Tag Archives: Twitter

Ashes Signal Lent’s Beginning Tomorrow

It’s difficult for me to believe that Lent commences tomorrow. Part of that difficulty is wrapped up in my lack of understanding of how quickly the church year whizzes by. My evangelical upbringing did not honor the church year, as observed in so many mainline, orthodox, and Catholic churches. That, of course, extended to Lent.

Over time, I’ve become very involved in observing the various waypoints of the church year, discovering the various ways many Lent observing faith traditions journey through Lent. In the process Lent, Advent, and other similar traditions provide comfort and spiritual centering for my life. Over time these various faith traditions have sunk in and nourish my soul.

Ash Wednesday is one of those waypoints.  In this age-old simple ritual of accepting ashes on my forehead, and being reminded by the ash imposing clergy of my mortality with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, I’m annually reminded that, as the old spiritual says, ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”

Orthodox Lent has already with Forgiveness Sunday services last Sunday. I’ve observed this healing practice at St. John Orthodox – Eagle River, and Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox – Anchorage.  What a wonderful healing practice which should be emulated by many more churches.

Often, Lent observing Christians are asked about what they are giving up for Lent, with somewhat humorous tongue-in-cheek replies.  In fact, the annual Twitter Lent Tracker for 2017 (see https://www.openbible.info/labs/lent-tracker/2017) indicates the top 10 Lenten give-ups seem to have little to do with drawing closer to God at this season.

RankWhatNumber of Tweets
1.social networking1,076
2.twitter933
3.alcohol771
4.chocolate664
5.chips554
6.sweets321
7.fast food319
8.school298
9.soda295
10.swearing288

Lifeway Research started its own poll Lenten poll this year and discovered these were the top ways Christians said they would be observing Lent: Fast from a favorite food or beverage (57%), Attend church services (57%), Pray more (39%), Give to others (38%), Fast from a bad habit (35%), Fast from a favorite activity (23%). (see http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/february/what-to-give-up-for-lent-2017-twitter-top-100-ideas.html)

I’m impressed with people who resolve to do something for others or take up a useful habit during Lent. The Christianity Today article, noted above, stated “LifeWay found that nearly 3 in 10 evangelical believers (28%) now observe the Lenten season before Easter, while Catholics remain most likely to do so (61%).”  To me that is a startling but growing number.

Another Orthodox practice that impresses me is their rigorous fasting during Lent, primarily to keep their heads and bodies clean and clear to fully participate in the joys and sorrows of what the Lenten season brings.

If you do not observe Lent or haven’t been exposed to its practices and significance, I urge you give it a try starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow.

Lenten blessings to each of you.

Twitter users say what they’re giving up for Lent – 2/28/15

Since 2009, Stephen Smith of OpenBible.info has been tracking what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent. It makes for interesting reading but also suggests that Lent “give-ups” are somewhat superficial.

Smith’s 2015 list had a few surprising results. Based on 125,303 tweets, Smith compiled a top 100 list of things people said they were giving up. The top 20 items, in order, were: school, chocolate, Twitter, alcohol, social networking, swearing, soda, sweets, fast food, coffee, college, you, Lent, meat, homework, sex, junk food, pizza, bread, and chips. The top 100 sacrifices — sorted into the most frequently recurring 20 categories, looked like this: food, school/work, technology, habits, smoking/drugs/alcohol, relationship, irony, sex, health/hygiene, religion, entertainment, weather, shopping, sports, money, politics, clothes, celebrity, and possessions.

One would be foolish to presume these are only Christians giving something up for Lent. If they were, we would be justified in presuming they would resume these give-ups after Easter. Now, I can see value in giving up various things in these categories. Food-related items like junk food are for the most part worthy of giving up altogether. Technology items include social networking, which is a huge time-suck with relatively little value.

In fact, researchers often point the finger at social networking preoccupation as a trait of a narcissistic, self-absorbed culture. Susan Greenfield, of the University of Oxford, said in a speech before the United Kingdom’s House of Lords, “Social networking sites might tap into the basic brain systems for delivering pleasurable experience. However, these experiences are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.”

Michael Bugeja, a journalism professor at Iowa State University said: “To rebut examples of proactive use of social networks, I could counter with tragic ones, including a recent hoax by an adult ‘neighbour’ that triggered the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.”

Christianity Today, commenting on the Twitter list of give-ups made an interesting observation: “One thing people don’t give up: Bible verses. Bible Gateway told CT that Lent is its busiest season of the year, with traffic between Ash Wednesday and Easter clocking in at 15 percent higher than the rest of 2014. Searches relating to dust and fasting increased 1,000 percent and 500 percent respectively on the days surrounding Ash Wednesday. Searches for repentance increased by 50 percent on Ash Wednesday.”

Adopt Positive Practices During Lent

More and more Christians are using Lent as a period to adopt one or more positive practices. I was particularly taken with an article released earlier this month by the United Methodist Church describing positive practices to take up during Lent. Titled “40 Days of Lent: Find Your Own Spiritual Path” Joe Iovino detailed some useful practices one would not discontinue after Lent. Fasting, Bible reading, and prayer headed the list. Many medical authorities attest to the value of periodic fasting. Bible reading, as shared in previous articles, is lacking. The Bible is the source of the Christian faith and worthy of study. There are many versions available, and great resources and apps to facilitate better Bible reading. Prayer is a wonderful way to connect with the Almighty. It can be done anywhere, and anytime. Prayer is not posturing, but a reaching out of the soul to God.

