A Kinder, Gentler, more Grown-up Easter.

Via on Apr 9, 2012

Brett O’Connor

In yo face Devil! Take that forces of evil!
Look whose laughing now! Ding Dong the witch is dead!
We fart in your general direction! Sike!

… Such has become the way that many of the world’s Christians have come to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. We’ve allowed the ways of the world to infuse our beliefs and we end up fighting fire with fire. Employing the world’s ways against it.

Once our religion became the official religion of the Roman empire, followers of the non-violent Jesus (even Bill Maher concedes this much) started to assimilate imperial ways into our discipleship.

A blatant example of this is in our hymnody. I’m a United Methodist and I love the movement founded by John Wesley and his brother Charles—both of whom were excellent lyricists. It’s been said that for Methodists, “our hymnal is our 2nd Bible”  in that it conveys and informs our theology. Many of the hymns that the Wesley brothers wrote are now standards in perhaps the majority of Christian denominations—especially on Easter.

The problem is that Christians started incorporating the ways of empire into their expression of their faith. From the most ancient of days, from warring tribes to the Roman empire—and on through the British and American empires—dominating forces sang victory songs and held grand victory celebrations and parades. Celebrating their conquests and might—as well as mocking and taunting their defeated foes. Pax Romana! Hail Caesar! Rome Rules! Long Live Caesar! Down with the Huns! The Greeks are sissies! Rule Britannia! Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

As a trumpeter, Christ the Lord, is one of my all time favorite hymns. Indeed, in someways, “it wouldn’t be Easter without it.” It begins innocently enough,

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!       

Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

But then it goes on…

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

It (and numerous other Easter hymns) are essentially early versions of the songs that zealous sports fans sing to the opposing fans when their team wins, “Nah nah nah nah… nah nah nah nah… Hey hey hey, Goodbye!”

Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise, playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day; you got mud on your face, you’re a big disgrace, kickin’ your can all over the place! We will we will rock you!”

And, ironically, Always look on the bright side of life…”

Now it makes sense that Jesus’ earliest followers would’ve felt incredible comfort, vindication and outrageous joy upon their realization that even the worst that the Roman powers that be could dish out wasn’t enough to defeat Jesus and the Kingdom of God that he sought to usher in. They experienced an empty tomb and a risen Christ, confirming the truths and teachings that Jesus taught and showing that unconditional, vulnerable love is indeed the way, the truth, and the life—including loving our enemies. This (and the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost) emboldened them to continue on, and spread, in spite of severe hardship and persecution.

Over our first 300 years, the early Christians were brutally, harshly and systemically oppressed. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of them were crucified, torn apart by lions, or lit up as human torches along the city streets. Then, in 313 AD, Constantine ended the persecutions, converted to Christianity, (it’s debatable how fully however), legalized it, and eventually, it became the official religion of the Empire. In time, and arguably in part due to the spread of Christianity, the Roman empire collapsed and… drumroll…one could say that God had the last word and reclaimed for Him/Herself the titles that the Caesars had been claiming for themselves—including “God,” “Son of God,” “Savior,” “Divine,” “Lord,” and, even “Prince of Peace.”

 Hooah!

And yet, it is that human impulse to gloat in the defeat of our enemies that’s the problem. You see, it isn’t what Christians are called to do. Relishing in the defeat of others isn’t what Jesus did or would do.

I remember feeling these same feelings upon seeing how most of my fellow, mostly Christian Americans responded upon learning the news that Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed. Instead of simply feeling relief that the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was no longer a threat to us, they collectively beat their chests and cried their primal “yawps!” of victory and celebrated his death—with many wanting to be the first to dance and/or piss on his remains.

Scholar Walter Wink contends that the world’s first meta-myth is “the myth of redemptive violence.” In a nutshell, it’s the notion that violence is what defeats evil and that killing bad guys is the right thing to do and it is violence that is what saves us. It’s rooted in the Enuma Elish from ancient Babylon and it’s the basis of much of Western culture. Indeed, part of why Jesus was executed was because many of the Jews in Israel at that time didn’t see him fitting their expectations for a kick-ass, Rambo-like knight in shining armor who would kick Roman butt and restore the Kingdom of Israel (though he was close enough as far as Rome was concerned).

