If my math is correct, you should be reading this article sometime before or after Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday and International Pancake Day are all names for the same celebration.
In my very limited experience, people tend to reference the day based on their method of celebration.
Those who really go all out to have a good time seem to prefer Mardi Gras. Those who want to feel religious like the term Shrove Tuesday.
My congregation, Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, uses the term Fat Tuesday. We are probably closer to Mardi Gras than Shrove Tuesday, closer to revelry than worship.
We wear costumes, give out beads and masks, enjoy foods that should be eaten only in moderation, play games and dance.
We really let our hair down. I am not a dancer, but I am looking forward to the Soul Train Line.
Why would a congregation, or anyone, indulge in such a practice?
The answer is based on human nature. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a 40-day fast. On Ash Wednesday, we will put away the costumes, games and party foods and focus on 40 days of personal development and growth.
Fat Tuesday can then be understood as a time of preparation.
It is a time of negotiating with those parts of our nature that seem to sabotage our best efforts.
Is there something for the general public that could be learned from these two observances?
First, systematically addressing our personal growth and development should be a priority in our lives. We do not have to wait until Ash Wednesday or go on a 40-day fast.
We can and should set aside certain periods or seasons in our lives with the aim or intent of personal growth. We all have great potential. Periodically, we should push ourselves toward excellence.
Second, we should prepare for these seasons of growth.
In the Shrove Tuesday tradition, lard was eliminated from believers’ homes before Ash Wednesday.
The lard, which they rightly understood was a hindrance to their personal growth and development, was baked into little cakes called repentance cakes. These cakes were consumed on Shrove Tuesday so that the home would be completely free of lard on Ash Wednesday.
Similarly, we should prepare ourselves for our time or season of growth.
Perhaps there are certain practices or temptations we need to eliminate before beginning our personal growth journey.
Third, we must acknowledge the complexity of human life. Humans are a sophisticated conglomerate of feelings, moods, appetites and passions.
While indulging one aspect of our being, we can be starving another.
To accomplish our goals, we must navigate a path that allows our Fat Tuesday urges to make peace with our Ash Wednesday discipline.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.