A Single Beer in the Refrigerator
Ash Wednesday, 2022
Today is Ash Wednesday of 2022, a time when many Christian churches begin their celebration of Lent – the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) when the church prepares itself for their observance of Easter – the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave. While Easter is a time of celebration, Lent is an intentional time of self-reflection, mourning, and lament because our own sinfulness made it necessary for Christ to die on the Cross. Many Christians choose to prepare for Easter by observing a “fast” – the intentional giving up or abstaining from pleasures they would otherwise enjoy in order to assist them in reflecting on humanity’s sinful actions and God’s gracious gift. But does this really work … or does it just become an annual 40-day fad like the wearing of ugly sweaters between Thanksgiving and New Year?
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16).
Readers of Craig Johnson’s fictional Walt Longmire series almost universally appreciate one of the background characters, Lonnie Little Bird. Lonnie is cast as a Native American chieftain who, despite playing baseball, suffered many of the maladies of “the Res.” When fans encounter Lonnie, he is a reformed alcoholic who has lost his legs due to diabetes and has all kinds of problems with his dysfunctional family. One of his sisters does not believe that he is truly reformed in regards to his alcoholism, because she always finds an unopened bottle of beer in his refrigerator, a bottle that famously gets offered to Sheriff Longmire in times of great thirst, but is never opened by Lonnie.
You see, Lonnie keeps the unopened bottle of beer in his refrigerator to remind himself that his sobriety is by his own choice. He can choose to go “off the wagon” at any time, the temptation is always before him, but he has chosen to be sober. In Lonnie’s mind, without the temptation, he could not truly call himself a reformed alcoholic, but instead, he'd just be an alcoholic who couldn’t get his hands on a beer!
I sometimes wonder if the church’s holiness culture – a culture in which we isolate and insulate ourselves from the unappealing aspects of our society – isn’t creating a similar effect. The issue isn’t so much that we recognize our sinfulness and make the intentional effort to sacrifice our desires and to follow Jesus Christ (i.e., Thomas’s “Let us also go that we may die with him” remark). It also isn’t so much that we’ve done what we can to isolate ourselves from the world’s temptations. Instead, we don’t fully see or fully consider the depths of the numerous temptations and problems that exist in this world and the remarkable need for personal redemption and victory over such destructive forces. We often pretend that such things do not exist – or that these things exist only for certain people, but not for us.
It seems like we don’t always take ownership of the deeper problems. For example, the problems from which we often choose to “abstain” in our times of fasting aren’t really problems that suggest we should “go and die with Jesus,” but instead, are really problems that are just a minor inconvenience.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against the spiritual practice of fasting – either during Lent or at other times of our spiritual walk. But an often overlooked part of the fast is replacing what we give up with something that draws us closer to God. Traditionally, such a substitute has been a time of prayer. For most, though, fasting seems to be just a matter of deprivation and not a discipline of sacrifice in order to share in Jesus’s journey.
Part of the back story of Lonnie Little Bird’s choice to become sober is that his granddaughter needed a care giver. For him to keep a bottle of unopened beer in his refrigerator was both an acknowledgement that he had a problem with alcoholism (a problem that he alone needed to confess) and also an acknowledgement of his willingness to make a personal sacrifice in order to care for his family.
I wonder if this Lenten practice of fasting might be more meaningful to us if we didn’t just make a sacrifice, but instead, shaped that sacrifice to actually help us to join Christ in His ongoing work in this world. What if – when we choose to give up hamburgers and to substitute it for a good Mexican dish – we actually took the money we would have spent on the hamburger and gave it to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering for Refugee Relief. Trust me, if someone like me did that, it would provide a lot of meals for those fleeing wars!
And no, if I was to do that as part of my Lenten fast, I wouldn’t leave an uneaten hamburger in the refrigerator as a reminder … but instead, to know that there is that unused reward on my Red Robin card!
Oh Lord, as we enter into this season of preparation, help us to reflect on our unworthiness of the great gift that you offered to us AND on the great value that you assign to us by the sacrifice you made for us. Help us to live up to the value you assign to us. Help us to join you in your journey and to make appropriate sacrifices for others. Amen.
Those wishing to support relief efforts can do so through their American Baptist church, by giving online, or by sending checks directly to International Ministries. Please designate your contribution “OGHS–Ukraine Relief” in the memo line of your check.
Checks sent directly to International Ministries should be made payable to “International Ministries” and mailed to:
International Ministries Attn: Gifts Processing 1003 W 9th Avenue, Ste A King of Prussia, PA 19406
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains