My thoughts going into Easter this past weekend were a mixed bag of criticism, questions, and self-analyzation. Although this wasn’t the first year we have not actively participated in any church based Easter activities, ghosts of special sermons, carefully selected worship songs, newly purchased clothes, and orders of service timed to the minute haunted my mind. I have actively, willingly, and intentionally played a role in times past of ensuring Easter Sunday morning service is meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. Every effort was made to make the right impression on the countless visitors we were certain would be in attendance. After all, if the plan was executed perfectly it would draw people to join our congregation and our attendance would increase showing how great of a place we were. Heck, if we performed well enough, visitors might even make a decision to follow Christ! Oh yeah, I guess we were actually celebrating Christ’s resurrection as well, but, despite being repeatedly mentioned throughout the course of the service, it never seemed to be the real focal point. There was more concern taken over the timing of every agenda item and every detail of cleanliness and structure rather than celebrating the day for what it was to represent. It was the biggest Sunday of the year and was treated as such. It’s the institutional church’s Super Bowl!
Late last week I had a conversation with a long time friend via text and we discussed the subject. Having walked together through many different courses of life, and many changes in beliefs for each of us, I knew he was someone safe to talk to and would not return any judgment if I shared my true feelings. I mentioned my disdain for what it has become and how I referred it to as the Evangelical Church’s Super Bowl. The response I received was a simple, “It’s pretty much all Christians’ Super Bowl,” and he went on to explain it should be a cause of celebration. He mentioned the resurrection should truly be the one thing in the world we have reason to celebrate and the manner in which we do so should inform people of the power of the resurrection. I pointed out my problem is it’s the one day of the year we talk about the resurrection and we then live the rest of the year forgetting it. We celebrate and look forward to the day itself and gloss over the event. The next response I received was significant and gently reminded me there were three fingers pointing back at me on the same hand with which I was pointing at others, “Most people are very inconsistent. I know I am to an extent . . . I say that to seem somehow piously humble, I mean it. I’m an inconsistent mess sometimes.” The conversation which followed took us everywhere from the prodigal son and his older brother to being focused solely on our own salvation to the true purpose of our faith being faith itself and not our eternal destination.
As I reflected back on the conversation over the next two days, I believe he hit the heart of the matter with the word inconsistent. If we are all honest with ourselves, we are all just a giant bundle of inconsistencies. Paul stated this in his letter to Rome as simply, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” To live a human life is to live a life of inconsistencies. Inconsistencies appear in both our actions and beliefs and become glaringly obvious when the two do not align with one another. What we believe as absolutes today are the very things we may question tomorrow. Theologies and beliefs I would have once defended I now despise and detest. Though I lived a life once grounded in rules, regulations, and expectations, I strive now to live with an open minded letting Love be my guide. Yet, in the very same breath with which I proclaim to live in Love I often find myself judging and looking harshly at those who choose to remain in the path I traveled for many years. Despite striving to live freely in grace and seeking to show grace to others, my back still stiffens as my blood pressure raises when I’m cornered about why I walked away from the life I once lived. I find it difficult to not respond in anger when being accused of leaving my faith and when I am judged as sliding down a slippery slope to damnation. The churchboy I lived as would never openly admit to living such a life of inconsistencies no matter how true it would have been. His life was all about maintaining the perfect image of what he believed a Christian should look like. I would like to believe the churchboy I once was is dead, but as I shared recently I am forever recovering.
Brennan Manning admitted his inconsistencies like this:
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
I’m at a point in my journey where I can truly recite Brennan’s words as my own. Brennan captured what I now believe a Christian truly is as he concluded his statement above with the words of Thomas Merton, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” This goodness of God is found in returning to Paul’s letter just a few sentences after his admission shared above, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul’s words bring us back full circle and return us to Jesus and his resurrection which is where our discussion began. In pondering and reflecting on Easter, I found I was not alone in the process. One friend spent the week on social media questioning if our obsession with and promotion of holy days had gotten in our way of enjoying the blessing we have in Jesus Christ each and every day. On Easter Day itself, he gracefully summed up the week with the following sentences:
There is nothing wrong when we celebrate a certain day as “holy” when it is an option you choose in your own conscience before God.
At the same time, there is not a single instance in the grace portion of your and my bible where a holy day is presumed true and where celebrating a certain day is ever mandated.
Whenever and wherever a mandate to observe a holy day is present, it is a violation of God’s grace who cleansed our consciences and who liberated our minds and our consciences to enjoy him free of manmade ritual and tradition.
A life of grace is a life free of manmade mandates of ritual and tradition. It all comes down to your own conscience before God. To share grace with others is to refuse to view them through your own personal mandates which arise as result of that conscience between you and God.
Inconsistencies will arrive and plague us as long as we live but as Paul, Brennan, and Thomas all point out, it’s through Jesus we overcome them. His consistency overcomes our inconsistencies just as His perfection overcomes our imperfection.