Wink asserts that Jesus wanted to subvert that dominant myth of redemptive violence with a new myth of redemptive love, i.e., unconditional, radically inclusive, vulnerable love.

While many Christians (including, but not limited to, the Eastern Orthodox) celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as one where God proves that even the worst of the ways of the world cannot separate us from God’s love and can’t vanquish love. Might doesn’t make right, love does. Love wins—and the vulnerable, risky, seemingly foolish and naïve ways of Jesus, the way of the cross, are the real and best way to live.

And yet, the vast majority of Christians in the West celebrate Jesus’ execution. Heck Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ was a huge box office hit. It met people’s prurient need to see an innocent man’s ass kicked, lashed, stripped, whipped, and nailed to a cross in order to vicariously defeat the depths of their own perceived sin and wretchedness in order to save them. So rather than experiencing salvation through practicing Jesus’ nonviolent, radical, subversive, and counter-cultural ways, these Christians think that they’re saved by God dishing out “the wrath that is rightfully due to humanity” upon his son Jesus as our proxy, as our whipping boy, as our scapegoat. It’s no wonder that evangelical and fundamentalist Christians tend to not engage in mournful and somber Good Friday services—they relish and delight in Jesus’ crucifixion! In this logic, God was employing redemptive violence—and if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for us.

Hence, most evangelicals and fundamentalists (and due to their influence, most American Christians) are fans of capital punishment and are believers in Constantine’s notion of “just wars.”

One of the songs that I think has done the most to distort and corrupt our faith is the evangelical praise song “Our God is an awesome God.”

 “In a playful, yet perhaps insightful, way let me suggest that the motto of what I’m broadly calling conservative Christianity is “God is awesome and He’s the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” Worded another way: “Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above,” which is from a popular praise song. That sort of theological imagery is perhaps an unconscious reason why so many Christian conservatives supported President George W. Bush’s war of “shock and awe” with Iraq. Societies base their policies and actions upon the view of God that they embrace. A god described with the words, “When He rolls up His sleeves 
He ain’t just putting on the Ritz…There’s thunder in his footsteps and lightning in his fists… Our God is an awesome God”[1] is a god who’s prepared to kick some butt. People strive to emulate the god they adore and if the popular view of God is vengeful and violent, then the people of that society will naturally be vengeful and violent as well.”[2]

Steve Muhandro

Rather than love their enemies, they prefer to engage in the theological version of over-excited football players who spike the ball in the end-zone and gloat with dances and taunts.

I don’t deny the reality of the resurrection, and I certainly enjoy a great Easter celebration—and consider every Sunday throughout the year as a “mini-Easter”—heck, everyday for that matter. I’ve experienced resurrection power in my life and have witnessed it in the lives of others.

That said, I’m not willing to pretend. I’m not willing to pretend that Jesus’ resurrection completely defeated evil—a quick glance at a newspaper will disprove that. And, I’m not willing to pretend that just because I’m a believing Christian, that I no longer struggle with sin or backslide into times of despair, grief, addiction and self-sabotage.

Even though I believe that God’s love will ultimately win-out in the big picture, on a day to day basis, there is a lot of shit that still happens. There is brokenness all around us—and if we’re being honest— within us.

I think songwriter Leonard Cohen has it right that “Love is not a victory march… it is cold and broken hallelujah.”

I feel little motivation to gloat or mock anyone—including the devil (if I were to believe in such a being). Indeed, if anything, metaphorically, I feel sympathy for the devil.  I pity him. I love him. I see how I’m like him and I feel understanding and compassion. Jesus’ last words weren’t “F you!” Or, “I’ll be back!” They were “Father forgive them.”

Seems to me that it’s time to grow up and sing a new song. It’s time for us to sing songs that better match the teachings and ways of Jesus as well as better honor the reality of our on-going struggles to consciously choose to act in accordance to the resurrection or not to.

