A little bit of my thoughts and whats going on in the world and not just my head

Richard Pryor February 29, 2012

Filed under: Black History,Celebs — mshollandsthoughts @ 12:23 pm
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This is the last day of the month so here is my last post for the month of Black History. I hope you all enjoyed the information I have posted.

Comedian, actor, writer. Born on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois. A skilled social satirist with a fondness for profanity, Richard Pryor was a groundbreaking African American comedian who became one of the top entertainers of the 1970s and 1980s. He got a rough start in life. His mother reportedly worked as a prostitute and his father was a bartender and boxer who served in the military during World War II. His parents married when he was three years old, but the union did not last.

For much of his youth, Pryor was left in his grandmother’s care and lived in the brothel she ran. He also experienced sexual abuse as a child, according to his official website. To step away from the grim reality of his life, Pryor found solace in going to the movies.

At school, Pryor played the part of the class clown. He went on to discover acting in his early teens. A natural performer, Pryor was cast in a production of Rumplestiltskin by Juliette Whittaker, the director of a local community center. She believed in his talent and encouraged him throughout the years.

At the age of 14, Pryor was expelled from school and ended up working a string of jobs until he joined the military in 1958. He served in the army for only two years—he was discharged for fighting with another soldier.

Upon his return home, Pryor married Patricia Price in 1960. The couple had one child together before divorcing. After ending his marriage, Pryor pursued a career as an entertainer. He found work as a comic throughout the Midwest, playing African American clubs in such cities as East St. Louis and Pittsburgh. In 1963, Pryor moved to New York City. The following year he made his television debut on the variety show On Broadway Tonight. More guest appearances followed on such shows as The Merv Griffin Show and the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time, his act was modeled after two African American comedians he admired, Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory.

By the late 1960s, Pryor had landed a few small parts on the big screen, appearing in The Busy Body (1967) and Wild in the Streets (1968). He also released his first self-titled comedy album around this time. Pryor even gave marriage another try—he wed Shelly Bonus in 1967. (The couple had one child together—a daughter named Elizabeth—before divorcing in 1969.)

Pryor toured extensively, doing his stand-up act. Playing Las Vegas, he served as Bobby Darin‘s opening act at the Flamingo Hotel for a time. He reached an interesting career turning point while playing at the Aladdin in the late 1960s. Tired of the constraints and limitations on his material, Pryor walked off stage and took a break from stand up. He retreated to Berkeley, California, where he met a variety of counterculture figures, including Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton.

In the early 1970s, Pryor scored several successes as an actor and comedian. He earned positive reviews for his supporting role in the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972) starring Diana Ross. In 1973, he netted his first Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy, Variety for his work on The Lily Tomlin Show. Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy-Variety the following year for another collaboration with Lily Tomlin—the comedy special Lily. Pryor also wrote for such shows as The Flip Wilson Show and Sanford and Son, which starred comedian Redd Foxx.

Continuing to thrive professionally, Pryor worked with Mel Brooks on the screenplay for western spoof Blazin’ Saddles (1974). His own work was also attracting a lot of attention. Despite its X-rated content, his third comedy album sold extremely well and the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1974—a feat he repeated the next two years.

Comedy fans—of all racial backgrounds—were captivated by Pryor’s comedy, which consisted of situational and character-driven humor—not straightforward jokes. He poked fun at the white establishment and explored the racial divide. In one bit, Pryor describes how differently the horror film The Exorcist would have been if it had featured an African American family instead of a white one. Another routine about Muhammad Ali covered how white people never gave Ali enough credit as a fighter.

By the late 1970s, Pryor had a thriving career as an actor. He starred in the box office hit Silver Streak (1976) with Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh. Pryor went on to play the first African American stock car racing champion in Greased Lightning (1977) with Beau Bridges and Pam Grier. He and Grier were involved off-screen for a while before Pryor married his third wife, Deboragh McGuire, in 1977. (They separated after a short while and officially divorced in 1979.)

