Happy Mardi Gras, - I don’t think I was too far into my journey of learning French when I worked out that this meant fat Tuesday - ever since then I have been delighted by the name. Somehow the more English ‘pancake day' doesn’t quite contain the same magic and delight as Mardi Gras or the Spanish Carnaval (eat meat). Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent begins (the period of spiritual preparation that goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), and it became a time of feasting as it was the day to use up all the perishable items that people would be giving up for the Lenten fast. As butter, eggs, sugar and cream were items that were given up for Lent pancakes were a good choice to use up these ingredients.
It is nice to practice traditions and rituals that connect us to the history of the church and connect us to God through spiritual practices like fasting. But going out and buying ingredients for pancakes (or those shake and mix things if pancake ability fails you like me), makes pancakes a non-contextualised distraction rather than something we do to connect us to God and to our faith. In our society, today eggs, butter, and sugar aren’t usually the items that we fast from during Lent. In fact, it is common to give up more luxury items such as wine or chocolate, rather than going without the more everyday items like meat that challenge us on a daily basis. So pancakes and even the whole period of fasting, become a nice thing to do, rather than something that confronts us with how well off we are. The question that pancakes distract us from is
how do we deny ourselves (as Jesus so often did) when we have so much.
I have in the past tried giving up certain foods or wine for Lent, and I have also tried doing 40 acts of kindness where the focus is on giving to others rather than denying yourself. This year I am struck by how much I have been giving out of my own abundance rather than giving in a way that challenges my comfort. I can see that sometimes saying “here I have something that I think you may want” is in itself an act of privilege, an act of separation, not connection. This Lent I am aware of how my privilege swaddles me, how the layers of comfort that I have surrounded myself with limits my ability to see the world from other peoples perspectives. My comfort acts as insulation from a deep connection with others and with God. This Lent instead of denying myself things that I don’t really need anyway or giving away things that I have plenty of, I want to unwrap those layers of comfort that stop me seeing the world with the eyes of others. But I am not sure I am brave enough because unwrapping involves exposure, it involves vulnerability - can I really go there? Jesus chose to put aside his privilege and become as nothing (Philippians 2), and so should I if I seek to follow God. If only there was a simple way to do this, to change my way of seeing so that my comfort no longer obscures my ability to view the world in different ways.
Part of my problem is that I do want to engage with people not like myself, to listen and be able to develop new eyes with which to view the systems in which I live. But I am an introverted, socially awkward intellectual, often I don’t feel like socialising at all, let alone with people who are not like myself.
But the challenge remains, the call from Jesus to challenge and dismantle the systems that create privilege at the expense of some, that create disconnection and that harm us in so many ways.
Accepting that challenge is difficult as in so many situations I am not even aware of all those layers of comfort and ease that are clouding my vision. For me, as we move into this first week of Lent, the first step is in beginning to recognise and understand just how deeply those layers have influenced me, how they have led to my seeing the world in a certain way. To understand how the comfort and ease have influenced my opinions, values and ideas.
Perhaps I need to be reminded that there are other ways of seeing the world, other views that I need to listen for. This week each time I reach for my favourite weekend wine, and my daily chocolate that I am fasting from, I will take that time to remind myself just how comfortable I am getting. I can take that time to discover other perspectives.
For this first week of Lent I challenge you to like me, begin to unpack the layers that have created your ideas, values and opinions.
- Sit down and prayerfully consider all your comfort, ease and abundance, what do you have that others may not?
- List all the ways that you are privileged for choice and access. You might like to consider your race and culture, your sexuality, your gender, gender identity, your education level (and that of your parents), your wealth, the suburb you grew up in, physical ability, physical health, your religion, and any others that occur to you.
- What influence might these layers of ease and comfort have had on how you see the world? How were you taught to see yourself? How were you taught to see others?
- Choose two of these categories of privilege and research some alternative views. What opinions, values and ideas do people different from you have? What views do they have that are different to yours, what is the same? Why do you think they have developed these views? What about your different experiences may have lead to you having different views? What has influenced their formation? What has influenced yours?
- Conclude with a prayer:
Jesus, you came and emptied yourself,
teach us to follow your example.
Help us to recognise and lay down our power,
Help us to understand how our attitudes lead to oppression
and our actions to heartbreak.
Forgive us for all the times we have taken our choices for granted,
or prevented others from having choices.
Forgive us for those moments when we have been agents of oppression,
or excluded others from feeling welcome.
Jesus be with us so that we may recognise our abundance,
give us your eyes of compassion and help us to make actions of love.