Saturday, 20 February 2010

Lent on a bar

Last night I overcame the first big hill on a long road. It was Friday, and following an arduous day's work, I drove for two gruelling hours through heavy traffic, and worsening weather. Upon eventual arrival at my destination, I kicked off my shoes, sank into a chair next to the roaring fire, and with a palpable sense of release, prepared myself for the moment which had at last arrived: that most satisfying of rituals - the first pint of the weekend. 

Let's all take a moment to enjoy this

For me and for many, a drink such as this heavenly honeydew is a standard component of depressurisation following the working week, helping Friday to melt into the lethargic self-reclamation of the weekend. And however much the NHS bangs on about the dangers of social drinking, (I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels a bit uncomfortable watching this,) it accounts for a huge part of our recreation time, and our hard-earned money. 

It's tempting at this stage to begin a futile defence of our national pastime against governmental pressure and the alarming increase in alcohol-related deaths over recent years, but I'm leaving that well alone. Instead, I wish to confess that I never got my "first-pint-of-the-weekend" as, (*lengthy pause for added gravitas*) I have given up alcohol for lent.

...for the next 40 days or so
Since the moment I realised it was Shrove Tuesday, and I had to either substantiate or bail on a hitherto whimsical commitment, my decision has drawn a variety of responses from my usual companions in consumption. 

These have included:
  • Doubt of mental steel to last the distance
  • Questioning of motives, and the appropriateness of 'giving something up' for lent
  • Annoyance at ruining everyone's fun by not pitching in with the boozing (often put in slightly stronger terms) and...
  • Apathy: actually, this is the overriding theme. I am just not that interesting, it seems. 
These are all good points. The final two I intend to conquer using a mixture of good-humoured retort and bitter, bitter tears - and the first, only time will tell.

But the second, Lent, deserves a bit of discussion.

I can't remember a year when there hasn't been a sermon in which the theological validity of simply 'giving something up for Lent' is rejected by the preacher; and this is absolutely right. Rather than flounder at explaining why this the case, four minutes with the Archbishop of Canterbury will do the job nicely:

Episcopal Interlude

In a recent online forum, the BBC also tested the water by asking visitors What are you giving up for Lent? carefully including no reference to any religion or faith in the wording of the question (other than that implicit in the festivals of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday). The discussion brought about a predictable clash of vociferous atheism and protective traditionalism among users who responded, with a spectrum of comments in between.

Pioneering choral atheism on the BBC 'Have Your Say' forum

Once again, here we have a situation where an ancient Christian festival pervades the modern calendar, with controversy an inevitable upshot. Resultantly, those of active Christian faith become protective of their festivals, especially in an environment where it seems more acceptable to take a cynical swing at them than the sacred observances of other religions. On the other hand, in a multicultural society, is it right to assume that our administrative year should continue to revolve around religious festivals which for many are redundant or non-applicable? Disruption to school holidays because of an early or late Easter is, for some non Christians, probably on a level with a world where shops and businesses might close down for a week in the run-up to the final of "The X-Factor."

Probably the Messiah anyhow

So what does it all have to do with my giving up alcohol for lent? you may well ask. The answer is I'm not really too sure; I've just been stalling for time. My reasoning is probably a non-commital conglomerate of the above. Not least, after a number of years drinking probably a bit more than I should on a regular basis, I'm just curious to see what difference a month-and-a-bit cold turkey might make to my health, my pocket, and my state of mind.

 Winter collection

In a final fleeting grasp at some kind of profundity, I should add that I'm hoping Lent will throw up some opportunities for more theologically sound reflection, but in the mean time hereby apologise to publicans in the locality for my turncoatism over this difficult period, and pledge my renewed support thereafter.

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