Off screen and off stage, Pryor had a long history of substance abuse and stormy relationships. In 1978, Pryor had another run-in with the law after he shot his estranged wife’s car. He was on put on probation, fined, and ordered to get psychiatric treatment and make restitution. Four years earlier, Pryor had gotten into legal trouble for failing to file tax returns from 1967 to 1970. He received a fine and probation.

His health began to suffer. He had his first heart attack in 1978. After this health crisis, Pryor started work on what has been considered by many critics to be his finest performance. The film Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) garnered a lot of praise and sold out at many urban movie theaters. That same year, Pryor traveled to Kenya and after that visit he announced that he would no longer be using the n-word in his act.

Pryor reteamed with Gene Wilder for the popular crime comedy Stir Crazy (1980), which was directed by Sidney Poitier. The film was a huge hit at the box office, earning more than $100 million.

His drug use spiraled out of control the next year. In June, after several days of freebasing cocaine, he lit himself on fire in a suicide attempt. It was initially reported as an accident, but he later admitted in his autobiography that he had done it on purpose in a drug haze. He had third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of his body. Reflective of his comic style, Pryor found the humor in his own suffering. “You know something I noticed? When you run down the street on fire, people will move out of your way.”

After a lengthy recovery, Pryor returned to stand up and acting. He won two more Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording—one for Rev. Du Rite in 1981 and one for Live on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Live on the Sunset Strip was also released as a concert film that same year. He also starred in several films, including Some Kind of Hero (1982) with Margo Kidder and The Toy (1982) with Jackie Gleason. Marrying for the fourth time, Pryor wed Jennifer Lee in 1981, but the couple divorced the following year.

In 1983, Pryor became one of the highest-paid African American actors at the time. He took home $4 million to play an evil henchman in Superman III—reportedly earning more than the film’s star Christopher Reeve. He drew from his own life experience for another important project from this era—Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986). In the autobiographical film, he played a popular stand-up comic who takes a look at his life while recuperating in a hospital after suffering serious burns in a drug-related incident. Around this time, Pryor was briefly married to actress Flynn BeLaine. (The couple made another short-lived attempt at marriage in the early 1990s as well.)

The following year, Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. He did the best he could to not let the degenerative illness slow him down, starring in several movies, including Critical Condition (1987), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) with Gene Wilder, and Harlem Nights (1989) with Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx. By the early 1990s, however, once kinetic Pryor was confined to a wheelchair. Still he kept performing stand-up and acting.

He wrote his autobiography, Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences (1995) with Todd Gold, which earned critical acclaim. That same year, he appeared in an episode of the medical drama Chicago Hope with his daughter Rain as a man with multiple sclerosis. His last film appearance was in David Lynch‘s Lost Highway (1997).

Pryor became the first person to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center in 1998. He said at the time, “I am proud that, like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humor to lessen people’s hatred.”

In 2001, Pryor remarried Jennifer Lee. He spent his final years with her at his California home. Outside of performing, Pryor was an advocate for animal rights and opposed animal testing. He established Pryor’s Planet, a charity for animals.

On December 10, 2005, Pryor died of a heart attack at a Los Angeles area hospital. He paved the way for such comedians as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and countless others. “Pryor started it all. He made the blueprint for the progressive thinking of black comedians, unlocking that irreverent style,” comedian and filmmaker Keenen Ivory Wayansexplained to The New York Times.

Source: Bio


Photo of the day

Filed under: Celebs — mshollandsthoughts @ 11:55 am
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I love her dress. Selena Gomez attends the Fifth Annual Women In Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood on Feb. 24, 2012.

Courtesy: Wonderwall


Billie Holiday February 28, 2012

Filed under: Black History — mshollandsthoughts @ 9:16 am
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Holiday,_BillieSinger, jazz vocalist. Born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Some sources say Baltimore, Maryland. Her birth certificate reportedly reads “Elinore Harris.”) One of the most influential jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday had a thriving career for many years before her battles with substance abuse got the better of her.

