Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent Unplugged

I’m forty so I’m old enough to say things like, ‘When I was a boy, [insert simplistic critical anachronism here].’ And I’ve been a Christian for almost three decades, so let me tell you, when I was a spiritual boy, things were simpler. Back then, I meant it when I said, ‘Jesus is my best friend.’

But now it seems more like Jesus lived and died a long time ago, like I can no longer say, as I once did, that he and I ‘hang out.’ I do still believe that he kicked death’s ass; that he is somehow, somewhere alive and well. But – maybe I’m just getting old – Jesus doesn’t seem quite as chummy as he once did.

I saw a cougar last night. My eyes hadn’t quite adjusted, but I saw it, dimly, and I heard it move over the crusted snow, and I felt its presence with the hair on the back of my neck. Maybe Jesus is more like that? Like a mountain lion, out there in the dark, a predator, watching, more aware of me than I am of him, and very unlikely to follow me back inside for a BFF chat. True, there’s always the Holy Spirit, present and faithful, but I’ll curb my urge to be theologically correct for the sake of this point: God often seems just beyond my range of vision, like a suspicious silhouette in the shadows, ready to consume my selfish flesh in a thrashing if only I would yield to the pain and overcome my basic instinct to make a run for it.

It’s Lent. And I should probably know more about what that means, but here’s what little I do: it’s about the prep. Lent is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter. That's doubtless a simplistic explanation, but it makes sense to me. Because, really, if the incarnate Son of God willingly died by public execution, then properly acknowledging that event wouldn’t be something I could just stumble into. And same for Easter: if a man has been lynched and killed and was consequently dead but nonetheless is alive again, that too would be something I’d need a little lead-time to celebrate properly.

There’s one more thing I know about Lent: it seems usually to involve some kind of self-imposed dietary restrictions or otherwise uncomfortable penitential asceticism. Normally, I’m happy to dismiss such extremes as vain attempts to impress God. And isn’t that convenient? me-so-friendly with Jesus that I needn’t bother with legalistic rituals? and what’s on the tube tonight? and please pass the chips?

The thought started as a side effect from a recent Twitter hangover: maybe I’d be closer to Jesus if I tweeted less? (God help me, that sounds trite. But look: the Pope got a Twitter account, and now – only a few months later – he’s decided to abdicate. Just a coincidence?)

Now I’m thinking maybe I should take it up a notch. What about skipping the whole internet? Giving-up Facebook would be too easy, like a neighbour who quit broccoli a few years ago. And my erratic blog behavior wouldn’t suffer for the interruption. Dropping Instagram might make some of my more distant followers wonder what's become of me, but I doubt I’ll tumble into the abyss if I don’t stay LinkedIn for a few weeks. I’m pretty sure I can still write a sermon without the googles, and my phone, apparently, works as a telephone and not just a mini-computer so hearing it ring with a call instead of just ding with push notifications is a real possibility. I could set an automatic reply on my email with something hip and not-too-holier-than-thou like, ‘Hey, it’s Lent. And this is crazy. But here’s my number. So call me, maybe?’

What would happen to my spiritual night-vision if I stared at screens a bit less? I might be getting too old for the Buddy Christ but maybe my eyes could still adjust to the Lion of Judah. Granted, a few weeks offline is not likely to be the existential flaying I might need, but it couldn’t hurt.

Or, at least, I don’t think it could hurt. 

It probably won’t hurt. I’m pretty sure it won’t. 

No, of course it won’t. 

This won’t hurt, will it?