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Archive for the ‘Religious holidays’ Category

For the past almost four years, I’ve been a member of a small group studying the ecumenical Disciple Bible Study curriculum.

One of the most satisfying parts of the entire experience–and there have been many!–has been studying the Old Testament and learning much more about the history of our faith from the beginning. I mean, we all know the story of Noah and the Ark and Moses parting the Red Sea, but there is so much more there. The New Testament is so much more vibrant, so much more meaningful, with the context of all the history and prophecy of the Old Testament behind it.

More than once, I’ve admired the Jewish faith for maintaining the rituals that mark their holy days. As Christians, I feel like we’ve let go of a lot of our faith heritage in some ways; we don’t always remember or reflect upon where we came from and what that means. It’s not that I am suggesting that we go back and begin living by the law prescribed in the Old Testament; I’m not. But I think we can learn a lot more about our faith and our faith traditions by remembering how it developed.

While we may not actually celebrate Passover, we surely must remember it. The Last Supper, after all, was a Seder meal. When we refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” that’s an allusion to the sacrifices that the Jews made to God so that the angel of death would pass over their homes.

Passover begins next week; the first full day of Passover this year is Tuesday, April 19. To that end, I interviewed an old high school friend of mine, Beth Marler, because she and her family have recently started honoring some of the Jewish holidays like Passover in addition to the Christian holidays.

Beth said that she discovered, while studying the Old Testament, that God told the Israelites to observe certain days so they would remember what God had done for them.

“God knew that humans are quite forgetful, and indeed, the Israelites routinely forgot what God had done for them,” Beth told me. 

Beth noted that, no, she’s not Jewish. So it’s fair to ask why she believes she’s been told by God to remember and celebrate.

“I don’t know that I”m not a descendant of one of those brothers [of the 12 tribes of Israel],” she said. “I think it’s very possible that I am. Don’t know, but could be. Look how many decendants of Judah (modern day Jews) there are.”

But beyond that… “I want to REMEMBER what God has done,” Beth said. “I also want my kids to REMEMBER what God has done.”

So she and her three young daughters do things like make special treats for Purim, blew a shofar (ram’s horn) at Rosh Hashanah and put up tent for the Feast of Booths. And this year, they will try honoring Passover for the first time.

“I may try to cook a lamb,” Beth said.

Pretty thought-provoking, isn’t it?

The title of the fourth year of the Disciple curriculum is “Remember who you are.” Perhaps it will help even more of us in our faith formation if we think more about where we came from, theologically speaking.

Now, someone recently mentioned to me that, when doing this sort of thing, it’s important to stay true to the remembering-who-we-are part, and not cross over into the co-opting-another-faith’s-traditions territory. I completely agree. And I think Beth would agree, too.

It’s important to frame the observance with the context. My church hosts a Seder meal each year to educate church members about the origins of Passover–and how the Last Supper fits into that context. It’s all in the approach and the intent.

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If you’re searching for information about Lent, here are a few meditations that you might enjoy reading:

Diana Butler Bass’  Beliefnet column refers to a poem this week:  “Ash Wednesday: Lent Begins.”

Georgia Preach’s blog entry “Walk Humbly.” 

A Holy Experience’s “Why Do Lent? Why a Failing Lent Actually Succeeds.”

Here’s a social justice-type resource from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Hunger Program on fasting during Lent, if you’re up for that sort of thing:

A Lenten Fast: From Insight to Action in the Gospel of John

Here’s a seven-week faith formation resource that has information, meditations and ideas for each week of Lent:

Lent 4.5

And here are a couple of resources for observing Lent with your children–or finding ways to help children as part of your Lenten observance:

Caroline Kelly of Central Presbyterian Church (Atlanta) on “Observing Lent in the Context of Children at Risk.”

Talking With Children About Lent and Easter

The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s resource on “Helping Children and Youth Participate in Lent.”

The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s “Family Table for the Season of Lent.”  

“Thoughts for Lent: Faith of a Child” from First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas.

