This post was first published in 2015.
As the saying goes, we Mennonites don’t practice the season of Lent because we live as if in Lent all the time. Quote that to Mennonites and they won’t recognize it as a joke (or insult). Several will suddenly look pensive and feel guilty about the little extravagances in their lifestyles.
I’ve tried this. It works.
When I was a kid, back in the 1970s, Lent was something that our Catholic neighbours did. It meant that they couldn’t go buy candy with us from the corner store for a couple of weeks in the spring. They always gave up sweets; I think it was mandated by their parents. But at the end of their 40 days without sugar or chocolate, Easter came and their house became a veritable chocoholic bacchanalia that left the rest of us neighbourhood kids in awe.
We had gone 40 days of moderation and came out at the end with a moderate Easter egg hunt and a moderate chocolate Easter bunny. They had had a fast and a feast. Admittedly, their digestive system probably suffered from it more than ours.
Mennonites didn’t practice Lent because back in the good old sixteenth century, our Anabaptist predecessors did away with it as unbiblical. They also got rid of a whole lot of fun holidays and feast days. But, while Lent’s been making a comeback among Mennonites in the last decade or two, I notice that no one is trying to also bring back all the feast days that we threw away so cavalierly at the same time.
It seems that we need more suffering but no more free time and pleasure. I believe the theory is that we live in such a pleasure-driven age that we have plenty of that already. Geez magazine, in fact, just did a full issue on happiness. Never before have I read so many pages of of hand wringing in a periodical. Geez isn’t officially a Mennonite publication but it has plenty of Menno voices pushing its editorial direction. And while we (and it) might speak of joy from time to time, we’re pretty uncomfortable with pleasure.
I don’t know if it’s actually true that we live in a more pleasure-driven world than our ancestors. It seems to me that we could probably find preachers decrying the pleasure-seeking masses since the first preachers roamed the earth. Something about pleasure just freaks us out.
The biggest problem now seems to be that we are taking pleasure while others suffer, as if the sufferers benefit from our hand wringing. Of course we’re part of a destructive, capitalist, neo-colonial, patriarchal system of power and oppression. That’s heavy stuff and I say more power to you if you’re up for tearing that baby down brick by brick.
I am just humbly suggesting that you try to have some fun while doing it. After all, just because Jesus didn’t say “blessed are those who have fun,” he never actually said that we shouldn’t have fun. Maybe he just didn’t think it was the sort of thing that needed saying.
He wasn’t anticipating Mennonites.
As for me and my house, well I think we’re going to try to enjoy more not less pleasure. Sure, sometimes more with less, if you need to push it political.
But I insist on a big focus on the verb — to enjoy. I’m thinking of making enjoyment into a Lenten practice. Mind you, like a good traditional Mennonite, I’ve got to spread it out throughout the year. Let’s start now by enjoying a cocktail that celebrates Not-Lent. The title is, admittedly, a little cumbersome this time but it’s a yummy little drink. Enjoy.
The Not Giving up Chocolate for Lent Cocktail
1 1/2 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz Baileys
1/2 oz Frangelico
1/2 oz Canadian rye whiskey
1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker
2. Shake vigorously 20-30 times
3. Strain into a cocktail glass
4. Garnish with a chocolate Easter egg