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Five social justice-inspired things to give up for Lent

By Pieta Woolley

Lent began on Feb.18, but if you haven’t started already, you’re not off the hook if you’re part of the “giving something up for Lent” brigade. There’s still time to jump on the bandwagon — or engage with this ancient spiritual discipline — depending on your take on the practice.

At its best, giving up something for Lent functions as a gentle reminder to turn to a Higher Authority, when we would normally be turning to, say, blue-rare grilled Angus, Benson & Hedges or a creamy mint Aero bar. It’s a tidy, Catholic-origin discipline. In the 21st century, Lenten abstention was also an accessible way to publically proclaim one’s faith — a light-hearted conversation-starter with religious skeptics and critics. 

“I’m giving up driving for Lent.”

“Woah, dude. That’s, like, cool. It’s groovy that Christians are finally paying attention to the Earth, eh.”


In any event, Lent is also battled out between the earnest and the trolls on Twitter. Christianity Today magazine, which has tracked the phenomenon since 2009, recently listed Twiter’s top 100 things people say they are giving up for Lent in 2015: school, chocolate, Twiitter, alcohol, social networking, swearing, soda, sweets, fast food and coffee. But adjusted for re-tweets, popular choices are snarky. They include “giving up” Obama, sex and, of course, Lent itself. 

For some progressive Christians, though, Lent has become a way to pioneer and wave the flag for the coming, post-industrial, justice-rich world. The following is a roundup of some recently tried, social justice-inspired Lenten disciplines. 

1. Plastic

The practice of giving up plastic bags seems to be popular in the U.K. It’s promoted by the Marine Conservation Society and North American groups, including 100 Grannies.org and the popular anti-plastic crusader My Plastic Free Life.com

2. Carbon

The Christian social-action group, Tearfund, offers a disciplined 40-day carbon divestment practice. Actions include buying nothing for a day, booking a staycation, working from home and turning off your power for a day. 

3. Chocolate

For traditional Lent giver-uppers, singling out chocolate is a no-brainer. But recently, World Vision suggested giving up the brown stuff for Lent as a social justice project, highlighting working conditions and environmental degradation.  

4. Facebook

There are two visceral, opposing views on this one. In a Gizmodo article, titled “Lazy Christians Giving up Facebook for Lent,” the writer begins: “Lent begins today, commemorating the story of Jesus and some friends trapped in the desert, starving, hot, miserable, and tempted by Satan. A reminder of piety.” And, he ends with, “There might be an argument that Facebook actually is one of the great vices of our time, more destructive to the self and others than any candy bar or bottle of beer, more alienating than any cloud of cigarette smoke or swear word. Or maybe it's just the easiest austerity measure available to us, and hey, at least we've got Pinterest, y'all!”

And from cnet.com: “I'm not Catholic, but every year when friends and family give up wine, cheese, or bad TV shows for the 40 days of Lent, I get into an ascetic spirit. I convince myself to drop, say, white flour, then decide three minutes later that all things are OK in moderation. Who really needs 40 days off croissants, anyway?

But I think maybe I do need a break from Facebook. Checking Facebook first thing in the morning, all day long, and just one more time after I brush my teeth is probably not the best use of my time. My children, my marriage, and my houseplants need me more than that guy I met one summer in art school.” 

There are, of course, plenty of more serious diatribes about Lent on social media. But in my opinion, these two nail it.

5. Coffee

This is a rumour that I have not been able to confirm: so many Canadian Christians were giving up coffee for Lent that coffee chain Tim Hortons introduced their “Roll up the Rim to Win promotion” to offset losses.  

Coffee, which is a stimulant, a mild addiction and an indulgence, as well as an environmental and social ill, may be the perfect item to give up for Lent. Plus, in a secular environment, you’ll draw plenty of attention to yourself, opening the door to a conversation about faith and social justice with your peers at work and in your neighbourhood.

Recently, Calgary Anglican priest Kyle Norman offered a stimulating Ash Wednesday reflection on giving up coffee — and stuff in general — for Lent. After concerned parishioners offered him advice on how to manage without coffee, he had this to say: “It seems to me that entering our Lenten fast with a mind that searches for the loopholes, or the various things we can do to make our discipline lighter, essentially misses the point.”

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