Loveless

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our Biblical morality …”

In the last several months, I’ve been told that it’s loving to warn people that their sin is sending them to hell. Not only that, Christians don’t want to be complicit in the sins of others, so much so they refuse goods and services to sinners in the name of conscience. I’ve already discussed though, that they don’t refuse all sinners the use of their goods or services, just ones that claim their sin to be their identity.

It’s long been said, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ But this presupposes that people have the ability to seperate the two. “Love the thief, hate their thievery.” But they are thieves, to hate thievery, you’d have to hate thieving thieves. So how does one hate the sin that sinning sinners sin, but love the sinning sinners that people are?

Perhaps the better question is: “Why can’t we love one another?” Let’s say that Christian X walks into church and realizes that a homosexual couple is sitting in the front row. If he or she does not want to complicit in their sins, then he or she really can’t love them. If Christian X loved them, that would be accepting something in them that is contrary to their beliefs. Not only that, but one of them might be attracted to him or her, and that’s causing them to sin even more by putting a stumbling block in their path and by being complicit in their sins. So the most loving thing Christian X can do is to not love them to keep them from sinning even more. In the process, Christian X fails to keep the second commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Just what did Jesus die for? Did he wash away clean the stain of all sins, past, present, and future, only to fail here and now? Has all that power been spent on the generations before us? Jesus partied with the lowest of the low, he reached out to the untouchable, and were he around today he would love the unlovable.

In all of this sin, we forget grace. The way that some people teach it, the less the sin, the less grace we have use to up – so we can save it for when we really need it. We can count on ourselves to not murder, to not steal, to not commit adultery because we are just that good. We don’t need grace for that. But is our New Testament Law keepable? We have two commandments: Love God and Love everyone else.

“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 5:20-21

Loving people is not the equivalent of being complicit in their sin. It’s not sinful to wish that a dying person had one more day, one more week, one more year, or one more decade to spend all that time sinning, rather, the time is to allow the grace of God to work and for them to come to faith. It’s not sinful to wish a couple to have a happy and smooth relationship together as they live in sin, rather, it is to make it easier to allow the grace of God to work in their lives and save both of them together. After all, God wants everyone to have the opportunity to believe in Jesus, Christians aren’t making that easy if they go around telling people how much God hates them.

If we truely love one another, then whoever walks into our church, whatever they claim to be, whichever denomination they belong to doesn’t determine how much or how little we love them, accept them, or how well we treat them. They are our brothers and our sisters. We don’t always have to agree on every detail of how to live the Christian life, but we are supposed to be loving.

Christians, we have it all wrong. We shouldn’t create a New Testament Legalism where we create and keep laws of righteousness. That would seem to say: “We have the ability to keep these laws on our own power, we don’t need Jesus’ grace to forgive us for failing to keep them.” When we do that, we fail to keep the debt of love that we owe everyone. And so we fail to do the very think we claim that we are doing.

Paul knows what the next logical question would be: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer: “By the death and ressurection, we have been set free from sin … you are not under law, but under grace.” Let us learn to extend that grace to everyone we meet.

There’s only grace
There’s only love
There’s only mercy
And believe me it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
There’s nothing left now
There’s only grace

Rebuking By Being Unloving

I’m not sure I know how to love anymore, at least, not love others by rebuking them (expressing sharp disapproval or criticism because of someone’s behavior or actions) or by warning them (inform someone in advance of an impending or possible danger, problem, or other unpleasant situation) according to the Biblical uses of the words.

I just heard a sermon where the pastor said that to not warn a person of impending danger was the same thing as hating them. If you love them, you would tell them about the danger so that they could avoid it. The example they used was that of a young child reaching for an electric outlet or for the hot burner on the oven because we all knows that logical young children will always accept the warning and never injure themselves.

