In the past few days, Christian Facebook friends have been announcing their Lenten sacrifices. Christophobic Facebook friends have been telling weak jokes about Lent. I examined my own conscience. What should I do for Lent this year?
In past years, I have attempted to pray the Stations of the Cross every day of Lent. These stations walk you through Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and death. I found that praying this prayer every day was overwhelmingly sad. It reduced me to tears and I saw no benefit in doing that forty days running.
I've never been very good at fasting for religious reasons. I have fasted because I couldn't afford food, or for medical reasons, or to lose weight. When I was young and stupid I went days at a time without any food in that torturous, no-win obstacle course that all girls who are bigger than a Barbie doll run.
But fasting for religious reasons doesn't work for me. I may have inherited this from my mother. I remember her insisting with her signature force, "If I get a windfall and can feed my kids meat, I am going to feed my kids meat, no matter what day or week or month or year it is." The priest, who, unlike us, could afford meat every day, did not challenge my mother. He survived to die another day, from a different cause than an enraged Slovak woman beating him over the head with her pocketbook.
I decided to do this: to draw a Tarot card at random every day and blog about it. I don't want to devote a lot of time to this so I'm going to write fast and keep my sentences simple. No editing.
The first random card I drew is the ace of cups. This makes me smile. The ace of cups is one of the best depictions of Jesus we have.
The ace of cups depicts a hand reaching down from the sky, holding a gift. The gift is a chalice emblazoned with an upside down letter M. This is Mary, receiving Jesus, in the form of a Eucharist, delivered by a white dove – the Holy Spirit. Five streams flow from the cup. These are Christ's five wounds, through each hand, each foot, and the spear through his side. The five streams nourish the earth with water, the substance necessary for life.
People fear the scary cards in Tarot: the tower, the devil, death. I say that the cards represent the events of a human life. Eventually you are going to lose something you love, someone is going to sabotage you, and you, and all those you love, will die. But the Tarot includes the antidote to all that fear, chaos, and pain. One of the antidotes is the ace of cups, the depiction of unearned, freely given, life-nurturing, divine love.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends. Love one another as I have loved you. God is love.
There's a braindead propaganda meme floating around Facebook. It is shared by ignorant spiritual poseurs. It shows symbols for all the world's religions. This is the caption: "Buddha was not a Buddhist; Jesus was not a Christian; Mohammed was not a Muslim. They were teachers who taught one thing: love. Love was their religion." This meme is so false it is criminal.
Hinduism and its child Buddhism are not about love. They both deny any reality to the self. If there is no self, there is no self to love or to be loved. Everything we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear is an illusion. The goal is to realize that everything is an illusion and to transcend that illusion. In Hinduism you transcend by following your dharma – the path in life mandated for you at birth by the caste you are born into. In Buddhism you transcend by meditating.
Islam is about power – both having power and dominating others through power, and not having power and submitting to those with power. "Islam" means "submission." "Muslim" means "one who has submitted." Jihad is the struggle against those who have not submitted, to force them to submit. There's a good discussion of the Koran's use of the word "love," which is very different from how the Bible uses the word love, here.
That the Biblical God is a God who loves is remarkable and unique. Other Gods aren't like the God of the Bible. We like the God of the Bible because human beings desperately want to be loved. There is a God-sized hole in man. That other faiths can't meet that need as Jesus can is attested to by meme-makers who try to make Buddhism and Islam into just another version of Christianity. But other faiths aren't Christianity, and other faiths don't offer a God who loves.
We Christians are to love, but it's tricky. Sometimes when we are behaving in a loving way towards others, they don't feel loved by us.
I tell my students that they must come to class on time. They have a really hard time with this. Their hard time suggests to me that other teachers have not told them that in real life, one must show up on time. In fact, one student said to me, "My other teachers are awesome. They don't make me do any work, and I get As and Bs."
I recognize that by telling my students to come on time, I anger and alienate them and I receive bad evals. I also recognize that teachers who don't demand on-time arrival damage their students in the long run.
I don't feel loved. I'm still Christian.
I accept that I may be wrong. I accept that I am not God. Is God like the teacher who demands that her students come on time? I don't know. It's hard to see how the life I've lived will have any positive end.
On the other hand, I look at what Jesus did for us. He endured scourging and crucifixion. It's overwhelming to contemplate what he endured.
One last thing about love. Non-Christians think that it's impossible to love everyone because it is impossible to feel romantic feelings for everyone. Yes, that's true. But the Bible defines love as not exclusively being about romantic feelings. It's about how we act. Matthew 25 makes abundantly clear how Christians are to behave, and what constitutes love. "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me … Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, that you did for me."