Holiday spent much of her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Sadie, was only a teenager when she had her. Her father is widely believed to be Clarence Holiday, who eventually became a successful jazz musician, playing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson. Unfortunately for Billie, he was only an infrequent visitor in her life growing up. Sadie married Philip Gough in 1920 and for a few years Billie had a somewhat stable home life. But that marriage ended a few years later, leaving Billie and Sadie to struggle along on their own again. Sometimes Billie was left in the care of other people.

Holiday started skipping school, and she and her mother went to court over Holiday’s truancy. She was then sent to the Holiday,_BillieHouse of Good Shepherd, a facility for troubled African American girls, in January 1925. Only 9 years old at the time, Holiday was one of the youngest girls there. She was returned to her mother’s care in August of that year. According to Donald Clarke’s biography, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, she returned there in 1926 after she had been sexually assaulted.

In her difficult early life, Holiday found solace in music, singing along to the records of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. She followed her mother who had moved to New York City in the late 1920s and worked in a house of prostitution in Harlem for a time. Around 1930, Holiday began singing in local clubs and renamed herself “Billie” after the film star Billie Dove.

In her difficult early life, Holiday found solace in music, singing along to the records of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. She followed her mother who had moved to New York City in the late 1920s and worked in a house of prostitution in Harlem for a time. Around 1930, Holiday began singing in local clubs and renamed herself “Billie” after the film star Billie Dove.

At the age of 18, Holiday was discovered by producer John Hammond while she was performing in a Harlem jazz club. Hammond was instrumental in getting Holiday recording work with an up-and-coming clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. With Goodman, she sang vocals for several tracks, including her first commercial release “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and the 1934 top ten hit “Riffin’ the Scotch.”

Known for her distinctive phrasing and expressive, sometimes melancholy voice, Holiday went on to record with jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and others in 1935. She made several singles, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.” That same year, Holiday appeared with Duke Ellington in the film Symphony in Black.

Around this time, Holiday met and befriended saxophonist Lester Young, who was part of Count Basie‘s orchestra on and off for years. He even lived with Holiday and her mother Sadie for a while. Young gave Holiday the nickname “Lady Day” in 1937—the same year she joined Basie’s band. In return, she called “Prez,” which was her way of saying that she thought it was the greatest.

Holiday toured with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937. The following year, she worked with Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Holiday broke new ground with Shaw, becoming one of the first female African American vocalists to work with a white orchestra. Promoters objected to Holiday—for her race and for her unique vocal style—and she ended up leaving the orchestra out of frustration.

Striking out on her own, Holiday performed at New York’s Café Society. She developed some of her trademark stage persona there—wearing gardenias in her hair and singing with her head tilted back.

During this engagement, Holiday also debuted two of her most famous songs “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” Columbia, her record company at the time, was not interested in “Strange Fruit” (1939), which was a powerful story about the lynching of African Americans in the South. Holiday recorded the song with the Commodore label instead. This ballad is considered to be one of her signature ballads, and the controversy that surrounded it—some radio stations banned the record—helped make it a hit.

Over the years, Holiday sang many songs of stormy relationships, including “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “My Man.” These songs reflected her personal romances, which were often destructive and abusive. She married James Monroe in 1941. Already known to drink, Holiday picked up her new husband’s habit of smoking opium. The marriage didn’t last, but Holiday’s problems with substance abuse continued. (They later divorced.)

That same year, Holiday had a hit with “God Bless the Child.” She later signed with Decca Records in 1944 and scored an R&B hit the next year with “Lover Man.” Her boyfriend at the time was trumpeter Joe Guy, and with him she started using heroin. After the death of her mother in October 1945, Holiday began drinking more heavily and escalated her drug use to ease her grief.

