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The editor at a small town newspaper I used to work for liked to tell us about his time in the military. One of the stories I always found amusing was when he was discharged.
On his way home, he was put up in a hotel off Bourbon Street in New Orleans on Easter night. He checked in and out his window Bourbon Street was quiet and nearly empty.
When he woke up the next morning, the day after Easter, he went to the window and saw the street gutters lined all down the street with people passed out drunk. Apparently, midnight hit and BOOM! "Lent is over…WHEEE!!!"
This is not only both really funny and really sad, but pretty much sums up why I don’t give anything up for Lent. I’m not Catholic, but many people of various Christian faiths, as well as a couple of non-religious friends of mine, have begun using this time to try and refrain from a bad habit.
PFFFTT! Screw that! I’m not a drinker, but I know anything I try to give up (e.g. coffee) I would jump headfirst into a pit of overindulgence with wild abandon.
Now, it’s time to indulge me a moment while I get a bit spiritual. I do feel Lent is a time for me as a Christian to think more about sacrifice and salvation.
This is why each season instead of giving something up, I add a behavior.
I’ve tried to give more to charities or homeless, or to increase my volunteer time, but what I’ve really had success with is setting up an intensive reading assignment that takes some time away from my novels and comics to full-on study an inspirational text, sometime accompanied with Bible study.
I try to share what I’ve learned with others each day.
Right now, my social media followers can see my daily brief comments on this year’s pick, All The Women of the Bible by M.L. de Mastro, but it’s not too late to dig into your own studies.
Here are some past books I’ve read during Lent that I recommend any time of the year:
• Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is considered one of the “most important Christian books of the 20th century,” and it is amazing how much Lewis's ideas still apply today.
If you have time, supplement this with my favorite work by Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, where an elder demon instructs his nephew how to win a soul for Hell.
If you don’t have time to read it, somewhere out there is an audio version read by John Cleese, the perfect Screwtape voice.
• The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in The Matrix by Chris Seay and Greg Garrett. The first of my geeky readings shows how to look at what the authors feel are the philosophical and religious undertones of the best thing The Wachowskis ever did.
One of the authors is such a big Matrix fan he named his daughter Trinity. Read it and then watch this movie again.
Which pill will you take?
• The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan. Klavan is fantastic novelist when it comes to the gritty world of crime or the occasional venture into fantasy.
This biography gives you a background to Klavan’s journey to come to Christ, but it is also just an interesting life story of how a writer’s mind is always on the go.
• The Dude Abides: The Gospel According the Coen Brothers by Cathleen Falsani. This is one fun read. Falsani goes through each of the Coens' movies and gives us some ideas of how to interpret them from a gospel perspective, whether or not it was the intention of the filmmakers.
The passage for No Country For Old Men still bugs me...sometimes evil just exists with no explanation.
• The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite by Dick Staub. Staub talks about how not to bubble yourself away from the world, but make sure you don't water you values down to conform to what pop culture thinks is moral.
I still like to bring up his quote from King of the Hill on Christian rock. "Boy, don't you know you're not making Christianity better, you're just making rock 'n roll worse."
• Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs. I related to this one quite a bit. Sometimes, it is just not easy to find your place in the world, both creatively and spiritually.
Isaac's own journey helps us feel better about ourselves when we're sometimes not comfortable in our own skin...or church.
• Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. This is some heavy, and potent reading, but is is exceptionally intelligent and rewarding.
Wallace, a former atheist and homicide detective, treated every argument against Christ's resurrection as an actual case, and in the process became a believer. No matter what you believe, you'll have to admit he did his homework.
This book could do just as well teaching people about the investigative process in general.
• The Christian World of The Hobbit by Devin Brown. Unlike C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t put any direct Christian references in his Middle Earth tales.
No, Gandalf is NOT a representation of Jesus…sorry.
However, Tolkien’s Christian values are deeply embedded in these texts. Brown gives us another reason to read these stories yet again.
• A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte. With the Tolkien biopic coming soon, this is a good time to read how the Tolkien’s and Lewis’s life experiences may have influenced his storytelling.
Even as a huge reader fan of the “Inklings,” I gained some new insights, not just on the lives of these authors, but about how the horrors of World War I had an effect on every nation.
I can’t recommend this one enough.
I guess technically, when you think about it, I am giving up some of my indulging in superheroes or supernatural thrillers for something more substantial, but it doesn’t feel that way.
When I pick a book for my Lenten inspiration, it actually makes me look forward to Lent.
I can’t wait to dive into another learning experience, and come out of the season with a little something extra…and I can enjoy a nice cuppa caffeinated beverage while I’m at it.