But day in and day out, we’re not talking about little children. What do you tell people who are fully-grown and self-aware adults who have been steeped in Scripture since day one and are not sure of what they believe? Let’s borrow evolution as a basis of conduct. If I warned you because of evolution that this or that would happen, wouldn’t you stop me and say … “Wait a minute, I don’t believe that!” In the same way, there are people who know the Scriptures inside and out who struggle with whether or not they believe them. To have somebody they barely know walk up to them and rebuke them or warn them from the Scriptures might seem odd. After all, if they know them so very well, then they might notice that a verse you used to warn them was taken out of context or did not mean what you told them that it did. What then?

I’ve never been one to use unkind words anyway. It’s against my nature to criticize people and I know that I’m bad at it. I really don’t want to practice my bad skills into perfection. I don’t see what is gained when my words wound a friends self-esteem or I make them doubt themselves. One of the truths that I do believe transcend culture is that kindness goes further than criticism. Praise does more good than put-downs. All it takes is one wrong word to miss an opportunity, to offend a stranger, or to open the door for unintended consequences. Which is why I tend to choose my words carefully.

I don’t rebuke because I hate others, I don’t rebuke others because I know it’s unloving thing for me to do to them. I know, it sounds like it’s the opposite thing that the church told me, but experience bears me out on this. Having a real relationship is vital for a rebuke to be acceptable. Calling every single obese person you meet a glutton is not a rebuke and it’s certainly not being loving. For a rebuke to work, you need to be sure that the other person knows that you care about them and that they care enough about you to accept your advice. No relationship – no rebuking. Anybody can quote scriptures condemning anybody of anything, but only a true brother or sister would walk side by side with fellow believers on their journey of overcoming sins; by really knowing who a person is, what words to say, what encouragement to give. If you don’t know a person, you really can’t help them. Whatever rebuke you might give them will be seen as little more than some judgmental Bible-thumper’s hot air and dismissed for that reason.

The other factor is well, you. If you’re meant to be a rebuker, you have to be certain that you’re not disqualified by your own sinfulness. Remember what Jesus said about taking the plank out of our own eyes before we attept to tackle the speckle in the eyes of those around us? Do you know how unsinful, unselfish, and unhateful you have to be to pull off a successful rebuke? Do you end up saying “you must not be a true Christian” far too often? Remember, just because a Christian believes different things than you do doesn’t disqualify him or her from being a Christian. If you can’t see them as brothers and sisters, then you really should hang up that rebuking habit – you’re doing it wrong.

Church History: Apostolic Fathers

There is a whole lot of Christian history that usually goes unsaid. It’s full of people, places, times, and ideas that continue the story and explains how we we ended up here. Just as Jesus had disciples, the disciples had disciples who became the next generation of leaders in the church; they included:

Clement of Rome

– the successor to Peter
– served as Bishop of Rome from 92 to 99 A.D.
– considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church (means that he had personal contact with members of the twelve Apostles in his lifetime, or that he was a disciple of the Apostles.)
– he wrote 1 Clement to the church in Corinth: he asserts the apostolic authority of the bishops/presbyters as rulers of the church. He uses the terms bishop and presbyter interchangeably for the higher order of ministers above deacons. (The full text of 1 Clement)
– Likely was the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3 – “Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Ignatius of Antioch

– also known as Ignatius Theophorus (God-bearing)
– a student of John
– served as Bishop of Antioch
– was the first to use the word ‘catholic’ to refer to the universal church in his letters
– wrote letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna.
– he modeled his writings after Paul, Peter, and John; he freely quoted or paraphrased their words when writing to others.

