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.