Despite her personal problems, Holiday remained a major star in the jazz world—and even in popular music as well. She appeared with her idol Louis Armstrong in the 1947 film New Orleans, albeit playing the role of a maid. Unfortunately, Holiday’s drug use caused her a great professional setback that same year. She was arrested and convicted for narcotics possession in 1947. Sentenced to one year and a day of jail time, Holiday went to a federal rehabilitation facility in Alderston, West Virginia.

Released the following year, Holiday faced new challenges. Because of her conviction, she was unable to get the necessary license to play in cabarets and clubs. Holiday, however, could still perform at concert halls and had a sold-out show at the Carnegie Hall not long after her release. With some help from John Levy, a New York club owner, Holiday was later to get to play in New York’s Club Ebony. Levy became her boyfriend and manager by the end of the 1940s, joining the ranks of the men who took advantage of Holiday. Also around this time, she was again arrested for narcotics, but she was acquitted of the charges.

While her hard living was taking a toll on her voice, Holiday continued to tour and record in the 1950s. She began recording for Norman Granz, the owner of several small jazz labels, in 1952. Two years later, Holiday had a hugely successful tour of Europe.

Holiday also caught the public’s attention by sharing her life story with the world in 1956. Her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (1956), was written in collaboration by William Dufty. Some of the material included, however, must be taken with a grain of salt. Holiday was in rough shape when she worked with Dufty on the project, and she claimed to have never read the book after it was finished.

Around this time, Holiday became involved with Louis McKay. The two were arrested for narcotics in 1956, and they married in Mexico the following year. Like many other men in her life, McKay used Holiday’s name and money to advance himself. Despite all of the trouble she had been experiencing with her voice, she managed to give an impressive performance on the CBS television broadcast The Sound of Jazz with Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins.

After years of lackluster recordings and record sales, Holiday recorded Lady in Satin (1958) with the Ray Ellis Orchestra for Columbia. The album’s songs showcased her rougher sounding voice, which still could convey great emotional intensity. She gave her final performance in New York City on May 25, 1959. Not long after this event, Holiday was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems. She was so addicted to heroin that she was even arrested for possession while in the hospital. On July 17, 1959, Holiday died from alcohol- and drug-related complications.

Source: Bio


Photo of the Day February 27, 2012

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Viola Davis 2012 Academy Awards


Harlem Renaissance February 22, 2012

Filed under: Black History — mshollandsthoughts @ 2:00 pm
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After the American civil war, liberated African-Americans searched for a safe place to explore their new identities as free men and women. They found it in Harlem.

The Great Migration

The Great MigrationThe end of the American Civil War in 1865 ushered in an era of increased education and employment opportunities for black Americans. This created the first black middle class in America, and its members began expecting the same lifestyle afforded to white Americans. But in 1896, racial equality was delivered a crushing blow when the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case declared racial segregation to be constitutionally acceptable. This created even harsher conditions for African-Americans, particularly in some Southern states that sought to minimize the equality that former slaves and their descendants might aspire toward. The South also became gradually more and more economically depressed as boll weevils began to infest cotton crops. This reduced the amount of labor needed in the South.

As a result, blacks began to head to the Northern United States by the millions. Racism, while still a serious obstacle, was considered much less brutal there than in the South. In addition, the North granted all adult men with the right to vote; provided better educational advancement for African-Americans and their children; and offered greater job opportunities as a result of World War I and the industrial revolution. This phenomenon, known as the Great Migration, brought more than seven million African-Americans to the North.

Harlem: The Black Mecca

The Black MeccaHousing executives planned to create neighborhoods in Harlem designed specifically for white workers who wanted to commute into the city. Developers grew overambitious, however, and housing grew more rapidly than the transportation necessary to bring residents into the downtown area. The once exclusive district was abandoned by the white middle-class, and frustrated developers were forced to cope with lower purchase prices than they first anticipated. White Harlem landlords started selling their properties to black real estate agents such as Philip A. Payton, John E. Nail, and Henry C. Parker. They also began renting directly to black tenants.

