Lent: new and improved?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Western Christians. On this day, Christians have traditionally focused on their utter and complete sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's suffering and death to earn their salvation. It's called Ash Wednesday because many churches impose ashes -- made by burning palm fronds from the previous Palm Sunday and mixing them with oil -- on worshipers' foreheads as a reminder of their sinful nature. The ashes are applied in the sign of the cross to direct worshipers to Jesus Christ as the way to salvation.

Many Christians engage in some type of fast during the season. This can be anything from abstaining from all food in a given day or certain types of food throughout the season. Or it can be a fast from some type of activity. Others commit themselves to take up alms giving. And penitential seasons also emphasize increased prayer and devotions. In Lutheranism, at least, these fasts are not about pleasing God but about helping us meditate on Christ's suffering and death

I realize that not every church body will have the exact same idea about what a Lenten fast means, but I think this Associated Press story manages to confuse the issue a bit. Which is not surprising, considering the entire story clocks in at 123 words. The story says that several prominent Anglican British bishops are urging a carbon fast for Lent:

But this year's initiative aims to convince those observing Lent to try a day without an iPod or mobile phone in a bid to reduce the use of electricity -- and thus trim the amount of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere.

Bishop of London Rev. Richard Chartres said that the poorest people in developing countries were the hardest hit by man-made climate change.

He said Tuesday that the "Carbon Fast" was "an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God in a practical way."

Okay, I realize that Lent is something that journalists just don't care about when there's so much more important stuff going on. (Hey look! People are writing on their hands!) But if all of Christendom is going to get only 123 words about Lenten fasts, this is just not a fair, balanced or accurate representation of how the spiritual discipline is practiced.

We're told that several prominent Anglican British bishops are urging this fast but only one is named. I'm sure that even some of the Anglican British bishops (or their brethren in other lands?) think this fast idea is more gimmickry than substance. Or maybe they simply don't agree that Lenten disciplines are about practical demonstrations of God's love (however otherwise worthy they believe such demonstrations might be). Perhaps we could get just a bit more balance here.

Sadly, it seems the most common way to cover Lent is by trying to find some new spin on spiritual disciplines. And I understand that and there is a place for that. But the fact is that this means that coverage will likely favor those churches that think new spins should be put on Lent rather than keeping ancient traditions. Perhaps we could brainstorm new angles for covering ancient traditions.

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