On Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, people celebrate around the world by indulging in all the food and drink that will potentially be off-limits during Lent. In times past, there were practical considerations to consider, such as the depletion of any inventory in the household pantry that could not be consumed for the upcoming season. In modern times, the situation is much different, with Mardi Gras serving as little more than a gluttonous exercise similar to the excesses associated with New Year’s Eve.
Here’s the deal: collectively, as a nation, we eat and drink too much. Sometimes this is referred to as “mindless eating.” There are weight loss programs that involve keeping a journal of everything you eat, but that method is only as good as the accuracy of the data entered. Does the average American keep track of everything they consume? The answer is a resounding “no.” Counting carbs and calories is about as much fun as keeping track of every penny you spend.
There is a natural tendency to turn a blind eye (or at least a slightly crooked eye) to what we ingest daily. This kind of partial glance at what we spend and consume allows us to underestimate our spending and eating. The same kind of slightly “out of focus” view of exercise in terms of how many calories we burn affords a generalized assessment of our fitness and statements like “I probably walk 20 miles a day with all of the errands I run”.
There have been numerous studies involving obesity among the poor, especially in the inner city. The lack of fresh fruits and vegetables combined with the availability of fast foods on every corner contribute to what has become an epidemic. Obesity knows no boundaries on the socio-economic scale. People from the very poor to the ultra-rich all suffer from the disease.
Idolatry and Fad Dieting
Fad diets involving complicated food combinations only work in theory (or temporarily at best). Loading up on meat, even if it’s lean, and avoiding carbohydrates is a good idea, but if you consume too much of any food group, you’re going to gain weight. If we view sin in terms of containing “spiritual calories,” we can see how the cumulative effect will add up to having a “bloated spirit.”
There is a scene in the movie The Ten Commandments where the Israelites are dancing around the Golden Calf in worship. As a kid, I thought it was hilarious. I had recently learned about God as the Supreme Being and the statue didn’t hold a candle to the Creator of the Universe as far as I was concerned! How could these grown-ups bow and dance around something that was just a statue? As an adult, I am reminded of the psalm that reads, “They have eyes but they cannot see, they have mouths but they cannot speak” (Psalm 135:15-18).
There is, of course, an aspect of Idolatry that lives below the surface: it proceeds from pride. The Israelites were worshiping a “work of their own hands”. To worship anyone or anything other than God is Idolatry. This can apply to a golden statue, a real person, or even a “religion”. In other words, any person, place, or thing that is placed before God (thou shalt not worship strange gods before me) is an Idol. This includes placing ourselves (our way, opinion, stance, sense of things) ahead of God.
A form of Idolatry that is very subtle and prevalent exists in what is termed “false hope.” True Hope is directed toward God and proceeds from the virtue of humility. False hope is directed toward anything other than God’s will and proceeds from the vice of pride. In an age where just about everything is available “on demand,” the delay of self-gratification has become increasingly important.
During this season of Lent, may we turn to the time-honored practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to prepare for the coming of the Lord in the Easter season and beyond.
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Author: Deacon Greg Lambert
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