Sayonara, hot sauce x40 days...

(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!