and I mostly do it so that I can lose 10 pounds each year.

    Although I think Jesus applauds my efforts at weight loss. Because don't you think he dropped a couple ell-bees out in the desert what with the no water or food thing?

  11. I simply don't believe in giving things up. Why live a life focused on what you can suffer through, rather than one focused on what amazingly pleasurable things you can enjoy? Desire and enjoyment are the best parts of life, not something to feel guilty about.

  12. I was raised Catholic (did 7 years of Catholic school) though I haven't been a "good" Catholic since the 80's. I do try not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent and on Ash Wednesday, though, just to reconnect to that part of my upbringing (I'm skipping that this year, since pregnant people are exempt -- or at least I choose to believe they are). But I don't usually "give up" anything. Instead I try to do something positive, like floss daily or make sure the dishes are done each night. That way it's got a positive spin on it, rather than a negative, denying myself feel.

  13. Dude, I think we might secretly be related.

    My little sister (bless her) is all about the religion. Which is weird because my family is not the religious type. She was really shy in highschool and she got recruited by a youth group. And then my little sister disappeared and the religious fanatic appeared. Anyway. She gives up all sorts of shit for Lent. This year it's baked goods. I do not understand it AT ALL. Why does Jesus want her to give up baked goods for 40 days? What kind of god wants ANYONE to give up baked goods for any amount of time? I can't get behind that.

  14. Maiden Metallurgist - I have no idea. And is Lent only for Catholics? Do Protestants not do it?

    Beach Bum - That's really interesting. I wonder if it's cultural - and I also wonder if the more Catholic the country, the less the need for obvious rituals? As for Lent for alcohol - ha!

    Refugee - I think personal rituals - which is what it sounds like these are for you - are probably actually a good thing. Hypocracy and forced ritual are what really annoy me.

    Alisa - Ohhh, so mean of those nuns. And I feel like the Catholic rituals and guilt, if you start them young enough, are so deeply ingrained that they are with many people for life, like it or not. So the guilt makes total sense to me.

    Also, the "not to be an asshole" objective is an excellent one. I love that.

    Dagny - I feel like the approach of your church is such a good one. Anything that promotes more positivity in the world is commendable.

    And thanks for the invite - maybe I'll take up whisky sours and cigarettes at that point.

    HKW - I feel like it totally counts if you want it to.

    Sarah - This I can totally understand, and I do think these are interesting tests with the weight loss bonus. As for Jesus, wasn't he all making loaves of bread and fish and such? Or was that not in the desert?

    Nicole - It is hugely guilt-based, isn't it? Like you're a better person if you're focused on abstention.

  15. Luna - I can certainly understand doing particular things as a way to connect with your upbringing, and I love the positive approach you decided to take with it.

    Hillary - I love how you added "bless her." I agree. And putting it that way - why would Jesus want you to give up baked goods? - is truly hilarious. So faced with a pastry, and WWJD, the answer clearly is, "not eat the Danish." For 39 more days.

    So she is the judgey sister?

  16. Seriously, you've given up more than enough when you consider the booze alone.


  17. This is something I struggle with, being raised Lutheran...but the organized religion part really gets to me sometimes. I just don't think God cares whether or not I'm wearing a dress and showing up to some building on a random day of the week.

    As an aside, I gave up soda for Lent. Which I immediately regretted.

  18. An old flame and still current friend who, along with the other six members of her family, went to Notre Dame once told me the dining halls there even took the bacon bits out of the salad bar on Fridays in Lent. Didn't matter if you could eat 'em or not, you were doing it in South Bend.

    Also, if the bishop of Chicago can "set aside" the rule when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday, is it really a rule? Or more of a guideline?

  19. In college, when asked, I used to be a smart-ass and say, "interest." (ie. what'd you give up for the money you lent.) Thing is, as a person who saw many religious things growing up, I'm just amazed that the people walking around the office with ash on their foreheads don't wield AK-47's, double bandolier of ammunition, and aren't high on khat. I mean, if it's good enough for Africa, Pakistan, Columbia, Cambodia, etc., why isn't it good for us?

  20. The hypocrisy of organized religion is what always got to me, the "do as I say, not as I do" part.
    And I LOVE the quote (from either Hitchens or Maher) about how religion sells the ultimate product, an invisible one.

