Lenten Journal, Day 18 – Third Sunday in Lent

Friday (day before yesterday), I wrote about “acedia,” the deadly sin of spiritual torpor or procrastination, of not caring. It got me to thinking about “not caring.”

One of the things about parish ministry that surprised me early in my ordained career was the need to make decisions about things in which I had absolutely no interest. What color should we paint the ladies’ restroom? I don’t care. What should we have on the menu for so-and-so’s reception? I don’t care. Should there be just instrumental music or some sing-along carols before the Christmas service? I don’t care.

I learned, though, that “I don’t care” was not the right answer. I learned that “I don’t care” wasn’t heard as “I have no preference and am completely and dispassionately disinterested and indifferent; you may do as you wish and I will not be concerned in any way.”

“I don’t care” was heard as “You’d best leave my church and never come back.”

Our culture hears “I don’t care” not as statement of disinterest but as a negative assessment of character, as a statement that not only is the issue of no concern but that the person asking about the issue is of no importance. The internet is filled with memes making a joke of “not caring;” I’m using one as an illustration to this entry. People make dismissive hand gestures and use negative body language to demonstrate “not caring.” We use vulgar language to emphasize our not caring (“I don’t give a fuck!”). We have made not caring into an act of aggression.

If a parish priest, asked about the color of napkins that should be used at a parish supper, says to the organizer, “I don’t care,” the emotional impact goes far beyond the question of color. It is heard as an indication that the priest disapproves of the dinner as an event and of the organizer as a person. It is heard as an invitation to leave the church!

Lent’s goal is “not caring”. Not in the deadly sin sense of “acedia,” nor as society’s aggressive dismissiveness, but in the positive spiritual sense of “letting go.” Lent’s goal is detachment.

Lent’s goal is to achieve the dispassionate disinterest in the things of the world so as to allow spiritual clarity. The world, however, fights back because the world is threatened by positive spiritual indifference. The world chooses to misunderstand and to take offence. As one let’s go, one must do so in a way that obviates this.

Part of the discipline and paradox of Lent is not caring in a caring way.