When You Think Billy Graham You don’t Think Lent

But such are the fortunes of evangelicalism that the people running the magazine that Billy Graham (trans-denominational) helped to found with Carl Henry (Baptist), and J. Howard Pew (anti-Communist Presbyterian) are fully comfortable with Anglicanism, and so have posted another article recommending Lent. In this case, telling points mount to show how poorly Lent fits with Christian piety:

heightened devotion is fruitful for a season, but cannot be sustained indefinitely. The Christian calendar offers a sustainable rhythm of which Lent is a part, and the fasting of Lent gives way to the feasting of Easter. Fasting and feasting are interconnected disciplines that teach us to love the King and his coming kingdom. In Lent, we learn to confess our sins, practice self-denial, and take on the humility of Christ. In Easter, we learn to rejoice, exult, and feast in Christ’s victory. As historian William Harmless explains, “In these two liturgical seasons Christians drank in, by turns, the ‘not yet’ and ‘already’ of New Testament eschatology.”

Repentance is fruitful for only part of the year? Moderation is something to observe but only for a time? Imagine if American Christians were moderate and humble the entire year. They wouldn’t binge or purge on American greatness or heinousness depending on which of their favorite presidential candidates was in the White House. Indeed, encouraging the idea that restraint and repentance are only for a while and not for all of life nurtures antinomianism: “I wouldn’t do this during Lent, but the other 325 days I will.”

If Lent is not supposed to lead to those thoughts (which I assume it’s not), then why not make Lenten practices year round? Because repentance and moderation can’t be “sustained indefinitely”? So people practicing Lent are Snowflake Christians? They don’t have the stomach for life-long dying to sin and living to Christ?

Aaron Damiani concedes that “Many Christians choose to keep or modify their Lenten disciplines for the rest of the year, as they have established helpful routines.” So now you have churches divided between full-time Lenten Christians, and ones who only observe Lent in late Winter and early Spring? Christians who truly sanctified and some who aren’t? Not only does this allow a culture of spiritual superiority to gain traction, but it also violates the rules of the liturgical calendar. Who sings Lenten hymns during Advent (oh, the hay that evangelicals make of tradition)?

Then there is the argument that Lent and the church calendar evoke the Jewish liturgical calendar (have you heard that Jesus fulfilled all of the law?):

It’s important to remember that the Christian liturgical calendar developed in part out of the rhythms of Jewish practice. The Old Testament indicates seasons of both heightened devotion and celebration, including Levitically led “sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31) and “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zech. 8:19). Fasting and feasting were part of the “architecture of time,” in which Jesus participated as an observant Jew.

So what does Father Damiani do with Apostle Paul:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)

Here‘s what Calvin did:

The reason why he frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner, absent. For he contrasts shadows with revelation, and absence with manifestation. Those, therefore, who still adhere to those shadows, act like one who should judge of a man’s appearance from his shadow, while in the mean time he had himself personally before his eyes. For Christ is now manifested to us, and hence we enjoy him as being present. The body, says he, is of Christ, that is, IN Christ. For the substance of those things which the ceremonies anciently prefigured is now presented before our eyes in Christ, inasmuch as he contains in himself everything that they marked out as future. Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of his excellence, and makes him in a manner void.

In other words, Lenten Christians are still holding on to a piety that clings to outward and physical attributes of unseen realities (heard of faith vs. sight?). They are incomplete Christians. They demand outward expressions of spiritual realities. They forget that Paul also wrote:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

Oh by the way, Paul’s contrast between the visible and invisible, between the external and internal, is why the Confession of faith contrasts Old Testament and New Testament worship this way:

Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (7.6)

The comparison of Lent to the Old Testament is epic fail.

But remember what Calvin went on to say about Colossians 2. The rejection of the church calendar and other external ways of commemorating salvation doesn’t mean that Protestants throw out the sacraments:

Should any one ask, “What view, then, is to be taken of our sacraments? Do they not also represent Christ to us as absent?” I answer, that they differ widely from the ancient ceremonies. For as painters do not in the first draught bring out a likeness in vivid colors, and (eikonikos) expressively, but in the first instance draw rude and obscure lines with charcoal, so the representation of Christ under the law was unpolished, and was, as it were, a first sketch, but in our sacraments it is seen drawn out to the life. Paul, however, had something farther in view, for he contrasts the bare aspect of the shadow with the solidity of the body, and admonishes them, that it is the part of a madman to take hold of empty shadows, when it is in his power to handle the solid substance. Farther, while our sacraments represent Christ as absent as to view and distance of place, it is in such a manner as to testify that he has been once manifested, and they now also present him to us to be enjoyed. They are not, therefore, bare shadows, but on the contrary symbols of Christ’s presence, for they contain that Yea and Amen of all the promises of God, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) which has been once manifested to us in Christ.

