I was chatting with some mates the other day about the concepts behind different kinds of doctrine that get around the church; liberation theology, feminist theology, prosperity doctrine, pro-acacia ecumenicalism, legalism, etc. We spent a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out what ‘evangelicalism’ actually means (we never did work it out). Then, once that got boring, we got to talking about how different ideas and perspectives come and go, but the basic gist is still the same 2000 odd years on. Eventually someone brought up the question of whether we as a church get the balance right when it comes to the impact new ideas have on established practices. Do we cling on too tightly to traditions which have become stagnant, or is it the other way around? Are we too quick to throw the baby with the bath water as soon as we’ve finished our latest bible study series and moved onto the next one?

I disagreed, perhaps not surprisingly, with just about everyone.

My friends were unanimously of the opinion that the church lives in the past too much and needs to quit being held back by ideas that had relevance only in the culture as it stood a hundred and fifty or more years ago. While I agree with this in principle, I felt compelled to argue the case for the opposition. Part of this, I confess, is due simply to my sociopathic compulsion to refuse to do anything that everyone else is doing. However, I do sincerely believe that, in a season where ‘independent’ churches are the new black and ‘old school’ denominations are struggling for membership, we stand at far greater risk of losing touch with the great wisdom and experience of the past than of being held back by it.

Now relax; I’m not about to start railing against the use of PowerPoint slides in worship or kick-off a campaign to bring back Hymns Ancient and Modern or anything like that. I’m all in favour of innovation, experimentation and adaptation to changes to technology and cultural expression. As far as I’m concerned, you can do what you like to the medium, as long as the message remains unchanged and in sharp focus. And speaking of staying on message, the more observant among you might have noticed that all this has absolutely nothing to do with economics or nutrition.

That is, until now.

To add weight to my rather impulsive declaration of allegiance to the religious wisdom of the past, I’ve decided to do something that, until quite recently, I’ve always thought was completely pointless; I’m playing the ‘giving stuff up for Lent’ game.

It’s traditional not to drink alcohol for the 40 days leading up to Easter. These days, since abstinence from alcohol isn’t as closely linked with religious piety as it once was (or possibly because Christians these days are much fonder of a drink), some people give up other stuff like chocolate, ice-cream or red meat. I suspect that a fair whack of the time, this has more to do with dietary discipline than with religious observance, hence my previous conviction that it was a stupid idea.

I’ve already cut down on my ice-cream intake, and I don’t really drink enough alcohol to make giving it up worthwhile, but ever since about 3rd year uni I’ve been doing a slow but certain dance of death with caffeine addiction. Considering that I can’t stand the taste of coffee and avoid it like the plague, this might come as a surprise, but my vice is much more insidious.

Yep, I’ve given up Coca Cola for Lent. Those of you who aren’t used to seeing me go anywhere without a six hundred millilitre red-labelled bottle in my hand might not believe it, but we’re three weeks into Lent now and I haven’t touched it since Ash Wednesday. And now my hands have finally stopped shaking enough to blog about it.

And yes, I am making a giant hypocrite out of myself, in as much as my motivation is more likely a nutritional one than a religious one. I still don’t see the point of going without stuff just for its own sake, but when we get to Easter, I’ll be giving the equivalent of what I would have spent on Coke for six weeks to a Uniting Church charity drive to buy … actually I don’t even know what. Probably food for poor people or something. So there is at least some semblance of reason behind it.

However, since I haven’t given up drinking fluids altogether, just a certain type of it, I’m not actually saving any money, since I just spend it on other less disastrously addictive beverages. So the resulting donation is just that; a donation. It’s a bit like sponsoring yourself for the 40 hour famine. I’d do just as much good in the world by just handing over the money and skipping the caffeine withdrawals, but hard line traditionalists insist that that would be missing the point of the Lenten experience. And what is that mystical point?

No, I haven’t figured that one out yet either.

You stay classy San Diego.


Garry with 2 Rs

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