Polycarp of Smyrna

– a disciple of John
– served as Bishop of Smyrna
– wrote the Letter to the Phillipians (The full text of this letter)
– his role was to authenticate orthodox teachings through his reputed connection with the apostle John: “a high value was attached to the witness Polycarp could give as to the genuine tradition of old apostolic doctrine”

Other apostolic writings include:

The Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)

– it’s full title is: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles
– it dates back to the time of the Apostolic fathers
– chapters 1-6 are: Two ways, the way of life and the way of death
– chapters 7-10 deal with rituals like baptism, Comunion, and fasting
– chapters 11-15 are about the ministry and the treatment of traveling prophets
– chapter 16 is a brief apocalypse (an apocalypse is a genre of writing that a revelation of things that were previously unknown as revealed by angels; it was quite popular. There are many non-canonical apocalypse letters that have been found over the years: Apocalypse of James (first and second), Apocalypse of Paul and Apocalypse of Peter (also there are two Gnostic apocalypses by the same name), Apocalypse of Stephen and Apocalypse of Thomas, among others.)

The Shepherd of Hermas (The Shepherd)

– it contains five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables.

Both the Didache and the Shepherd were quoted and read to churches at various times, sometimes as cannon, sometimes not so much.

Just by researching these people and their works, I learned quite a bit. I didn’t know that apocalypses were a genre of Christians writing. I cannot imagine how confusing it must have been to read them and wonder which end-times revelation is the right one. Perhaps that is why we know so little about that aspect of our Christian history.

I also learned that the early leaders were quite content to be bishops, it was only latter that the words Pope and Father were conferred upon them. I had always wondered why the practice of calling them fathers so contradicted Matthew 23:9, “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”

The Apostolic age dates from the year 33 a.d. (Jesus Death and Resurrection) to 100 a.d. (The death of John, the last Disciple of Jesus.) Other notable events in this time period was the Council of Jerusalem in 50 a.d. to answer the question of circumcision and of Gentiles believers and the Destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 a.d. With John’s death, the believers and their leaders had to figure out how to answer questions about Christianity without having the apostles to turn to for advice or secondhand wisdom from Jesus.

Church History: Our Witnesses

History can tell us about an event, but only an eyewitness can describe what it was like to be there. For example, there’s no doubt that the Titanic sank, it remains even now on the ocean floor. But only eyewitnesses could tell us how the passengers were placed in lifeboats and what the musicians were playing. We’re quite fortunate that we have so much documented history, written accounts, spoken stories, recorded videos, ancient artifacts and other items.

But what about older history? We rely on the accounts of ancient historians to describe for us historical events that have lost much of the physical proof of the events that took place; Herodotus (the first historian), Strabo, Livy, Flavius Josephus, Plutarch and Eusebius of Caesarea (among others) describe for us people, places, and events that are of note. The things that ought not be forgotten, as well as give us a glimpse into what life was like for them.

Today we have lots of words to describe ancient stories –
Myths are traditional stories concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. A second definition for myth is a widely held but false belief or idea.
Legends are traditional stories sometimes popularly regarded as historian, but unauthenticated.

Ancient history can sometimes seem like a little bit of both, depending on what you are reading, it’s difficult to know what to believe or how to tell fact from fiction regarding ancient events.

Awhile ago, while discussing the books of Acts, the teacher pointed out the use of the word ‘witnesses’. The four gospels are witnesses to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Acts is the witness to the foundation of the early church, the epistles are a witness that the testimony was accepted and spread further and further into the world. And so that book is witness of the history of the church.

We don’t have a lot of physical proof that these events took place. We don’t really know where most of them happened; we cannot say “on this spot, so-and-so did this or said that.” What we have is a series of eyewitness accounts.

Accounts of what Jesus did, of what Jesus said, of who Jesus was, and what people did in Jesus’ name. There’s a point where there is almost no historical proof that certain events happened, you just have to believe that the historian got it mostly right. The Bible is a work written by many historians, but it’s more like the history of a spiritual kingdom that doesn’t play by earthly rules.