I understand the appeal of Lent over the Anxious Bench. The followers of Billy Graham needed to graduate to something more meaningful, something more historical. How about the Reformation? How about the Bible? It replaces the altar call with the Lord’s Supper and gives us fifty-two Easters a year, fifty-two feast days with six days every week to prepare.

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Is Lent for Obedience Boys?

The ying and yang of good works.

Ying:

Lent is the time that we embrace the discipline that is necessary for success in all aspects of life — study, work, fitness and financial management. There is no free lunch. Lent is when we do the hard work necessary to have Easter, like studying before an exam, or doing spring cleaning to keep the house in good order. We have to suffer first in order to rejoice later.

“In every culture, there are ancient stories and myths that teach that all of us, at times, have to sit in the ashes,” writes Father Ronald Rolheiser in a magnificent book of art and meditations, God for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, edited by Gregory Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe. “We all know, for example, the story of Cinderella. The name literally means the little girl (puella) who sits in the ashes (cinders). The moral of the story is clear: Before you get to go to the great feast, you must first spend some lonely time in the ashes, humbled, smudged, tending to duty, unglamorous, waiting.”

Yang:

God’s grace — the gift of his Son and his redemptive work — is not something we earn or achieve. It is entirely gratuitous.

The “gift” of salvation is not at all like the “transgression” of sin, as we read from St. Paul on the First Sunday of Lent. So the idea of Lent as a sort of necessary period of spiritual training before an athletic competition or artistic performance is not a fully Christian vision.

Ying:

It remains true, though, that even taking into account the gift of God’s grace, we do need spiritual discipline. That’s the second reason we look forward to Lent. We don’t earn our salvation, but we do have to work it out.

Discipline of our imagination, our appetites and our attachments are all necessary for growth in virtue. We all recognize God’s grace is not some magic that he works upon us as passive objects. We are genuine subjects, who must freely respond to God’s invitation. We don’t earn the invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, but if we accept it, we do have to make the effort to go to the feast and arrive wearing our wedding garments, lest we be found unworthy and cast out.

Yiang:

If there is a danger in thinking we earn salvation, there is also a danger that we simply presume on God’s mercy, treating it as something we are entitled to. Lent corrects that tendency.

Truth:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Rescue Mission vs. Lent

Something about this logic seems fishy:

Creighton University’s Online Ministries program, “Praying Lent 2017,” says the purpose of fasting is to “experience the effects of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice for the purpose of strengthening us.”

“When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of awareness,” it adds, noting that the practice helps people to clarify their thoughts. “It is purifying and prepares us to pray more deeply,” the resource from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, points out.

By that logic, those Christians who go to rescue missions to conduct a worship service for and serve a meal to the homeless should put worship before food. But the way I experienced it, when our youth group helped out with rescue missions in Philadelphia, we served the meal first because the idea was that someone who is hungry could not concentrate on the message of the gospel. But if Creighton’s counsel is right, that kind of hunger heightens spiritual awareness and a sense of the need for the gospel.

Am I right?

Spiritual Discipline

Notice how devoting yourself to fasting and prayer winds up concentrating your mind on what to eat:

Here are some meatless Friday suggestions:

Cheese Quesadillas. In the unforgettable words of Napoleon Dynamite’s grandmother, “Just fix your self a dang QuesaDILLA.” Our family is all about the quesadilla on Friday. Cheap. Easy. Kids love them. Make big ones and use a pizza cutter to cut them up into slices for everybody. Add some sour cream and hot sauce for the parents, maybe some chips and home-made guacamole. You’ve got a great meal.

Nachos. A variation on quesadillas. My wife Joy gets cookie sheets out, covers them with chips and grated cheese and then puts them in the oven. Bring them out and put them in front of the kids and watch them disappear. Super cheap and kids love it. For adults, add sour cream, salsa, chives, guacamole, etc. You can also add refried beans – but make sure you get the kind without animal fat/lard since this would violate the Friday meatless rule.

Pizza. Cheese pizza for the kiddos. Margarita pizza for the parents. Perfect.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup. This is a nice simple meal and surprisingly our kids love it. You dip the grilled cheese in the soup. Comfort food. For parents, add some pesto to your grilled cheese sandwich. Also, adults like mixing up the cheeses – try different kinds.

Pasta and Marina. Fast. Easy. Children love. It costs next to nothing.

Fettuccine Alfredo. Another meatless meal that most people like. Very filling. Lots of energy.

Mac and Cheese. A good option for kids – especially when mom and dad are leaving on a date. Meatless. Inexpensive.

Vegetable Lasagna. This may not be a winner with the kids, but adults like it. It’s a lot of work to prepare, though.

Egg Salad Sandwich. My wife and I really like egg salad sandwiches with tomato and lettuce.

Tuna Salad Sandwich. Honestly, this can get old, but you change it up additions like cucumbers, olives, or even curry powder. You can get tuna sandwiches at Subway on Fridays.

Fish and Chips. My go to Friday meal, especially if at a restaurant.

Salmon. During the year, when we want a nice Friday meal, we go for salmon. Healthy. Lean. Not hard to prepare. I grill it on a cedar plank. Fantastic. This is a nice option if you have friends coming over for dinner on a Friday night, but don’t want to bore them with mac and cheese. You can also mix the grilled salmon with greens, fruits, and nuts for a beautiful salad.

Cheese Enchiladas and Chips and Salsa. This is the number one Marshall Friday meal. Joy makes it and everybody loves it. Very filling. Not very expensive. The hard part is heating all the corn tortillas in oil. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it. My nine year old twin daughters made this meal one Friday night while my wife was away from start the finish (but I had to wash the dishes!).

Need to eat out on a Friday? My favorite option is a Bento Box lunch at a Sushi restaurant.

My least favorite Friday option? Well, the McFish Sandwich and frozen fish-sticks are my least favorite. The children like fish-sticks, but when I discover that they are for dinner, I inwardly groan. Nothing says “penance” like fish-sticks.

Imagine if you believed that conversion was a life-long process, not just 40 days a year:

Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

In the Larger Scheme of Things

Should the church engage in politics? John Allen answers, that’s a no-brainer:

And that ministry inevitably has a political edge. Yes, Jesus Christ said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s,” which is a charter for church/state separation. However, Christ also said we will be judged for how we treat the least among us, which is a standard with a clearly political dimension.

Popes represent a tradition rooted in prophetic denunciations of injustice and abuses of power, and a Lord who chose to be born into a poor family in an occupied corner of the world’s leading empire of its day.

To insist, therefore, that popes remain apolitical would be to demand that they betray their office.

As if politics were all about finger-wagging. Lobbyists make lousy politicians.

J. Peter Nixon worries what happens when the church’s ministry becomes too oriented to this world:

Last week Pope Francis presided over a Mass to mark the end of the Year for Consecrated Life. Robert Mickens reported here that the Holy Father also gave a short talk to men and women religious at an audience prior to the Mass. “Why has the womb of religious life become so sterile?” he asked.

The answers to that question are complex and manifold. . . . I know enough men and women religious to realize the dangers of sentimentalizing their lives. Those without property can often become proprietary about their roles and responsibilities and unhealthy power dynamics can afflict any community of human beings. The spiritual risks of celibacy are well known, even if they are sometimes exaggerated.

The lives of ordinary believers and the lives of those called to practice the counsels should complement one another, embodying the tension between a Kingdom that is already present and yet still to come. In the past, the balance may have tipped too far in the direction of the latter, leading to the suggestion that the married state was somehow inferior to religious life. Over the last half century, however, we have tipped far in the other direction. Somehow, we must find balance.

The balance may not involve the monastic life, but it could include something like recognizing that this world, and even its attempts to right social wrongs, is not all there is:

So while politics is important business, there are strict limits to what we can achieve by political means. There are no limits at all, on the other hand, to what we can achieve by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; for that we have the Lord’s promise! We can revive our own faith, awaken the strength of our neighbors, and thereby accomplish what not even a presidential candidate dares to suggest.

“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” So wrote the most acute of all observers of our political scene, Alexis de Tocqueville. Perhaps the most appropriate “political” task for Lent would be to embark on our own private campaigns to make America good again, beginning with ourselves.

Of course, Protestants don’t believe we make ourselves good. But confessional Protestants do understand, in ways that challenge followers of the papacy, an institution fraught with power and political intrigue, that ministering the gospel does more good in the long run than making policy or running for office.

Lenten Attractions

After reading a few posts, the idea of Lent may have some appeal.

First, it might be a time to catch up on films I’ve missed (though these are the sorts of films that the missus and I usually watch on the holy day):

Almsgiving, prayer, fasting. “Into Great Silence” is German filmmaker Philip Gröning’s almost yearlong sojourn with the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. It is a long film that challenges us to be silent and to contemplate the life of these monks who choose to live these qualities of Lent for 364 days a year. While some thought the film had no meaning, for those willing to take the time to stay awhile and watch, the film leaves a lasting impression on how to go into the woods, or the desert, and to live deliberately — alone, yet for others.

Or it could be a chance to drink more beer (didn’t see that one coming):

Seeing as beer has a long history as Lenten fare, I thought I would suggest five Bock style beers to sustain you during the long dark days until Easter.

Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock – Founded in the year 1050, the Weltenburger brewery is one of the oldest monastic breweries in the world. While it is sadly now a corporate operation, the brewery still makes a high quality Bock, which is no surprise when you’ve nearly 1,000 years to practice.

Salvator Doppel Bock – Salvator Doppel Bock is one of the first monastic Doppelbocks, brewed by the Paulaner brewery in Munich. This beer is dangerously good—it was once banned by the government because villagers complained that it was causing drinkers to become too lively.

La Trappe Bockbier – De Koningshoeven Brewery, commonly known as La Trappe, is a world-famous Trappist brewery founded in 1884. The brewery has grown heavily commercialized in recent years, but they still make an excellent Bock.

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel – The Andeschser Doppelbock is considered by many to be one of the best Doppelbocks in the world. Brewed in Andeschs, Germany by the Benedictine Monks of St. Boniface, it is one of the few successful monastic breweries still owned by monks.

Weihenstephaner Korbinian – The Weihenstephan brewery is considered by many to be the oldest breweries in the world. Founded in the year 725 by St. Corbinian, Weihenstephan Abbey began brewing beer in the year 1040. The brewery is now owned by the state of Bavaria, but its Korbinian Doppelbock is one of the finest in the world.

But while cradles find ways to make Lent less restrictive, converts keep Lent real (call it late-winter cleaning):

However busy we are, there are always certain tasks that are more palatable to us than others. They tend to gravitate to the top of the to-do list. (Planting the garden. Yes! Let’s do it!) Meanwhile, the really hated chores keep getting pushed back. I can go a long time without finding time to clean the fridge, sort the closets or make the dental appointments.

The hated chores still need to be done sometime. Make Lent that time. Prepare for Easter by doing all the really unpleasant tasks on your list, in preparation for a season of pleasant (if still frantic) activity.

I get incredibly excited for Paschaltide knowing that that’s when I get to stop sorting closets and turn my attention to the yard instead. (I hate housework and love yard work. That’s just me.) I file insurance forms and eat the nasty stuff from the back of the freezer during Lent. Sometimes I really get crazy and wash the windows. I rarely get through everything I intend, but however far I get, the penitential to-doing is going to stop once Easter comes.

Yes, the basement does need attention, but I’ll stick with one day in seven and leave the chores for Saturday.

Tomorrow begins another Round of Cherry-Picking

While Justin Taylor advises on how to prepare for Lent (can you believe it involves a book published by Crossway?), Carl Trueman reminds about the arbitrariness of tradition among evangelicals (high and low):

The question of catholicity is, of course, more complicated than merely adopting a practice or a doctrine because it has deep historical and ecclesiastical roots. After all, Anglicans in the tradition of Hooker have rejected a large number of the elements of ‘catholic’ tradition. Roman supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the cult of the saints all have good claims to deep catholic roots. So why have Anglicans abandoned these? Presumably they have done so because they do not think that scripture gives grounds for retaining them. Well, once the scripture principle is allowed as an arbiter of true catholicity, the best we can say about Lent is that it might be a harmless, if biblically unjustifiable, personal preference with some historical roots – which is a point I never denied.

Yet if this point about the scripture principle is unpersuasive to Anglicans, let me offer an observation on Anglicanism along the same lines of Merrick’s critique of the Reformed. Anglicanism’s own selective catholicity would seem to imply that Hookerites regard those same centuries, 1500-1700, as a kind of moment of purity for the decision as to which prior catholic traditions can stand and which should be cast aside.

This is not a new problem for Anglicans. It was a significant part of what moved John Henry Newman Romeward. Of course, if the brilliant Newman could not persuade his friend, John Keble, Hooker’s greatest editor, of the immense difficulties of Anglican claims to historic catholicity, it is unlikely that I will do so with Hooker’s present disciples. Yet Newman’s critique surely remains a major challenge to anyone who blithely assumes the straightforward catholicity of the Anglican tradition as embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer. It is actually much more theologically complicated and historically contested than that.

All of this is, however, largely beside the point of my original article. My main purpose was not to point to problems in the Anglican tradition’s claims to catholicity. It was to critique a recent cultural anomaly: The curious phenomenon of interest in Ash Wednesday and Lent among evangelicals whose ecclesiastical commitments do not theologically or historically sanction observance of such.

Funny how Trueman’s interlocutor assumes the historicity of Lent. But as with most subjects, history only makes certainties less certain:

The current state of research points to three possible conclusions. Because the evidence is slim and admitting of any number of plausible interpretations, one position has been to view Lent as a sui generis phenomenon—completely new and unique—that simply appears after the Council of Nicea. In this view, any attempt to hazard connections or lines of evolution from pre-Nicene fasting practices is too speculative to be of any value. Another, rather opposite, position has been to accept as historical the alleged Egyptian post-Theophany fast, to identify it as the dominant antecedent to Lent, and that Lent’s rapid dissemination throughout the Christian world is best explained in relation to the program of liturgical and theological alignment begun at Nicea. A final position, a sort of via media or middle road, acknowledges the incomplete and sometimes-contradictory nature of the evidence, but asserts nonetheless that Lent develops as an amalgamation of several early fasting customs and typologies of which the post-Theophany fast (if it existed) may have been but one of many. As with most issues in the study of the early history of the liturgy, certainty is elusive and we must be satisfied with possibilities. Judicet lector: let the reader decide.

Don’t mind me if I use the occasion to have an extra doughnut.

Playing with Lenten Fire

If I didn’t know better, I would suppose that Crossway Books, the patron of the Gospel Coalition, is a subsidiary of McDonald’s. Here is the connection. McDonald’s has for a limited time made available Fish McBites and this offering just happens to coincide with the transition from Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday, and will be available through March. As one news story has it, “Brian Irwin, director of marketing for McDonald’s USA, told the Associated Press that research revealed parents want the seafood option. In keeping with its 2011 campaign to give customers a healthier choice, Irwin said the Fish McBites give parents another selection to choose from.” The reporter added that, “The poppable fish-bites will float on participating McDonald’s menus though March to coincide with the season of Lent.”

So where is the Gospel Coalition? Well, today the blog posted two items recommending Lent to is gospel allies. One says this:

Lent strikes many Protestants as the exclusive domain of Roman Catholics, but this season can serve any Christian as a unique time of preparation and repentance as we anticipate the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the Christian calendar, Lent (from Latin, meaning “fortieth”) is the 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday. (Sundays aren’t counted, but generally set aside as days of renewal and celebration—”mini-Easters” of sorts.) Whatever you might think about popular practices, “Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives,” Kendal Haug and Will Walker observe.

The editors of the blog at TGC also dug up a recommendation of Lent from Chuck Colson. He identifies five virtues: 1) searching the depths of our sin; 2) considering the sincerity of our fellowship; 3) reflecting on our mortality; 4) more opportunities for charity; and 5) preparation to celebrate Easter. Colson concludes:

And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life’s basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don’t forget—Easter is coming!

Strikingly absent from these recommendations are any of the older Protestant warnings about church calendars and liberty of conscience or about the devotional assumptions that lay behind the practice of Lent for Roman Catholics. Here is one explanation of Lent’s meaning for Roman Catholic readers:

Though we were created lovingly by God to enjoy the goods of the earth, these goods can consume us, and even become the object of sinful pride, as our first parents in the garden demonstrated. By temporarily renouncing these goods through fasting, we willingly suffer their absence in our flesh as a way to attack sin.

Fasting hurts us, but, like the pain brought about from physical exercise, it is supposed to hurt us. And like exercise, the more pain we endure for God, the more we gain in spiritual rewards.

The desert, then, is the place for Lent not only because it represents the pain and consequences of sin, but also because it is a place of abstinence from the fruits of the earth. When we spiritually withdraw to the desert, its emptiness reminds us that the goods of the earth ultimately cannot satisfy us.

As much as I appreciate Rome’s attention to sin and its consequences — something that doesn’t come through when leaders speak of Christ’s self-sacrificial love as a model for social justice and the dignity of the human person — Lent has significance for Roman Catholics that it cannot have for Protestants. After all, Protestants don’t have a history of self-inflicted pain to merit spiritual rewards. If as the gospel allies would have it that Lent is to remind us of Christ, then we should also be reminded that nothing we do to attack sin can compare with what Christ accomplished in his own suffering and death. If Protestants deny themselves, it is part of sanctification, the mortification of the self, that comes daily and year round through the means of grace and the armor of God (Eph. 6). We don’t spend forty days a year denying self.

TGC’s mix-and-match piety, a dose of urban transformationalism from column A, a slice of Roman Catholic devotion from column B, and a dish of sweet (charismatic) and sour (Calvinist) conferences from column C is a undisciplined program by which to promote and defend the gospel. It is further evidence of why Protestantism needs confessional churches, not the parachurch agencies that pillage those those communions.

Turning Your Whole Life (and part of your body) into Lent

We need the Lenten police. If we had them, then Reformed Protestants may not have so much material to confirm our prejudices against the church calendar. But until we do, we are stuck with evangelicals schlocking up the liturgical year and proving once again the need for reformation.

In this particular case, a story at Her.meneutics (get it?), an estrogen-friendly site sponsored by Christianity Today, informs about a church in Texas where the artist-in-residence designed a series of tattoos based on the stations of the cross for congregants to affix to their bodies and thereby observe Lent.

The phrase came to me again last month when my friend, artist Scott Erickson, told me about his Lenten-theme project for the congregation we serve, Ecclesia Church in Houston. He had designed a series of 10 tattoos representing the 14 traditional Stations of the Cross, and was asking volunteers to tattoo them to their bodies, as a way of observing the 40 days leading up to Good Friday.

Ecclesia is not a typical church: Not only do we have an “artist-in-residence,” the aforementioned Scott Erickson, but about half the congregation is already tattooed, says pastor Chris Seay. This year, instead of the annual Lenten art show, the inked congregants would become the Stations of the Cross, and stand in the gallery spaces where paintings or photographs would normally appear.

Mind you, these were not the kind of tattoos you can wash off after forty days. These would last the rest of your days. And to underscore evangelicals’ difficulty with numbers, ten stations would have to suffice for the normal fourteen. But never mind the inconsistencies, tattoos for Christians could perform a similar function as the numbers tattooed on Jews by the Nazis (I kid you not):

I remember the first time I saw my friend Sloan’s grandmother’s Auschwitz identification number on her forearm. It was Sloan’s 12th birthday party, a pool party, and her grandmother sat under an umbrella at a picnic table. Her short- sleeved blouse revealed five numbers stamped on her flesh in faded blue ink. At the time I was reading on repeat The Diary of Anne Frank, becoming obsessed with the Holocaust and my own questionable Judaism. But nothing, not then or now, has ever made the horrors of the Holocaust more real to me than seeing those five numbers. Something inside me wanted to shout—to call a halt to the game of Marco Polo, to the grilling of hot dogs, to fingers wrinkling too long in the water, and demand we recognize, at this backyard barbeque in suburban New Jersey, that the numbers on Sloan’s grandmother’s arm were telling a story. I can’t count how many times over the past 25 years I’ve dreamt about those numbers.

Our bodies tell our stories, whether we like it or not; as mothers and daughters, as wives and sisters and friends. As followers of Christ, our bodies should also tell his story.

As I say, we need Lenten police. If Roman Catholics and Lutherans would step up to the plate, I can devote my energies to W-W and its 24/7 piety.