Let’s give it up for…Lent!

Today begins the season of Lent, in which, across the globe, Christians (and especially Catholics) observe the forty-day period between Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday with their own peculiar mix of ritual and superstition.

As a child in Catholic school, we were instructed in the Lenten tradition of sacrifice, or “giving something up.” Adult Catholics would observe Lent by fasting and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and each Friday. Since there wasn’t much point in requiring us kids to alter our eating habits for the season (many of us subsisted entirely on a diet of marshmallow Peeps anyway), we were encouraged to participate in the general misery by voluntarily depriving ourselves of something for the entire forty-day stretch, something that we liked a lot (like chocolate milk) or enjoyed doing on a regular basis (like watching TV). The point was to teach us that being a good Catholic generally involved plenty of pointless, undirected suffering. That and walking around looking like someone has stubbed a cigarette out on your forehead.

Surprisingly, many Catholics continue this tradition into adulthood, enduring the double-whammy of fasting and abstinence plus giving something up. In most cases, though, the adults who quit something for Lent tend to focus on vices or bad habits (smoking, drinking, swearing, wife-beating). Personally, I don’t consider something that improves your quality of life to be a sacrifice. A perfect example is when I decided to give up Catholicism for Lent. It worked out so well that I kept it that way. But I didn’t score any Purgatory Points for it.

I remember hearing once about a class of Catholic grade schoolers who observed Lent by giving up snacks and treats, then pooling the money saved and donating it to a charity that helped feed the hungry. Now this sort of sacrifice actually has a point, and teaches a far better lesson than masochistic self-deprivation. But I suspect this is the exception rather than the rule. Most of us as kids were looking to manipulate the system by giving up something we didn’t like anyway (or even better, were allergic to), or replacing one fun activity with an equally fun one. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writes in his blog today about a six-year-old boy in his neighborhood who proudly proclaimed that he was giving up Nintendo for Lent. The boy’s father explained that his son was actually only giving up playing Nintendo 64 for Lent, but still planned to play Nintendo GameCube. No doubt we have a future lawyer in the making.

Anyway, if you feel the need to make some kind of sacrifice for Lent, why don’t you consider something that will improve the quality of life for everyone? Here’s a list of things which I’d suggest we all consider giving up for Lent, if not permanently:

Talking on cell phones while driving – Just this morning, driving around a curve, I was nearly sideswiped by a doofus in a Saab who couldn’t keep his car in his own lane because he was busy yakking. I can understand how teenagers can spend all day on the phone talking about nothing, but what possible excuse do you have as an adult? Do you really think your life is that interesting that you should spend all your driving time talking about it? And who are you talking to? Other drivers? Phone sex hotlines? That would tie up both hands, wouldn’t it?

Xenophobia – One of the most tragic residual effects of 9/11 is that we Americans no longer feel the need to be ashamed for hating foreigners. We could have taken the high road. Instead, we have debased ourselves. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Hanging the paper towels and toilet paper the wrong way – I don’t care what your mother taught you. The paper comes from underneath, not over the top. Don’t argue with me. You’re just wrong.

Making excuses for the President – The prince of “moral values” is teaching a really good one to our kids: Never, ever, admit it when you screw up. And yet his actions are constantly being justified by the conservative TV pundits – even the ones that aren’t being paid directly by the Bush administration.

Misguided fanaticism – Does PETA stand for “People with Excessive Time Available?” Hey, I love animals and believe they shouldn’t be mistreated, but these folks have quite simply lost perspective. Animals should not have more rights than most people do. Oh, here’s a good one: “Pig Entrails Taste Awesome.” That oughta piss them off.

Watching reality television – If you want to blame someone for the fact that we can’t turn the TV on without seeing Paris Hilton’s expressionless face yet again, look in the mirror. You won’t admit it, but if you didn’t insist on watching this shit, it wouldn’t be on. And would someone please explain why Donald Trump is a billionaire but can’t seem to get his hands on a decent toupee?

I’m sure there are many more good ideas. Feel free to send me your suggestions and we’ll add to the list.

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