But then again, it’s useful for something: it can tell you where something has been, what someone has done, what arguments were made, that is, if you’re willing to learn from them. If you’re willing to own the past so that you are not doomed to repeat it for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps this is why Church History has so often intrigued me; after all, there is much more to the story after the book of Revelation. How did Christianity get from there to here? But that’s the danger, too. Imagine what you can interpret from the Scriptures if you weren’t bound by annoying things like historical or cultural context … questions like “What did this teaching mean to the original hearers?” might not even need be asked. After all, why limit possible interpretations to whatever the apostles actually meant? I see this with modesty teachings, there are a lot of rules about modest clothing for ladies that really aren’t in Scripture. (For the record, the Bible just asked ladies not to wear expensive fashions; it had no particular rules about what specifically they should wear or how they should wear it. Our modern understanding has been read into Scripture and from that the interpretation is made that women should not dress in a way that causes men to stumble; in the process taking two verses out of context and putting them together to form the theological concept of modesty.) Of course, this means that if a favorite interpretation could not have possibly been what the original hearers were taught, then it could not mean people say it does now. Which is why much of church history is not taught or referred to in general.

Church history is inconvenient. It’s full of dissension, division, and denominational drama. It’s full of people who murder others in Jesus’ name. It’s full of people who used Christianity as an excuse to get away with stealing from others. Church history is repetitive. It’s proof that Christians don’t usually learn from their mistakes the first time around. It’s easy to lose track of the schisms and -isms: various heresies and theological issues that crept up over the decades time and time again. Church history is lengthy. A lot of history can happen in two thousand years. Most of the Christians historians wrote volumes and volumes to describe for us various important events and about important people. But it can also tell you how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go.

The Story of Scottish-Irish Americans

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

I think now I understand why I know practically nothing of my Irish history; it’s difficult to talk about. A lot of people are afraid to ask questions because sooner or later they will learn of a degree of unpleasantness. But today is a day where I’m celebrating what it is to be Irish, so I decided to learn my history. (Granted, this information is a general story of why they might have left Ireland, it’s not a specific story or reason; as it was lost long ago … I’m just going with the most statistically likely series of events.)

I had a few clues to go on: one branch of my ancestors was from Antirim County, the other was from somewhere in Ulster (which includes Antirim County and several other counties as well). The other information told us that one of them emigrated to the states in 1728 and the other came over in 1788.

Wikipedia tells me that “Between 1717 and 1775, an estimated 200,000 migrated to what became the United States of America.” They were from Ulster, Ireland. For the record, this was long before the Great Famine that destroyed Ireland’s potato crop in 1845 and lasting through 1852. (Given the dates, and one of my family tendency to be fashionably late, it’s safe to say that they both were a part of this wave of migration.)

The history of the problems between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland is well documented. Much (though not all) of Ulster is Northern Ireland, but it turns out that my ancestors were neither Protestant nor Catholic, they were Presbyterians. Scottish Presbyterians, to be specific.

Scottish immigration to Ulster, Ireland had been going on for generations, even at the start of the process of colonizing Northern Ireland (which had been generally empty, it was mostly used by a few clans as graze land for their herds of cattle. About the same time time that the English had decided to establish colonies and plantations, the Scottish had the same idea. Technically, they were supposed to displace the Irish, but that didn’t always happen – after all, there were so few of them in the north compared to the south. Each group of people, Irish, English, and Scottish, had their own religion (Catholic, Protestant, and Presbyterian, respectively) and they took matters of faith very seriously.

So between the two sets of differences, belief and origin, conflict was inevitable. When it was time to choose sides, well, that decision was pretty easy; you chose the side of the people most like you, who believe what you believe, who are from where you’re from; or the side of another group that most benefits you and takes care of your interests. Things got out of hand, massacres, hostility, and resentment; these things are not easily forgotten. To add to the issues, whenever tension was felt in the homeland, it was also felt in the colonies – civil wars, it seemed, were contagious.

