"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Inspires Hope...and Hellfire

Despite the rainy weather these past couple days, Monday—the day after Easter, a tremendously significant event in human history, according to Christians—was gorgeous in Olympia. And at The Evergreen State College, that meant one thing: out came the crazies. The Christian crazies.

Usually nice weather brings out a slew of people doing a potpourri of unique activities—tightrope walking, juggling, drumming, dancing, hula hooping, lounging in the grass. On this sunny day, the only thing that stood out was two young Christian men, seemingly not Evergreen students but maybe locals, maybe traveling evangelists. I’m not sure.

And their message was loud and clear and, not surprisingly, not well received. One day after Easter, a celebration that represents the essence of Christianity, these Christians chose to boldly proclaim that “essence”, as they understood it, to one the most liberal campuses in the U.S.

I don’t share this because I think it’s so incredibly novel, as if these are the first sign-holding evangelists the world has ever known. I guess, I just found the whole scene—and the timing of it—interesting.

Their signs read as follows:

Jesus said, "Not all who say 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Warning to all drunkards, murderers, sex addicts, thieves, liars, homosexuals (and a few other “sinners” I can’t recall): judgment cometh!

Hell is…(I don’t remember this one exactly either…something like “fiery” or “no fun”.)

I first heard about this because one of my co-workers passed me while walking across campus. When I asked her how her day was going, she said that it was going well, until she was yelled at by these preachers and told to repent. It ruined her day, she said. Because, you know, it’s not exactly a “boost” to be told you’re on the path to hell.

When I got to the quad I just watched for a few minutes. There were a few Greeners arguing with them, clearly impassioned and likely unhappy with their message and/or approach. I imagine some were Christians, as I eventually saw a girl sit down in front of them with a sign that read:

I apologize for these Christians.

Later, when I passed back by, another sign had appeared, evidently not from a Christian but someone (maybe) interested in validating his peers:

You don’t need approval from a god.

There were a plethora of students seated on benches and grass, observing the whole scene, some just amused, some clearly upset. Maybe because it’s not PC to be told you’re going to hell. Or because they hate all forms of religion. Or because they don’t like a religion being pushed on them. Or maybe because they don’t like “homosexual” being lumped in the same category as "murder," for some reason. Or maybe they just don’t like King James English.

One might praise their boldness. What courage they have to just “say it like it is!” How brave to not “dumb down the message.” And so on. Okay. I guess if you believe others around you are in real danger, you have to do something, you have to warn them...right?

Courage is a virtue. But courage in isolation might not be. Part of a living a virtuous, godly life includes a harmony among virtues. You can be courageous, but fail to be wise, compassionate, and attentive. You can be courageous and be very foolish. You can be bold and do a lot of harm. Boldness in itself is nothing. Bravery in isolation can be downright stupid and destructive—even evil.

I had mixed feelings about these two men. But I also had mixed feelings about the Christians who were uncomfortable with them, including those protesting the display. I have mixed feelings about a lot of things, it seems.

I felt amused, a little bit, because it was comical, in a way. But I also felt a little embarrassed, like my faith and theirs were implicitly being lumped into one...like they represented me.

But, people are smart right? People know that this is just one way to be religious, to be Christian, right? I don’t really need to worry about people getting the wrong idea, because people have the intelligence to discern this kind of thing.

On the other hand, something like this could also be fuel for those who already want nothing to do with religion, with God, with a community of character and faith…it could just be confirmation of what they “know.” It might inhibit their finding God and the peace, joy, and purpose that might accompany such a discovery.

Maybe these "evangelists" are/were wrong, but still…for all who so well model the character of Christ in a very compelling, attractive way, this doesn’t really endear people to the God of Jesus, if this in fact is an accurate picture of that God—a Being who may have a lot of love to give, but is mostly just pissed off with everyone and throwing a hissy fit about it because his ego is wounded and his project of creation didn’t go the way he wanted it to.

And then there are the Christians who seemed to be pleading with these bringers of “good news” to stop, to see that this isn’t the way. I guess I’m ambivalent toward them too. Because, what really bothered them? What were they protesting? Were they protesting the content? That many will go to hell because they are sinners?

Or were they protesting the delivery? Like, we agree with you, but your strategy for telling people about how wrathful God is is all wrong. I don’t know that I mind the strategy all that much, as if a more “secret, relational evangelism” would be better, where you befriend people, and then when the moment is right, you strike!

