Easter Sunday for a Jesus-following agnostic is an awkward time. I woke my son this morning to go to the multi-million dollar church building where the high-tech light and multimedia show will serve as the backdrop to one of the better rock shows in the area…all supposedly in the name and for the glory of Jesus.
We were running late and he was unresponsive. I tugged the covers away from his feet to get his attention, then I said to him, “He is risen; you are not.” Snail-like, he stirred and correctly answered the math problem I posed to him (my usual test of wakefulness).
His youngest sister – 10 years old – loves going to the 4th & 5th grade class where they have a smaller version of the multimedia spectacle, and reinforce it with video game stations, air hockey, pool tables, and other essentials for teaching the way of Jesus to the pre-pubescent. These are essentials, right?
We pulled into the expansive parking lot filled with upscale automobiles to signify the socio-economic status of their owners – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, etc. On the rear window of one car I passed on the way into the mall-like structure I saw a sticker that read “Visualize No Liberals”.
I felt like a complete misfit. An outcast…though cast out by myself, not anyone else. After all, I am the one who has changed over the last few years.
I am saddened by the fact that I find going into that “sanctuary” a repulsive thing. If my wife is helping out with the small children, I cannot bring myself to enter that room to be bombarded by music I find poorly-written, thematically mis-focused, and pre-calculated to manipulate a response that some call “worship”. The thought of listening to another pedagogue (even one skilled at oration) speak at me things I either already know or disagree with strikes me so hard I feel it in my gut.
And yet…I love Jesus. I believe in the resurrection. I am irrevocably attracted to his way. I long to be more and more like him. And I have a long way to go.
I reject the notion that Jesus would have us “Visualize No Liberals”. And I find it absurd the way “good Christian people” condemn those who are not like them, when the only ones Jesus condemned were the harsh, self-assured religious folk who neglected the spirit of the law, added to the letter of the law, and didn’t live up to any of it. Jesus was not a Republican. Though I also know he was not a Democrat, nor was he Libertarian or any other man-made party.
But what I find him to be is not what I find when I pull into this parking lot and step into this lavish suburban multi-purpose structure. I can’t see a connection between his lesson on private prayers, private charity, and humility and this public spectacle that seems to appeal more to human sensibilities than spiritual development.
Higher, Better, Above, Beyond
His way was/is higher, better, above, beyond. He is both inclusive (“he who is not against us is for us” and exclusive (“he who is not for us is against us”). He didn’t fight against the empire of his day, but paid his taxes, taught people to go the extra mile when faced with government oppression, and encouraged people to make peace quickly rather than litigate. But when it came to religious oppression and unjust practices, he was outspoken and brazenly offensive to the powers-that-be.
It was the most conservative religious people that urged the crowd to cry out “Crucify Him!” It was these same people who proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” This was the powerful group that had him arrested in the Garden, brought before Pilate for a kangaroo court session, rejoiced in his being beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails 39 times, and considered themselves “righteous” in the process.
These powerful religious people demanded his tomb be guarded by soldiers, and after he come out of the tomb alive conspired to say that his disciples over-powered the guards and pushed the giant stone out of the trough that covered the entrance to the tomb. They had his followers arrested, tortured, killed, ostracized from society.
Same Old, Same Old?
And I honestly have to wonder if this religious crowd that I’m a misfit around wouldn’t do the same thing. These are the ones who are seem so Pro-America (rather than pro-Kingdom of God) that they support war, torture, and execution of criminals. How would they really treat a radical like Jesus if he came along making the claims he made? What would this mass of powerful, prosperous people do to him?
I find much truth in the lyrics of the self-proclaimed “heathen and pagan” Jackson Browne in his song “The Rebel Jesus”:
Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
So sitting here in the well-apportioned lobby while the music, lights, and speeches echo out the doors to where I sit and think, I remain a confused misfit who feels like we’re talking about different spiritual masters who are unfortunately known by the same name.
And regardless of who they are singing and preaching about, I have to again confess through my doubt and self-inflicted distance, “He is risen!” And in a way, I am, too – risen above the man-made rituals and structures to follow a rabbi whose simple, profound way still resonates as the only hope for peace, harmony, and restoration in this divisive, divided world. “He is risen!” Are you?