Maybe we should give up popularity for Lent. I would guess that you have heard of Charlie Sheen. From what we read, he seems to be a man on the way to ruin, because of his many addictions. We might say that he seems to be the logical conclusion of the Hollywood dream: financial success; destructive life style, infidelity; self-absorbed; convinced of terminal uniqueness. This is what we read. And read. And read. “…two wars are in an endless state of sorrow. Egypt about burned to the ground, and all you people care about is (me)…? "Shame shame shame.” Yet he seems to love every sound bite of it.
I am in no position to judge Charlie Sheen, or to make a long distance diagnosis. But I can reflect on what reports of his escapades might say about the human condition separate from the grace of God. Because I have been there. Perhaps you have been, too. Not with Charlie’s money or fame or connections, although I would not have minded those additions to my own depravity!
For a portion of our lives, there is no one in the Universe more important to us than ourselves. We are the center not only of our own world but, we imagine, of everyone else’s, too. If only people really knew us or understood us. They would never be angry with us. No matter what we were to do, they would love us! Sheen again: “Don’t be special; be one of us. Newsflash: I am special, and I will never be one of you.” Adolescence, anyone (sorry adolescents, but you will grow beyond it!)?
If we are honest with ourselves, if we have that capacity, we know at some level that the lies we tell ourselves about our importance are just that. Perhaps our truths are so unbearable that we cannot face them, even obliquely. Yet we instinctively know that we are worthwhile human beings at the deepest levels of our being and that we are loved or, at least loveable. That sounds to me like what Charlie is trying to tell the world and himself.
So we have Lent: A period of time during which we are invited to focus on touching those truths we fear, knowing that the one whose love is unconditional but whose wrath we fear will welcome us in our fear, trembling and honesty without reservation, without rancor or punishment. But it is not the turning back that is the thrust of Lent. It is not repentance that is the goal. The goal of Lent is Easter. When we turn away from the pretense, from the self-deception and the rational lies we tell, we can enter into the life that never ends. Eternal life with Love, more than any fame or fortune, is what our hearts truly desire. Why settle for less?
Look at the faces on our “Faces of Friday” Lenten aid (http://www.downtownchapel.org/eNewsletter/FacesFriday/eNewsletterFaces01.html). Can you tell who is most needy, who is most blessed? Who is most despondent and who is most comfortable? I could not, at least looking at the faces of people I do not yet know. All the faces are the face of God. All are the face of love. Be sure to put your own there. That is where we all belong.