Meanwhile, the re-development and gentrification of midtown pushed many blacks out of the Metropolitan area. As a result, African-Americans began moving to Harlem en masse; between 1900 and 1920 the number of blacks in the New York City neighborhood doubled. By the time the planned subway system and roadways reached Harlem, many of the country’s best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals had situated themselves in Harlem. They brought with them not only the institutions and businesses necessary to support themselves, but a vast array of talents and ambitions. The area soon became known as “the Black Mecca” and “the capital of black America.”

The Harlem Renaissance

Harlem RenaissanceDuring the early 1900s, the burgeoning African-American middle class began pushing a new political agenda that advocated racial equality. The epicenter of this movement was in New York, where three of the largest civil rights groups established their headquarters.

Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In 1905 Du Bois, in collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and white civil rights workers, met in New York to discuss the challenges facing the black community. In 1909, the group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement.

GarveyAt this same time, the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey began his promotion of the “Back to Africa movement.” Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government. The movement not only encouraged African-Americans to come together, but to also feel pride in their heritage and race.

The National Urban League (NUL) also came into being in the early 20th century. Founded by Ruth Standish Baldwin and Dr. George Edmund Haynes, the fledgling organization counseled black migrants from the South, trained black social workers, and worked to give educational and employment opportunities to blacks.

Together, these groups helped to establish a sense of community and empowerment for African-Americans not only in New York, but also around the country. In addition, they provided a rare opportunity for whites to collaborate with black intellectuals, social activists, educators, and artists in an attempt to transform a largely segregated and racist American society.

Instead of using more direct political means to achieve their goals, African-American civil rights activists employed the artists and writers of their culture to work for the goals of civil rights and equality. Jazz music, African-American fine art, and black literature were all absorbed into mainstream culture, bringing attention to a previously disenfranchised segment of the American population. This blossoming of African-American culture in European-American society, particularly in the worlds of art and music, became known as The Harlem Renaissance.

Culture Comes Together

Culture Comes TogetherOne of the first notable events of the Renaissance came shortly after the NUL began publishing Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. Believing that art and literature could lift African-Americans out of their situation, the magazine’s editor, Charles S. Johnson, began printing promising black writers in each issue. During Johnson’s work for Opportunity, he met Jessie Fauset, the literary editor for Du Bois’ NAACP magazine, Crisis. Fauset told Johnson about her first novel, There Is Confusion (1924), a story about middle class black women.

In 1924, Johnson organized the first Civic Club dinner, which was planned as a release party for Fauset’s book. The party was an instant success, and served as a forum for emerging African-American artists to meet wealthy white patrons. The party managed to launch the careers of several promising black writers, including poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

In 1925, shortly after the success of the Civic Club dinner, the magazine Survey Graphic, produced an issue on Harlem. Edited by black philosopher and Howard University professor, Alain Locke, the magazine featured work by prominent black writers of the time period. The magazine published work by writers Cullen, Hughes and Fauset, as well as poet Claude McKay and novelist Jean Toomer. Later that year, Locke expanded the special issue into an anthology called The New Negro. The Johnsoncollection fueled America’s growing interest in African-American writers, pushing black artists to the literary forefront.

African-American fine artists such as Aaron Douglas and Charles Alston also got their start through Alain Locke and Charles Johnson, who started publishing the artists’ works as illustrations and cover art. Pulled into the spotlight, these fine artists used their fame as an opportunity to delve into the themes they found problematic to American culture. By introducing the “exoticizing” of Africa and notions of “the primitive” to white America, African-American artists had their first opportunity to explore how these ideas could be used for and against their race.

