Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Tomorrow ends the first week of Lent. Woo-hoo! Only 30-something more days until you are off the hook for another year. Listen, I was brought up semi-Catholic, so I know all about the whole self-sacrifice thing. Not that my parents were the strictest, bestest Catholics in the world, but I got the point. Somehow we convinced our parents that we learned better by watching others. Or maybe they simply gave up when we kept coming up with ideas that looked good on paper–say, giving up homework or going to church. Heh, our current Unitarian Universalist intern minister mentioned giving up pronouns for Lent. You know, as staunchly non-Christian as I am, I might’ve actually done that.
See, I never exactly figured out how giving up chocolate or MTV for over a month would make me a better person. Hell, it sure didn’t seem to make a dent in some of the rather pompous personas of the devout religious people I knew, so why bother? I figured there were better ways to improve and evolve.
I realized that one of the reasons I am drawn to faiths from the other side of the globe is that they run like a self-contained operating system on a computer rather than a mere application inside of a larger, secular OS. Religion and spirituality are so interwoven with the lives of those in the Old World that they simply can’t be separated from the rest of life.
In the West, on the other hand, life is life, the operating system, and religion is this little applet westerners run on Sunday mornings because it’s something they’ve always done. They obediently listen to their priest or minister tell them how they should live (and admittedly they have some good ideas, if only they wouldn’t fall on such deaf ears) and as soon as the service is over, they bunch at the door, coming short of pushing and shoving on the way out to their SUVs, if for no other reason than the fact that they just got through a sermon that ultimately boils down to the advocation of the Golden Rule. Once they pull out of the church parking lot and onto the road, however, the animalistic mentality resumes the driver’s seat and any rude behavior is fair game. Gone is the decency, the respect for fellow man and back comes the materialism and the Generation Me orientation from which they operate. And it’s open season on anyone who might even accidentally stand in their way. Something just doesn’t seem right about that to me.
And suddenly, I’m reminded of our own church, the modest but energy-rich Unitarian Universalist clubhouse that is increasingly becoming sort of a home away from home. And I realize how decidedly people do not crowd and bunch around the door and how it is not a mass exodus to leave the parking lot and get on with the day.
In fact, for every person that trickles out, many more actually stay behind–that’s right, longer than what is required!–and get together to continue the respectful, educational discussion inspired by the depth and variation of each unique service that really plays out more like a History International evening cultural special than it does a good ol’ fashioned American church service. And I am reminded of the gift potential that a weekly anchor like a good sermon can serve, as long as it is done for the right reasons, such as education, enlightenment, and unity, rather than validation and vindication for belief in self-righteous dogma.
I’m slowly coming to realize that no matter how staunchly resistant one is to organized religion, there still can be an unrealized void in one’s soul that a respectful and open-minded service can fill. And I’m reminded of the spirituality that can resonate in such a place, and in the hearts of such people who would visit there.
This past Sunday, we did discuss the spirituality of Lent, and about how it’s not necessarily just putting in your annual due of giving up something you like, like coffee or a Walkman (remember those? I suppose it’s Ipod now–only my fingers would have to drop several dozen degrees before you’ll ever be able to pry that from me 🙂 )
But it’s more than that. The great gift lies in realizing how much we DO have, and how much we should be thankful for. I know my fellow Parker bretheren and I chuckle with varying degrees of cynicism when we hear the tired phrase “attitude of gratitude” because it does sound lame and cliche. But I do advocate taking the time to establish some kind of communication with whichever Higher Power you call to, and taking the time to appreciate what you have, whether it’s the fact that you made it through the day without getting paralyzed, to aceing that miderm lab practical. The cool part is, you don’t even have to give anything up for several weeks to do this.