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A Call To OUTDULGENCE
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This Lenten season, we’re giving up giving up stuff.
We’re fasting from asceticism.
We’re renouncing renunciation.
And we invite you to come along.
This Lent, as we journey together toward Jerusalem and the weekend of the cross and resurrection, instead of going to a movie (like all good Christians did last year, right?), Sheri & I, along with our friend Steve & Elizabeth Schwartz (in Harrisburg, PA) are attempting a season of Outdulgence.
Outdulgence is a word—an idea really—coined by Graham Kerr (you know him as Celebrity chef/TV pioneer The Galloping Gourmet) to get at and flesh-out some of the same ideas and vision that I’ve been calling “worldly Christianity” since our time at PRISM.
Essentially, it’s a concept rooted in notions that remind us that our lives on Earth are not accidental, neither are they a “dry-run” or some kind of test for the “life of the Spirit” that is to come. No, God made we Earthlings for a reason, and (all you Gnostics, ancient and modern, actual and functional, be damned), stuff is good.
Moreover, we believe that stuff is a gift of God—a good gift, according to the Creation narratives—that is to be embraced, reveled in and enjoyed for all it’s worth. If God made us for his pleasure, than at least part of his joy in us finds its root in our own ability to enjoy his world--as well as our own flesh for our own pleasure.
But in the midst of this pleasure, Outdulgence reminds us that we are not simply creatures, but rather we are creatures who were made to be and remain called into relationship—with both the Creation around us and the Creator himself.
Because of this we believe we should cast our arms around pleasure and beauty—wander into the fields we encounter on the way to Jerusalem and pick a little winter grain, the Pharisees and nay-say’ers can go to Sheol where they belong—but in the process we should look to find every way to use that celebration of all things good and lovely in the service of neighbor —especially those neighbors who are in need. We believe our lives should be festive, celebratory ones—whose extravagance is focused, always and only, outwardly, beyond ourselves.
This is an awful, terrifying, wondrous age, with seeming polar impulses pushing and pulling us toward extremes of behavior, values and ideology. It seems (at least according to some) we must all and always choose between being an evil doer or a patriot, a libertine or prude, a free-speech advocate or a censor, a saint or a sinner—there’s nothing of moderation, balance. “You’re either with us or against us,” says the Chief. And some claim that our conscience, as well as our mind, is now a “scandal,” and so the only good and godly response must be a new asceticism, a new moralism that offers a litany of our failures and demands we embrace the logic of the Pharisee. (You’d think that Jesus came only quibbling with the rulers of this age over the details of what makes that list of “don’ts”.)
In our pursuit of luxury, ease, and immediate gratification, we’ve failed to take time to truly “consider the lilies”—to stop and take time for good and godly things. We’ve become slaves to sloth, servants of that which is so much less that it was meant to be—so much so that we actively resist (to the point of criminalizing) simplicity.
(On a related note, you simply must rent the DVD for Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning documentary Super Size Me, the story of a man who ate only McDonald’s for 30 days. It’s a terrifying, delightful journey, and spoke to me like a good sermon calls a sinner.)
Outdulgence believes (and I’m becoming quite strident in this) that we should understand that the stuff we enjoy should be enjoyed as it was given to us by God, simply, elegantly, and with only enough manipulation and “processing” to maximize its essential and best qualities.
But whether it’s the new asceticism or our slothful gluttony, we’re tired of it. And we can do something about it.
As believers we are citizens of God’s gloriously once and coming Upside-Down kingdom. And while the tradition of Lent is a good and glorious one when done properly, we feel like this year it’s time to make a new statement in order to make an old point. We are not moralists, we are not Pharisees. We are saved by grace and live that redemption through the love of neighbor, so this year, why not turn Lent on its head and celebrate the joy of hospitality?
Dwight has served as a sounding board for Graham Kerr over the past few years as he has fleshed out his Outdulgence idea (Graham is presently writing a book on the topic), and Dwight and Steve hatched this idea to put Outdulgence into action... to be more than just good intentions.
And so this Lenten season, we’re going to be intentional about finding ways to “live it up”—to enjoy the best of God’s good earth and our glorious, fleshy needs and desires (an especially poignant commitment for Dwight & Sheri following Dwight’s second stem cell transplant this past Christmas)—and to make sure that our “fine living” is shared.
If you join the journey, you'll receive an occasional e-mail from Dwight or Steve on the topic, encouraging you to put this Christian sensualism into practice, and undertake your own Outdulgence effort, large or small, simple or grand, to bless your neighbor(s), whoever that may be.
Moreover, Steve is planning various Outdulgence events, which may include, but are not limited to:
• Outdulgence parties for our neighbors
• Viewings of Outdulgence-themed films (Steve suggests Chocolat, which he claims is safe viewing for Super Bowl half-time show audiences; Dwight suggests the slow-paced but lovely Babette’s Feast)
Who knows, Dwight & Sheri might have a gathering or two as well, depending on our moods and how Dwight’s recovery continues.
So, If you decide to abstain from abstention from now til Easter, go ahead and drop one of us an e-mail, and we’ll add you to an e-mail list.
Eventually, we’d like this idea to snowball beyond Lent (how about an Outdulgence Halloween, with “dressed up” adults going door to door on October 31 collecting canned goods for the local food bank?), and become a force for wholeness and change in a “Christian” America that it is long on rules and short on grace, not to mention just plain ugly and fat, with little or no sense of beauty or elegance.
Grace, peace and dirty fingernails,
Dwight and Sheri Ozard (email@example.com)
Steve and Elizabeth Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org)