Archive for the 'Religion' Category

Spending Good Fridays with the Country Club Christians

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift

“I don’t remember learning how to hate in Sunday School” – Steve Earle’s Jerusalem

I don’t know why we expect institutions to be more noble than the people that comprise them, but we do. And no loftier are those expectations than for churches and organized religion. Yet, it seems that organized religion can disappoint almost as often as it can inspire. I experienced such disappointment first hand over several recent Good Fridays.

Several years ago I was helping out as an usher with a Good Friday church service. During this particular church service an intense young man (who was not a regular member, or had never even been to the church to my knowledge) sat in the front pew looking seriously and intently at the pastor, and nodding away in agreement as he gave a traditional Good Friday sermon (such mild expressions would have gone quite unnoticed at an AME church service I can assure you). Rather than appreciate that a member of the flock was actually awake, alert, and following the sermon, the pastor apparently became concerned that the man was unhinged. After the service was over, the pastor asked several of us ushers to keep an eye on the this apparently erratic young man.

Now, while it was obvious that this young man was indeed intense and concerned about something, it did not seem to rise to the level of a safety concern. And I found it extremely odd that a pastor would even notice, let alone be concerned about such a person. I guess I expected that pastors by the very nature of their training and experience would be accustomed, maybe even desensitized, to dealing with folks in crises, especially since those crises such as death, disease, divorce, prison, and the like seem to be their bread and butter.

Anyway after the service, under the pastor’s guidance, that young man was lead out and away from the church unassisted so he wouldn’t be a problem. Someone who just wanted to talk about a particular problem and experience some love and encouragement was instead turned away by the church – and I was indeed part of that group, too busy at the time trying to get my own kids home and in bed. But it did made me feel bad and wonder if I shouldn’t have set a better example and maybe try to be part of a different sort of group. I eventually left that church and strived be better at helping those in need, especially when they most needed it.

A couple of Easters later, I met Tom Armstrong, a former Pennsylvania state lawmaker who had caused considerable angst in his community by taken three homeless sex offenders into his comfortable home in Marietta, PA (a suburb of Harrisburg). – I was truly amazed – here was a person who was surely living up to the true words and ideals of Christ, and perhaps not unlike Christ in some respects, he was quite persecuted for those ideals – ironically enough by folks who most claimed to be highly religious and supportive of “Christian Values.”  Now, if you were truly Christian and really wanted to find a modern analog to healing Lepers, you could hardly find a better candidate than much-reviled sex-offenders. Yet he was totally and absolutely persecuted and even hated by those so-called Christians who are supposed to be the same very champions of unconditional forgiveness and love.

It is extremely odd that few would see the inconsistency in such a belief system of persecution. The analogs to the recipients of Christ’s love are everywhere in today’s world – take your pick of combinations: women being stoned (convicts), prostitutes (homosexuals, drug addicts), tax collectors (abortion doctors), Lepers (sex offenders), and the lists goes on and on.

Last Good Friday was unfortunately another disappointment, the state was debating gun law changes in the wake of the Newtown massacre and there was a long and sternly worded Letter to the Editor from the pastor of our largest local church. This letter espoused the bizarre belief that in order to be true Christians, that true followers of Christ must own guns and be prepared to take up arms at any moment to support “Christian Values.” So much for turning the other cheek I guess – and it sounded a bit too much like that line from Mean Girls where “…on the third day God invented the Gun….” It too seems that if you wanted a modern analog to the cruel Roman guards and their spears – it is people who love their guns and their associated culture of death.

Those “Churches of Good Fridays Past” seem like they are not Christian churches at all, but more like the Temples of the Romans or the Pharisees. These so called “Christians” with their “Christian Values(do they even know what that means?)” don’t believe in helping the downtrodden, there are the oppressors. They don’t believe in unconditional love and forgiveness, they are the ones setting the conditions and making forgiveness unobtainable. They are not the Apostles or the Disciples, they are the crowd demanding Christ’s Crucifixion. They don’t have a consistent belief system – they have a club – a Country Club. They long ago forgot their guiding principles and turned into self-promoting social clubs full of Comfortable Christians – with followers who are so far removed from Christ’s original principles as to be almost indistinguishable caricatures of Christ.

So if you want to truly learn something about Jesus and Christian Values – you might do better this year to just skip the church service and simply watch Johnie Cash’s Gospel Road. But please remember to check your fear, hate, and guns at the door of this church.

Amen on Good Friday to those simple Gospel messages of true Christian Values – simple and timeless values of unconditional forgiveness and true love.

 

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Jesus and the Parable of the Wii Sports Boxing Game

“Two men went up to the video console to play;
one was a gamer, and the other was a ….”

…pretty good likeness of Jesus Christ. That’s right, while watching my son play the Wii the other day, I could swear that his boxing opponent was the splitting image of Jesus. Not the look and build of your typical boxer.

 Wii Jesus “Mii” in a Boxing Match

I might otherwise believe it was pure coincidence except when the virtual boxing opponent knocked him down I thought I heard him mutter “I smite thee Pharisee and tax-collector!”

Now, before Nintendo sends a team of lawyers over to my house, I should acknowledge that I am only kidding about this last paragraph (the boxer could be any Renaissance-era Italian and I believe he merely speaks in grunts).

But seeing such potential controversy in a simple video game reminded me of how easy it is to see religious symbolismand metaphysical machinations in the most banal of objects and images – from a grilled cheese sandwich (on sale at my ebay store) to a plague of locusts (OK, maybe that’s not a good example).

It also harkened me back to the nascent, innocent days of the web when viral urban legends would propagate in my email’s inbox like so much pathogenic paramecia.  For instance, remember the Wingdings “NYC” fonts controversy.

NYC “Symbolism”

At the time of the controversy, as usual, professional debunkers Penn Jillette and Barbara Mikkelson(Snopes.com) assured us that there was no animosity or sinister plot lurking in the arrangement of symbols in the Wingdings font (although Microsoft acknowledged there was forethought into the earlier Webdings arrangement).  

Now if I could only be similarly assured that this Wii boxing opponent wasn’t Jesus, I might be able to fight back without fear of eternal damnation.

Please forgive him, for he knows not what he does...