Aftermath of Easter

Holidays, it seems, are increasingly overloading themselves with baggage. Not only are many of them thinly veiled celebrations of materialism, but many are now being tied to “issues.” As I survey the aftermath of Easter as I saw it this year, it becomes plain that even the message of self-sacrifice and hope springing eternal can be co-opted. The Fellowship of Catholic University Students at Montclair State University hosted a screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ last week. An outcry of biblical proportions flooded university discussion groups over what was deemed cultural insensitivity. Gibson’s version of the gospel failed to impress me when I saw it, stressing as it did Gibson’s sadomasochistic torture scenes in an effort to raise a few welts over “Christ-killers.” Back at Nashotah House I was regularly on the preaching rota. (I’m not now nor have I ever been ordained in any denomination. I have, however had preaching experience going back to my high school years.) My final sermon asked whether we should accept theological truths from a loose cannon of an actor. These physical accidents may have had more than a little in common.

Conversely, my first sermon at the seminary – the very year I was hired, and several years since my last pulpit performance – featured Abraham Lincoln. Nashotah House was a bastion for disgruntled southerners at the time; they were often the only ones conservative enough to fit the seminary’s profile. My admiration of Lincoln was expressed in an innocent expostulation on the merits of freedom. Afterwards I was drawn aside and admonished, being informed, “not everyone here believes Lincoln was a hero.” Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, a point that has not escaped those who note that the Civil War began 150 years ago this month. Those at Nashotah who disliked my words felt that I was disparaging the south. With roots in South Carolina, I indeed was not. Slavery is wrong in any ethical system that will stand up to scrutiny. Those who believe in equality, however, often pay the ultimate price.

Holidays do not always bring out the best in us. We need the respite, and we have the Jewish community to thank for coming up with the Sabbath that has led to our weekend lifestyle. Each weekend rival churches fill up with those who believe others to be wrong. Religion seems to have failed in its quest to unite. A colleague at Montclair cited the quotation of uncertain attribution: “having a war about religion is like having a fight over who’s got the best imaginary friend” – this was in the context of the screening of Mel’s Passion. The fact is, when it comes to religion nobody knows the correct answer. The humble response one would like to imagine is the mutual encouragement to continue to strive for the truth. More likely than not, the response is someone will select their weapon of choice and try to prove their point of view the old fashioned way.

2 thoughts on “Aftermath of Easter

  1. The thing that amazed me about The Passion of the Christ was all of the Christians who took their children to see it. Like somehow exposing children to that level of violence is ok if it’s done in God’s name.

    As for Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclaimation was his single most unpopular act in the North. My understanding is that it was more of a military and political move than anything else. He thought the slaves would rise up against their masters and win the war for the Union. Regardless of the reason, it was quite brave on Mr. Lincoln’s part to do something for the nation as a whole that was almost guaranteed to bring about his political if not actual demise.

    And your quote from your Montclair friend could not be more true. Could there possibly be anything more insane than a war about religion? Thanks for your post.

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Piper! I only saw Passion because one of my students back at Oshkosh insisted that I had to. I really did not like it. Any R-rated movie about Jesus is bound to have issues. Yes, and although Lincoln was not as progressive as many today might have hoped, he too was a product of his day. Not that this excuses any of us, but hindsight tends to be a little clearer than foresight. Thanks for the comments!

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