The Jazz Age

The Jazz AgeWith the conclusion of WWI came an end to wartime frugality and conservation. In an era of peace, Americans experienced an economic boom, as well as a change in social morays. Nicknamed “The Roaring 20s” for its dynamic changes, the decade became known for its celebration of excess and its rejection of wartime ideologies. Americans also began investing more time and money in leisure activities and artistic endeavors.

Around this same time, Congress ratified the Prohibition Act. While the amendment did not ban the actual consumption of alcohol, it made obtaining it legally difficult. Liquor-serving nightclubs, called “speakeasies” developed during this time as a way to allow Americans to socialize, indulge in alcohol consumption, and rebel against the traditional culture.

One of the best speakeasies in Harlem was the Cotton Club, a place that intended to have the look and feel of a luxurious Southern plantation. To complete the theme, only African-American entertainers could perform there, while only white clientele (with few exceptions) were allowed to patronize the establishment. This attracted high-powered celebrity visitors such as Cole Porter, Bing Crosby and Doris Duke to see the most talented black entertainers of the day. Some of the most famous jazz performers of the time – including singer Lena Horne, composer and musician Duke Ellington, and singer Cab Calloway – graced the Cotton Club stage.

Attending clubs in Harlem allowed whites from New York and its surrounding areas to indulge in two taboos simultaneously: to drink, as well as mingle with blacks. Jazz musicians often performed in these clubs, exposing white clientele to what was typically an African-American form of musical entertainment. As jazz hit the mainstream, many members of older generations began associating the raucous behavior of young people of the decade with jazz music. They started referring to the 20s, along with its new dance styles and racy fashions, as “The Jazz Age.”

The End of the Renaissance

End of the RenaissanceAs the 20s came to a close, so did white America’s infatuation with Harlem- and the artistic and intellectual movements surrounding it. The advent of The Great Depression also crushed the wild enthusiasm of “The Roaring 20s,” bringing an end to the decadence and indulgence that fueled the patronage of Harlem artists and their establishments.

The depression hit the African-American segment of the population hard; layoffs and housing foreclosures shut many blacks out of the American Dream that previously seemed so close at hand. The increased economic tension of the Depression caused black leaders to shift their focus from arts and culture to the financial and social issues of the time.

In addition, the strained relationship between the black community and the white shop-owners in Harlem finally tore the two groups apart in 1935. That alienation was expressed in the Harlem Riot of 1935, the nation’s first modem race riot. The resulting violence finally shattered the notion of Harlem as the “Mecca” for African-Americans, and broke the fleeting truce between white and black America.

While the Renaissance as a historical movement was over, the effects it had on modern society were far from finished. The artistic and political movements of the 20s would live on in American culture in the form of new musical expression, award-winning writing and, most importantly, the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. These events, and the role Harlem would continue to play after the Renaissance, would change the American cultural landscape forever.

courtesy of Bio


Rihanna February 21, 2012

Filed under: Celebs,Movies,Music — mshollandsthoughts @ 9:43 am
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Happy Belated Birthday to Rihanna. Lately I have been loving the dresses she has been rocking. Check em out!! They both remind me of Michelle Pfiefer in Scarface. Especially the second one. It’s the hairstyle and plunging neckline!!


Season of Lent

Filed under: Events — mshollandsthoughts @ 9:13 am
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So in church Sunday Pastor Jones was talking about Lent Season with starts tomorrow and how we should be fasting and praying. Well I have followed Lent a few times but being the sinner, heathen that I am I don’t always abide by the laws of the good book. So you know this time it’s really been heavy on my brain about taking part in the season of Lent. I’m a very stubborn and not so patient person so giving up something is hard thing to do for myself. But some changes need to be made in my life and with changes come prayer. Asking for help to get through certain things and move forward so a change can be made successfully.  Here is a little information I found on Lent.