In the 1690s, there was a famine at the border of Scotland that triggered another wave of immigration to Ulster. By 1720, the Ulster Scots (still Presbyterians … and Calvinists) were the majority. They tended to own a lot of land and were generally wealthier than most, their status was assured by picking the right sides, and yet, for all their wealth and land, they had no representation and no vote in matters of politics. Not only that Penal laws had been passed and were being enforced that were making life much more difficult: Presbyterians were barred from public office, their marriages would not be recognized by the state, and it fueled discrimination against the Ulster Scots. Enough was enough; because of these religious, political, and economic issues, they emigrated. The Scottish-Irish were the biggest group of immigrants in the years prior to the American Revolution … which they had just arrived in time for.

Yet again, they were being asked to choose sides. One Hessian (that is, German) officer said: “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” A British major general testified to the House of Commons that “half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland”.

The majority of the Scottish Irish settled in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. As well as Across the Alleghenies and the Ozarks. They were the first to settle the frontier and usually lived in small communities where their families lived together, worshiped together, and didn’t really marry outside of the faith, as their ancestors had learned that outsiders were usually problematic. The Presbyterian Church couldn’t meet the growing demand for pastors in these communities, but Methodist and Baptist Churches didn’t require nearly as much education or support, so many descendants of the Scottish Irish aren’t really Presbyterians; like me, they’ve been American and Baptist or American and Methodist for as long as they can remember (if they’ve kept the faith, that’s totally optional these days.)

It’s estimated that 27 Million Americans are descendant from the Scottish-Irish Presbyterians. We come from a proud people that did well, but always wanted to do better. Our ancestors didn’t settle for less because they set their sights on more. The character traits of the Scotch-Irish such as loyalty to kin, extreme mistrust of governmental authority and legal strictures, and a propensity to bear arms and to use them, helped shape the American identity and are still present in their descendants. It makes me proud to be one of them; In a time when it was Catholic vs Protestant, they dared to be Presbyterians. When the Irish were up against the English, they held true to their Scottish heritage. I know, they don’t sound particularly Irish, not like we might think – but they certainly had the fighting spirit of the Irish … which isn’t all that surprising, because generations of them were born in Ireland. A great many still live in Ulster, having managed to make it their home and keep it. So distant cousins, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m glad that I was able to find our story, it was worth telling.

Playing Hooky from Church

I wanted to let you know why I’m not at church this Sunday. It’s not because I have other obligations, because my schedule is free. It’s not because I’m ill, because I’m healthy. I’m not going to be at church because I don’t agree with the organization that has sponsored the special speaker that will be giving a presentation at my church.

“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” – Judges 7:2-3

I’ve heard the speech before anyway: “We are here collecting money to commission the construction of Bibles and buy Bibles to be placed in hotel rooms, hospital rooms, and given to anyone anywhere in any language who does not have access to their own Bible. We’re also asking good young men to step up and join with us as a member to be the next generation of leaders to carry on the task.”

“But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”” – Judges 7:4

But they take after their namesake very seriously, only a certain kind of person, who has a certain amount of wealth, and who meets certain obligations are permitted to join. There are are a whole lot of people – too many – that just don’t meet these conditions. Even more concerning, is that many of those that did are elders whose time will come much more quickly than replacements can be found. In times of crisis the one thing that cannot be permitted is change – how terrible it would be if anybody and everybody was a member who shared the word with everyone they met! Sort of like:

Venkman: Or you can accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

“The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.”” – Judges 7:7

Since their organization is committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, it seems odd that they’d be far picker than even Jesus was. If the goal is the important thing, then it really wouldn’t matter who would be fulfilling it – because it would be a sort of ‘all hands on deck’ sort of thing. You’d need everybody to finish the goal. But if the goal does not matter, then one can greatly prevent the likelihood of meeting it by keeping people from helping, by disqualifying them if they don’t believe the right things, look the right way, act the right way, or say the right things. In this way, the ‘image’ will be intact, but the ‘goal’ will never be reached.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” – Matthew 28:18-20

Who cannot fulfill the Great Commission, in accordance with the tradition of this organization? The poor as they cannot afford to fulfill the obligation to support the organization financially, anyone who has not owned a business, and women who are not married to a member of the organization; those that are may fulfill the role of an auxiliary helper. Which is why it’s odd that a speaker would come to my church to ask a building full of people ineligible to support their organization financially. “No, you can’t join us, but yes, you can pay for us to continue our work.”