As someone more and more compelled by the possibility of universal reconciliation—that God, through Jesus, has saved all and will save all, even if it takes a long time, because God is just that loving, persistent, and committed to fixing and healing the human family—I’m not sure they are really capturing God as I understand God to be. Judgment? Sure. But I expect to face judgment, too, just like the murderers. I just think judgment precedes a happy ending.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m not really sure what their goal was: for people to have a conversion experience to Christ, or to just stop lying and stop being gay...as if their goal was to make the world a little less “evil” rather than “save” more. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is that I don’t feel like they gave the clearest picture of who God is, according to my view of who God is. That’s the point, I guess.

Free speech is a good thing, and they had a right to be there. And you know, they might be very good people and be just a bit misguided. I respect their right to preach their message, even if their message pisses me off. I don’t want them silenced. Well, part of me does. But part of me doesn’t.

But the day after Easter. That’s the other point. That’s the part that really gets me, I guess. It’s almost as if, inspired by the message of Easter, they came and proclaimed their Easter message. But it didn’t feel like the message of Easter. So what is the message of Easter? I suppose there are several ways to answer that.

Hope. Expectancy that Jesus' resurrection was a foretaste of what is to come for humankind, that even though we suffer and die, we will thrive and live forever.

New life. That just as Jesus died and came back to life, so we can find a new experience of life, a new freedom from the bondage of sinful, harmful, destructive habits and the opportunity to be healed and made whole, made more fully alive.

Love. A sign that God adores us, advocates for us, believes in us, and is willing to do anything for the world out of sheer appreciation for humankind and out of an unfathomable capacity to pour out love to others.

Fidelity. A sign that Godwho called the nation of Israel to be a sign of his presence in the world, who then became incarnate in Jesus and started a “church”, only to have most of them flee in fear and weakness at his crucifixionhas not and will not abandon us. God does not pout, nor give up; God perseveres.

Non-violence. A sign that Jesus’ methods—marked by a refusal to use violent means to achieve his aims—were legitimate, right, and good; a validation of the way of peace and a condemnation of the way of violence.

Protein. Because, eggs...right?

However you want to frame it, the message of Easter should comfort, inspire, and empower. I guess these two young men’s version of the Easter message inspired something in people and maybe empowered a few, thought probably comforted even fewer.

In church on Palm Sunday, I, as part of a very moving segment of the liturgy, repeatedly shouted along with the congregation: “crucify him!” I assumed it to be and experienced it as a means of identifying with those who violently wished for the demise of goodness that day, an admission of my own potential for evil, and a call to humility.

We all get it wrong at times. We are often on the wrong side of an issue. Our methods are often flawed. Just as I may have the insight to perceive these flaws in others, I hope I can recognize my own flawed perspective and methods.

But some messages are more flawed (and potentially more harmful) than others...right?


Joel Colbourne-Hoffman said...

Hey Matt,

Great post and thoughts. It reminded me some things I'm thinking through at the moment, namely a "non-violent view of the atonement". Have you heard of this before? It's changed my thoughts about a lot of things, in a good way. Anyway, hope you're well. -Hoffy nut

Matt Boswell said...

Joel, I wish I was important enough that you'd move where I move, go where I go. :) Miss you.

Assuming you're really a good Mennonite, you're probably familiar with John Howard Yoder? "The Politics of Jesus" was formative for me. A couple good quotes I scavenged after dusting off my copy:

Talking about Jesus' movement toward Jerusalem in his last days: "The cross is beginning to loom not as a ritually prescribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism." (36)

And: "The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come." (51)

Yoder rejects penal substitution, the dominant Protestant way to understand the cross. His pacifism stems, I think, from the view that Jesus' life and death were a display of total obedience God and to non-coercive love, and that the resurrection is a validation of that way of non-violence and an exhortation to us live non-violently, knowing that no matter how much harm others cause us, real godly love does not coerce nor violate, and that in the end, in our own "resurrection," any wrongs done to us will be made right.

At least that's how I remember Yoder...it's been a while, though I feel like his ideas played a substantial role in developing my own theology.

Joel Colbourne-Hoffman said...

Well, I try to be a good Mennonite, so I do have a copy of Yoder on my shelf, but I haven't got around to it yet, though I have heard many quotes from him.

I think what has clinched it for me, is that I've believed strongly for some time in the non-violence of Jesus. It should be a natural progression, but I think because of culture, it's taken me a long time to get to the point to say, "If Jesus was non-violent, then God must be non-violent because to see Jesus is to see God."

Anyway, it's been interesting to see once I've allowed myself to believe that, how so many things must change, but I find the more I get into it, the better the "good news" seems.

By the way you have my permission to move to Sydney, whenever.