As we begin this season of Lent, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about what it means to observe Lent in the Christian tradition. First, I was raised in a Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), and we did not observe the Church Calendar, and so did not celebrate Lent. I thought that was something only Catholics or Episcopalians did.
Even though I have given some attention to the Church Calendar as an ordained minister in the PCUSA over the past 22 plus years, I had never been part of an Ash Wednesday Service until we celebrated with Central United Methodist in 2010. I had always heard about people giving up chocolate or soft drinks or beer or tv or something like that for Lent. I had started thinking about Lent seriously a few years ago at First United when we discussed Lent and talked about what it might mean for each of us personally to observe Lent.
I have always been repelled by the idea of “giving up” this or that. Maybe that’s because I just don’t have much will power to not do something I enjoy doing. But, something about giving up things never caught on with me. For me, it is almost as if deciding to give something up causes me to want it even more. So, no I have never given anything up for Lent. Well, until this year, and you are not going to be too impressed about what I am giving up.
It was the day before Ash Wednesday this year, and I had gone back and forth with the Blount County Sheriff’s Department about why my client was still being held in jail even though the Judge had ordered her release. And, about 4 p.m. that afternoon, it came to me out of the blue: “I am going to give up ‘being nice’ for Lent.” I said it out loud, one of our legal secretaries laughed, and then I said it again with some real conviction and smiled.
Now, I know it might sound bad for a minister like me to say that, but the more I thought about it, the more firm I was in taking my first Lenten vow of my life. Maybe what I really liked about this vow was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t be so bad. Being nice, after all, isn’t a sin, is it? But, there was something deeper in this thought and in this resolution. It was about committing myself to truth and doing what was right more than worrying over whether others liked me or were happy with me.
As a lawyer who represents poor people charged with crimes, I am forever “being nice” with D.A.s and Judges and my clients to get the best deal I can for my clients. Every once in a while, the process becomes openly adversarial, but most of the time, it is a matter of using your wits to get a deal. So, I have had it “up to here” by the time I get home each day with ‘being nice’ to people who I am really not very happy with. Lately, some of my own clients have been the worst to deal with. I am ‘being nice’ because it is part of thinking about my client’s interests, not letting my own client's attitude get in the way of their legal interests, etc.
But, there is a time and place for all that being nice stuff. But, there is also a way to be decent without worrying too much about keeping everyone happy. There is even a place for that in law practice. If you don’t pay enough attention to your need to tell the truth or at least your need to stop covering up the truth, then a couple of bad things can happen to you personally: you can explode on someone, often the person least deserving of it; you can become a dishonest person and lose a real taste for what is honest and true.
So, yes, with all that said, I have given up being nice in the sense that I have decided to choose value honesty and truth above keeping others happy with me. I’ll see how it goes. So far, it is going pretty well both in court and out. If I speak the truth too plainly in court one day and get thrown in jail, would you be willing to chip in on my bond?