Lent is coming and, with it, powerful new possibilities to connect lives across America and around the world.
WHERE should we make new connections in 2011?
Are you watching the tumultuous democracy movements sizzling across northern Africa and the Arab world, racing from Tunisia to Egypt and throwing off sparks as far as Jordan? Suddenly Africa is back on front pages across the U.S.—although the African continent has been churning for years. Just a few examples of our still-skewed vision: Missing from U.S. news reports over the weekend were stories from conflicts and ongoing violence that took place in recent days in parts of Nigeria, Sudan, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa has sparked some fresh interest here in the U.S., but we still aren’t seeing our neighbors’ lives clearly.
What is the religious connection here? News events along the northern rim of Africa mainly involve Muslim activists, but Christianity is growing rapidly in parts of the African continent. This opens a unique opportunity for Americans, most of whom are Christian, to virtually and spiritually connect with Christian communities in the African continent during Lent. Overall, we could promote greater awareness and concern for an important region like Africa this spring.
WHEN ARE LENT AND EASTER IN 2011?
The world’s Christians celebrate Easter together this year on April 24—a global unity we won’t see again until 2014 and 2017. Eastern-rite Christians begin preparing for their fast of Great Lent on February 13 with a reflective period called the Triodion; then Orthodox Great Lent begins with Clean Monday on March 7. Western-rite Christians, including the majority of Americans, begin Lent with Ash Wednesday on March 9. If you are looking toward the African continent, you’ll find that Christians fall into both Eastern and Western camps. But, with the exception of some “old calendar” churches, this year 2 billion Christians circling the Earth are aiming at the same Easter.
DO AFRICAN CHRISTIANS OBSERVE LENT?
They sure do and they’re generally more devout about it than Americans. A Pew report based on polling in African nations shows a surprisingly high level of Lenten fasting, for example. Pew found that more than half of the Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia plan to fast in Lent. In the continent’s most devout countries, a list that includes Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria, more than 80 percent of Christians fast in Lent.
In the U.S., fasting traditionally has been a Catholic practice. But, Lenten observance is growing among Americans who attend Protestant and independent churches. Think about observing Lent this year in solidarity with Christians around the world through daily prayer and devotional practice. Think about daily Lenten readings, coupled with a conscious effort to follow news from a region like Africa more closely. Most American denominations already have cooperative programs in Africa, so decide to get involved in your church’s African outreach.
FROM THE PREFACE OF ‘OUR LENT’
Why is Lenten observance growing and making fresh connections in 2011? The following excerpt comes from the Preface by David Crumm in ‘Our Lent: Things We Carry’ …
Lent is the perfect Christian season for the 21st Century era of spiritual revival. Uncluttered by the commercial avalanche that has all but buried the Advent season over the past century, Lent retains much of its ancient religious potential.
University of Michigan sociologist Wayne E. Baker, in his landmark study “America’s Crisis of Values,” used the massive global waves of data from the World Values Survey to demonstrate the unusual nature of American religious values. Compared with other global cultures, Baker showed that Americans are overwhelmingly religious. But, when it comes to values concerning self-expression, all of those individual choices that lie at the heart of spiritual reflection, Americans surpass Scandinavians in our zeal.
In such an era, Lent is the perfect, untarnished blend of religious tradition and spiritual adventure—ancient roots blossoming into self-reflection and self-expression. Or, to put it another way, Lent is the Lord of the Rings of scriptural stories—a loyal fellowship of men and women fearlessly summoning all of their traditional knowledge as they make their way toward a dangerous encounter in a city where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. This is the core of the season—a personal encounter with the sacred. …
The big picture behind Our Lent: Things We Carry is this: Jesus’ journey 2,000 years ago was a public pilgrimage of such profound importance that 2 billion Christians mark it each year, day by day, even in the Third Millennium since Jesus walked the Earth. …
Some of the things we will encounter in these 40 days are spiritual ideas that Jesus conveyed to his followers, for example: We join Jesus in encountering two blind men—and an even more profound blindness in the crowd surrounding this pair. It’s a brief but fascinating encounter recorded in the gospel of Matthew—and it reflects on how we, as Christians today, regard the poor and marginalized we encounter along the world’s highways.
While some things along this journey are scenes and lessons, most of the things in our 40-chapter journey are quite tangible things: coins, basins, bowls, bread, cups, swords and tables, to name a few. This was the stuff of Jesus’ world. It’s still the stuff of our lives, 2,000 years after Jesus’ world-shaking walk to Jerusalem.
This year, come along. Walk with us. You’re already carrying things. Help us to lighten the load.
You can purchase Our Lent: Things We Carry from Amazon now.
A ‘GROUP READ’ CAN REWRITE ‘OUR LENT’
That’s right. One of the innovations in ReadTheSpirit Books is that all of our books can be ordered for “group reads” with modified covers—and even additional pages bound into each copy. Your organization or congregation might want to order 100 copies or more for everyone to read. If you are interested in such quantities, contact us at [email protected] and we can talk with you about the possibility of modifying a print run to include your logo on the cover. In addition, you can add several pages to the bound copies in your order, which could contain a schedule of your springtime programs, or perhaps helpful information to share with neighbors and visitors. These modified books become tools for outreach, an easy way to build community connections. That kind of modification is not possible with other mass-published Lenten devotionals. If you’re curious about this option, email us and we’re happy to discuss what’s possible for “group reads.”
We want our international conversation to continue
Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!
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(Originally published at readthespirit.com)