The season of Lent has not been well observed in much of evangelical Christianity, largely because it was associated with “high church” liturgical worship that some churches were eager to reject. However, much of the background of evangelical Christianity, for example the heritage of John Wesley, was very “high church.” Many of the churches that had originally rejected more formal and deliberate liturgy are now recovering aspects of a larger Christian tradition as a means to refocus on spirituality in a culture that is increasingly secular.

Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.

Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance. This season of the year is equal only to the Season of Advent in importance in the Christian year, and is part of the second major grouping of Christian festivals and sacred time that includes Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost.

Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Some churches today still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.

Mardi Gras or Carnival

Carnival, which comes from a Latin phrase meaning “removal of meat,” is the three day period preceding the beginning of Lent, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the Lenten Season (some traditions count Carnival as the entire period of time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday). The three days before Ash Wednesday are also known as Shrovetide (“shrove” is an Old English word meaning “to repent”). The Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday, or is more popularly known by the French term Mardi Gras, meaning “Fat Tuesday,” contrasting to the fasting during Lent. The entire three day period has now come to be known in many areas as Mardi Gras.

Carnival or Mardi Gras is usually a period of celebration, originally a festival before the fasting during the season of Lent. Now it is celebrated in many places with parades, costumes, dancing, and music. Many Christians’ discomfort with Lent originates with a distaste for Mardi Gras. In some cultures, especially the Portuguese culture of Brazil, the French culture of Louisiana, and some of the Caribbean cultures such as Trinidad, it has tended to take on the excesses of wild and drunken revelry. There has been some attempt in recent years to change this aspect of the season, such as using Brazilian Carnival parades to focus on national and cultural history. Many churches now observe Mardi Gras with a church pancake breakfast or other church meal, eating together as a community before the symbolic fasting of Lent begins.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday, is the first day of the Season of Lent. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.  (See Reflections on Ash Wednesday). Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.

In the early church, ashes were not offered to everyone but were only used to mark the forehead of worshippers who had made public confession of sin and sought to be restored to the fellowship of the community at the Easter celebration. However, over the years others began to show their humility and identification with the penitents by asking that they, too, be marked as sinners. Finally, the imposition of ashes was extended to the whole congregation in services similar to those that are now observed in many Christian churches on Ash Wednesday. Ashes became symbolic of that attitude of penitence reflected in the Lord’s prayer:  “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”  (Luke 11:4, NRSV).

The Journey of Lent

There are many ways for a congregation to mark the journey of Lent.  Of course, beginning with a service of worship for Ash Wednesday is always appropriate (see Ash Wednesday: A Service of Worship).  During Lent, one of the most effective visual reminders of the season that can be expanded in many variations is to use a rough wooden cross as a focal point in the sanctuary.  The type of cross and how it is constructed will depend on exactly how it will be used.  The cross is usually erected in the Sanctuary on Ash Wednesday as a visible symbol of the beginning of Lent.  It is usually draped in black on Good Friday.  The same cross can also become a part of the congregation’s Easter celebration as it is then draped in white or gold, or covered with flowers (see The Flowering Cross).

One effective way to make use of the cross is to use it as a Prayer Cross during Lent.   A hammer, square nails, and small pieces of paper are made available near the cross.  At a designated time of prayer during the Sundays in Lent, or beginning with Ash Wednesday, people are invited to write their prayer requests on the paper, and then nail them to the cross.  The quiet time of prayer with only the sounds of the hammer striking the nails can be a moving time for reflection on the meaning of Lent, and a powerful call to prayer. The prayer requests can be removed and burned as part of a Tenebrae or Stations of the Cross service during Holy Week to symbolize releasing the needs to God.

Some churches have a special time of prayer or meditation one night of each week during Lent.  Often Catholic and high church traditions pray the Stations of the Cross (see The Fourteen Stations of the Cross).  Some Protestant churches have a special series of weekly Bible studies followed by a time of meditation and prayer. Often, in both Catholic and Protestant traditions, the prayer time is followed by a simple meal of soup and bread to symbolize the penitence of the Season.