Why Lent Matters (For Mormons, too!)

cathedral

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire

I just read a Mormon blog post belittling Lent. It was terrible. I’m not going to link to it here because it really doesn’t need any more views.

Instead, I’ll try to summarize based on my own interpretation: Instead of offering accurate information about the history and continuing role of Lent in the Catholic tradition, it told me that Mormons are sooooo over that crap and could never practice such a terrible tradition created by men, and that we don’t need something like Lent anyway because we take the sacrament.

Um, excuse me?

First of all, we’re Mormons. All of our traditions are created by men. At least from an outsider’s perspective. Don’t you hate it when nonmembers say our doctrine is false because it comes from the mouths of men, not the Bible? Didn’t this stupid viral blog post use that same stupid argument against Catholics? It did. It really did.

Also, EVER HEARD OF THE EUCHARIST? Oh? You didn’t know Mormons aren’t the only church to take the sacrament? You didn’t know that virtually every Christian church takes the sacrament? Because you’ve probably never set foot into a non-LDS church in your entire life? I see.

Okay, I’m going to cut the snark because there is an important lesson to be learned here. Ignorance really brings out my nasty side; there is so much to be learned from other faiths, and that can only happen if we take the time to appreciate them from a fair perspective. Releasing a blog post – which proceeds to be published by LDS Living – on Ash Wednesday, giving several reasons Mormons are too good for Lent is not the best way to introduce possibly-unaware members to ancient, revered traditions, and certainly doesn’t constitute a fair perspective.

I’m not going to say that all Mormons should be practicing Lent, because really, we’re in no way obligated – we’re Mormons. But I’m not going to say we shouldn’t be practicing Lent, either.

I’ve learned so many interesting things by exploring other religious traditions throughout my life. I attend a Lutheran Christian service every year, have been to a few Catholic services, spent a whole lot of time in Anglican cathedrals, went to synagogue for Shabbat, toured Hindu and Sikh temples, and sort of attempted Hanukkah one year. It’s great. As far as I know, we Mormons aren’t explicitly directed to explore other faiths, but we are encouraged to increase our knowledge, and partaking in other traditions is a fabulous, hands-on way of doing so.

Learning about other Faiths can help us realize how truly, uh, special ours is. For example, you might visit a European cathedral and take note of the stunning architecture, relics, and general antiquity absent in our own meetinghouses. You might go to Shabbat and find gratitude in the fact that only a very small part of our Sabbath observance involves singing, which (thanks be to God) is in our common languages and not Hebrew. Maybe you could visit a Hindu temple, learn why Hindus consider idol worship so important, then be super happy that we don’t have to worship idols. You might go to pretty much any other Christian service and realize that we Mormons go triple-overtime every week with our three-hour block, and maybe you will feel cheated (kidding! – sort of).

My point is, everyone will come to different conclusions. The important part is that we take the time to learn things correctly, from reliable sources, without an intentionally-Mormon slant. Intentionally-Mormon slants usually work best when studying Mormonism, not so much when studying almost anything else.

I decided a couple months ago that I wanted to try going vegetarian for Lent, which admittedly takes things a step further than most Catholics do. Originally, my goal wasn’t anything religious; I only wanted to see if I could go roughly forty days without meat, since I didn’t think I’d ever gone longer than three or four days.

And I really like meat, guys.

I also think that learning self-discipline and restraint is important, especially to Mormons. I fast once a month, but something more constant, something that will actually tempt me on a daily basis, would likely teach me even more about spiritual self-denial, a practice introduced long before Fast Sundays existed. I’m also willing to admit that by giving up something I love during the time Jesus fasted will make me view Easter a bit differently, perhaps with far more respect.

On another note, I thought it would be a small chance to show my respect for the millions of animals who die every day so that we omnivores can enjoy delicious, protein-rich foods. Vegetables are also great, and I’m a little excited that I get to be more creative with them in my meals. I’m definitely not a fake-meat-soy-product kind of person, so I’ll learn a whole lot about going crazy with eggplant, cauliflower, beans, and quinoa.

In the end, it’s just an experiment. Maybe I’ll feel great by the end. Even more likely, I’ll be dying for a steak and will never go meatless again. But I will have learned something, and I’ll understand Catholics (not to mention the Anglican tradition my own ancestors came from) a whole lot better.

Since I am not a religious scholar or a Catholic, I’m not going to pretend to be authoritative in any way, unlike some people in the LDS blogosphere. If you’re a Mormon and want to learn more about Lent, I would suggest starting with this article put out by the Catholic Education Resource Center. If you end up wanting more of an LDS perspective (also put out by LDS Living, the bipolar-ist of Mormon websites; you never quite know what you’re going to find!) you might like this article about ways LDS families can practice little bits of the Lenten tradition as they lead up to Easter.

Whatever you choose to do as Easter approaches, remember that even though other people might do things differently, it’s all in the name of respecting the same Christ we love and serve. We have to take joy in this; the love of Christ spans far beyond Mormonism, and the more deeply we can understand and appreciate that, the better. As Christ himself taught, tolerating others is always a good choice.

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