Having been raised in the Southern Baptist Church, Lent was never a part of our worship or practice. I was informed recently when it was Ash Wednesday, and my friend was going to a special service at his church. Another acquaintance was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. So, why am I writing about Lent and Mardi Gras in the same post? I’m glad you asked.

Lent denotes the 40-day period that Jesus voluntarily went into the wilderness, where he was tempted and tested. From my research, the ashes represent repentance, and are customarily gathered up from the burning of the palms from the prior year’s Palm Sunday. Ash Wednesday is a holy day in the Catholic Church. It is the beginning of Lent.

Mardi Gras is another story. It is a time of bacchanalia. According to Wikipedia: The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Greco-Roman god Bacchus (or Dionysus), the wine god. The term has since come to describe any form of drunken revelry. That pretty much describes the Mardi Gras we see today.

All this raised a question for me—Lent and Mardi Gras. Why the two extremes? I mean, Lent and Mardi Gras acknowledge Ash Wednesday, but not for exactly the same purpose or reason. Okay, not for any form of the same purpose or reason. Bacchus and Jesus—what a combination for Lent and Mardi Gras. I don’t intend to come across as an expert on either, as I’ve never attended Lent or Mardi Gras events. This is coming strictly from the viewpoint of a spectator, a notes taker, an observer.

It seems to me that when we look at Lent and Mardi Gras in the same article, it might have a tendency to reflect the way America has come to be a nation of extremes. Look at the Republican debates—extremes. Look at our legislature—extremes. Consider the differences in opinions and expressions regarding the recent death of Whitney Houston—extremes. We have religion and atheism, parenting methods that vacillate from allowing children to raise themselves to those who are abusive in what they feel is an effort to bring up a well-behaved child—both extremes, and both damaging to the children.

America used to be a country where the normal family was a man and woman legally married to each other, having 2.5 children, a 3 bedroom home and white picket fence, with Mom staying home and out of the workplace, tending to the family’s needs. There are still some families meeting such criteria, but they are becoming fewer and fewer. Now we have same-sex couples seeking to marry, adopt and have the same sort of family. Wherever you stand on those issues, they are—extremes.

So, where’s the balance in this country? Are we out of balance, or coming into a place where there is a new norm? I suppose the citizenry and lifestyles of Americans are becoming a lot like Lent and Mardi Gras—two extremes, co-existing within the same nation.

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