  21. If you remember, remind me to give you my standard rant on organized religion the next time we meet... suffice to say, I think the concept is self defeating.

    Sarah: Giving up cheese?!?!? that's... that's sacrilege! Cheese is hole-y.

  22. Hee Hee. I was also raised in no particular religion but learned about quite a few of them. I always believed in God (higher power, whatever)But the whole church thing mystifies me. Being a total hypocrite, my daughter goes to Catholic school (because it's important to my husband). Anyway, I saw a great quip on It said "I believe I will become closer to God by giving up M&M's for 3 weeks." I loved it.

    I like the idea of doing something more than giving something up. When Jess is old enough, I'm going to encourage that.

  23. Having been raised a Catholic, I still don't understand Ash Wednesday or Lent. They don't really ever explain things very well to you in that religion... Yeah, I gave that whole thing up... for Lent. Ha ha ha ha ha!!

  24. Ash Wednesday sucks. I couldn't eat meat today and I had no idea why. I craved meat bigtime as a result.

    As for giving stuff up for Lent. I usually say I'm giving up sex. Unless I'm in a relationship. In which case I wouldn't give it up . . . I always try to give up something that I won't miss that much. Which totally defeats the purpose but so what??? I was never that great a Catholic anyway.

  25. And all this time I thought when they said Lent, they meant lint. It never made a bit of sense to me. I wondered why they were all concerned about my laundry instead of my soul.

    (ba dum bump)

  26. Nope, it's not just Catholics. Love your responses to the question though... people should never assume anything, y'know? We were always taught that you're supposed to give up something, do somthing positive, and give the proceeds back to the community. So, you could give up fast food, and use the money you would have spent on the fast food to buy stuff for the food bank and volunteer your time there. That said, while I do do the whole Ash Wednesday thing, and I enjoy the opportunity it gives me to answer questions people have, you're never ever supposed to go and be all braggy about your praying/piety/fasting etc. That's just wrong, and it goes against some pretty explicit teachings. So your witchy answer is, IMHO, the right one. :)

  27. My grandmother gave me a speech about how I really should go to church today and about jesus...blah blah...even though I haven't been to church in... 7ish years?

    I laughed. She's not very happy with me, as you can imagine.

  28. LiLu - Can you tell I'm still feeling sorry for myself? :)

    moosie - I don't think God cares either. This is part of what I can't get behind. I do believe there's a God or some kind of higher force, but I can't believe so much of the details matter.

    As for the soda...I bet you'll feel better, though.

    FoggyDew - Wow! To both! I had NO idea that these rules could be waived for St. Patrick's Day. Which just goes to show how arbitrary it all is.

    Anonymous - Ha ha - lent, interest. Ha! As for the guns etc, all I can say is, I'm glad they're not.

    J - I don't know that quote, but it is true, huh?

    VVK - I'll definitely remind you to rant the next time. And hole-y! Hahhahahahaha!

    Cheryl S - I am horrendously ignorant about religions. And I don't know what I'd do if I'd married someone to whom religion was important. For me, that would be hard, mostly in terms of kids, because I couldn't imagine trying to get my kid to find important something that isn't for me.

    Jules - I asked a couple Catholic friends today about the ash...and they knew at some point but couldn't remember what the deal was with the ash.

    Paula - I think that's exactly what I'd do as well, even though it's totally a cheating way to do it.

    Lisa - Hahahaha. You know I love humor like this. And mah darlin', where you live, it is lint, no matter how the rest of the world says it!

    Andie - Thanks so much for this. This is definitely something I didn't understand and am happy to know. I love the idea of giving something up and turning around and doing something helpful for the world.

    And my witchy answer was, unfortunately, devoid of the positive component and only all about what I'm giving up. And not about improving the world in any way! But you know, this really makes me think.

    Maxie - So she's remaining hopeful that you'll be pulled back in, 7 years later. We only had to go with our parents...they never had the false expectation that we'd ever, ever go without them dragging.

  29. What I truly, in my heart, do not understand is the fair weather Catholics who give up shit for Lent. I am very consistent with my Atheism.

  30. I was raised Catholic so I spent many a lent sneaking candy when no one was looking, not even Jesus, I'm pretty sure he was watching 24...


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