Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lent? I Give Up!

Ash Wednesday is February 17—just a few days away. Christians of many denominations take a spiritual journey for Lent. That journey often involves some sort of deprivation, one’s personal forty days in the wilderness, spent in hope, faith, and even longing.

“Epic fail” best describes my attempts at “giving up” something for Lent. I was vegan for several years in the 1980s, so I thought giving up dairy would be easy. Dairy wasn’t the problem; it was coffee. Nondairy creamers gave me stomach distress and there was no way I was giving up coffee. Fail. Dark chocolate has so many physical and emotional benefits that it would be unhealthy for me to give that up. I haven’t even tried.

One year I gave up anger. Daily, I studied Proverbs such as 29:8 “… but wise men turn away anger,” and 11: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” That experiment lasted about three weeks and when it ended, my outburst made Mount St. Helens look like a kitchen experiment with vinegar and baking soda. Fail. It’s best for my particular psyche (and my family and my remaining friends) to release a tiny bit of anger at a time.

I tried spiritual walks and promised to read Dark Night of the Soul every day. My inconsistent nature foiled that. Fail again.

So here I am, a few short days away from Ash Wednesday. I want to take a spiritual walk. And I feel like it has to be concrete, tangible, something I can measure, such as: “Gee, I avoided Wal-Mart for six weeks even though it always has the best selection and prices on Easter candy.”

What about dairy-free Fridays? It’s easier now because I found soy milk that doesn’t curdle into chunks in my coffee.

But really—is all that giving up the point of a spiritual walk? A spiritual walk should not be limited to six weeks in the spring. And does it change my walk with God if I don’t eat chocolate or meat or dairy products? Does it change my walk if I miss a day of spiritual study and reflection? Yes, I know Lent is about personal sacrifice. However, is giving up something like chocolate a sacrifice if come Easter morning, I gorge myself on Cadbury cream eggs (and chocolate-marshmallow bunnies and Lindt truffles)?

I believe Lent deserves a different look. Maybe it should not be a time we “give up.” Maybe “taking up” would be better… taking up a kinder, more prayerful life and focusing on what Jesus really wants from us—to love each other. Now that is a much more difficult walk—during Lent and everyday—but it’s the path I want to take.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Toothless Wonder . . . ing

Out! That lower-left front tooth must come out. Dentists pampered it for twenty-eight years and I was diligent about home care, but a bone infection will uproot the tooth Thursday.

A gap-toothed grin in a first-grader’s photo is cute, but it’s not so cute for a 57-year-old woman. A tooth will fill my grin; it just won’t grow there, although I hope to grow used to that idea—and the new tooth.

Dental insurance helps, but my co-pay to fill the gap in coverage is almost a thousand dollars. Trillions, billions, and millions brush across the landscape of the daily news so often that such numbers have lost meaning. But a thousand dollars really is a lot of money.

What if I didn’t have insurance or didn’t have the co-pay? What would my options be? Option 1: Do nothing. That scenario is frightful. Doing nothing might lead to an emergency room visit for a massive systemic infection—or worse. Option 2: See a dentist, get an antibiotic prescription, take medicine, and hope it goes away. When it doesn’t, revisit Option 2. Repeat. Option 3: See a dentist, get the tooth pulled, feel the air between my teeth, and don’t fill the gap.

A tooth extraction is pricey, but not as pricey as replacing a tooth. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one of the preceding options. I’ll have a temporary tooth until my mouth heals enough for my new (fake) tooth.

I wonder, though… how might my life change if I had to choose Option 3? I’ve noticed gap-toothed people. I admit that I’ve even been a bit judgmental. There’s that (erroneous) perception that lacking teeth signals a lack of intellect, care, and education. A person missing teeth might be stereotyped as the dumb hick, the hobo from the Depression, or the homeless person of the twenty-first century; each can be judged as dumb, desperate, and/or derelict.

Having a tooth pulled won’t extract points from my IQ or remove personal hygiene from my daily routine. But if my tooth loss is obvious, stereotypes might compel others to believe my IQ is lower, that maybe I’m not quite clean. I’m guilty of assigning them to others, so why wouldn’t such stereotypes be assigned to me? I won’t be a different person when that tooth is gone, but I might become a different person.

If I applied for a job and the employer had to decide between me and another candidate, the person with a full set of teeth would get the job. Would I feel judged if I were speaking to someone and their eyes focused on my mouth? Yes. I would cover my mouth, silence myself, and retreat. That could become a way of life: Keep quiet, closed-mouth smiles only, avoid interaction with people. I likely would become isolated because I care what people think.

I’m grateful I won’t have to encounter the foregoing scenarios. Still, I’m anxious about my new tooth. Will it be obvious? Will I look okay? Will it hurt? Will I hate the way it feels? Will my days of biting into a crisp apple be over? And what if… “Gap! I mean, gasp! I look better and feel better?”

I already feel better about one thing: Having considered how it might feel to have a toothless grin, never again will I be so quick to judge when I see gaps in the mouths and lives of others.