Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lenten Confessions 03: Self-Indulgence

As I mentioned in my first post to kick off the season of Lent, I would like to offer a series of confessional reflections on individual lines from the Litany of Penance (Book of Common Prayer), which is used for Ash Wednesday services. If you are unfamiliar with said Litany, check out the end of the post: "Why I Needed Wine..."

So I come to this blog as my own confession both and you, my 2.5 readers, as my priests to receive my offering and join me in prayers for forgiveness and renewal via Psalm 51.

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The Litany continues with this confession:

Our self‑indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Self-indulgent appetites and ways... ouch.

Okay, I have to confess that this one may just be the hardest one for me to write about.  I know it seems like one of the "lesser" sins on this list.  When you compare it to "grieving the Holy Spirit" or "negligence in prayer" or "blindness to human need" (I'll get to those later), this one doesn't sound like  a big deal.

And maybe that is why it is hard to confess.  Struggling with Calculus is understandable and even admirable if you can converse with others it the high, academic terminology of that field.  Not knowing your times tables, however, is really sad.

It is easy for me to come to the blog and confess how I have neglected speaking out against the oppression of our immigrant friends.  Though I feel the guilt of that unfaithfulness, in some ways it sounds better - more serious, more calculus-like, more respectable - to deal with such matters.

It is harder for me to come into my cyber confession booth and talk about how my self-indulgent appetite.  This is not a sexy cause to be advocating against.  Nothing novel or revolutionary here.  Yep, just a grown man who can't multiply by 7.

So, time to get past my confession of how hard this confession is and onto the confession itself.

I have so little self-control.  I have a self-indulgent appetite.

During Advent a group of students and I committed to drinking nothing but water for two weeks to raise awareness and money for a clean water project in a third-world country.  It was one of the hardest things I have done in the last year.  

For Lent I made it my commitment not to eat after 9pm, not to drink Coke, and to limit myself to just one coffee a day.

The fact that this is a "sacrificial" practice for me is evidence of how indulgent I have become.  The fact that I have broken all three of these in the first three weeks of Lent is proof that I am guilty of this indictment.

Fast food, sweets, caffeine, etc., etc.

When it comes to food and drink, I am more indulgent now than I have been at any point in my life.  Discipline, self-control, restraint, temperance and similar virtues are not ones that I have sought to cultivate in recent years.

I'd like to act as if enjoying fried foods or chocolate too much and too often are things to just crack jokes about or brush off as little, innocent indulgences that everyone has a right to partake of when they feel like it.  It is only a matter of personal choice, right?  If I want to be more healthy and more trim, then that is my choice.  If not, that is my choice too, right?

Truthfully, though, the call life fashioned in the image of Jesus to the glory of God is one that honors the virtues of self-control and moderation.  The life of a disciple is about the progressive strength of the will over the body, the spirit over the appetites of the flesh, the character over the stomach.  

From the very beginnings of Christianity throughout its history, depth of devotion to Christ has had a direct correlation to ascetic practices like fasting, sacrifice, simplicity, and intentional poverty.  It isn't hard to understand why in one of the wealthiest, most luxury-filled cultures in history the idea of self-denial no longer is a necessary trait for authentic faith.

I have learned, however, that lack of control over what I eat and drink is NOT unrelated to a lack of control of my other emotions, attitudes, and desires.  I have learned that material indulgence directly relates to my capacity for compassion and willingness to suffer on behalf of my calling.

Though it may be easy to dismiss "self-indulgent appetite" as one of the "lesser confessions," a more holistic view of the human self and a more thorough understanding of biblical virtues reveals that this matters significantly in the formation of a Christ-like character.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

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