Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance.
I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.
In modern Mainline Christian circles, fasting during Lent has become a practice of “giving up” some favorite food or favorite non-food vice. There is nothing wrong with this, but the prophet Isaiah reminds us that true fasting is a deeper practice than merely abstaining from certain foods, social media addictions, or other harmful habits.
True fasting requires service to God and to others, as well as recognizing that our ways of living may be depriving the poor and oppressed of their very lives. It requires solidarizing with and accompanying these marginalized peoples in their daily fight for survival.
True fasting requires real reflection about how certain human systems—political, economic, environmental, social—continue to torture and to kill our marginalized brothers and sisters. It requires us to ask, “What are the bonds of injustice and the yokes in our world?”
As we walk with Christ to the cross, true fasting requires us to ask, “What is the cross of Christ in our own time? Who is being crucified, and how, and why?”
The cross of Christ has taken so many forms throughout history. From the arenas of the late Roman Empire to the lynchings of the American south, from the assassination of Archbishop Romero to the victims of the CIA’s torture program, Christ has met death and pain in many places—for it is in these suffering places and suffering people that he promised, and warned, that He would be with us.
In 2015, El Salvador experienced the driest wet season in living memory, a situation that has led to widespread hunger and socioeconomic desperation for subsistence farmers that rely on rain-fed agriculture. Scientists concur that this drought’s strength and duration are almost inevitably a product of an El Niño exacerbated by climate change.
The cross of Christ is now empty silos and stomachs. The cross of Christ is miles of dry corn, scorched by a lack of rain. And the body of Christ is now Earth itself—her polluted, extracted, crucified body made one with His—and the bodies that starve as our Mother bleeds to death on the altar of unregulated late capitalism and economic self-preservation.
In response to this crisis, and in the ancient tradition of true fasting written of by the prophet Isaiah, we invite you to participate in Our Sister Parish’s first-ever Lenten Solidarity Fast.
Please consider giving up one meal a week with your family and donating the money you would have spent on that meal to Our Sister Parish’s Food and Fertilizer Fund, which will help our subsistence farmers purchase both basic foodstuffs and fertilizer so that they can once again plant their crops in May.
Please also consider purchasing a Lenten devotional, “The Fast that Pleases the Lord,” written by members of the Pastoral Team and other lay religious leaders from Berlín. Let the lives and the crosses of the poor inform your Lenten walk.
But even if you choose not to fast or reflect with us this Lent, I invite you to fast from something far more pernicious than chocolate or Facebook.
I invite you to fast from false charity.
I invite you to fast from charity that believes giving to and interacting with the poor should always make us feel good.
I invite you to fast from charity that does not allow the poor to challenge us about our privilege, power, and wealth because of this desire for charity to make us “feel good.”
I invite you to fast from charity that thinks we know better than the marginalized and oppressed what they need in their own communities.
I invite you to fast from charity that requires only giving money or gifts—and that does not reflect on what systems, power dynamics, or public policies cause the poor to need our charity to begin with.
I invite you to fast from charity that does not require repentance from our participation (willingly or not) in these same death-dealing systems, power dynamics, or public policies.
I invite you to fast from charity that costs nothing and does not hurt. That asks us to merely rend our clothing—rather than truly rend our hearts.
I invite you, in other words, to fast from charity as usually conceived, and instead to embrace solidarity: to find ways to build deep relationships with the poor, to empathize with their struggles, and to involve ourselves—and our bodies—in those struggles as much as we can. Even when, and especially when, that solidarity costs us something—or even when it costs us everything.
After all, that’s what Jesus did.
A blessed Lent to all of you.
To purchase a Lenten devotional, please stop by the Presbytery of Des Moines office or contact them via email or phone.
 Yes, this is separate from individual churches’ funds for their communities: it is a general fund that will particularly help those communities without a partnership, but could be used for any community in need of aid.