Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of the Lenten season in the Western Church.  Though Lent is–as many of my students here at Northwest might tell me–a non-biblical tradition, it is a powerful one that speaks to the depth of our humanity and the heart of the Christian faith.

Lent often begins on this day with a church service and the “impositions of ashes” which reminds us that it is dust from which we come and dust to which we will return.  A fitting start to the Lenten season, in which preparation for the Cross (and the Resurrection) turn us inward as we reflect on the life and death of Christ and our sinful frailty.  I’ve observed Lent for over a decade now, and commend it to you regardless of your denominational background.

It is tradition to penitentially “give something up” during this season to remind us our of limits and Christ’s sufferings.  Some abstain from certain kinds of food.  Others have given up Facebook between now and Easter.  Still others have decided to “take on” something new: a spiritual discipline, acts of service, study of a particular book of the Bible, or more regular prayer.  I encourage you to consider making the choice to do something similar this Lent!

One of the things I will be doing this year is reading through Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans.  The book is, in short, Barth’s response to the positive yet ultimately empty theologies of his day in favor of a new and more realistic approach focused on the person of Christ.  I know that historically it is one of the most important theological works of the 20th century, but I’ve never read it.  I look forward to changing that fact over the next few weeks and plan on sharing some of what I’ve learned on this blog.

Enough about me.  It is Ash Wednesday.  What will you give up or take on?

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11 comments on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. During Lent we in the Catholic Church are enjoined to fast, pray, and give alms. I particularly appreciate the third of these because it’s often overlooked in the Christian life. During this season we’re asked to go the extra mile, to roll up our shirtsleeves and feed the poor, clothe the naked, console the sorrowing and, in general, do for the “least of these” precisely what Christ asked of us.

    While the fasting and prayer have an intense internal component and are “relational” between us and God, the alms-giving is a tangible way to share the love of Christ with our fellow men. Unfortunately it is often over-shadowed by what we’re giving up for Lent.

    Perhaps rather than just giving up that coffee, we should take the money we would’ve spent on our daily mocha and donate it to the local food shelter. Instead of merely abstaining from our favorite tv shows, we could ALSO spend that newfound free time lending a hand at a nearby soup kitchen. Just a thought.

  2. Lindsay Anne Woods Wong says:

    I am taking on worshiping God with my physical body. Exercise for me is a way to live life in all its fullness, and the last year of being pregnant and having a newborn denied me much of that. So, this Lent I am giving up being lazy, sleeping late, and am intentionally worshiping as I lift weights at the gym. It sounds artificial, but with intention, it is truly amazing to daily give thanks to God for every muscle of my body.

  3. Will says:

    First, I read this the other day and have been thinking about it. Thought you might find it interesting. http://blog.sfgate.com/reyeschow/2011/03/07/should-you-give-up-social-networking-or-church-for-lent/

    Second, I was really interested by the statement that Lent is a non-biblical tradition. Which I think is a fair statement. I’d say that pretty much all of the churches traditions are non-biblical, so why does it matter that Lent isn’t either?

    • 1. Yes. I saw something to this effect on Adam’s Facebook page yesterday. This “giving up” thing needs to be thought through.
      2. I personally don’t mind things being “un” or “non” biblical. I only care if they are anti-biblical. I only made the comment because it is a sometimes criticism of Lent and I find that a number of my students here always push back on “non-biblical” things.

      • Will says:

        1. I think the point of the post is that people talk about facebook and other social media like its a device you use or something you consume. The idea is that giving up facebook is like giving up television, or coffee. What the post is arguing is that social media is more a community. Or probably more accurately, a way to keep in contact with your community. Giving up what is increasingly the primary form of contact people have with friends or loved ones should be judged in the same manner as other forms of community. Yes, if your involvement in that community is hurting your live and is a barrier between you and God, it might be a good idea to give it up, but that rubric holds true for any community, even your family or local church. Their point is that giving up facebook is more analogous to giving up telphone calls to your family than it is giving up video games. The point of social media is the connections it allows, rather than the technology itself.
        2. So my question was mainly if your students have a similar pushback against similar non-biblical traditions like Christmas and Easter, singing Hymns, and the like, or if there was something specific about Lent that made it different from all the other non-biblical traditions.

      • Sorry for my brevity in the last post. I’m moving in a bunch of directions at once today. I would agree about the social media (Facebook/Twitter/etc.) points you raise. One must remember that Lent is not about just giving something up for the sake of it, but it serves deeper purposes. If what you give up works against these purposes, you’re doing it wrong.

        Regarding my students, they wouldn’t push back so much against hymns, Christmas, and Easter as they do against things like monasticism or preaching that does not have a direct biblical referent. I’ve been a little frustrated by their lack of engagement with some of the classic spiritual works I’ve had them look at and concerned that there is a feel that saying something is non-biblical is a good enough answer or potential reason to dismiss it.

        Plus, remember that Christmas/Easter and hymns have all been well adopted in Protestantism and Pentecostalism by now….Lent is still somewhat on the periphery.

      • One might argue that the acceptance of Easter/hymns/etc. but not Lent is a species of question-begging. I mean if we take the “Sola” bit in an absolute way, shouldn’t those students thumb their noses at ANY extra-biblical tradition?

        What are their thoughts on the Nicene Creed or, for that matter, the concept of the Trinity (which, at best, is only murkily implicit in the Bible)? Obviously my particular tribe has its answer to this, but even when I was a Protestant, I knew that one couldn’t be 100% Sola Scriptura in an absolute sense.

        If your students insist on being “anti-adoption” in the extreme, force them to take it to its logical conclusion and highlight their absurdity. Historical/Contextual exegesis is out. Any form of commentary or expository preaching is out. The only permissible spiritual exercise would be reading the text (in the original language, obviously, since translation might obscure the meaning). It becomes patently ridiculous and impossibly purist.

        While those on my side of the Wittenburg door might wonder why SOME modern extra-biblical traditions are acceptable while others are “Romish adulterations,” no one–especially the Reformers– ever held Sola Scriptura to mean that *nothing* extrabiblical was of merit. Every community has traditions.

        If your students insist on being Sola Scriptura absolutists, kindly ask them for the chapter and verse which explains/teaches/demands the Sola Scriptura approach. Where does the biblical text demand that only itself can be a litmus test for orthopraxis? That dogma is itself extra-biblical!

        The only tenable Protestant stance, IMHO, is yours, Josh–believers can adopt any non-biblical teaching so long as it is not anti-biblical.

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