The church began observing Lent today. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t really have any plans. Some years I’ve made big efforts with my life to give something up, some things have been really tough. Others have been really easy. Some years I did things that saved me a whole lot of time so that I could in theory find more time for prayer. One year it worked really well, another year it didn’t. I found that if there’s something apparent in your life then the beginning of Lent can be a bit of a nudge to pick it up and address it. If you need to go looking for something to fast from for 40 days then you probably aren’t going to hold it very close to your heart and you won’t learn much from it.
Then I learned what my friend Matt is planning to do for 40 days. In fact it’s something I previously have done as I approached Easter, I did it in 2006. I’ll quote his note from Facebook instead of trying to describe.
As I enter lent this year I have been mulling over many different conversations, realities that my friends and families are living in right now, and the need to challenge the systems of our day which are killing our souls. Thus the decision to fast from refined sugar feels like it is tying in all these threads. I’ve also been challenged by Isaiah 58, the call to a fast that is less about giving up something, as it is about activism to the poor and needy around you from a heart of love and justice. i feel like many times my fasting is lived from a very shallow level, and my mind is concerned with what it is that I’ve given up, rather than the many whose daily reality is like this. More and more i have become suspicious and pissed off with the rampant integration of refined sugar into all things that were intended to be pure and good in the food Creator has given us to live off of. This comes from becoming a parent and only recently introducing food to our dear little Jasper. A rant is coming about this in days to come.
It’s also appropriate to quote a section from Isaiah 58. I don’t know which portion struck a chord with Matt, but this is a summary of the relevant pieces.
The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
Excerpts from a paraphrase of Isaiah 58 – “The Message”
Similar to Matt, this year I’m going to do three things. The first, is to adjust my diet, the second is to raise my voice against the injustices in our food system, and the third is to mourn.
Changing the diet: I’m going to stop eating manufactured food for 40 days. The intent is not to “put on a pious long face and parade around in solemnity” as Eugene Peterson puts it. There is not going to be excessive discussion about what counts as manufactured food, but it’s inevitable that such a discussion needs to occur on a few occasions. Most non-manufactured food has one ingredient. Some of it has two ingredients, like good bacon (Piggies and salt) or good peanut butter (peanuts and salt), or maybe even three ingredients like good ice-cream (milk and cream and sugar), but I can hardly imagine that anything will have more than four – Beer (water, malted barley, yeast, hops). I’m not going to eliminate sugar (partly because I already invited 20 people over to my house next week to eat ice-cream) because while refined sucrose, glucose & fructose are under publicized as an unhealthy sources of our daily caloric intake, they are the biggest problem when disguised and manufactured into other food, not when eaten as an ingredient to a home made lemon-poppyseed loaf.
I don’t anticipate that not eating manufactured food will be that tough for me, last weekend I ate about a hundred things, six of which were things I deemed to be manufactured. A few perogies, a clif bar, some cheerios, gatorade, and two different kinds of store bought bread. I needed none of those. Especially if I had made bread, which I haven’t done in a couple months. I’m also going to write, I’ll post what I write here on the blog but I don’t plan to write exclusively for the blog. I’ve been doing a fair bit of writing to elected representatives in the past couple weeks with Bill C-11 and now the nightmare that is Bill C-30 banging around in Ottawa. I’ll be doing a bit more writing to them, but I need to figure out who is the most appropriate elected audience before I decide who to write to. Instead I think I’ll start with an open letter to my alma-mater about the conferring of honorary degrees to corporate executives with the multinational corporation Nestle.
On the final point, mourning, I’ll leave that to Matt to describe.
Alongside these 40 days, I have been really confronted by Jesus’ secret to the universe in, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” We as western culture don’t really do mourning well, and in fact so much of our society is constructed to pull us away from it’s life changing depths to live in the triviality of our age. I don’t think we can truly enter into an activism for social justice without paying the price to enter into mourning. This is the way we find Creator’s heart in the midst of all the crap in our world, and then also find the comfort by which to seek to bring good and change for the kingdom of what is true, good and beautiful. So I’m trying to intentionally enter into mourning around all the hell that has been caused by refined sugar in Canada.
Instead of a hushed and sombre beginning to lent this year I’m doing something less than traditional, but more in line with the attitude of Isaiah 58, I’m starting with a battle cry: