The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What Should I Do for Lent?

Kelly T. asks, “Is it acceptable to commit to something for Lent instead of giving something up?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

/The Rapidian

Editor’s note: Part two of the responses to the question on the stigma of dying will appear next week, so we can answer this question about Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, this coming March 6.

For those unfamiliar with Lent, it is a season of reflection and preparation marking Jesus’ withdrawal into the desert for 40 days leading up to Easter, recalling the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion by Rome. In its original form, Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Today, it is more common for Christians to surrender a particular vice such as favorite foods or smoking. Whatever the sacrifice, it is a reflection of Jesus' deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.

Kelly T. asks, “Is it acceptable to commit to something for Lent instead of giving something up? In the past, I have always given up fast food for Lent and it was a real struggle at first. But now, I rarely eat fast food and last year it wasn’t even an effort to give it up. I do struggle to exercise on a regular basis and am wondering if it would be ok to commit to exercising every day instead.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The purpose of Lent is to expressly deepen our relationship with God through more intense acts of penance. For many this practice has included giving up a type of food during Lent, for example, candy, eating fish on Fridays, or fast food as the author of this question. Typically, Lenten practices are the trifecta of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

“Yes, is it acceptable to commit to something during Lent instead of giving up something. I always encourage a practice that is reasonable. The question I have for the author of this question is whether the commitment to daily exercise is reasonable? Exercise is good and I suggest the individual do more but to set a reasonable goal that is attainable.​ Further, intentionally offering the additional struggle to God would fulfill any Lenten practice of penance.

“Happy Lent!”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“People who struggle with not knowing how to please God often experience a lot of guilt and think that giving up something is what God asks of us. But, God does not ask for a sporadic sacrifice or a part of us. God wants all of us! Choosing and picking what to give to God and what to keep for ourselves is a sign of a divided heart. Our hearts are prone to be divided between a variety of fascinations, temptations, and excitements and our sole purpose in life should be to have an undivided heart towards God. If this is our pursuit, we will never have to worry about whether we are pleasing God or not. ‘Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.’ (Psalm 86:11-12)”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Presbyterian and Reformed churches do not encourage such customs as the ‘Lenten sacrifice.’ The apostle Paul rebukes the Galatians for observing ‘days, and months, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed labour in vain’ (Galatians 4:10, 11). For Presbyterians, the only day to be kept holy is the weekly Christian Sabbath. 

“If the ‘holy seasons’ of Advent and Lent are observed in Reformed churches, it should only be a matter of the texts and topics of the pastor’s sermons. Anything more violates God’s right to regulate all worship, public or private. The second commandment requires ‘that we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 96).

“But it is a good thing to give up ‘fast food’ and even better, to commit to daily exercise. Why wait for Ash Wednesday? Start today! There is no added benefit, spiritual or physical, in making such ‘sacrifices’ during any one part of the calendar year.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Most Unitarian Universalist do not participate in the practice of giving something up for Lent. The few UUs who do observe Lent see it as a way of being more intentional or mindful in our daily behaviors and habits during a 40 day time-frame. The point of observing Lent is to make some personal sacrifice away from our comfortable or habitual routine. Often these sacrifices will result in some noticeable path to self-improvement. Specific to the question, committing to daily exercise can also be seen as giving up unhealthy behavior like not exercising.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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