Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Photo from the Cleveland Yuppie)

This photo is from a bar in Cleveland, but it might as well be from the third shelf down on my refrigerator door.

As I've told you before, one of my Lenten disciplines is I give up hot sauce. I always do a "take away" discipline for Lent, and an "add" discipline. This year, my "add" discipline is I am going to write my own version of the Stations of the Cross, and post them here. (Stay tuned for that!)

What you may not realize about my hot sauce abstinence, though, is it creates moral dilemmas. In those moral dilemmas becomes a microcosm for a lot of moral dilemmas in my life--where, exactly do the boundaries reside in the gray areas?

Now, the initial boundary is easy. For 40 days, I will not pick up any bottle that looks like the one in the picture, open the cap, and shake it on my food. Now, that's not easy, since I put hot sauce on just about everything from eggs to oatmeal. (Yes, oatmeal. You might eat your oatmeal with milk and cinnamon and sugar, but I eat mine with hot sauce and garlic.) But that boundary is pretty well defined.

But then what always throws a monkey wrench in it for me is...salsa.

What do I do with salsa?

Now, technically, it's NOT "hot sauce." If I were in an ascetic sort of mood, I might say, "no salsa, either." If I were in a legalistic mood, I might say, "Well, it's not hot sauce proper, so it's okay." Salsa is tricky. It's close to hot sauce but actually isn't hot sauce. It has some of the same ingredients and properties of hot sauce but it is not created the same way as hot sauce.

I find I bend a little to peer pressure about salsa. If someone knows I gave up hot sauce for Lent, and I eat a chip with salsa, and they go, "Eh, eh eh! I thought you gave up hot sauce for Lent!" rather than sound legalistic and say it isn't hot sauce, I just go, "Oops. Oh, yeah." Even if I realize technically it isn't, I have just let them define MY boundaries. Or, if they don't know, and I'm in the mood for salsa, I might eat it. Or I might not. It kind of depends on whether I feel ascetic or legalistic that day.

I have another gray area when it comes to "knowing if hot sauce was put in it." If I know someone put hot sauce in it during Lent, I won't eat it. If I don't know, I will. If I eat it and suspect it's in there, I might ask if it is or surmise that it is and quit eating it. I don't make others NOT put it in there, though, if that is their custom. I simply deal with doing without it. But then sometimes I wonder..."If I don't ask, does that mean I am sort of allowing myself to 'cheat' on it?"

But like I said, this is a microcosm of all the things in our lives that constitute "boundaries." I have professional boundaries I maintain as carefully as I can. I have personal boundaries that I have to sort through every day. What I find, when I start thinking about the boundaries of my Lenten discipline, is I start thinking about other boundaries in my life where maybe I am "cutting it too close" or others where I've been "ridiculously rigid." I realize some of my ridiculously rigid ones, I have let others define them--things like feeling guilty I spent too much money on something, or my tendency to "hoard"--both things and emotions.

It is making me understand what I am doing is developing a Rule of Life without actually calling it a Rule of Life.

A lot of people don't "give up something for Lent" anymore. It's been kind of poo-pooed as "old fashioned," "punitive," or "doesn't make you consider the real meaning of Lent." I'd disagree. I think if one goes into the spirit of "giving up" in a way that offers opportunities to muse and ponder the things in our life that God would like to tell us, things where we might need to re-orient ourselves to His plan for us, I think giving things up works fine as a spiritual discipline. So pass the hot sauce...for a couple more days, anyway!


I put Old Bay on my oatmeal, but I'm not sure that I would get much out of giving it up for Lent. I'm leaning toward giving up card games (Freecell and Hearts) on the computer. Now that would require some lifestyle alterations! I'm still working on my affirmation for Lent. Maybe something to do with the Daily Office, or a knitting project. I like the idea of both subtraction and addition for Lent.

I'm having mixed feelings about all this. IMHO, the act of denial during Lent is to remind you to be pious and such... In your case, Maria, I would recommend taking out the bottle of hot sauce at meal time and NOT using it. It isn't about avoiding a food product like an allergy...

As for salsa, unless you were to begin using salsa in place of that unused bottle of hot sauce sitting next to your doesn't matter. It's about the act of denial as a trigger.

The same holds true for eating from other people's meals - it's not a food allergy - the denial is in reaching for the bottle and not using it.

One might strive to simply eat bland, unspiced food for Lent...

One might cut breakfast down to black coffee and a piece of dry toast...

One might cut lunch down to a Third World portion of rice and beans...

So my advice is to not obsess about "avoiding" hot sauce - drag that bottle out for EVERY meal and look at it, and eat your bland food while looking at the label...

That would be a Lenten fast...
(as I said IMHO)

This comment has been removed by the author.

Let me try again here, I left the word "not" out of the first sentence. DUH.

Actually, for me it's not focused in the denial aspect or even the piety aspect. It's about "seeing where my mind and my actions take me over this one temporary change in habit, and what does mean in a bigger scheme of things?" What do I put on my oatmeal instead? What do I discover? Do I actually like this new choice better? Would I have made this choice had I not let go of my habit for a few weeks?

The reason salsa is a "boundary issue" for me is the similarity in ingredents, taste, and effect. Salsa makes me a little lazy in that exploration sometimes. What other things am I "lazy" about in my spiritual or moral life if I have a "similar substitute?"

It's more about creating a microcosm where I make harmless "moral choices" to open up my mind to reflect on the moral choices in my world that DO matter, and how I could be doing those things better.

I see your point if my purpose for giving it up was more rooted in the "denial" aspect of it, but for me, this is more about what windows open I would never have noticed had I not temporarily closed this one.

Well, in that case, open your mind up, crack out the mustard and mayo. ;-)

Kirk--I was thinking of you when I decided to give up Diet Coke for Lent. We both like the "bite," don't we? ;-)

I *do* like the denial aspect of giving up things for Lent, though I like your "Where God closes a door, somewhere She opens a window" philosophy too. I realize that giving up Diet Coke is not, in the big scheme of things, a real sacrifice---for me, it is all about mindfulness. I do so many things out of habit/rote--including my relationship with God. Lent gives me an opportunity to shake off the unthinking aspect of my life--and giving up something that I do multiple times a day is a good way to make me think.

I also give up "sweets"--and I end up having the same difficulty you do with salsa. What counts? Clearly candy, cake, pie, and ice cream are out. But what about hot chocolate? Or pancakes/waffles for breakfast? I use the dilemmas as a way of examining my personal theological hairsplitting--and I do WAY too much of that! ;-)

I wish you a blessed and holy Lent, my friend.


"I use the dilemmas as a way of examining my personal theological hairsplitting."

Ah, but Doxy, I think that is how we both examine the bigger "hair-splits" in our lives, and in that, it becomes a "safe" exercise, to prepare us for the ones that seem scarier to approach. So in that sense it is all ok.

I do know one thing--over on FB I have learned more about the composition of Diet Coke and Coke Zero than I ever would have known had you not chosen it for your Lenten sacrifice, based on the comments your status update generated!

Me too. Can you tell that several of my friends are engineers? ;-)

hi, thanks for sharing.

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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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