Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Passion and Lack of

This will be one of those posts that I will probably later regret. There is a high probability that my intentions will be misunderstood and it will rub the majority of Christians the wrong way. I’m also not posting as any type of critique of the Church or of people other than myself. It is simply and observation, without a moral judgment as to how things should be. I just haven’t figured it out what the answer is yet.

I must give a caveat before I even start this story. Even though I’ve always taken my Christian faith very seriously, I’ve never been a very religious person. Even in my most Evangelical of days, going to church and participating in ceremony was never my favorite past-times. Why I’m this way, it is hard to know. I suspect it is related to growing up in a small Baptist church (and culture) where “religion” was all pretend. We all went through the motions of Christianity, but at the same time the youth director was habitually sexually molesting children, and the congregation looked the other way. The pastor himself kept a mistress on the side for decades (and the good people of the church covered his tracks so his wife wouldn’t find out).

The present story starts with Holy week. While for most Christians, this is a week when they love going to church and participating in a variety of services, I did not look so forward to that. Actually, I did attend a community-wide Good Friday service (which is the focus of this post . . . if I ever get around to it) and Yesterday’s normal worship service. I will honestly admit that I did enjoy yesterday’s service. The choir at my new church is very good. They had a small orchestra and of course their pipe organ. I actually like good music and good art. I don’t like poor music even if it is about Jesus.

So, there was an interesting development on Friday when my new church and my old church (plus two other churches) went in together for one large service. I thought it would be a good chance to see my old friends from my old church at a mutual place (which was the Baptist church building).

I think the first thing that happened, as we were pulling into the parking lot my wife mentioned that some of the people of my old church were talking about me a couple of Sundays ago, and how sad it is that I chose to attend an unbiblical church (she probably agrees with them). So that made my emotions of fond anticipation quickly evolve into a strange awkwardness. But that’s not the point either.

The point is, the Good Friday service went exactly as I, or anyone, expected. I stepped back from being caught up in the emotion of it and put myself in the roll of a psychologist, or even my skeptical son, who Denise really wanted to come with us, but he choose (thankfully in my perspective) not to.

The service was ninety minutes of rubbing our emotional noses into the graphic horrors of the Roman crucifixion and how it was all our fault. The chain of pastors tried very hard to work us up into an emotional state of grief over the pain we had caused our dear savior. It was a guilt manipulation exercise in my opinion.

Before you read this in horror and think that I couldn’t be a real Christian, let me explain my point. The point is, it is true that the crucifixion was brutal and horrible. It is true that it was our fault, either directly or indirectly by our sin. I also believe that very new Christian should, at least once, look brutally at the reality of this. But what gave me a creepy feeling is that we do this over and over . . . mostly at Easter, but also throughout the year.

Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of Christ, was a prime example of this psychological self-flagellation. I felt very uncomfortable in the movie. Maybe it did make the crucifixion more real to me than ever before and that could be a good thing. But at the same time, I sensed that Mel had an agenda to stir up these same feelings. But is that healthy? I think we do it as a kind of penitence, to feel better about ourselves. It is the same feeling the Filipino chaps must get when they literally nail themselves to a cross each year.

Imagine this in another way. I will tell a true story but taken out of the religious context.

I knew a man who, by his dumb mistake, accidently shot and killed his six year old daughter. He was trying to be cool with a pistol he was cleaning. You can figure out the rest. Anyway, this man loved his daughter more than you can imagine. As an only child, I think the consumption of his life by hers, was even greater than the typical parent.

Yes it was brutal. Yes, it was his fault and he knew it far too well. He almost went insane in the subsequent years. He had constant intrusive thoughts of the horrors of the event, playing like an endless loop of a movie with the bullet hitting his little girl in the face. He also had constant intrusive thoughts of how much he despised himself. He constantly flirted with suicide, as a self punishment for his crime. The only way he able to go on, was to try and not think of those horrible events.

