The bacon principle

(# 3 of 6 Lenten reflections)

Having given up white flour and sugar for Lent, I’ve been tangibly reminded of something I already knew: they’re everywhere.  Recently, I’ve attended several meals which were either catered or potluck.  At the first, I had to make do with a meager serving of salad greens.  The second was nearly a repeat — but because it was potluck, I was able to eat the dish I had contributed.  The third was a breakfast meeting, for which a sumptuous array of pastries was laid out (some of my favorites!), plus scrambled eggs and bacon.  I enjoy bacon, but almost never eat it — so suffice it to say that on that morning I had, um, more than my share.

Photo by Sally Hamilton
Original photo by Sally Hamilton

So.  Let’s see.  For Lent, I decided to fast from white flour and sugar, so that I could… eat bacon.

Hmm.  I think I can see where this is going.

Upon further soul-searchingly deep reflection, I’ve hit on what I would call the bacon principle: faithfully giving up one form of self-indulgence doesn’t mean much if you’re going to replace it with another.

For the sake of our bodily health, there are perfectly good reasons to stay away from certain foods.  We know that already.  The discipline of Lent can give us the added motivation we need.

But just what is that motivation?

Here’s the curious thing: when we make narrowly restrictive food rules for Lent, we can feel virtuous about denying ourselves sweets while indulging a lust for bacon (feel free to supply your own personal substitutions for the words “food…sweets…bacon” in that sentence).  It’s not that disciplining our craving for carbs is a bad thing — far from it.  But without a larger perspective, we can find ourselves engaging in a wonderful religious exercise in missing the point.

As suggested in last Sunday’s Lenten meditation, it’s good to practice self-discipline against a culture of self-indulgence.  But discipline is not an end in itself.  Self-indulgent habits serve a larger cultural narrative that the “good” life is one in which we freely fulfill our desires and appetites, bodily or otherwise.  That story lulls us away from our true end, the destiny that is enacted at Easter.

I have no way of measuring the extent to which my own self-indulgence dulls my eschatological senses, my longing for God’s future.  When it comes to making small sacrifices during Lent, the bacon principle reminds me of the point of it all: each disciplined sacrifice, each tiny “death” to unbridled desire, points forward to the hope of resurrection.

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