Perhaps they re-wrote the story?

One day, God spoke to that guy over there and said: “If only my word would reach all the world! But who can be found to share it?”
“Look Lord! Here are a thousand people, all of them ready and willing!”
“No, that’s too many. They might think that they don’t need me. Send the poor away, but ask them to donate however much they can before they leave.”
“Look Lord! here are five hundred rich people, all of them ready and willing!”
“No, that’s still too many. I’ll tell you what, send away the single women and the widows, as well as any man who does not own a business, but instruct them to pay for the materials before they go.”
“Look Lord! Here are two hundred and fifty rich businessmen and their wives, but they don’t count. Will they do?”
“Perfect! Everybody knows that if poor people who don’t know how to run or operate a business and women were to spread my word, then I would be a laughingstock. But because these respected wealthy businessmen have stepped up, everybody will pay attention to them and know that I am God. Therefore go and spread the word to all the world, and as often as possible ask for donations from those that are ineligible to join.”

So that’s why I won’t be at church. Don’t take it personally. I figure if I’m ineligible to to be a member because I’m a single woman, that makes me ineligible to support your ministry. Let me know if you ever change your minds, I’d love to use my knowledge of foreign languages to do some good around the world, if only you would let me.

A Deeper Look Into Lent

Fast Give and Pray

Earlier I had mentioned that we never did the whole Lent thing. After talking about it further, I realized that it was necessary to really look at what others do for Lent to consider whether or not we were going to follow through.

The Catholics are probably the most well-known when it comes to celebrating Lent. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, just before Easter. It lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays. It is forty days because Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, the rules concerning this has changed over the centuries. Fast days include: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Good Friday, and on the day that Jesus was crucified. On fast days, only one full meal may be eaten, and two smaller meals can be eaten as well, but no snacks are permitted. Many abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, though fish is often allowed. Depending on the region, the tradition is to veil icons and images in purple cloth, the color of Lent. Just before the beginning of Easter, the color of the cloth might be switched to black to symbolize mourning.

Lent is a time to refocus ones effort on prayer, on fasting, and on charity.

Prayer, devotionals, Bible studies, etc. Lent is an ideal time to speak to and listen to God as well as study the Word and contemplate it’s mysteries. It’s a time to repair one’s spiritual relationship and to think more deeply about spirituality that one might day in and day out.

Many Christians in general give up a vice or something beloved like chocolate or sugar for forty days and add in a virtue like intentionally being patient or eating carrots. Fasting is still a solid choice; some fast from typical American fare and eat simpler meals such as rice, which our third world brothers and sisters in the faith would eat daily. Fasting from extravagance and focusing on simplicity also works. Self-denial is the idea, to say no to worldliness.

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” – Mark 1:12-13

Charity or alms-giving are also good options. After all, scripture says that two rules matter most: loving God and loving your neighbor. Lent is an opportunity to live out these two principles. There’s no shortage of ways to be charitable, from volunteering, to collecting jackets or food to give away, and to raising funds to donate.

Lent is a very personal season in Christianity, something that each person should consider for themselves whether or not to carry on the tradition – especially if you’re from a denomination that didn’t really teach it in the first place. Sometimes some elements of it are useful even outside of Lent – taking a spiritual inventory, focusing on strengthening your relationship with God and with others, for example. It is a time to take away distractions and to prepare for the implications of Easter.

Having learned a lot more about it, I respect these traditions and I’m truly sorry that the leaders of my previous denomination didn’t them worth teaching, but at least I know about them now and just might have a proper Lent season come next year.