Can you imagine if he was intentionally led through exercises to remember and focus on those horrible events? I’ve had patients where one spouse likewise caused the death of their child (usually in a car wreck or other accident) and the other spouse, in their way of grieving, spends the rest of their lives rubbing the “perpetrator’s” face in it. I had a girlfriend in high school whose little brother drowned while not being watched carefully enough by he mother. Her father literally drove her mother insane (spent many months for the subsequent decades in a mental hospital) by his anger and grief over the loss.

I know each person has different spiritual needs. As someone who lives with a constant, haunting guilt. I have guilt about everything. I have guilt if I accidently hit a bird, if I offend someone, even if they deserved the offending. I have a huge amount of guilt right now because I’m leaving an old job, where I’ve served the not-so-grateful employer for eight years. He hates me right now and I feel very guilty about that, even though I had taken a 40% pay cut to come and work for him. I have guilt every time I post a controversial post here. But I must push on and try not to dwell on it.

So, what I need I think, somewhat like the father with the gun mentioned above needs, is a constantly rubbing my face in the forgiveness that comes through that cross and the hope of the resurrection that life can go on and there is hope. But that’s just my opinion.

5 comments:

beakerj said...

You sound exhausted.

I, too, hate being manipulated, even when it's done with the 'best' of religious intentions. Tozer had some funny things to say about this exact subject - the morbid dwelling on the death of Christ. The Bible also doesn't dwell in hideous detail on this.
He said something about how we don't dwell on the gory details of our own births, but just say 'Thank you Mother' & get on.

I read a post about your problems with anxiety & one day would love to chat with you on this as I also have an anxiety disorder (panic attacks with avoidance) & think it can make a big (negative) difference in how we view & feel about our faith, & what we struggle with.

Go take a big bath in grace & let other Christians say what they like.
All the best,
Becka

Dana said...

I know what you mean.

With my personality type, I sort of cotton to that guilt, but looking back I also think there's such a focus on us and hardly any on what God was actually accomplishing.

What I find more horrifying than the psychological manipulation is the pitting of the Father against the Son. Such a God is mercy-less; no wonder people reject him. Being told God is love and at the same time being told that "the Father is pouring out his wrath on Jesus on the cross and turning his back on him" can really make someone feel off-balance... I had to step back from that, even though I wasn't sure I could find a better Christian theology.

I am so grateful for N.T. Wright's work, for it is there I first found the "something better". I hope when the dust settles and you get some more time, you will be able to read his "big books":
-The New Testament & The People of God
-Jesus & the Victory of God
-The Resurrection of the Son of God

So glad to hear that cork pop!

Dana

jmj said...

I have to go back and read Tozer. As far as NT Wright goes, you (Dana) and about ten others have said I must read him . . . yet I never have. Therefore I must. Right now I'm halfway through East of Eden. Maybe NT is next.

Anonymous said...

AAAAAAAHHHHH!

This is so good. I am so right on the same page.

M

Anonymous said...

Before you read this in horror and think that I couldn’t be a real Christian, let me explain my point. The point is, it is true that the crucifixion was brutal and horrible. It is true that it was our fault, either directly or indirectly by our sin. I also believe that very new Christian should, at least once, look brutally at the reality of this.

What you were objecting to was the use of the Crucifixion (in pornographic detail) as a weapon to manipulate the congregation, nothing more.

As for your title, "The Passion and Lack of", some of this might be hearing the above so often you end up building a tolerance/resistance to it from sheer familiarity and experience. Especially if said experience is on the receiving end of guilt manipulation.

What I find more horrifying than the psychological manipulation is the pitting of the Father against the Son. Such a God is mercy-less; no wonder people reject him. Being told God is love and at the same time being told that "the Father is pouring out his wrath on Jesus on the cross and turning his back on him" can really make someone feel off-balance... -- Dana

i.e. "Penal Substitutionary Atonement (TM)" as I've heard it preached. "God or Satan" ends up meaning having to choose one abuser over another because this one's bigger and meaner. (Same point Slacktivist made in his page-by-page analysis of Left Behind.) "And they'll know we are Christians by our Stockholm Syndrome."

Headless Unicorn Guy