Ash Wednesday marks the start of the anticapitalist season of Lent. A season where one focuses on consuming less and become more inwardly focused on spiritual health. A time when one’s worth is not caught up in buying things. One is reminded today of their death as ashes are rubbed into one’s forehead and the recitation of the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To be reminded of one’s death can be humbling but also, if you’re like me, it causes existential questioning.
I was raised in a Pentecostal church, that often would sing the Happy Goodman’s song, “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”
I still can remember the chorus:
“Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around
He’s offered everything that’s got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could still I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”
In a way, with this song and songs like it, I was brought up with an anti-prosperity gospel: to want/desire money and fame is to side with devil. It seems to fit with the theme of the day: one cannot take their fortunes with them to the grave. When one hoards earthly riches, one is taking resources from others. Death is universal, but life is not.
If a theology of Christian anarchism has to begin anywhere, it’s with anti-idolatry. This means no gods, no masters, no bosses, and no cops. This theology disrupts a comfortable Christian theology that supports a business-as-usual way of being in the world to a questioning of power structures. Lately for me it’s been why should students go into debt for education in the US, why do people still freeze to death in cities when there are so many empty apartments, and why do billionaires even exist. Anti-idolatry struggles against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fascism, and all other forms of oppression.
If Lent has its biblical roots in Jesus’ forty days in the desert, then it has always been anti-idolatrous. Jesus took nothing with him. He resisted idolatrous temptations from the devil. He did not consume anything during those many days. He rejected being worshiped. One does not need to go into the desert to be spiritually fulfilled, but perhaps it does mean one needs to stop interacting with things in one’s life that are distracting. Or maybe that one should re-think through their own idols and stop worshipping them.
May this Lenten season crack open for you new possibilities of anti-idolatry struggle.