As for my family and our Lenten observance, well…we aren’t really doing one this year. I thought about trying to find a way to do something with my four-year-old son to observe Lent, but I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I mean, we had trouble even getting the Advent calendar done each night back in December. I also didn’t want to take on anything that really went over my son’s head. What’s the point of introducing him to something if it’s too complex for him to understand? But we have talked a little bit about the season of Lent being a little like the season of Advent, in that we prepare for a major event involving Jesus. And I was open to finding other age-appropriate things to do, too.

So I was pleased  to find a wonderful little section in the “Family Table” resource (above)  that talks about pretzels:  “Pretzels are traditional for the season of Lent because they remind us of arms folded in prayer. Many years ago the bread was known by its Latin name, bracellae or ‘little arms.’ Over time, that word changed into ‘bretzel’ and then ‘pretzel.'”

Interesting, huh? I never knew that. But I think I might have to incorporate pretezels into our Lenten observance around here. I think it would really appeal to my always-hungry child. At least it would give us an accessible way to start talking about Lent and lead up to Holy Week.

I probably should have named this blog post “Holy Pretzels,” now that I’m thinking about it.

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Lent got a little tongue-in-cheek shout-out on Comedy Central tonight. Calling himself America’s most famous Catholic, Stephen Colbert appeared on his show “The Colbert Report” tonight with ashes on his forehead.

He started out with a relatively straightforward explanation of what the ashes were for and what Lent was…and then he said he was giving up being Catholic for Lent this year. Then he said he was going to be Jewish instead. He wiped off the ashes, donned a yarmulke and declared he was giving up being kosher for Lent and then dug into a giant vat of bacon.

(Side note: Mmmmm, bacon. I’m glad I didn’t give up bacon for Lent.)

Who says we can’t have a sense of humor, right? Anyway, there is no possible way I could do justice to The Funny, so you might have to go find the clip online.

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Every year, the question comes up:  “What should I give up for Lent?”

It’s a common practice among Christians, giving up something for Lent. It goes along with the whole penitence aspect of the time period. You give up something. You sacrifice. At least theoretically, you are supposed to give up something that means something to you. It’s not really that meaningful to give up running if, in fact, you’re not a runner. It’s not that big a deal to give up chocolate if you rarely eat chocolate.

I fully admit that I almost never give something up and make it all the way through Lent. Some years, I cave halfway through Lent. Some years, I just don’t even try to give something up.

About 10 or 15 years ago, I decided to try something different. I decided to take up something good during Lent, rather than give up something. I tried to drink more milk. Yes, you may be laughing at me right now, but I was sincere. I knew I needed to drink more milk, and it seemed like as good an idea as any. It was still a sacrifice in some small way to drink a big glass of milk each night instead of the Coke that I really wanted.

Three years ago, my Disciple class decided to institute a class-wide Lenten discipline: we would all stop and pray at noon on Fridays during Lent. Even though we would not be together, we would find a sense of community in knowing that we were all praying at the same time.

It almost becomes an endurance test for some people. Or a point of honor for making it all the way through, like the people who power through those Couch to 5K programs. I know some people who fast at certain times during Lent. I know some people who commit to praying every single day for the period of Lent. I know some people who try to give up complaining, hitting the snooze bar, drinking wine, using Facebook or watching television. I have one friend right now who is deliberating whether she should give up Chick-fil-A or Coke this year.

As of yesterday, I still didn’t know what I was going to (try to) do this year.

But today, I had a few free minutes, and I was spending them browsing in a small gift shop called Obelisk, which is located in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville. Obelisk carries handmade jewelry by Freshie & Zero, one of my favorites. I spotted a modest silver cross necklace, and then it hit me. That’s what I needed. That cross necklace.

