In some ways it feels like Lent 2020 came and never left. It was in the midst of Lent that COVID-19 lockdowns began, and though an end is on the horizon, it is not yet here. But the calendar assures me most of a year has passed and Lent 2021 is upon us, which means it is time to think of a good Lenten fast. There are all of the standard ones: meat, alcohol, or sweets. All of the things that make Lent a good excuse to revisit New Years resolutions. In addition to those, though, I am trying to find things that have burrowed their way into my life that separate me from the Divine, which includes things that separate me from my neighbor. As Fr Rohr has said, “God is relationship.”
Upon reflection, I noticed that there has been quite a bit of schadenfreude (pleasure in someone else’s suffering) in the American air lately. I know I’ve been enjoying it. From memes about Trump getting kicked off of twitter to late night talk shows mocking conspiracy theorists in congress, I’ve been laughing at the suffering of those on the right, and I don’t appear to be the only one. It really kind of feels like the liberal due after four plus years of “make liberals cry again”-style schadenfreude from republicans.
Except—and, believe me, I do not want to write this—”getting our due” isn’t exactly how Jesus paraphrased the entirety of scripture. So here I am confronted with the fact that I’ve been enjoying the suffering of others. And in a way that feels pretty benign, frankly. Laughing at SNL while sharing coffee with my spouse isn’t exactly rubbing anyone’s nose in anything, but it is changing the way I think about and perceive others. And if I’m laughing up my sleeve at someone’s pain, I’m not exactly loving my neighbor as I would myself.
So how am I going to give up schadenfreude for Lent? What does that look like? Am I going to give up all political humor for Lent? Am I going to frown, scornfully, when someone makes a joke at the expense of others? Frankly, I don’t really know. I sat down to write a completely different post, before being convicted to write this one instead. Neither of the above tactics seem particularly fruitful.
My therapist is good at reminding me that the first step of changing a behavior is to notice it, which seems like a pretty good place to start. Maybe from there, I’ll notice what activities generate the most schadenfreude in my life and turn them off for awhile. I’m not sure. What I know is political schadenfreude feels much more difficult for me to give up for Lent than alcohol, which is, to me, a pretty good indication that I need to take a break from a certain style of discourse.
I urge you, dear reader, to reflect upon those things in your life that are separating you from relationship. Perhaps it is food or alcohol. Heaven knows, those things have separated plenty of people. But are there any other activities that can be put down, at least for Lent? I’d love to hear what other Lenten practices you plan on in the comments.
Bart Hennigan has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently in year three of Sewanne's Education for Ministry and is pursuing certification as a spiritual director through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. When not reading or discussing philosophy and theology, Bart is a stay-at-home father of three, which has taught him much about patience and the importance of silence.