Sunday, April 16, 2006

Holy Week reflections end here

Struggling for words today...

Freewrite follows.

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.

Visiting Italy.
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.

Brokeback Mountain.
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 we’re 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.

So then...
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.

9 comments:

julieunplugged said...

I wanted to add a footnote to my post here.

The three posts this Holy Week are all true and yet each one comes from a very different experience. I found this week particularly difficult because so many conflicting thoughts emotions and ideas fought for preference, for position in my identity and practice.

What has happened as I've written each one (and lots of permutations for the UPI column) is that I saw the "multi-valence" in my own experience of the word "Easter." I have lots to say about it - I want to self-examine, I love the experience of spring's rebirth every winter and it does remind me of Easter in that transforming way... but finally, the most overpowering, underlying mood that I had all week was agitation.

And I had to keep rooting around for what it was and where it came from.

Thanks for Pomoxian (Dave's list) for the discussion there... helpful. Also, I have a few online friends other places who's message opened my eyes to what was in the mix.

So I know I left an ambiguous mess about Easter on this blog... and that's just where I live right now... weedy gardens with mulch in bags ready to redo the beds.

Anonymous said...


I think there is no other way to get to resurrection than from death.
And I'll keep praying.

Chuck said...

Thanks for your holy week "trilogy". I relate on a number of levels. Even though I'm back to calling myself a Christian these days (after many years away), I find myself puzzled by how the church responds to both Christmas and Easter. Lent seems more like a longing for a place we've never been - the desire to put ourselves into a setting that we really have no chance of understanding. I participated peripherally with some holy week activities, but my heart wasn't in it. When will the church get over the nostalgia and into the heart of the matter - our individual and corporate needs for community, acceptance, forgiveness, and growth?

We spent our Sunday morning in a church service mostly in a language foreign to us - helping a close friend wrap up a chapter of ministry that has been far from the experience and setting she was promised. She and my wife both have been through some times of being "wounded" by the people within the church. Easter for us finally came together with the prayer of a friend's mother, right before the lunch she spread for all of us. Her words and labors were the gifts of grace we needed.

Musing said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

Just want to acknowledge that I read your post and appreciate your candor. Prior to Easter I was pondering, myself, the relationship between the despair, I often feel and the loss I too experienced the day I realized and was willing to admit that I will probably never go back to the Christian subculture I spent twenty five years of my life in. It is sad...because...so much of our time, energy, passion, and sense of identity was devoted to the group, the "cosmic cause"...but...I have also come to understand and accept that it is O.K. to grieve and feel sad because "it is" a big loss in one's life.

You wrote:
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.

Visiting Italy.
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...

Bill: I went to three masses this week with my girlfriend and her family and I too, at times, didn't get it. For me, it is a matter of not being able to understand and accept the contradiction between Catholicism's assertion that it represents the universal church and it's numerous practices of exclusion. I sat through three eucharists and was not able to participate because I am not a catholic. The whole celibacy thing which excludes married men just drives me bonkers and as you know women are excluded on numerous fronts as well...

You wrote:
I get more out of reading the notes from my Foundations of Biblical Studies class than praying and kneeling.

Bill: I felt the same way as I plowed through some 300 plus pages of Crossan and Bart Ehrman this week. For me, I relate to their works, I suspect, in large part, because they acknowledge and seem to respect the marginalized religious folks of the past which is something I can relate to myself since I consider myself now a member of the "modern" marginalized religious folks...by the way...Ehrman's book on Lost Christianities, is a great read....wrapping up....Again appreciate your honesty and don't mean to imply anything by anything I said. Just sharing my own version of "freewrite ponderings" with a fellow traveller

OldMom said...

Julie,

This seems relevent somehow to indulge me while I tell a story. Last night (Easter night) I sat down at the dinner table with my 2 kids (15 and 10) and announced that in place of 'saying grace' (my feeble attempt at teaching manners) for a few weeks I am going to enlarge their cultural literacy and introduce them to some Christian items I think they should be familiar with.

We started with the Lord's Prayer. I outlined the Bible verse about not praying ostentatiously, etc. and then told them that the Bible says this is how Jesus told his followers to pray and then recited the prayer for them.


My son listened to the whole thing intently then announced, "Mom, you know, I'm not too impressed with God but I really LIKE Jesus. God is all about 'See how great I am' but Jesus just told people how to act right and love other people. He didn't brag on himself like God does."

Clearly the family Unitarian Christianity is genetic! (and clearly I've keep him in complete ignorance of the Gospel of John, LOL!)

Rebecca

jim said...

I was thinking yesterday that I can't ever remember a easter not spent in church and now as a pastor at 37, I can't imagine that I will be missing any easters over the next 25 years either.

Anyway, this afternoon as I read your post I was challenged by these words:

"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?"

Wish I had taken the opportunity to do a bit more of that. It sure is hard though when everyone is dressed to the hilt in their new easter clothes and little boys and girls are running around looking for that last easter egg.

SusansPlace said...

Julie, thanks for being so honest in sharing where you are. I missed the traditional "Easter" service this year too. As I shared at TD, I had a wonderful "non-traditional" service alone, under the trees at Cedarbrake Renewal Center. It was a "made for Susan" Easter celebration. I think your thoughts about what Easter means to you, how you have grown to care more about homosexuals, even decorating Easter eggs with your kids and enjoying the day qualify as a a "made for Julie" Easter celebration.

Susan

dali said...

ANd, we also didn't go to church. Jeff said he doesn't like the crowds and I decided I didn't want to feel stressed out on Easter because I'd have to rush to make Easter dinner if we went to the service. We actually had a pretty nice time at home. Jeff read the different versions of Jesus dying and being resurrected to the younger kids while dying Easter eggs. Then they talked about how eggs represent renewal and that pagans (?) celebrate spring at this time of year also.