General

Dreading Easter

eggsI love Easter.  It’s my favorite religious holiday: solemnity, rejoicing and all.  And yet… I also dread its arrival.  I don’t dread it to the point that I sweat blood and beg for the Father to take this cup away from me, but I am unhappy the two weeks leading up to Easter, as much as I enjoy Holy Week.  Why?  Ultimately, the reason is people online.

We all know the Internet exposes the moldiest, most festering corners of humanity and human nature.  Every day there’s another story, making that fact of life all too apparent.  In that context, my complaint is trivial, but that does not lessen the amount of distress it causes.  Right before Easter, the Internet explodes.

People who tend to be very overtly Christian go all out with their hellfire, brimstone, “type ‘Amen’ if you don’t want Satan to win” and all that ranges from obnoxious, to ridiculous, to reprehensible.  Everyone has seen the memes on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media forums.

And everyone has seen the other side—that of the overtly anti-religion.  Out of the woodwork come of the accusations of peddling torture-porn, traumatizing children, along with the usual taunts and demands for proof.  The obnoxious, the ridiculous, the reprehensible… again!

If nothing else, it reminds one how easily a crowd can go from cheering to howling for blood—an admittedly seasonal reminder.  And it conjures up the oft-appropriated words of the late Rodney King; “Can’t we all just get along?”

To that, the answer seems, at least superficially, to be no.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. At Easter, or at any other time. I offer no great words of wisdom for everyone to throw down the knives and let peace begin (although I have opinions). I offer no defense of the people who call themselves “Christian” and cause very real harm to innocent people because they think they are right (again, seasonal… the Pharisees and Scribes thought they were right. Pilate just wanted to go back to bed), and everyone probably knows who I’m talking about. Their exploits are plastered all over that self-same Internet.

Still, it is worth remembering that there are plenty of people not causing harm with their observance of the most important holiday in the calendar, and that the observance of Easter is nowhere near as obnoxious as Christmas tends to get. And even though I’ve probably already fallen into the #notall pit already, it’s important for bleeding everyone to step back, determine whether there is a clear and present danger, and when there’s not, to shut up and let live (especially when you’re at the top of the social food chain). For Christians, it means letting practitioners of other religions or people with no religion go about their business without trying to convert them, or announcing their damnation. No matter what you think… it’s not helping, and yes, just up and telling someone that they’re going to burn in hell is in fact aggressive/bullying/uncalled-for and just generally not copasheshy.

The evangelism problem isn’t as big outside of Christianity, but the sentiment goes for the other groups, including the not and/or anti-religious.

Now I change focus to directly address my extended family by religion (aka fellow Christians). Today is the second day of Lent. There’s over a month now until the Resurrection. Let us Christians especially make it our priority not to be obnoxious, ridiculous, and certainly not reprehensible this and all seasons. We should and often do know better than that.

The Internet will thank you (in secret), and all our hearts will be softened by the lack of confrontation and annoyance. Thus we can appreciate the miracle better when the time comes. Isn’t that better than another electronic chain letter?

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General

Let Them Eat… Oh, Screw It

Hot from the oven.

Hot from the oven.

I admit it.  I’ve been dying to comment on the Indiana debacle, but I didn’t want to interrupt my regularly scheduled programming.  Such as it is.  And then I injured myself and had a really bad 36-hour headache.  Don’t do that.

Like a lot of people, I railed against the different state governments, my jaw hit the floor when Wal-Mart spoke up against the “religious freedom” debacle, and I’m still shaking my head over all the insanity.  But on the bright side, I’ve read some really good analyses of the situation.  But it all basically comes down to how you view religion.  Christianity in particular.

Last week was Easter– the most important holiday in the church year.  It’s also an incredibly unpleasant time for Christianity on Social Media.  Anti-religious groups go all out.  The religious right goes all out.  Liberal Christians trying to salvage the situation go all out.  It’s probably a miracle that no one does get killed by mob rule and ineffective government… well, no one but the reason for the season.

So what does this all mean?  Well, me being an ELCA Lutheran, I’ll start by looking at the original reformer.  Martin Luther, pre-Tower Experience, perceived God as a merciless judge, always marking down his sins.  After the Tower Experience, Luther realized that God was merciful and loving– however, a lot of people still have the other image.  The merciless image is so powerful that those who see it don’t want anyone to see the merciful one, and they probably think they’re being helpful by so doing it.

