Tag Archives: Lent

Why I Love Lent

So, it’s been a while since Lent started, and I will admit, I haven’t been perfect at all.

However, Lent has brought about a deeper spirituality between me and my wife, something that I didn’t really expect, to be honest. I thought I might gain a greater cultural experience or have a couple spiritual experiences, but I was not prepared for a much more deep entrance into what religion means to us. However, the results are not surprising, and here are some reasons why I have loved Lent so far:

1. I’m choosing to participate in Lent

I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of my joy of Lent probably comes from the fact that I consciously chose to participate in Lent rather than feel like I’m expected to. However, I would counter that when it comes to religion in general, eventually you will have to choose whether you participate or not. Especially growing up and moving out of the house and getting married and other kinds of adult stuff, I’ve learned painfully that your participation on church eventually comes down to what you want, not what your parents want or what your friends want or what your wife wants. After a certain point, nobody can really force you to go to church. You either stop, you go, or you capitulate.

Now, with that said, I still enjoy Lent more most likely because I want to. But I can say that same thing about General Conference and running instances on World of Warcraft. I am choosing to participate and so I’m much more aware of things happening to me because of my decision to do so. Had I felt pressured or bullied or socialized into Lent rather than choosing to do so, no doubt my reaction would be quite different. But this has only emphasized that lesson I have learned and now try to implement in my life – if you don’t choose to do something but merely capitulate, you live a fairly miserable existence.

2. I think about God a lot more

One of the reasons the rabbis give for the strict kosher code of Jewish tradition is that as you move through life, every decision brings you back to God. As you make a conscious effort to prepare a kosher meal, you think constantly of why you’re doing this – because you want to revere what God asks you to do. Lent has done that for us. We haven’t been perfect – we’ve definitely eaten out more than several times during Lent, but each time I feel that pang of guilt. And even more than the times we’ve eaten out we’ve decided not to because, well, it’s Lent. And that always feels good.

Sure, God didn’t specifically ask us to give up eating out. After all, eating out is pretty benign and for Dantzel and I who are amateur, budding foodies, eating out is a great way for us to spend a date night together. But giving that up for just a small period of time for God feels good. And we find that we think about Him a lot more than usual.

3. I feel connected to others because I participate in Lent

My wife had an interesting experience during Lent – while working, she found out one of her co-workers is a practicing Catholic. When she mentioned she had given up eating out for Lent, they immediately bonded. Even though he later found out my wife was actually Mormon and not Catholic, they still had a very amicable and beneficial friendship and they exchanged thoughts on belief and religion, which my wife enjoyed greatly.

I’m not a very connected type of person. I have a Twitter account and some 100 odd “friends” or so on Facebook but my face-to-face interactions are limited to a select few. This often leads to times of crisis as I grapple with existential angst and loneliness. I’ve noticed that these past few weeks, however, I haven’t felt that angst as often. There’s a lot of factors working here – my new church ward is welcoming, and Washington people seem more friendly to people like me than Utah people. However, something definitely changed somewhere in my mentality – I feel a strong solidarity and affinity to Catholics. Not to say I’m going to join anytime soon, but I definitely feel a connection – even grumbling a little whenever Martin Luther comes up.

One thing is certain, while I’ve been practicing Lent, I’ve felt more connected knowing millions around the world are doing the same thing – contemplating doing what you’re fasting from, stopping, thinking, rationalizing, then shaking your head and pushing that thought out of your mind. There’s a solidarity that comes from that knowledge.

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Why I Think We Need A Lent

One of my posts about voluntarily participating in Lent and my wish for a Mormon liturgical calendar brought about some very interesting reasons why we don’t need one. This caused further reflection since, as someone who reflexively resists people telling him what to do, I want a calendar that tells me what to do. What is it about Lent (and other non-Mormon religious events and holidays) that intrigue me so? These are the reasons I came up with why I like Lent and why I think more Mormon holidays would be spiritually beneficial to us as a Church culture:

1. Lent is a universal religious holiday

The idea of Lent is pretty clear. It’s a 45 day preparation period for Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Doctrinally, our entire religion hinges upon this idea that Jesus could conquer death. Without it, we’re nothing. As a whole church, Catholics all over the world participate in this long period of fasting, spiritual contemplation, and preparation.