A number of people at my (very Presbyterian) church have been talking about ways to be more visible with our faith recently. One church friend wears a cross every day during Lent. She does it because it’s not something she might ordinarily do. Often we Presbyterians aren’t very outwardly demonstrative. We don’t want to offend. We aren’t happy-clappy. We don’t wear t-shirts from the Christian bookstore. We are often thoughtful, intellectual and restrained. We do things decently and in order. Those aren’t bad things, not at all. But they do often translate into a quieter, less visible faith.

And that is me, all over. I have friends who are not Christian, and I have never wanted them to feel uncomfortable around me because I am Christian. And part of that stems from the bad rap that some people who call themselves Christian have given the rest of us. I haven’t felt very comfortable wearing a cross because I haven’t wanted others to think that I’m one of those people, the ones who do not represent the Christ I believe in. 

Well, how else am I going to let others know that there are people like me who are Christian, if I don’t give them a sign? Even if–especially if–it makes me feel a little vulnerable and uncomfortable being that upfront?

So here’s my sign. I wore my cross necklace out of the store. I will be wearing it every day during Lent. And hopefully beyond.

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If you are Christian and you’re reading this, what are you doing to honor the observance of Lent? Please leave a comment!

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Happy Mardi Gras!

It’s the last day before Lent to party down and cowboy up and indulge. I can’t believe I’ve made it through the entire Carnival season without having king cake even once. Pitiful. My New Orleans friends would be so disappointed in me. Tsk, tsk.

Tomorrow, of course, is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penintential season of Lent. During Lent, Christians prepare for the crucifixion and the resurrection. It’s a quiet, solemn time of reflection and sacrifice.

Ash Wednesday has always been a pretty big deal in the Catholic tradition, perhaps less so in the Protestant tradition. My childhood church did have  an Ash Wednesday service, where the pastor would put ashes on each member’s forehead. It didn’t get the same emphasis that, say, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, received, though. I very clearly remember attending those services, but I don’t have a lot of memories of the Ash Wednesday services. And I’m pretty certain that I didn’t attend that service as a young child at all.

That’s why I guess it never occurred to me to take my elder son, who is almost five years old, to an Ash Wednesday service tomorrow. In fact, I just checked our church’s online calendar, and there’s not even a service listed.

So I was surprised when a mother of one of the kids on my son’s soccer team asked me yesterday if the team was really going to have practice on Ash Wednesday.

“Um, yes?” I said. “Yes, at 4:30 p.m.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I just hadn’t even thought about it.

And she hesitated and said, “Really? Well, okay. I guess we’ll see you there.”

Her question had me thinking all evening long.  It really had never occurred to me that Ash Wednesday was that big a deal. And yet, I couldn’t imagine having a soccer practice on Good Friday. And yet, weren’t they connected? Or if they’re not, in my mind, should they be more so?

Should I find some way to mark Ash Wednesday with my son, now that we’re finally getting into a (simplified) explanation of Lent and Holy Week and the real meaning of Easter this year?

In the past, I tended to not talk much about Holy Week with him because he was young, too young, I thought, to really learn about the crucifixion. I tended to present Easter as a celebration of Jesus–of Jesus being with us forever. In fact, I wrote an entire article for the magazine Presbyterians Today that discussed the possible ways to talk about death, dying, crucifixion and resurrection with young children [see the March 2010 issue].

It was okay, I learned, to not talk about capital punishment with a three-year-old. It was okay to save that conversation for later. But I knew that at some point, my son was going to need to know the real meaning of Easter–and how we got to Easter, which is through Good Friday. And we’ve gotten to that point. I’m not saying that I’m describing, in great detail, about the nails going through Jesus’ body to keep him hanging on the cross to my son, but I’ve at least read the stories in his children’s bible to him that are age-appropriate. He knows now that in our religious tradition, we believe that Jesus died, and that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t know that I would expect him to sit through an entire Good Friday service yet, but we are talking about what happened on Good Friday and what it means in the context of Easter.

So wouldn’t it make sense to talk about Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the path toward Easter? And yet, I haven’t. I hadn’t even thought about doing it until yesterday, until that mom hesitated on the phone with me.

Hmmm.

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