I’m not big for giving up something for Lent. I wasn’t raised with that tradition, and it’s not something we emphasize here in my Presbyterian church.
But it’s a popular thing to do. Based on my (extremely limited unscientific observation) sugar is the most popular item to give up.
When I hear of folk give something up for Lent, I usually ask, “And how has that brought you closer to God or helped you be a more faithful disciple?”
And the typical Christian answer is often, “Because Jesus gave up his life for me, so I can do this for Him.”
Ah. No wonder I’ve not been big on giving something up for Lent, since that theology doesn’t work for me. I can’t wrap my mind around how it might bring my Maker joy for me to give up chocolate. More to the point, I can’t wrap my mind and heart around substitutionary and sacrificial atonement theology. Put simply:
1. Substitutionary Atonement says that God needed to punish someone for humanity’s evil ways, and Jesus volunteered, “giving up his life for me.”
Hmm. Not sure I can trust a God who thinks and works like that: One who needs someone to pay for how we mess up. That math doesn’t work for me.
2. God demanded a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins t
hroughout all time, so Jesus was that sacrifice, as in the ancient Temple traditions of turtledoves and perfect calves brought to the high priests to settle debts.
Again, huh? It just doesn’t make sense to me – Not only does the math not add up for me, I can’t trust such a score-keeping vindictive revengeful deity.
So, I’ve never been one for giving up something, although I know it does help people draw closer in gratitude to our Maker. That I like. And having a daily practice to help us become mor
e mindful – That I like as well. But still, I didn’t give up sugar for Lent, not feeling like it would nourish my spiritual life.
Then I came across these two different on-line pieces just in the last two days, after a week of sugar intake being in the news. (New World Health Organization guidelines? We should consume less sugar a day than is in one can of soda: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/05/adults-sugar-calories-coke-can-who. Good thing I don’t drink soda!)
1.This article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/
2014/01/15/262741403/why-sugar-makes-us-feel-so-good?utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook suggesting just how and why sugar is addictive. Sugar lights up our brain similarly, although not as intensely, as HEROIN. Yikes. Our dopamine receptors – what makes us feel so good – LOVE sugar, but then, like any drug, we grow tolerant, we lose our ability to refuse it, we crave it, we need more of it in order to get that “rush.” WAH! I love sugar! Now I know why. But I wonder if addiction to sugar has gotten my dopamine receptors out of whack, so they are less responsive to joy? That would be a spiritual issue.
2. This little video clip on what happens to our brains on s
ugar: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-nicole-avena showing in a very simplified way how dopamine works and why sugar is addicting – The more you eat sugar, the more you crave sugar, the less you can resist sugar. In other words, the more willpower it takes to refuse it. I need all my willpower going to keep me running and having a sermon ready by Sunday morning and keep my foot out of my mouth. There isn’t any left over to fight my brain’s constant insisting WE NEED SUGAR! We’re deprived of dopamine!
But what’s so bad about sugar? Other than, you know, diabetes, weight gain, heart disease.
Sadly, overeating sugar clouds your thinking. It leaves you tired. It spikes you up, then drops you down. Eating sugar makes it hard to focus. We end up eating more than we realize, because it is added to EVERYTHING: ketchup, yogurt, cereal, dried fruit – Really, almost all our processed food.
And now, I’m re-thinking my “not giving up sugar for Lent.” Since we understand there is no division between body and spirit – The spirit is a physical reality happening in our physical brain – Maybe all those people giving sugar up for Lent are on to something, beyond an atonement theology that doesn’t work for me. Maybe my sugar addiction – Because yes, I agree, I am addicted – IS interfering with my spiritual life, in ways that simply running a few miles every other day won’t fix. Can I have some M&M’s as I contemplate that?
Just kidding. Sort of.