West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Lent, The A-Word and the Big Smudge

Community, Kids, Religion, Reminiscing

I’m not usually one to wear my religion on my sleeve. However, today, Ash Wednesday, like many others, I’m wearing it on my head. Because of this, I couldn’t resist writing a blogpost with some random faith-based thoughts.


When my daughter was in First Grade at Christ King School, she came home one day bursting with newly-acquired information about Lent.


“Mommy, we’re not supposed to say the “A-Word” during Lent,” she said.


I looked at her, puzzled, thinking she was way too young to use the “A-Word” at all. (Per usual, my mind went to a far darker place.) I calmly asked her to tell me the “A-Word.” Not wanting to break this rule she just learned, she quickly wrote on a piece of paper -  “Alleluia.” She then explained how we don’t use this word until Easter Sunday when we say it a lot. Once again, I was learning more from my kids than I was teaching.


Today, I thought about this story and other Christian traditions we observe during the church’s annual time of personal and spiritual reflection.


When I was very young, Lent was all about denial. We’d walk around and ask our classmates: “What’d ya give up?” The standard answer was usually “candy” or “sweets,” except for the creative kid that would say “making my bed.”


Back then, Lent was six weeks of hard-core sacrifice. (Or it least it felt that way for us!)  It wasn’t until I grew up that I found out that Sundays in Lent don’t even count! Imagine all those days I went without chocolate – such a shame. (Truth be told, a few less days of chocolate would do me a lot of good.)


Of course, the tradition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is one of the more “public” signs of the Christian faith. For some, the ashes can be a mild source of self-consciousness as people stare at your forehead and gesture that you have a giant smudge of dirt on it.


As Lent begins, I couldn’t help but think about the looming departure of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a man whose personality, faith and charisma will be truly missed here in Milwaukee. I admit it, I’m jealous of New York. Those are big shoes to fill.


Dolan’s leaving also makes me think about the Catholic Church here in Milwaukee. At a time when there is a shortage of priests and parishes are closing and/or merging due to budget shortfalls, how do we get it all going in the right direction? How do we keep Catholicism relevant in a Facebook and Twitter world? What, you think those things are totally unrelated? I beg to differ. The church, any church, any faith, competes for the attention of young people who are the future of our churches. I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s important to ask the question.


So, here we go, off on a six-week journey toward Easter. I’ll leave you with a music recommendation that I’ll be listening to a little more during Lent. I’ll say, first of all, I’m not big on Christian music. For me, the music has to be good as good as the lyrics for me to enjoy it. (Which might explain why I’m not a big Dylan fan – sorry!) Check out Point of Grace – Steady On. It’s frequently played on my iPod, along with Daughtry and The Ting Tings and Pink Martini. If you’re looking for something with a faith-based message, from four very talented women, you might like it.


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