“What are you giving up?”

Isn’t that the question we are most often asked at Lent?

Self-denial is definitely part of being Christ-like. But I have always had a problem in finding any spiritual meaning in giving up things like chocolate or meat. 

I’m not knocking those who do. I’m just saying that when I have to answer for the things I do or don’t do that I should, and I believe I will, I have this sneaky suspicion that God is going to care a whole lot more about the attitudes of my heart than about whether or not I avoided cocoa laden products for 40 days.

But that’s just me.

I haven’t been an Episcopalian very long, but it didn’t take me long to realize that many of them are social justice warriors.

And I love them for it.

I love to see them stand up for those who have been marginalized or treated with indifference, or hate. It’s inspiring.

And it is in my attitudes that I most often feel the need to work during Lent.

Once again, I believe that’s where I feel the need to focus.

And, once again, I’m finding that caring, and I mean REALLY giving a damn about others requires more self denial than becoming a 6 week vegetarian.

It’s painful. I want to think of myself first. I want to think of my own needs first. I want to put my own stress, aggravation, frustration and fears ahead of the needs of others. 

Because I’m weary. I’m angry and upset and I’m weary of being angry and upset.

Indifference is so very tempting.

All my life, I’ve heard two sides of a coin. “Judge not lest you be judged.” indicating that God alone can judge mankind and his sins. And on the flip side, I’ve heard many Christians say that we should, in fact, judge our Christian brothers and sisters and hold them accountable for their sins when we see them in action.

To be quite honest, I don’t honestly care what you do behind closed doors. So much of our lives is between us and our Creator.

But I DO CARE, exceedingly so, when people who proclaim Christianity very, VERY publicly and then do something that is the complete opposite of what Christ explicitly taught.

We’re all hypocrites to some extent, and God knows (literally He knows) just how much I fail Him on a daily, nay, hourly basis.

I’m ill-tempered at times, I cuss too much, I demand my own way, I am selfish, I judge people unfairly sometimes, I don’t give away as much as I should of my time, money, or self.

And it is only because I know this about myself that I can say what I’m about to say.

This past week, my state representative allowed a bill to die before it could reach a vote. This bill would have included “domestic violence” as grounds for divorce in the state of Mississippi.

I’ll tell you, having been politically exhausted for the last several months, when I read the news about this, I thought, “Lord please. I don’t want to care about this. I don’t want to care what stupid politicians do anymore. Everybody knows they are self-serving and bought and paid for by special interest groups and God, I have enough on my plate. I’m just too tired for another round right now.”

And then I went to Ash Wednesday services. And I prayed prayers of repentance and re-committed myself to seeking justice and truth for myself and for others. 

I’ve been debating for weeks about what to “give up” for Lent and just recently it hit me.

As I type this, I am so very tired. I could put my head on the pillow right now and sleep until 3 p.m. tomorrow. I. Don’t. Want. To. Care.

But caring, fasting my indifference, that is the sacrifice. It’s putting aside my own selfishness to care about the greater good. To put aside what people think of me in order to stand with those who are victimized.

It is not easy to disagree with your own family about politics. It is not easy to keep your cool when people promote the love of politicians who make you cringe. And it is especially not easy to disagree with a popular representative who is well respected and liked in your own community.

I know this man. I think, from what I know, that he’s a good man. And I believe his religious convictions are strong.

I have no beef with that.

But I do have a problem when those convictions bleed through on an issue that put the lives of people in danger.

As the law stands now, as I read it, a spouse has to prove habitual mistreatment to get a divorce. 

Or, there has to have been some ghastly incident that was so bad, a judge thinks once was enough.

But I think if you talk to anyone who has been the victim of spousal abuse, they’ll tell you that it’s an escalating process. 

It doesn’t usually start with somebody slapping you around or breaking your bones. It often starts like this:

(iii) Attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.

Physical menace can simply be some type of threatening behavior. And that statement above is under the statute that describes “Domestic Violence” under Mississippi law.

So let’s say Shey starts acting threatening to me. He loses his temper, throws something at me. Grabs me hard by the shoulders. I could report him for domestic violence and have him arrested.

If the law proposed yesterday had been passed, a domestic violence charge against him would have been enough for me to get a divorce.

I am still doing research on this, but I actually just wrote an article about domestic violence in the state of Colorado and I know that there, even if the victim wants to drop the charge against the defendant, that’s not enough to keep it from going to trial.

It’s up to the D.A. whether or not to drop the case.

I have personally been in divorce Court and had custody hearings. You do not want a judge telling you to “work it out” with someone who is completely unreasonable.

I know some folks that immediately rush to Representative Gipson’s defense, citing that he must have had good reasons for his decision because they think he’s a good man.

I’ve got a news flash for you folks: good men make mistakes. Every. Single. Day.

Calling them out on them, especially when we elected them, is part of our responsibility. As voters, and especially as those who call ourselves Christians. This is true whether you helped elect them or whether you helped campaign against them.

There are those who publicly support people in politics, or celebrity culture, and never want to hear or say anything negative  about them.

That’s ridiculous. Not calling out Rep. Gipson when he’s wrong is just as ignorant as boycotting someone’s art because you disagree with their politics.

You can still think people are good, even when they screw up. You can still appreciate someone’s art, even if you disagree with their personal views.

You don’t have to, but you can.

And I would urge you to.

Because we are all different, and God knows I don’t want my difference of opinion to be the defining characteristic that people use to define their relationship with me or cast a blight on their decision to read what I write.

We could learn so much from each other if we’d only take the time to do so. But empathy requires some self-denial. And even if you’re not participating in Lent, everyone could do a little more of it. 

As I strive to empathize and understand my representative’s viewpoint on this, I can also empathize and stand up for those that I believe would be adversely affected by his actions.

There is right and there is wrong, and in between is a whole lot of gray. But at the end of the day, I would rather err on the side of right and require the burden of proof to be on those who seem to have no room for being wrong in their own minds.

The hunger for power is something that is never satiated in certain people. And sometimes, when people attain it, they forget that they are still accountable to those who gave it to them.

I pray that my own apathy and indifference will never let me reach the point that I stop altogether from standing up for what is right, even if I have to do it alone. 

Assuming someone will do the right thing just because you like them is a grave mistake. A lesson I’ve learned on more than one occasion.

As you look at those with whom you agree, remember that they are human, corruptable, and remember your responsibility to admonish them in love.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 

MLK, Jr.