I would have loved to post this closer to Easter Sunday, which was three or four days ago now depending how you count them, but better late than not at all.
Easter Sunday was its own kind of beautiful – late this year, and yet the winter clung long enough to still make it “early spring” by the signs of the earth. I did not play with the Occasional Orchestra this year – been too busy to make the practices – but they were in grand form. Our principal violinist this season is about nine or ten and proudly wore yellow bunny ears for the entire morning. It was wonderfully cute.
We are accustomed to doing two different services on Easter Sunday: the early service is always kid-friendly, spring-themed and generally secular, while the late service is billed as ‘traditional’ and the last few years has included as delicate a dance with Christianity as our theologically eclectic congregation will permit. This year’s service, titled “The Many Ways of Knowing Jesus,” included reflections from three of our leaders on their personal interaction with the Christian Easter story and ended with a challenge to those of us in the pew – or in my case, the choir – to reflect on their own experience.
Mine is…. complicated.
The Easter Sunday “Personal Jesus” challenge fits right in with where I am this week, though – beyond the unexpected, fleeting glimpse of mystery on Good Friday afternoon, there was also the series of reflections on The Revelation of John (which starts here) by seminarian and blogger Karen Johnston. Synergy happens, things bump together, and… stories come out.
I keep coming back to the idea that I am really not sure which is harder: to describe liberal Christianity in a way that’s plausible to an ex-Fundamentalist, or to describe to a liberal Christian (or anyone who grew up without significant exposure to this way of thinking) just how profoundly and frighteningly different that worldview gets. As I commented over at Karen’s place:
If you come at the Revelation from a Biblical literalism / inerrancy angle, as some conservative traditions do, particularly in the context of the Wrathful God of the Hebrew Scriptures and penal substitutionary atonement, you end up with a worldview wherein God’s love for humanity is expressed through God’s willingness to destroy all of God’s creation due to creation’s intrinsic failure to be perfect, forestalled only by God’s acceptance of Godself as a blood sacrifice in payment of the debt owed by creation to the Creator for creation’s imperfection, which acceptance is conditional upon submission to God’s demands as interpreted through the internally inconsistent but literally true and infallible text… and if you’re still following this you’re farther than I ever got before I decided it was a crock of fertilizer and ran like hell.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I struggle with my religious upbringing. A lot.
I could digress into any of several vortices of church nerdery (rabbit holes like “premillennialist dispensationalism,” for instance) but for the purposes of this post let me stick to Jesus, in context, even if I have to paint that context with as broad a brush as possible. For me, the context was cognitive dissonance between the Rambo Jesus of the Revelation preached from the pulpit, the one who’s coming back any minute now to kick ass and take names, and the prophet Jesus I found in the pages of the Gospel. I learned early to keep my cognitive dissonance and awkward questions to myself, too, in an environment where challenging authority was seen at best as evidence of human depravity and more likely a symptom of diabolical influence. Don’t think too much, sinner, that’s the work of Satan…
Jesus was supposed to be my Best Friend ever, but I didn’t trust Rambo Jesus as far as I could imagine throwing him. He sounded too much like his dad, the Wrathful God whose divine thumb prints were all over the Old Testament. I had serious reservations about the Wrathful God, too: I can’t remember being too young to have the sense that there was something dreadfully wrong with a God described as loving the world beyond measure being willing to destroy the everything (as in the Noah story) or send individual people to eternal torment in Hell for any reason he felt like. A good person would not do that. God was supposed to be a good person. So why would God do that? I didn’t think God would. (My readers who are familiar with early Universalist history may recognize this line of thought.)
Because shut up that’s why. The Bible is always perfectly right. Don’t let the Devil tempt you into questioning God’s Word. Believe in the Bible, we’ll tell you exactly what’s in it.
I learned to shut up. It was much easier than not thinking.
I actually had a soft spot for the Jesus in the Gospels – the one who went around healing the sick and blessing the poor and welcoming the outcasts and preaching unpleasant truth to those with power and influence. We didn’t hear too much about him in church, though. I was never too sure about the miracles, though, or the resurrection part of the story. I did not see how they could be literally true, because the world does not work that way now and it did not seem likely to me, based on what I understood about how the world works, that it should have been much different two thousand years earlier. I had my suspicions that all the “Son of God” business got added to the story later. But by the time I decided that, I knew better than to say anything.