Issue Date: March 7, 2008
A Compact Lenten practice
By KRIS BERGGREN
The skies here in Minneapolis this winter are as leaden as the piles of roadside snow. Our cars and our boots are coated with salt film. After a brief interval of Mardi Gras Obamoptimism -- Barack Obama, that delegate of hope, won two-thirds of our caucus vote and 48 delegates here Feb. 5 -- our seasonal sluggishness has once more set in. Indeed, our Minnesota midwinter is the perfect invocation of Lenten austerity.
Just as Obamas idealistic message must be grounded in strategies for accomplishing the change he preaches, our diet of Fat Tuesday cheer must fortify our commitment to exercise everyday action to live the spirit of the season, that is, to let go of patterns of behavior that keep us in wintry despair.
This year, my family has decided to observe Lent by participating in a six-week version of The Compact, an informal manifesto popularized a few years ago by a group of young San Franciscans who avoided buying anything new for one year. The idea is that purchasing doesnt equal patriotism, and our spending shouldnt measure our self-worth.
It is OK to acquire stuff by borrowing, bartering or buying secondhand. Exceptions are made for socks and underwear. I would wager my family will make it for a month and a half on current inventory. Weve modified our agreement to exclude do-it-yourself items including home repair materials or things needed for handmade gifts.
Each member of my family has his or her own cross to bear as we engage in this experiment in abstinence. My 15-year-old must possess 50 T-shirts, so for her, avoiding local haunts like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters is the cross. My 17-year-old son wonders if iTunes songs are part of our Compact. Theyre not exactly material goods -- but theyre about all he spends his money on. The youngest sweetly wonders whether she is allowed to make a contribution to a class gift for her teacher. I say yes. My husband is least affected by our Compact. Hes the guy who brought the More-With-Less cookbook to our marriage and the one who will have his shoes resoled and trousers mended again and again before hell consider buying a new pair.
Me, I recently found myself caught between my own personal Scylla and Charybdis in the form of glossy magazines strategically placed to lure bored shoppers who have inevitably picked the longest grocery checkout line. To my right, the aptly named womens magazine More, and, hmm, Redbook looks revamped these days, maybe worth a read. To my left, ooh, Budget Decorating, which needs no explanation; and of course, Real Simple, which it seems youd be if you didnt buy it, but well, its a paradox, I guess. Its not the light reading material thats so bad, though that falls outside the parameters of our plan. Its the near occasions of sin, specifically the ads and page spreads of clothes and beautiful rooms that inspire lustful thoughts of new rugs and lamps, shoes and handbags.
Not ogling a magazine, not buying a new T-shirt, not padding the playlist -- not such a big deal. But were hoping that these small measures of freely chosen (not climate-induced) austerity add up to bigger changes in our ability to live our familys values as people of faith who contribute to healing and hope in a country seeking a change of heart.
Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2008
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