And this is what it boils down to, no matter what kind of intentions they begin with.  “I’m free to play God and act like a corrupt judge.  I’m free to deny justice, even when the widow keeps knocking on my office door, asking for her case to be fairly decided.”  The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions.

After all, the disciples had good intentions when they drove off a different follower of Jesus, who was healing and performing other miraculous deeds.  They expected a gold star, but got one of the harshest rebukes from Christ.  Jesus, you recall, made a point to hang out with people the rest of society didn’t like, and he caught plenty of flak for it from the authorities and general populace.

The disciples sometimes really are the “duh-sciples.”  And we’re not talking about the twelve who had no mass communication.  We are all disciples, and we stick our feet in our mouths, are myopic to our own privilege and can be holier-than-thou, just like Peter, James, John and the rest.  Easter illustrates their foibles better than any other Biblical incident.

When these foibles are all the cynical general populace sees, religion (be it Christianity, Islam, or Buddism) becomes the mustachio-twirling villain.  Or whatever the appropriate stereotype is, because based on my knowledge of anti-Islam stereotypes, they aren’t allowed enough class to twirl their mustaches.

So… the law is horrible.  The pizza thing is ridiculous.  The Internet is a mess.  But if there’s a mustachio-twirling villain in this, they’re not found within the pages of my toasty Lutheran Study Bible.  They’re found among us.  Or even worse, they’re minions cowering before an imaginary harsh judge, mustachioed villain.  And that makes them more sad than sinister.  They should read Romans 1:17.

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General

You Are What They Say You Are

Hosanna!

Hosanna!

A full 75% of my household loves the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was a tradition to play the record, and later the CD of the original Broadway cast several times during Holy Week, and sometimes even on Easter, as well.  My mom, brother, and I know the words to all the songs included on the soundtrack, and our favorite is without a doubt “King Herod’s Song.”  (Who doesn’t like a bit of levity before the torture starts?)  But my dad doesn’t like the musical.  He doesn’t mind the fact that they’re mixing rock with the New Testament, or the Mary Magdalene subplot, or the fact that when the show premiered Pilate’s costume included a silver jock strap… his problem with the musical is that he thinks it’s “too agnostic.”  Because the highlight of the musical is “who are you/do you think you’re what they say you are?”

Fair enough, I guess, except he’s the only person who’s brought that up.  Most people I know who don’t like JCS got their underwear in a bunch over the Magdalene subplot.  But that’s a different argument.

The musical takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, more or less.  It begins right before the events of Palm Sunday and ends after 3 PM on Good Friday.  This past Good Friday, the pastor offered this thought after station 7… on that first Good Friday, probably no one present at the Crucifixion be they Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, or Joseph of Arimethea were thinking about the theological implications of the days’ events.

They were scared.  They were confused.  They were horrified.  They were devastated.  The last we see of Peter on Good Friday, he was weeping bitterly after the cock crowed twice.  Mary the mother of Jesus had to witness her son being tortured and subjected to the humiliating and excruciatingly painful death that kept the Pax Romana going.  That he rallied to tell the Beloved Disciple to look after her like he would his own mother (that was huge– a widow without a son was screwed) must have been like a knife through the heart.

And Judas was going through the mental turmoil that led to his suicide.

With all that in mind, the question “do you think you are what they say you are?” Makes that much more sense.  In a traumatic situation confusion and doubt happen.  That’s how Peter came to screw up.  That’s why the other disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested.  And that’s why poor St. Thomas was slow to believe after the Resurrection.

But after Jesus rose from the dead (and first appeared to the women– who very notably did not run away), he forgave them all.  He would have forgiven Judas, but because the former disciple gave into despair, that encounter went unrecorded by the authors of the New Testament.

The journey to faith is not smooth-sailing.  There are many stops and starts, and bumps in the road.  That Jesus Christ Superstar spends so much time on the biggest, and arguably most important bump in the journey of Christianity does not make it agnostic.  It makes an otherwise incredibly stylistic musical realistic.  What would any of us done had we been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or standing outside Pilate’s balcony while he offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas?  Would we have been hiding with the disciples?  Would we have shouted “Crucify him!”  “Would we have been with the Marys?”  We’d all like to be in the latter category, but it’s statistically unlikely, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that.  For God’s sake.

We spend our whole lives asking that question, “Jesus– who are you?”  Or “God– who are you?”  And we are dealt with patiently and lovingly… every time.  It makes Jesus’ sacrifice all that much greater… we humans are still stiff-necked a millennium later.  Such love is truly beyond our comprehension.  Awesome music helps remind us of that… and we should say “Hallelujah.”

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