Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fat Thursday

by Lyndsey Graves 


“Cute joke,” I thought. “Weird that someone happened to bring donuts on the same day the boss bought us lunch.” Fat Thursday. Teehee. I skipped the donuts in favor of the lunch brownies.

Maybe an hour later, one of my coworkers wandered over to my desk. I looked up from my student-worker-spreadsheeting, wondering if perhaps she had something more urgent or less stultifying for me to do.

“Hey, did you get a donut?”
“No, not yet…”
“You should have one. It’s Fat Thursday.”

No wry smile. Just a statement of fact. I obviously looked confused, because she continued: “Have you heard of Fat Thursday?”

No, I hadn’t, so she explained to me how Fat Thursday is the day you eat all the stuff you’re not supposed to have after Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.

I have no idea why she had it all right except for which day is actually fat. I am also curious if the others in the office were aware of the strangeness. Perhaps they were; perhaps they, like me, were simply feigning ignorance out of politeness (she did bring us donuts, after all). In any case, it was a bizarre experience for someone who’s always been The Christian Girl to have this tradition explained to me [somewhat incorrectly] by a relative stranger.

I tell this story because it really, really bothered me.

What bothered me is not that she had the day wrong, but that I felt so startled to encounter someone whose life is, presumably, not dominated by religion. I, who live in the heart of the secularized Northeast, still somehow forgot that some Americans just live their lives, doing all kinds of things like going to work and having families, with only a casual connection to a sort of garbled Christianity. They have no real interest in the nitpicky details of it, give no thought to the questions that occupy my days. It bothers me immensely that this struck me as odd.

The obvious moral of this story is that I need to get out more. There’s almost no one in my life right now who isn’t immersed in Christianity and churches. At the moment, there’s only so much I can do to change that, as I live among other theology students in the full-time boot camp that is graduate school. I certainly wish I got out more, out beyond the insular walls of this program; I worry that I will emerge a few years from now, a thoroughly academified creature, even more oblivious than I’ve always been to things that aren’t books or my own Deep Thoughts. Oblivious to things like donuts and sports and workplaces with spreadsheets and ergonomic staplers. Or even worse, I worry that I’ll only be able to interpret donuts and sports and staplers through Augustine and Marx, like my high school science teacher who could only speak in football analogies. Only, mine will be more boring and obscure.

But just getting out more won’t solve everything. I could find ways to “stay relevant”, treating my academic interests and my religion like a nerdy hobby, useful on trivia night. I might manage to make myself cool, but I’d be pretending that the things to which I’ve devoted this season of my life aren’t actually all that important, and I wouldn’t really be getting to the heart of the “relevance” matter anyway.

This faith can be a complicated thing; there will always be more to wonder at, more to learn, more to theorize over. But it is also a simple thing, and the simplest parts are those that will always baffle us most - and that will always transform us best. That is why I, who go to church twice a week and spend the entire remainder of my time reading and writing about theology, need the gospel preached to me over and over again just as desperately as anyone. The more I think I’ve learned, the more I find myself needing to be repeatedly reminded what is the heart of the most basic story I know, the truth that is love that grounds all I know to be true and lovely. God is big. I am small. Be holy. God is with us. We are daughters and sons. We are one body. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

All my theories and sociology and language games are self-congratulatory nonsense if I do not live my life by the gospel of Jesus Christ - the gospel I have learned again and again, at 3 and at 13 and at 18 and now, at 23. What’s more - as much as I love the traditions, the history, the doctrines, and wrestling with tricky conversations - they become only so much clutter if others don’t see Jesus through them. It is already hard enough for us to communicate with “The Outside”; the word “Christian” carries so many connotations, misconceptions, triggers of old wounds, confusion and disdain for those who are not familiar with Christ and his church. I know Christians, they’re the people who eat donuts on Fat Thursday.

I take great pleasure in talking about my pet social issues, my favorite communication theory, and the meaning and method of this or that liturgical tradition, and I certainly believe that these are worthwhile things to talk about. But if I do so without an eye towards the simple things, then all I am really inviting others into is a worship of feminism, or Marshall McLuhan, or the church calendar for the church calendar’s sake - donuts and magic forehead-dirt. I don’t want to do that. I want to invite people to know the God who inspires my love for these things. I want to feast and fast with the joy of one who knows my own finitude and God’s infinity. I want to embrace feminism with the hope and the compassion of one who has been set free. I want my life to testify to the epic behind the donuts. 

Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest.

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Photo credits:
Image #1 via Elaine Ross Baylon
Image #2 via Rick Berk
Image #3 via Akoliasnikoff
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