Lent 2017

Today is Fat Tuesday, meaning tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

In the Christian narrative, Jesus went into the desert to fast for forty days. Then, he was tempted by Satan, because it’s not enough that he’s going into the desert to already risk his life and permanent brain damage, all for some transcendental alone time, he’s also got to battle at high-noon with Nemesis.

Jesus’ return from the desert mirrors the later day of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. This gets a tad confusing: Easter day is celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, but Easter feast is actually a Lent feast. Early Christians were a bit put off eating food for a dead guy coming back from the grave like a zombie. Death and food don’t mix well in traditions, so they finagled the dates so that the celebrations could be meshed. So remember that when you’re at Easter mass, it’s because Jesus died and returned. But when you’re at Easter feast it’s because Jesus didn’t die and returned.

This may be why we still really celebrate the Easter of classic times. Besides which, duckies, bunnies, pastels and sex!

But here we are on the day before Lent. In my childhood tradition, we’d give up some favored food item, like Reuben sandwiches, or chocolate or ginger ale. One ambitious year, I gave up sugar entirely.

These days, Lent serves as a more general time of reformation and recovery,* whether it is giving up of those habits that do me harm, or introducing habits that do me well. My recent Lents have focused on the degree to which I fixate on current news, and probably should less since they lead me to fume about how the state is getting corrupt and oppressive faster than it is fixing itself. The Trump era is going to make keeping away super hard.

But unlike my NaNoWriMo efforts (2015 and 2016) Lent is not measured in boolean terms.** It’s not either I make it or I don’t. During Lent, if I slip up, if I melt down, if I binge on sugar and chocolate and whiskey and tobacco and heroin because fuck it all, then the next day I get back on the proverbial wagon. I keep trying until I make it or until Easter comes. It’s not so much a thing I win or lose. (Though if I can create some long-lasting healthful habits, that’s for me a win.)

So, Lent, 2017 for Uriel, what does it look like?

I need to limit my newsmedia intake. I’m going to look at news once a day and otherwise avoid it. For one, living in a world where our President is trying to wreck establishment from the inside, and the executive and legislature are waging war on the impoverished is really stressful. In the meantime, the resistance and (as some pundits have put it) the Constitution’s immune system seem to be fighting it effectively, and I need to exercise some trust that the US isn’t going to go full Third Reich while I’m not looking at it.

I need to avoid writing directly to current events. There are actually quite a number of topics regarding history and statecraft that I’d like to cover without having to connect it to what’s happening today. I’d also like to write more about games and maybe even get back to developing Fleet & Federation. This blog can also use some organization and cleanup love. So I don’t think I’ll run out of stuff to do.

My diet has improved since I’ve moved, thanks to several Sweetheart-related factors. Also there’s a lot more kid-food which is probably not been the best for me. It’s time to step up my physical regimen, so I hope to walk Ren a mile every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (with exceptions for those days, I’m off to San Francisco).

If I can (more or less) manage that regimen for forty days, I should be a saner, healthier person than I am now.

* Sin and crime are something of loaded words these days, as are several related words (e.g. wrongdoing, wickedness, evil). Sin is related to divine command theory, the notion that a higher-than-human power has defined morality conferred to us through human letters wrought from divine inspiration. See how that works? Considering that popular scripture is often used to discriminate against marginalized peoples and women — to the point that these are the central themes of memoranda from most Christian holy conferences — it seems that divinity is not a good standard by which we determine human morality. I don’t accept morals are valid based on divine command. I have morals, but if they are reflected in scripture, it is coincidental, or just as likely, derived from similar logic.

Crime is wrongdoing as defined by the state, which in recent times has included embarrassing state officials by exposing their wrongdoing or telling a story that is too much like someone-else’s (copyrighted) story or even violating the terms of a corporate service even if in protection of your own inalienable rights. Our society regards crimes as convoluted and specific as these as terrible (and subject to punishment) as violent, heinous crime, say raping children or murdering lots of people. And this raises doubt in the state’s ability to decide right or wrong, and to adjudicate proportionately. On Bastille Day, considering violent criminals and non-violent ones alike have been wronged by the same biased legal system, we will have to free them all. And meanwhile, today the US is raiding houses on the basis that some people are living their lives without doing the necessary paperwork (paperwork we adamantly do not demand of more obvious — whiter — US Citizens). So agents of the United States have demonstrated governments, like gods, suck at deciding right and wrong.

What does that leave me?

Humans have developed some social instincts, some of which are suitable for large civilizations (e.g. reciprocity or aversion to harm) and others which are not (Obedience and loyalty to buddies over principles.). As I enjoy the infrastructure that is supported by large populations, I tend to favor principles that ultimately serve large civilizations.

Yes, it’s very utilitarian.

Regarding Lent this all means I have to actually but some utilitarian consideration into how to approach my penance, which is to say, I need to define change I want to make, and the steps I’ll take towards making that change.

** Salvation often feels like it is measured in Boolean terms. Either you’re in and heaven-bound, or out and damned to Hell, even though much of Jesus’ own words are about redemption and recovery and the process thereof. The message (as I remember it) was more that you don’t have to be perfectly virtuous, but should continuously strive towards more virtue (or towards less sin from a harm-reduction perspective).

One of the advantages of Catholic infrastructure is the regular confession process by which a parishioner transitions cleanly from sinful to absolution. Feeling dirty? You just run your soul through the confessional like a laundromat. Protestantism without that ritual, doesn’t have that regular point of reassurance. When a Protestant has sinned, faith alone is supposed to assure his salvation. But when is the tipping point? There’s a lot of vaguery as to whether or not Jesus is still his co-pilot. Much of Sunday ministry rhetoric speaks of how much we’ve sinned and are not worthy. We may be faithful, but are we faithful enough? Note that the minister is talking to the congregation in attendance, as opposed to the ones who skipped church to sleep in. Ministers like to condemn the choir, it seems.

Then parishioners are fond of imagining the Ryans and Gingriches and Trumps being forced to face an unforgiving tribunal at the end of life. For those who played dirty to get to the top, often justifying their actions through religion, the notion of divine retribution is comforting. But that raises the question of whether the rest of Christendom have to face the same unforgiving tribunal. Is our faith strong enough?

Much of primary school history and civics is spun to push the notion of American exceptionalism, or gosh the United States is such a great country, which is done by erasing (simplifying) many of the more heinous periods of American history (or western history, or world history).

Once we start looking at the uncensored picture, a theme keeps occurring and recurring throughout the course of human events: Things suck, and we humans do something awful to ourselves or to each other. Then we look at the misery we’ve wrought and commit to not do it again. We consider the factors that compelled us to suck so hard, and we seek to change those factors for the better. And sometimes we suck less!

But then we don’t teach these events of suck to our kids, they don’t get why the new way is better than the old way. And they are tempted to go back to the old way, not realizing where that road has landed us before. A giant can elevate you to his shoulder, but he can’t make you peer further.

As an autodidact and an avid player of historical wargames, I took an interest in why given peoples were trying to kill each other. And that’s how I got into the habit of learning why we do things certain ways now, where before we didn’t, and what we had to suffer to decide to make that change.

I think more essays may prove useful about how things unfolded and why we don’t want to do that again.


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