I nominate The Cave  by Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brother’s Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise for our consideration.

I waited until after Easter to submit this blog—as I didn’t want to rain on any of our parades—at least not on the day of them. I realize that my voice is a dissenting and minority one and that I may be shouting to the wind. Future Easter celebrations aren’t likely to change very much, but then again, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus weren’t very likely either.

In Christ,

Roger Wolsey


[1]  Excerpt from p. 71, Kissing Fish: christanity for people who don’t like christianity, Xlibris, 2011. http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com.; Our God is an Awesome God, by Rich Mullins, BMG Songs, Inc., 1988, see: http://www.lyricsmania.com/lyrics/rich_mullins_lyrics_33372/other_lyrics_64277/our_god_is_an_awesome_god_lyrics_758740.html

~

Editor: Brianna Bemel

About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity

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20 Responses to “A Kinder, Gentler, more Grown-up Easter.”

  1. Bonnie says:

    Thank you! I was feeling really uncomfortable with the priest's sermon at church yesterday. He kept emphasizing "The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!" and talked about Easter being completely in defiance of nature etc…I was having some great feelings being back in church again for the first time in a long time, the possibility of maybe giving Christianity another chance blooming-until the sermon.

    Your blog is A-Okay with me. :)

    ~Bonnie

  2. findingyoga says:

    Thank you so much for the historical analysis and thoughtful contemplation. At church yesterday (having not attended for a plethora of reasons for over a year) the pastor basically declared that I (although he probably didn't think he was talking to me or about me because I was wearing a pretty dress) was a heretic, sinner and devil incarnate by his definition.

    • foo says:

      And you are, that's what the entire bible says over and over. You can however ask for forgiveness and your wretchedness shall be forgiven. Its all very clear if you take the time to read the book.

    • foo says:

      If the actual words and meanings of the bible are unpalatable to you, why not choose another fairytale? Why try to contort and reshape something thousands of years old to make you feel better about yourself?

  3. Jason says:

    Want a tip? Quit trying to apply the logic process to something so completely illogical.

  4. John says:

    well said Roger … the prevailing “militant” Christianity misses the whole point & is the antithesis of what Jesus taught … it is simply religious racism. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – you are definitely not alone. Be well ….

  5. unorthodox says:

    I've been a pastor for 31 years in a mainline denomination. I love God's people…and mine…but every day I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Peace, love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness. F*** the doctrine and dogma. ClergyProject.com I've joined. Thank you, Roger, for this blogpost.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Thank you Roger. I've always had a problem with the entire concept of "Rambo Jesus." Jesus was all about love and compassion. I wish more people got that.

  7. sondance says:

    I was born on a seminary campus, raised in a traditional protestant church family (patriarchal family of preachers)… my own coming to Christ is similar to your way of seeing, collaborating and thinking these days…. I see something holy in the music I listen to now (music festival hippie chick, I am)

    My nomination: Craig Finn: Honolulu Blues. "your bringing Jesus to the jungle, try to teach people to sing all those hymns that you loved cause you learned 'em as a kid and they make perfect sense to you… there's a point and time when thousands die and you gotta maybe think that maybe Jesus isn't gettin' through."

  8. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

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  9. cynthiabeard says:

    I also can't help but think about how worried the women were when they discovered that Jesus' body had disappeared. That was not a moment of triumph for them, but one that caused fears about further persecution.

    • Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

      good point! ..though in Luke's Gospel an angel tells the women not to fear and explains what has happened and in John's Gospel Mary M. has that encounter with the Risen Jesus and she runs off to tell the menfolk about it. But yeah, in Mark… it's just an empty tomb. But yes, indeed, it was more shocking to them than "triumphant" — it took awhile for that shift to occur.

      • cynthiabeard says:

        Thanks for the reminder that the reactions of his closest friends varied depending on the Gospel source.

  10. Sam says:

    There is a lot of evil in the world and this is an undeniable fact – but it wasn't created by God. We each have a free will to choose our behavior and most prefer to choose the dark side rather than the light. This isn't God's problem – it's our problem and we are the only ones who can fix it. Why is it so difficult? Why do we prefer to carry around our heavy baggage that weighs us down and then complain about it and blame anyone and everyone but ourselves. We build our world through our own eyes, attitudes and actions and then blame God. We shall reap whatever we sow – that is a spiritual law with consequences more certain than physical or man-made laws. Just because the consequence doesn't happen immediately or in this lifetime is no assurance that it won't happen. Read "Spirit and Truth, Finding Clarification of Christian Beliefs through the Words of Scientists, Scriptures, Sages and Seers" (available on amazon.com) to understand why and how all this works.

    • Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

      Sam, I agree with you. It seems that the view in that book you mention may be similar to the ones I convey in my book "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity" (available on amazon.com ; ).

  11. [...] sermon is heavily indebted to Roger Wolsey’s blog post, “A Kinder, Gentler, more Grown-up Easter.” Thanks, Roger! With apologies to Queen, CeeLo, Lenard Cohen, and anyone who had to hear me [...]

  12. Jenny says:

    Nice try Roger.

    I do have a lot of sympathy with your point of view, and believe that – in essence – you are right that contemporary Fundagelical Christianity, like the other churches that may be described as 'Constantinian', is a betrayal of the message of Jesus the 1st Century Galilean Jew, which was a message of human pacifism.

    Human pacifism – but perhaps not Divine pacifism. You see, there's just no getting away from the fact that the very earliest Christians anticipated the imminent apocalyptic arrival of the Kingdom of God within their own lifetimes – and they certainly attributed this expectation (of a violent Divine intervention) to Jesus himself. The New Testament is shot through with this erroneous, violent expectation like raspberry sauce is marbled through raspberry-ripple ice-cream

    It is possible that – as the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar have argued – Jesus himself proclaimed a non-apocalyptic message. In order to arrive at such a non-apocalyptic Jesus, though, they have had to pare away so much of the Gospel material attributed to Jesus as inauthentic that it makes you wonder what could possibly be left of Christianity!

    Christians who wish to follow such a non-apocalyptic (possibly) historical Jesus may be better served by taking a tip from Jewish Renewal neo-Hasidic Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and thinking of themselves as 'Nazarener Chassidim' with Jesus/Yeshua as Tsaddik rather than the (now so obviously) untenably idealised 'Incarnate Deity'.

  13. Jenny says:

    “part of why Jesus was executed was because many of the Jews in Israel at that time didn’t see him fitting their expectations for a kick-ass, Rambo-like knight in shining armor who would kick Roman butt and restore the Kingdom of Israel”

    This is almost certainly historically inaccurate and may help perpetuate the kind of Christian anti-Jewish (later anti-Semitic) rhetoric that led to pogroms and eventually to ‘Constantinian’ Christianity’s collusion with the Shoah/Holocaust.

    It is, in itself, a form of violence.

    The historical Jesus probably made no public Messianic claims for “many Jews” to reject.

    Most Jews in 1st century Palestine were, if not actually illiterate, then theologically unsophisticated. They were 1st century Mediterranean peasants! Those who were literate held a variety of views about the Messiah.

    If, historically, any (Judean) Jews did collude with the murder of Jesus it would have been a TINY clique of the religious elite (Sadducees) who managed the Temple operation, and who were in cahoots with the Roman occupying forces for political reasons that seemed expedient to them at the time.

    Crucifixion was a ROMAN tool of political terror. The ROMANS were entirely responsible for the murder-by-crucifixion of Jesus – not “many Jews”.

  14. Lisa says:

    I'm wondering if you're really familiar with the Bible. In it you will find many references to God that use warlike imagery. "Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger; The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire will devour them…Thou wilt make them turn their back; Thou wilt aim with Thy bowstrings at their faces. Be Thou exalted, O Lord, in Thy strength; we will sing and praise thy power." Just one of many examples. True, our God is one of love, but that's not all. He is an awesome, terrible God, to those who anger him.

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