Pain In The Ash
The season of Lent is almost here, it begins next week and flows from Ash Wednesday.
Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.
In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.
Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.
For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.
This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.
You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.” Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!
Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.
When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.
If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”
In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.
Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!
Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.
What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”
As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.
So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.
If you’re in the Seattle area, come and hang with me for an Ash Wednesday service at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance…it starts at 6:00 and will be interactive, reflective and powerful, you won’t want to miss it!
And guess what, you won’t walk away feeling guilty (that’s religion) but you will leave feeling the freedom that comes from our God of Grace and Truth.