This is the first Easter in twenty-five years where I did not attend church. In the end, I realized it would not be honest to go. I don't believe Easter is about church, lilies, my salvation, God's plan for the world or incense. I don't think it's about recruiting new members, shaming "once a year" visitors into more regular attendance, singing hymns or listening to the slick new worship team belt out surprisingly relevant pop tunes about the King of Kings. I don't think it's a time for reflection on me and my problems or my mistakes and sins, either.
Even the beauty of the Catholic services don't feel like Jesus and Easter to me. Don't get me wrong. I know they are meaningful to the many participants. But not for me. I feel like a tourist who observes another culture speak its language and engage in its customs, but I remain apart--an observer who is oddly moved by it all but not drawn in.
As I went back over my year and looked for clues about how I had become so disaffected with Easter, two specific moments stood out to me.
I posted about the cold reaction I had to cathedrals in July. Catholicism feels unrelated to Jesus, for me. I understand the ways in which Catholicism provokes deeper reflection on how they see Jesus, the passion, his acts, the Gospels. I get it. What I don't get is Jesus... The way I have grown to think about Jesus. It's as if in all the desire to honor and elevate and worship him, the person of Jesus is lost in the pageantry of things (for me). I get more out of reading the notes from my Foundations of Biblical Studies class than praying and kneeling.
This film changed my life. Literally. I joined a website forum where I became immersed in a culture and worldview that I thought I knew something about... and discovered I knew nothing. Gut punched is how I felt every day for eight weeks. I can't tell you the tears I've cried.
Let me give you a taste.
How would you like to be described these ways every time you sought information about yourself as a teen, or young adult, or even grown man? Each time you tried to "find yourself" in a book, to help you understand who you are? A friend put it this way.
For so long we (gay people) have been described always in terms of a deficit model: what is wrong with us, why were not adequate, inferior, flawed, a mistake, a social problem, an illness, an affliction, an abomination, a spiritual evil, 'intrinsically evil', not proper males or females, the result of inadequate parenting, deviant, genetically impaired, emotionally immature, stuck in an inappropriate stage of psychological development and now, developmentally damaged in the womb.
Can any of us take this in, really? Stop thinking about homosexuality for a moment and replace it with something that is true of you - your gender, race, intellectual ability, handicap, depression, mental illness... How would you feel reading these messages over and over again?
Let's back up.
Who was characterized in these ways in Jesus's day? The woman caught in adultery. Tax collectors. Lepers. The demonized (perhaps mentally ill, perhaps spiritually oppressed). The blind and lame who wondered if they had sinned or their parents (not whether or not they had sinned, but whose sin caused the defects).
These charges were leveled at people we no longer categorize as fundamentally flawed, intrinsically evil. Yet we routinely do so to homosexuals, even today, to people Jesus never mentions, according to the Gospels.
Why do we love Jesus?
Because he kicked our sin out of us? (I know many feel relieved by this idea.) Or because he kicked the socially constructed superstitions of his day in the teeth - beat them all, overcame them with such power that the Gospel writers recorded these acts as miracles. My sins are a problem, no doubt. I do stuff I am ashamed of and have acted in ways that harm others. But those acts pale in comparison to the power of what a society can do to its unwanted, to those it vilifies and hates.
Jesus shamed the religious of his day who wanted to throw stones at those they despised.
If Easter is about "my" salvation, I think we're in an entirely different religion than the one that Jesus might have founded had he cared about that sort of thing. He didn't. As far as we know, he wrote nothing down. He left a legacy of people who were changed, who wanted to go out and "do likewise." And that didn't include attending any large buildings, praying for forgiveness and singing contemporary songs.
Some will argue that Christianity and Easter are much more than this picture of Jesus as I've painted him and his relationships. I'd say most Easter celebrations I've attended are about less.
What if Easter were about kicking our socially constructed evils in the teeth and liberating the human beings we demonize from the prison of our judgment (who needs demons when the church does such a great job of demonizing...)?
This year, I stayed home and dyed eggs with my husband and kids. As MLK Jr would call it, I was a conscientious objector to church-ified Easter. This Easter is the day my faith died. It is now utterly in ruins, in a tomb waiting for some kind of resuscitation...
And to my gay brothers and sisters: shalom. No stones thrown your way from me, friends.