Some of you know my guilty secret of eternal shame; I love the show Toddlers & Tiaras. That should clue you that I like me a little bling now and again. Sometimes I have trouble balancing my love for the sparkly stuff with wanting to do the right thing.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
Non-Christians could be excused for thinking that Christmas is the most important day on the Christian calendar, what with all the hoopla and merchandising that surround it. Au contraire. Christmas is big, but Easter is the really big kahuna event as it commemorates Christ’s resurrection. Just like you wouldn’t go out and run the Boston Marathon without a little training, Christians get ready for the big day with a prep period called Lent.
The kick-off for Lent is Ash Wednesday, and that just so happens to be this week.
If you go to church on Ash Wednesday, you may get the sign of the cross smeared on your forehead with ashes. Hence the name. Get it? This is basically a reminder that we come from dirt and that’s where we’re all going to end up.
How big a deal this is depends on the aim and fervor of the person wielding the ashes. Sometimes you can’t even see the mark. If the person with the ashes has a big thumb, however, or is especially zealous or nearsighted, you can end up looking like one of the chimney sweeps high-kicking up on the rooftop in Mary Poppins. Everybody hustles right out of church to check in their rearview mirror to see how badly they got nailed.
Now that we’ve got the mini-catechism out of the way, you’re probably scratching your head and saying “OK, but what does any of this have to do with Toddlers & Tiaras?”
I’ll tell you.
When I was a kid, whenever we would have to do something we didn’t want to do (like baby-sit our snotty-nosed siblings (no offense)), or couldn’t do something we DID want to do (like watch Dark Shadows, a soap opera about vampires that was WAY ahead of the Twilight Saga, and which we weren’t allowed to watch because it would corrupt our morals or something), there was bound to be some complaining. These complaints usually ended with a plaintive, “that’s not F-A-I-R!”
My Mom’s favorite response to any and all such whining? “Don’t complain; offer it up. You’re storing up jewels for your heavenly crown.”
I always liked the mental picture of a crown, because, you know, I like the bling. But I get the impression that if I’m prancing around in a big, honkin’, good-deeds tiara here on earth, I don’t get the heavenly crown. It’s a now or later proposition.
Where do outward displays of generosity, piety or what-have-you, fit in?
The bible is pretty clear that I’m not supposed to stand in the break room at work and moan, “I’m so weak I can barely stand up because I’m fasting. Did I mention I’m not eating any of Joe’s retirement cake, even though it’s my favorite carrot cake with real cream cheese frosting? Because, you know, it’s Lent and I’m fasting? Because I’m holy – at least holier than thou-all?”
This is where we swing back around to the topic of Ash Wednesday. Thanks for sticking with me.
The dilemma, since I’ve been old enough to think about such things, is what to do with the ashes. I’m not talking about the fallout that you sometimes get all over the rest of your face and down your front – that can be whisked away with impunity. But what about the cross? Do I wear it all day to help remind other Christians that this is an important day of reflection and repentance? Or is that boasting?
If I swipe the ashes off as soon as I get out of church am I hiding my light under a bushel basket? If I don’t wipe them off, am I bragging, thereby getting my reward of warm and fuzzy feelings here on earth and, therefore (this is the important part) FORFEITING JEWELS IN MY HEAVENLY CROWN?
Where’s the proper balance here?
Years ago, Ash Wednesday rolled around soon after I landed my first job in a big corporation. I ducked out at lunch and went to mass. I was talking to a co-worker later that afternoon when he gestured to my face, said, “You’ve got some dirt there.” and reached up to swipe it away. I jerked back like he had boogers on his fingers.
“Oh, yeah. Um, well…it’s Ash Wednesday and all…” I trailed off.
“Oh, yeah! That’s right. I forgot!” We both turned beet red. I don’t know who was more embarrassed. Probably him, because he felt compelled to launch into a big explanation of why he didn’t go to church anymore because (insert excuse here) – blah, blah, blah.
I nodded and smiled, but what I wanted to do was throw my hands up in a blocking gesture and say, “Hey, save that talk for your therapist or pastor. I’m nobody’s spiritual guide. I’m just a girl trying to get through it right.”
I guess that, right there, is the answer to my question.
All any of us can do is just try to get through it right. Life, I mean. After all, who needs a rhinestone tiara now when they’re putting a big, blingy diamond crown on layaway?