When I was a kid our television got unplugged at this time every year. It was a big, beautiful Motorola set in a handsome mahogany case that was intentionally given the place of honor in our living room. Fireplaces had fallen into social disfavor as being so “back then” and they were conspicuous by their absence in contemporary ramblers like ours. My dad was immensely proud of the silver antenna which towered overhead. It was a public statement about his ability to provide for a wife and ten kids! We were simply grateful for its magic in bringing all three TV channels to our living room.
In addition to unplugging the television, this was the time of year when we all asked, “What are you going to give up?” TV was a decision made for us by Mom and Dad then applied to the whole family. Giving-up was to be my choice, something specific and personal. Of course, it was always “candy” and my parents would just as routinely remind me that meant “all sweets” so dessert was necessarily included. Then there was church. We went to church a lot! But at this time of year the expectation was that we’d go every day. Such was our Lenten penance.
I cherish these quaint memories only slightly embellished. I remain increasingly grateful for the grounding, security and assurance of God’s proximity all this brought to my childhood. But from the perspective of 60 years. I would now suggest that we plug into media and pay even greater attention. Rather than forgoing sweets perhaps we need to ask whether others are getting their just desserts. Rather than going to church for daily Mass, the more pressing need is for each of us to “be church” among the masses today. Despite the natural and necessary disposition of children, I still struggle to learn that it’s really not all about me or just my personal relationship with God!
We are all grousing – putting it mildly – about the harsh extreme winter we are enduring. Yesterday an icon popped up on my iPad regarding the availability of milkweed seed and the urgent need to plant them for Monarch butterflies. The University of Minnesota has a special research center focusing on a plummeting honey bee population. Polar bears are disappering with the melting ice cap. The looming drought in California is placed in perspective by the fact that the state produces 12% of the world’s – the world’s – produce! Rather than un-plugging or giving-up, Lent 2014 calls for tuning-in and getting more engaged!
Statistics can really numb the brain, but consider this: From our first appearance sometime in the past one to two hundred thousand years until 1650 CE, humans grew to number about half a billion. Today – less than 400 years later – there are about 7.1 billion of us. Predictions vary as to where this growth might top out—perhaps ten billion by the middle of this century, fifteen billion by the next. Technology may extend the ability of certain resources to support life, but earth’s resources are not infinite. Lent is about renewal, about change, about salvation in the fullest sense. Increasingly, Lent needs to be about waking up to the truth of our lives!
This clarion call came to me this week via a magnificent article in the current issue of Commonweal by Elizabeth A. Johnson, certainly one of the most compelling and influential theologians of our day. She cites the obvious with a prophet’s precision: “There are three mechanisms of destruction: overpopulation, consumption of resources, and pollution.” So what are we to do about it? None of us can do everything; but all of us must do something! We each get to choose; but choose we must!
We humans don’t have an especially good track record harkening to the prophet’s call to wake-up, turn-around and mend our ways! Just maybe – let’s hope – this Lent, the natural and necessary self-interest of children will lead us to recovery, renewal and restoration of all God has made.
Though “academic” in a manner you’d expect from a university theologian, Elizabeth A. Johnson’s article is quite good and can be accessed [here].