Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gray or Grey?

What percentage of the world's Christians observe the season of Lent?  And, among those who do, how many have ashes put on their forehead on Ash Wednesday?  I don't know the answer to either of those questions.  The best I can do is "some, not all."

Should Christians participate in Lent?  Is it good to do so?  Neither Lent nor the "imposition of ashes" is in the Bible.  It's neither required nor prohibited.  In fact, it's a gray area.  Or grey.  Either is okay.

Technically, Lenten observances are adiaphora, things that are not commanded by Christ but are sometimes helpful.  It's a really good and important teaching--clearly outlined in Romans 14.  Understanding this is so important.  It keeps us from splitting and squabbling over things that are important for some and not for others.

Do you know it's okay that some Christians do and believe things differently than you?  If not, I'd really encourage you to do a careful study of the passage I mentioned above:
"Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord." (Romans 14:5-6)

"Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another." (Romans 14:13)
Knowing that some things are grey (or gray) is truly helpful.  How to sort out what is gray and what is black and white?  As a pastor, part of my role is helping a local church do that.  If you have questions about these things, don't keep them to yourself.  Ask and discuss, and then bring the questions to those who are called to lead and guide the faith community you call your own.

The fact is that Christians who "do" Lent (with or without ashes) do it for various reasons, and those who don't have their own reasons.  Those who do either believe it's a good thing or are just going along with what's normal in their church.  Some have just grown up with it. Among those who believe it's a good thing, some have thoroughly investigated the issues involved and have concluded that Lent (with or without ashes) is helpful and is in harmony with Biblical teachings.  Others have just had deep or at least helpful spiritual experiences with this "40 days plus Sundays" season.

Let's listen to one another carefully, and then, in your own church, work toward a consensus that is helpful to as many as possible.  Click here for a helpful guide to consensus voting.  Some things God just leaves up to us to decide.  And, in the process, you and I learn to love those who aren't just the same.



  1. "To Ash, or not to Ash – that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler for the soul to suffer
    The stares and glares of those unfamiliar with the practice
    Or to take pains to help them see past their ignorance
    And by teaching, enlighten them. To witness, to pray--
    No less--and by prayer we seek to end
    The heartache, and the profound willfulness
    That humanity is heir to. 'Tis a conversion
    Devoutly to be sought. To pray, to witness--
    To witness—perchance to be healed: ay, there's the promise,
    For in being healed, the Destroyer has become destroyed.
    Thus heaven ever, after we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us hope." (With apologies to Master Will -- :>))

    Neither gray, nor black, nor white. Habit for some: yes. Unexplored by many (or most): maybe. Anticipated? For a few-- perhaps. I grew up "observing" Lent and for most of my life I saw it as an imposition of a rigid and unfeeling guilt trip. Participation was mandatory. Catechetical explanations were provided, but most of that was couched in terms that did not resonate with me or my youthful peers. Such explanations centered around duty and our human sinfulness. It was something we were required to do but the "whys" and the "wherefores" were not connected beyond the pastoral command that we do so since Christ was crucified "because of our sins." Hammering the up-and-coming generations with the belief that there is nothing "good" about being human is not conducive to a healthy relationship with God, or with Church, for that matter. One cannot truly love what one fears.

    As I said, that was for most of my life. Things have changed, primarily because I have changed. Or more accurately, a change has been wrought within me that has led me to a different view about a lot of things. Now, I see Lent as an extended opportunity for reinforcement of conversion experiences and covenants. Now, the season of Lent brings me to the edge of my seat as we approach Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. It is unfortunate, I think, that a better explanation of Lent beyond duty-because-of-original-or-unoriginal-sin is not at the forefront of catechesis.

    But then, like a relationship with God, perhaps it is something that one has to grow into ... like maturing in faith. That takes an intentional proactive interest in having a relationship with God that moves beyond rote memorization, formulaic prayer whispered without contemplation, or submission to dogma out of fear or habit, or both. Or it takes the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit.



  2. So here we are with another Ash Wednesday coming around the bend. We'll do Lent now in 2012 but I don't know about the Ashes... go to www.crossroadscokato.com to see some of our plans, in cooperation with North Heights Lutheran Church of Roseville and Arden Hills.