I cringed when I read Jeffrey MacDonald's accusation, quoted
here by Steve Thorngate, that Americans have turned Lent into a spiritual
self-help event "whose effectiveness is measured by how well it entertains us
and affirms what we already believe."
Since starting seminary I've had the opportunity to read
through the Old Testament with a thoroughness I haven't used since my
evangelical youth group days. While building biblical literacy is something
evangelicals do very well, reading the Old Testament now reminds me how my context
shaped how I read the Bible. And it all had to do with sex.
I grew up around evangelical church leaders who were hardcore
about spiritual fasting, sometimes going a week on just water or 40 days on
just fruit juice. (I never made it more than a day.) When I started running in mainline
circles, I was thrown by the way people used the word "fast" to mean giving up
chocolate or beer or television.
On Ash Wednesday, Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed a bill banning capital punishment. A member of my congregation offers a powerful Lenten lesson for the year the death penalty was abolished in Illinois.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced recently that the city’s public school system would add two Islamic holy days to the number of religious holidays recognized. Why stop there? asked Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University. Why not mark the winter solstice for Wiccans or celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights? Adding more religious holidays would recognize the nation’s diversity, but it would not be practical, said Prothero. He urged a move in the other direction: no religious holidays on the school calendar (Wall Street Journal, March 10).