Thursday, October 28, 2010

Variations and Vulgarities of Christianity

There's a lot out there that passes as authentic Christianity.  And they are all warning about false teachers, as though they alone possess the truth.  In my channel surfing I, at times, go to  local religious channel 20.  It's a sad commentary on the state of religion in the Midwest  that I go there for entertainment rather than inspiration.  There are individuals uttering off-the-wall platitudes that have no ring of truth about it but if  they clothe it with a Bible verse I guess the audience believes it to be true.

Last night my good friend and colleague, Howard, called me and was chuckling as he said, "Check out Channel 20."   I flipped over and a woman was holding the Bible in her left hand and her right hand was extended --not with open palm but with the index finger pointed at me.  And she was yelling and threatening and condemning.  My thought bubble read, Just like Jesus?

This did not evoke laughter; it  brought back disturbing memories of my childhood fundamentalism.  Angry, yelling preachers.  Invariably shaming us for not being and doing better.  Ironically, hell was probably referenced more than heaven.  My faith was fear-based; I obeyed because of the damning consequences.  I  obeyed or followed Jesus  not because I was drawn to him, I did so because I dreaded him. That preacher gritting his teeth and spitting exhortations was, in my boyish eyes, Jesus--and he scared the hell out of me.  For a long time, what should have been a time of innocent childlike joy was, instead, a harrowing nightmare from which I feared I would never awaken.  This angry screaming Jesus made me very anxious on a good day--terrified on bad days.  Living like this was terrible and the thought of living forever, i.e. going to heaven, was intolerable.  Isn't that sick?  Most people think of heaven or "eternal life" as an unending experience of peace and beauty and restored relationships and healing and the list goes on.  I couldn't stand the thought of being in the presence of this angry Jesus forever.  I thought heaven would be pure hell.  "Dear God, please don't make me live forever. When I die just let me become nothing and have no brain and no heart and not live at all."  That was my thinking as I would lay down at night and dread going to sleep because what if I were to die in my sleep and fall into the hands of this angry God!?!

Last night channel 20 activated some stuff that had been lying dormant.  (Ya think?)

I am grateful that the 18 years I was confined in that religious milieu didn't define me.  It definitely influenced me, but the ensuing years have defined me. Since those early years, I have seen through those vulgar caricatures of Jesus and God has shown me Jesus of the gospels.  My life no longer consists of  merely following rules, but following Christ.  It's about relationship, not rules.  That has been liberating!  The caricature no longer damns me; the Christ now draws me.

I love this picture of Christ that is contained in the gospel of Matthew (12:19-20):

"He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."

Jesus does not yell at us; he beckons to us.  I was a bruised reed boy and the preachers of my subculture nearly broke me.  There was scarcely a flickering flame of life in me and they nearly snuffed it out.  But Jesus intersected my life through people who mirror him and they imparted to me acceptance and affirmation and grace.  And I am a blessed man.

Now when I am bruised  I don't hide my hurt in fear of being condemned; I reach out to him for healing.  When the wick is barely smoldering I run to him for fire. 

And the idea of living forever wherein I will be in the very presence of God (and all the ramifications of what that may mean) is a vision that compels me and completes me.

I have to avoid channel 20 in the meantime.


Abiel said...

Jesus did at times yell and scream. He even called them vipers and snakes many times. He on many occasions embarrassed the scribes and pharisees by publicly rebuking them. Even in the temple when He threw the money changers out of Gods House He made a whip of cords to drive them out.Yes Jesus preached for us to love each other and no i dont agree with any Religion i only agree with The Bible itself. And The Bible does say if you dont Repent that Hell is your only other option. But Repentance is not based on fear its based on a love for God and His Son. I Follow Jesus because i love Him Hes my Brother. Hes my Saviour. Not because i fear Him. I fear letting Him Down more than anything else. Because i want Him to be proud of me.

Steve said...

I appreciate your feedback though I feel it could be construed as justifying the actions of my childhood preachers.
There is no record of Jesus yelling and screaming at children. There is, however, reference to him cherishing and welcoming and affirming them. If he was confrontational it was toward adults who were self-righteous and prided themselves in their religiosity as they looked down on others. As a frightened little boy who wanted do right I didn't need a weekly yelling cloaked in a sermon. I needed to be loved. Unfortunately, these men who were supposed to mirror Christ provided a grotesque distortion.

Abiel said...

I dint mean Children I was speaking of Adults Sorry if i was misunderstood

Anonymous said...

Beautifuly written

Bongo said...

I'd much rather believe Jesus never yelled, never raised his voice..I picture him as beautiful, not just physically but his whole being ...the presence of beauty and arms open with love flowing through them....The image I had of GOD came from humans delivering harsh,loud and angry messages..those messages kept me running away from God for 30 plus years...Evangelizing in a harsh way is not going to invite people to know him.. it just serves to scare them away...I hope in my sharing of God people come to know his love not his wrath...

Randomly Strange said...

Thank you!

You have captured my current sentiment exactly!!

For many years I was totally turned off of religopn and would have even considered myself to be agnostic-all because of what I had seen and heard from the churches and the so called "word of God" that they were spreading.

In my case, I met a lot of phony people, a lot of elitists and witnessed a lot of hatred all in the name of the churrch and I could only think that if that was what religion was, I didn't want a part of it.

Finally I realized that religion and faith are two seperate things and that Jesus was not only a "hippie" of sorts, a down to earth teacher who considered the downtrodden to be the ones who should receeive the most care and compassion, but I also realized that he never, ever told anyone to organize a religion and create rituals and beurocracies in his name, he only taught the word of God and asked us to pass it on. Once I knew that, once I knew that being against organized religion did not make me against Jesus, my life improved. I only wish more people who are jaded by the greed and ignorance that has so often become religion could see it and come on their own.

Steve said...

Thanks for your feedback. I m glad your pilgrimmage of faith is centering you in Christ, rather in than mere religion.