February 27, 2009

The season of Lent is now upon us. Probably the most recognizable tradition for Lent is to give up something for six weeks. Personally, I’ll be fasting from several things because I’m holy like that. My Lent will be free from Rachael Ray, grape soda, Hugh Grant movies, In-a-Tub restaurants, Anime, and the game of ‘Cranium.’

Come to think of it, I’ve been fasting from all of these for several Lents in a row…as well as all year long. We all have to make sacrifices though. Depriving myself of these pleasures is my cross to bear.

There was a time when my roommate and I lived nearby a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. One day we decided to wander over to their seemingly everyday grocery store. It was a chain store, and seemed normal enough. But once inside, we spent literally an hour gawking at all the ‘ethnic’ foods (as they like to be called.) I’m talking about cow tongues sitting right next to the steaks, 5 gallon buckets of lard, random entrails bagged up, festooned with bright ‘ESPECIAL’ stickers. It was an entertaining day at the store. The Chinese grocery store was also memorable, but in a much different way…

One day, which happened to be about a month before Easter, I happened to stop in at the local Taco Bell (in the same neighborhood.) Since the neighborhood was Hispanic, it was also primarily Catholic. Taco Bell had a prominent sign by the menu.

Maybe your thoughts turn to God in a thoughtful Lenten liturgy,
But nothing makes me cry to Jesus like a 7 layer burrito.

Now, some of you who don’t live in predominately Catholic areas may balk at such “abject commericalism.” But this has been going on for a long time, and other restaurants do this, and my perspective is that Taco Bell is just trying to cater to their customers.

Besides, what I fixate on moreso is the implication that a Caramel Apple Empanada could contain meat, but is available without meat for the religious types who request it.

Customer: I’d like an Apple Empanada.

Taco Bell employee: Yes sir. Beef, chicken or steak in that?

Customer: Oh no, hold the meat. I’m…”lenting.”

Lenting” is the word for observing Lent. Look it up. It sounds weird to say you’re ‘celebrating’ Lent. What is Lent about? Repentance and solemn inner reflection? Woooo, LENT! Doesn’t sound like a party to me.

Second, I think about what if Taco Bell had been around in Jesus’ time. What if Jesus really fed 5,000 people with 5 soft tacos and two packets of hot sauce? Or Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into Nachos Bell Grande.

Now just because I feel Taco Bell is making an innocent and innocuous business choice, that doesn’t make it a good choice for lenting Christians to buy. I have never been surrounded by people who are serious about giving stuff up for Lent. My impression is that it’s supposed to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice. If there’s anyone who can correct me on this, please do.
Regardless, how awesome is it to say:

Friend 1: ‘Hey, we’re going out for burgers, you in?’

Friend 2: ‘Aw, no. No meat for me. It’s Lent.’

Friend 1: ‘I don’t know how you do it. You are dedicated.’

Friend 2: (Unintelligible speech. Mouth and both fists are full of CinnaTwists

There’s a lot of us who ought to fast from hamburgers and tacos and a lot of other stuff for Lent. But those old reward receptors in our brains keep firing off. Seems we can’t make one sacrifice without rewarding ourselves for our piety by indulging in something else. Let’s say I give up take out pizza from Domino’s. How holy is it to do that, if I just replace it with an Oreo pizza from Domino’s? I may have a beard, and beards look holy. But it will be made out of Oreo crumbs fused to my face, which may betray my piety.

What are you giving up for Lent? Will you be filling the hole in your heart left by McDonald’s with mass-produced, mexican-style foodstuffs? What’s your interpretation of the meaning of Lenten fasting? How many of you were offended that a mega-corporation actually acknowledged a religious observance? How many of you noticed that my story about the grocery store was completely irrelevant? Have you ever poked a cow tongue through a thin layer of plastic wrap?

Have a great weekend, and a great Lent, everyone.