Easter is making me cranky


All this talk of Christ's resurrection has made me quite cranky about the Christian religion.

I can still recall how, when I first attended a Christian service last summer at a liberal UCC church, I was nervous and tense during the entire service. It was a scary step I had taken into the unknown world of mainline Christianity. I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. I particularly wasn't sure how I would be able to handle all the Trinitarian language that I was certain to hear. I wasn't sure how well my mind would be able to ignore the parts I didn't like, the dogmas I didn't agree with, or how well I would be able to derive value from the service despite my theological radicalism. What I found was that services were fascinatingly attractive at the same time that they made me squirm. Cognitive dissonance ruled the day.

Over time, the squirming lessened to the point of disappearing, at least as long as I attended the same church and became familiar with the people who attended. I got used to the Trinitarian formulations in the hymns and the doxology. I got over the whole communion thing; I even partook of it myself sometimes, although almost always with some reluctance. And I think in my own mind I convinced myself that these theological differences with orthodox Christianity were minor issues that I could handle in the weekly services. Over time, I think I was secretly trying to tell myself that, in liberal Christian denominations, there were lots of people who thought like I did. And there seemed to be some evidence of that; at the "Saving Jesus" seminar I attended at a church near where I work, one woman in her eighties told me she didn't consider Jesus to be God. I liked hearing that, and imagined that there must be large numbers of questioning people who attend liberal churches. But is it really true? I dealt with the cognitive dissonance by wishing it away.

But then came Easter.

Maybe it was fortunate that I was out of town on Easter Sunday, and thus I wasn't able to attend a service in which Christ's resurrection was proclaimed. But Easter, alas, isn't done with us yet in the Christian calendar. There's that whole post-resurrection, pre-ascension time that gets celebrated in Christian liturgy. The first week after Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary includes a passage from John 20 that tells the story of doubting Thomas. Ah yes, doubting Thomas--what a perfect story to hit skeptics over the head with, those who don't believe that there ever was a literal, physical resurrection.

Interestingly, however, in the church I attended, the Bible reading wasn't from the lectionary; instead of John 20, a passage from John 21 was used. Rather than serving the goal of responding to our skepticism, John 21 instead told a story of Peter casting his nets for fish on one side of the boat, only to be told by Jesus that the fish was found on the other side. An interesting choice, because the pastor extracted from that a lesson about how sometimes, in our moments of pain, the answers we seek aren't always found the first place we look.

Whenever I listen to a passage in church from a biblical account of the post-resurrection appearances, part of me is just screaming for a member of the clergy to say, just once, in their sermon, "Of course, the resurrection stories in the four gospels are inconsistent with one another, obviously mythological, and rather than being literally true they point to a greater truth." Just once. But so far, it hasn't happened to me. Maybe it happens somewhere, in some Christian church in some part of the world. But, as Jack Good points out, this isn't often the way the game is played. Certainly, in this case, the pastor last Sunday didn't say anything like that, and treated the passage as if it described actual, historical events, which perhaps he believes to be the case. Still, I appreciated the fact that he also went somewhere different from the usual place that he could have gone in the week after Easter.

Meanwhile, a brief glance at online sermons on the subject of Easter, even in liberal churches, reveals the usual proclamations of a resurrected Jesus as a literal, historical event. All of which makes me, once again, wonder if I am deluding myself. What am I doing in attending church? I managed to convince myself that people attend churches for all sorts of reasons, that not everyone who attends or belongs to Christian churches accepts the party line, that there is a secret, hidden undercurrent of diversity and skepticism in liberal churches that never really gets acknowledged by the clergy or brought into the services in any obvious way. Since this presumed undercurrent is covert, it is impossible to disprove its existence. But without any confirmation that there are others who feel as I do, it is just as easy to imagine that there is no such undercurrent whatsoever. It is a big mystery to me as to what is going on. And at Easter time, in particular, I feel particularly out of touch with the Christian experience as it is explicitly formulated.

Maybe I'm not attending the right church. Maybe there are churches with discussion groups or other activities that would allow me to find more confirmation that there are others in the same boat as I am. In any case, this needle that I try to thread between orthodox Christianity on the one hand and rejecting the Christian tradition on the other is making my eyes cross.


Christian said...

I like your crankiness. :-)

I'd say there is a large "underground" Christianity that views the resurrection as a metaphorical or mythical event. But from the pulpit, we also inherit a long tradition - and there is a fine line between playing with the tradition and doing the tradition a disservice.

I think the UCC is a great church for progressive-minded Christians. (I can say that because I'm not UCC.) But if you're really hung up on the nods toward traditional Christian dogma, perhaps the Unitarian Universalists might be an alternative. (I can suggest them, too, because I'm not UU.) But, I'd say give the UCC a good while... it sounds like you're already meeting people of like or similar mind. And I think that connection is above all what church should be about.

Here-here for cognitive dissonance! :-)

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Christian,

The problem I've found with the UU congregations I've attended is that they go too much the other way, ignoring the Christian tradition or bringing in other traditions that don't interest me. I sometimes feel caught in the middle between the UUs and progressive Christian denominations like the UCC, but I generally lean towards progressive Christian denominations because I like partaking of the Christian tradition, despite my differences with the orthodoxy.