Iovino next suggests service: “Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the forty days of the season you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community, making special financial gifts to service organizations, singing in the choir, or participating in a small group.” These are just a few of the myriad ways one could serve. Locally, call Bean’s Café, Brother Francis Shelter, Downtown Soup Kitchen, or Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission and volunteer to help. You’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll accept your offer, and how rewarding it can be.

Rest, taking a daily Lent quiz, exposing your children to Lent, and learning more about Lent and Easter are meaningful activities concluding Iovino’s list. Following these or similar ideas during Lent could go far in transforming our faith community. In sharing these Lenten activities, I do not imply Christians are not observing Lent properly; many do and are changed by their conscientious observation of Lent.

Ashes to the People

In my column two weeks ago, I mentioned a dedicated group of Lutheran pastors were going to be taking ashes to the people in Town Square on Ash Wednesday. I went downtown to see them doing so. It was a stunning sight to see a group of five white-robed priests standing in front of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts offering ashes to those wanting them. Lutheran Church of Hope’s pastor, the Rev. Julia Seymour applied my ashes in the sign of the cross on my forehead intoning the “dust” phrase, a clear reminder of my mortality. The group told me that many more people this year, than last, asked for ashes, and that many others had questions for them. Christ Our Savior Lutheran’s pastor the Rev. Dan Bollerud told me a group from his church went for dinner at a local restaurant after their Ash Wednesday choir practice. Some restaurant staff inquired about the smudges on their foreheads, and ended up requesting ashes as well.

Personally, I find Lent meaningful as do many other Christians. I enjoy Lenten services at a wide range of churches. I urge you to consider observing Lent, if not already doing so, to obtain new meaning in your spiritual life.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith for Alaska Dispatch News and on his blog, Church Visits.

Look deeper into Lent than just ‘give-ups’ – 3/15/14

Is “giving up” during Lent meaningful?

Last week, Christianity Today released a provocative article titled “What To Give Up For Lent 2014?: Twitter Reveals Top 100 Choices.” Based on more than 100,000 tweets, the top 10 of 100 listed “give-ups” of items revealed:

Chocolate
Twitter
School
Alcohol
Swearing
Social networking
Soda
Sweets
Fast food
Junk food

When lumped into categories the tweets are even more telling:

Food
Technology
School/work
Habits
Smoking/drugs/alcohol
Irony
Relationship
Sex
Health/hygiene
Generic

Renowned theologian Walter Brueggemann observed in a Sojourners article, “Lent is ‘Come to Jesus’ Time”: “Lent is a time for fresh decision-making about reliance upon the God of the gospel. Such decision-making in Lent is commonly called “repentance.” It’s a time to reflect on the way in which God gives new life that is welcome when we recognize how our old way of life mostly leaves us weary and unsatisfied. Lent is a time to face the reality that there is no easy or “convenient” passage from our previous life to a new, joyous life in the gospel. The move is by the pattern and sequence of Jesus’ own life, an embrace of suffering that comes with obedience, a suffering which comes inevitably when our lives are at odds with dominant social values.”

The lists above reflect belief that giving up something means God will bless us and we’ll become more spiritual. They don’t tend to reflect spiritual values, or the fruit of an annual period of reflection on what Brueggemann terms “life with God.”

I believe rightly observed Lenten observances, even possibly “give-ups,” can enhance the Christian’s life, bringing them closer to God, with a right relationship. But the focus is on internal work that may go undone during the year. Some religions repeat a mantra that they don’t need Lent, because every time they worship they celebrate the life of Jesus, his birth, death, burial and resurrection. Their worships may offer challenge questions such as, “If you died tonight would you have the assurance that you would wake up in heaven instead of hell?,” invoking the “sinner’s prayer” as an instant remedy. Clearly that’s not anything close to true Lenten thought and practice. Lent is entering into a journey, not quick fixes.

Noted religious author Kathleen Norris, reflecting on the purpose of Lent in the U.S. Catholic blog, shared her changed perspective on Lent: “For years I let the word sin slide by without fully engaging my consciousness, or my conscience. I thought of sin as a list of don’ts and should-have-dones, and if I hadn’t committed (or omitted) certain acts, sin was not a problem. It was only when I encountered the wisdom of the early church, specifically the theology of sin that developed among desert monastics, that I gained an understanding of sin that is particularly useful to me during Lent.”

Further reflecting on the desert fathers’ development of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” Norris observes: “The psychology is ancient but sound; as I recognize a temptation to sloth or envy for what it is, as I haul it out of the depths into the light of day, I weaken it and allow for the possibility of transformation, or what Saint Benedict termed ‘conversion of life.’ This, it seems to me, is the basic work of the Christian: to admit to my most basic temptations to do evil, and resist them. And as I do so, I free the virtues to act on me. My sloth might convert into zeal, my envy into gratitude. This is the discipline — and the joy — of Lent.” Rightly interpreted, Norris says Lent can be serious business, addressing deeper issues than chocolate consumption.

Many Lent-observing pastors and theologians note that Lent is about confronting our own mortality, recognizing our unworthiness apart from a strong belief in Christ’s sacrifice, addressing issues in the life separating us from a “Life in God.” At Ash Wednesday services, the officiate places ashes on foreheads, intoning, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19) and/or “Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Foreshadowing Easter following Lent, theologian N.T. Wright, in his book “Surprised by Hope,” shares: “if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again — well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you.”

Lent’s a time to focus on our separation from God, look more deeply and turn back. It can be a powerful force in one’s life but it’s more than a few “give-ups.”

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.

Original ADN Article
http://www.adn.com/article/20140314/chris-thompson-look-deeper-lent-just-give-ups