We have Mormon holidays, JustJill pointed out. We have Pioneer Day and you don’t even like it so why do we need more? A valid point. My problem with Pioneer Day is it’s not a universal Mormon holiday. First off, the entire Church doesn’t celebrate it. Many Utahns I talked to when I went to BYU were shocked that practically no Mormon (not even Utah ex-pats) celebrate Pioneer Day outside of Utah. Sometimes The Ensign gives a passing reference, but it’s not a huge deal outside of Utah, which brings me to my next problem with Pioneer Day.

Not everyone has a pioneer heritage. My parents, for example, were the first in my line to join the Church. And so people tell me that in a spiritual sense, I am a pioneer and Pioneer Day is applicable. But let’s be honest: Do Utahns when they celebrate Pioneer Day celebrate these “latter-day pioneers”? Not really.

And that’s my last problem with Pioneer Day. There is no real set religious way to celebrate it. We have a day off if you’re lucky, and maybe you might have a picnic or visit a handcart museum or something. Some towns in Utah, rumor has it, have parades. But there is no real spirituality behind that holiday. It’s not a religious holiday in practice by any sense.

Remember when President Hinckley challenged the Church to read the Book of Mormon by the next General Conference? The Church went nuts over it. Suddenly, everyone in the Church was moving as a Church body toward a common goal. The Ensign was flooded with how church wards and branches and stakes all over the world achieved that goal and the celebrations which came with it. It was not just reading the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time. We were reading the Book of Mormon together as a Church and a lot of people loved it. There’s a real need, I think, for Church-wide celebration of who we are, and I think the palpable frenzy surrounding President Hinckley’s challenge demonstrated it. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Religious holidays are a celebration

Korean culture is a big shock to my wife, and one of them is the fact that we throw lots of parties. Like, all the time. I’m serious. One cannot understand it until one lives with Koreans for an extended period of time. We throw parties for baptisms, we throw parties after a choir performance, heck, we break the fast together as a branch every first Sunday. And really, sometimes we all just get together one Saturday, cook a ton of food and then sing really bad Karaoke. My wife mentioned once that Koreans will celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. I told her that’s my philosophy as well, something she sometimes frets over.

We should, as Mormons, celebrate life. Our gospel is one of happiness and joy, but you wouldn’t believe it the way we sing our hymns sometimes. Now, Lent is a somber celebration, but it is a celebration nonetheless that culminates in the joyous memory of Christ’s triumph over death. It’s good for our souls and our minds and our hearts, in my opinion, to take the time and set aside a day or a period of time every year to celebrate things in our Church. JustJill mentioned it would be interesting to go through Mormon history and pick days to celebrate, but it’s not just celebrating history; we should celebrate gospel concepts. Lent doesn’t denote any special period of Catholic history, but it’s about a religious concept. Same with the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s not a special date in Jewish history per se, just a day to celebrate a very Jewish concept.

3. Liturgical calendars give our culture balance and reminds us of who we are

Jamie’s correct in saying we have a very powerful culture that ties us in universal buildings and ways of worship. I, too, loved walking into the church buildings in Seattle because it feels like home. In places like Oklahoma where Mormons were as rare as a jackalope, seeing one of our buildings helped reinforce sagging spirits. Our culture is a powerful cohesive element that is a huge part of our lives.

But sometimes it feels our culture lacks balance. A liturgical calendar would give our religious culture focus. At the moment, our religious culture resembles much of what JustJill wrote – a list of everything we can’t do. There’s a fairly famous Facebook group called “I Can’t – I’m Mormon,” which pretty much signifies our entire culture’s attitude towards having fun, it seems. I’m not saying wickedness is fun, but sometimes our wariness of doing something that breaks one of our many commandments bleeds into areas that shouldn’t even be affected. And I certainly don’t mean that we should celebrate in excess as Sidney very aptly pointed out in reference to Brazil’s Carneval (also, Sidney used the term “jaundiced eye,” which is +100 awesome imagery points).

Our culture is very one-sided. We have three basic elements to our Church culture right now. The first one would be commandments. We have a lot of commandments, from the trivial (no coffee or tea) to the important (no sex before marriage). The second one would be responsibilities. Mormons on Sunday always seem to walk around in a sort of daze. We have callings (sometimes two or three) and home or visit teaching. If you have kids, you have YM/YW activities through Mutual, Scouting, Primary activities, the works. And, of course, if you have kids, well, I mean, you have kids. Those aren’t easy to manage sometimes. The third and final element of our culture is guilt – guilt in a failure to live up to all points of Mormon law and responsibility.

