Faith Works 2-13-10
Learning From Lent With a Little Less In the Way
This week is the beginning of Lent, starting for most Christians with Ash Wednesday, on Feb. 17 this year – nice and early, meaning Easter's coming early as well, on April 4th. Watch for snowflakes at the sunrise service, but we've got some time to prepare for all that.
Lent is a season of preparation, of penitence, which is why in some areas they get one last blow-out done concluding with "Fat Tuesday" or Mardi Gras in French, which New Orleans started early this time around.
Often, those who "observe" Lent give something up, or "fast" from a particular treat (chocolate, French fries, soda pop) for the 40 non-Sunday days between Ash Wednesday and Easter: Sunday is always a feast day, so technically you get back what you give up for that celebratory day. And I have an idea you might want to reflect on this year, Lenten-wise.
Michelle Singletary is a financial reporter for the Washington Post and a commentator on National Public Radio. She writes a column called "The Color of Money," using the particular concerns of people of color to look at how all of us are influenced by fiscal issues.
She's also a very active lay leader at her Baptist church in the DC area, and for some years she's organized a volunteer led program called Prosperity Partners Ministry at her church. The results of that effort, and one particular part of it, have moved her to write a book that encapsulates what's she's learned from the participants called "The Power To Prosper."
The heart of the book is a 21-day financial fast. For three weeks, Singletary invites participants in her program to commit to not using plastic, credit or debit, for those three weeks, and not buying things other than necessities like groceries, gas for your car, and of course paying the household bills.
No buying breakfast or lunch at work, no coffee beverages, no shopping online, and no purchasing of "stuff" other than the grocery needs of your household. Not forever, but for three weeks. This financial fast is meant as a major break with casual purchasing and steady spending that bleeds away so many people's ability to save and plan for a better future.
And her approach isn't to shout the devil at all plastic cards, but to help us remember who is in charge when it comes to using them, which is why she says that during this fast, you use cash. You remember cash, don't you? That paper stuff with green ink and dead presidents? You commit to using cash for that which you must buy, for this certain period of time.
In her book, she breaks all this down and answers all the usual "but what about questions," and you can search online to find outlines with Scriptural references (use her name and the book title and/or the program title above) that give you the basic tools to get the job done.
What I'm attracted to is the intention behind this program, to get us to purchase and spend more consciously, so that we can not only save, but in her words, "prosper so we can bless others." The more you control your spending, the more you can commit your giving to those causes and purposes that are important to you.
So here's my commitment. My plan is to make this a Lenten fast – I'm going to try to not buy stuff throughout this Lenten season. No fast food, no coffee that I didn't make at home, no online or megastore meandering purchases. I'll still shop for groceries and such, and stock up when needed on toilet paper and shampoo, but cash only. I'll use my plastic for gas only.
Michelle would likely say that's a bit much for most to take on all at once, which is why she asks you to try a 21-day, three week fast to start. But even if you did the 21 days in the midst of the 40 days of Lent, what bonds might that loose for some of you? What empowerment might that spur?
I'm looking forward to our sharing some stories on this before Easter (and more snowflakes) come along.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of saving and spending at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.