02-Lent: More Ash, Less Flash

The Ash Wednesday edition

The less I consume, the less harm I do to that which I love. In a
consumer society, harmless living may be simple, but it is not easy.
- Stephanie Mills in Epicurean Simplicity

We repent of the sin of greed, consumerism, materialism, classism,
militarism, discrimination, racism, sexism, torture, executions . . .
We repent of the sin of destroying the oceans, the skies, and creation.
We repent of the sin of silence and apathy in the face of these horrors.
- John Dear in a 1998 Ash Wednesday service


Dear fellow wanderers,

We’ve arrived at that day, the first of the 46 that precede Easter (40, if you’re not counting Sundays). Some folks in more liturgical traditions will literally receive ashes on the foreheads – a reminder of our penitence – to mark the occasion. For others, Ash Wednesday simply serves as the beginning of the lengthy period of abstinence from chocolate croissants (or whatever your treat-of-preference is).

Here at Geez, we’re looking to radicalize Lent. That’s not said to blatantly disregard the long legacy of practices that have paved the way prior. But these are urgent times. Climate change, gaping income disparity, species extinction, soil erosion and the decimation of labour rights are just a handful of the calamitous issues we face today. All are anchored by unlimited consumption.

Primarily spiritual
In Russell Brand’s editorial for the “Revolution” issue of the New Statesman (Oct. 24, 2013), the comedian/professional provocateur stated that “the solution has to be primarily spiritual and secondarily political.” This requires a shift of morality, a reclamation of values. It requires a meeting of past teachings and future needs to help propel us into a new era. Ash Wednesday is a perfect time to begin.

We can’t just talk ourselves into not participating in the game of relentless, destructive consumption. That’s because we’re facing a monstrous advertising industry, guided by the sole, hyper-rational goal of maximizing profits for its corporate leaders. Chris Hedges explains in Empire of Illusion that such an industry promotes the classic traits of psychopaths: self-importance, a need for constant stimulation and a tendency to lie and manipulate. As he calls it, the “cult of the self.”

It’s that very ethic that Jesus rejected three times in the desert. Sure, he wasn’t faced with succumbing to the near-omnipotent forces of Wal-Mart, Apple, BP and Samsung as we all too often do in the 21st century, but the morality tale concerns similar temptations: to forsake his values for sustenance, for miracles, for power. Jesus consistently rejected opportunities to elevate himself or take the easy way out.

Hyper-consumption cannot continue. Every purchase we make condemns – however slightly – a songbird species nearer to extinction, a river system closer to undrinkable and a child labourer within reach of sickness. We can’t control the tempter. It will always be present, and – as the resistance grows – increasing in its already bloated size. But we can discipline ourselves to endure, day by day.

Your responses
We’ve received a solid response from you, reminding us of different ways of interpreting this season and suggesting means of re-imagining the mixture of renunciation and discovery that it offers.

Hannah Main-van der Kamp – a poet, editor and teacher from British Columbia – sent us a whole list of ideas to help “re-align,” as she puts it. Here are a few to try out:

- Do an in-depth study of a difficult book in the Bible, one you have wanted to ignore (do it all on your own without access to the varied opinions online)
– Divide your rhubarb clump
– Beg or borrow a good pair of binoculars: notice something avian
– Darn some socks
– Shower less, shampoo less, look in the mirror less
– Wear the same clothes six days in a row
– Put money aside to purchase beautiful new clothes from a thrift shop for everyone in your household for Easter Sunday

Bob Thaler of Hamburg, Ontario, also forwarded us his plan for this upcoming season:

“My suggestion for a Lenten ritual is that each week of Lent, we prepare a simple meal and invite a group of people into our home, spend an evening sitting around the table eating and talking, laughing, telling stories and even arguing out the world’s problems. This runs contrary to old traditions of self-denial and self-mortification but I think it might put us on the road to healing and reconciliation, maybe even to God.”

That’s it for now.
As always, we invite any feedback (which could range from fierce criticism to gentle suggestions, we can handle it). Let us know how your quest to de-commodify your lifestyle is going; we’re certainly not the experts and could use any help that you can offer. Jesus, whose life exuded self-denial for the sake of the marginalized and displaced, might serve as our directive.

Email us at lentforskeptics [at] geezmagazine [dot] org, and we’ll include a selection of your perspectives in the next weekly message.

– James, Kyla and your friends at Geez

Return to Lent index page
Editor of Lent for Skeptics: lentforskeptics [at] geezmagazine [dot] org

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for these thoughts and reflection.

    Grant Ottawa March 5th, 2014 11:08am

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