This guilt is manifest when I suggest we have a liturgical calendar. “By Einstein’s Hoary Theory of Relativity! You want to give me MOAR STUFF TO DO?!” We already have commandments and fast Sunday and responsibility and whydoyouwanttogivememore?! As paradoxical as it sounds, it seems to me that a liturgical calendar could not only provide order in some of that responsibility but a more well rounded culture, too.

We need a celebratory aspect to our religious lives. When Mormon funerals are more bouncy and happy than Mormon linger-longers or munch-and-mingles or meet-and-greets or whatever the heck you want to call them, you know there’s a problem. Yeah, it’s sad Grandma Smith died, but now she doesn’t have to go visit teaching EVAR AGAIN. Now that’s something to celebrate! One of our hallmark stereotypical Mormon cultural food items is called funeral potatoes, for heaven’s sake.

A celebratory aspect of our religious culture gives us a reminder every now and then why we’re Mormon. The rush of experiencing a communal holiday with the rest of the Church, the re-invigoration of support when we all work toward a common idea or goal, all of this reminds us why we chose to join ourselves with such a demanding community. And I’m not saying that celebration doesn’t add more stress; it definitely can. I remember my mom tiredly chopping massive portions of green onions, my wife bent over a skillet flipping tons of pancakes, the men rapidly setting up tables and setting out literally a hundred chairs. But when we all work together and then enjoy the fruits of our labors every now and then as we did that lunar new year celebration, when Brother Lee is calling out for more volunteers as Koreans in traditional garb twirl the jump rope and grown men and women are trying to skip around in the whirling rope (and falling down and laughing while doing it) while the whole room chants a traditional children’s song in between mouthfuls of food everyone brought, it reminded me that day why I love being Korean.

Sometimes, I feel our religion needs more events like these to remind ourselves why being Mormon is just so awesome. Because it is awesome to be Mormon. We just forget that sometimes, and maybe a celebration or two of our Mormon aspects could help us remember that.

Scheduled for tomorrow: Why I Love Lent

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Ash Wednesday and Lent

Thanks to a timely reminder from By Common Consent, I will be celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, tomorrow. I’ve always meant to celebrate it but always forgot when it was time to do so until half-way through Lent.

Like some Mormons, I’m jealous of other religions who have a liturgical calendar. I consider myself a very spiritual person but I’ve never been good at adhering to strict religious practices within the Mormon church. It may seem strange that a person like me wants a liturgical calendar, but there’s something about a religious structure that reminds you of various religious topics at the same time year after year that become a tradition bigger than itself, and there’s something incredible about a prolonged, shared communal experience (and I’m not talking about those horrible marathon testimony meetings). I do my best to read my scriptures and pray every day, but there’s something said about a portion of the year set aside for the same thing every time which you as a global Church consciously experience.

Maybe I’m a Law of Moses kind of guy. I like daily reminders of the gospel scattered throughout my life. And call me an elitist, but I like cultural markers that help demarcate us from the rest of the world. However, our culture is, when compared to other religions, quite silly. Disaffected Catholics still generally go to church on Easter and Christmas. Disaffected Jews may still gather together for their various feasts and fasts. What do disaffected Mormons do? As Scott B. wonders, “Wouldn’t that just be the nerdiest thing ever if a huge crowd of disaffected Mormons gathered together once a year to celebrate their cultural Mormonism by partying without coffee, tea, and alcohol while consuming ridiculous quantities of Jello and funeral potatoes. They could call it a Linger-Less-Longer.”

So I’ll be borrowing heavily from others’ liturgical calendars this year. The wife and I will probably try and celebrate Passover to the best of our ability, as well as other Jewish holidays. We might even take a stab at Ramadan this year, though we’re both technically not allowed to fast for long periods of time for medical reasons. General Conference is nice, but when it only comes twice a year, with large gaps in between lacking of any regular, yearly important dates of purely Mormon celebration (with the exception of Pioneer Day, which I don’t celebrate as it’s not really a part of my actual heritage and the wife’s hatred for anything folksy pioneer-y), sometimes you feel disconnected from the greater communal experience.

And for those who are wondering, I’m giving up eating out for Lent this year.

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