Sunday, February 28, 2010

I've mixed emotions,...I think

I recently reread the story about a church in England that removed a 10 ft. sculpture of Christ on the cross that used to be out in front of the building because it was "scaring young children" and "putting people off". And they were going to replace it with a plain stainless steel cross (which, I guess, would be about as offensive as a kitchen utensil).

Hmmm... The Crucifixion offensive? Goodness, we can't have that! What a scandal! How dare th.... Oh, wait. It's kind of assumed to be offensive, isn't it? I mean, you don't want to use it just to be offensive -- but isn't it kind of guaranteed to be so? Doesn't the Apostle Paul call it an offense, and "foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God"? Maybe the problem isn't the crucifix outside the church, but, rather, a lack of understanding (or proper perspective) of the cross by those inside.

The church's Reverend Souter says, "As a key exterior symbol for us it was putting people off rather than having a sense of hope and life and the power of the resurrection."

Which is fair enough, I suppose. Passersby not knowing the context of the man on the cross could easily be confused or offended by it. But if it's a problem as a "key exterior symbol", then just move it inside. Right? Wrong. They've apparently given it to a museum (where, one would think, it would be even more potentially confusing or offensive, since it's even further removed from the proximity of a Christian church). But, besides all that, doesn't one kind of have to come to grips with the awfulness of the crucifixion to even get to a sense of hope and life and the power of the resurrection? And what better place than a church?

I find it hard to believe that early Christians were suprised that crucifixion was offensive. In Jesus' time, the simple fact that one was crucified at all was considered a disgrace. And since the horrible spectacle of public crucifixion was kind of a daily fact of life for them, then isn't it possible that Paul keeps reminding them of it because he knew they'd immediately and vividly understand the reference? Aren't we supposed to be shaken-up by the grim reality that Jesus endured such a tortured death for a world that pretty much despises him? And isn't there a danger of minimizing the seriousness of the sins he died for, when we sanitize horrors he suffered procuring the forgiveness of those sins?

Maybe that's why Christianity in Europe has been in such decline for so long. Maybe they just got too civilized and sophisticated for a story with such a crude and violent component to it. Maybe. But then, they seem to tolerate other (more modern) types of violence.

It makes you wonder, don't it?

Obviously, a message that focuses only on our sin-guilt, and the gruesomeness of the price paid for our forgiveness, shouldn't be where the story leaves off. And it's unfortunately true that some people seem to be so obsessed with the physical horrors of the crucifixion that it borders on morbidity. But a message that wants to skip lightly over that part of the story, in order to get on to more pleasant things, seems equally wrong. Western society seems to be either excessively preoccupied with death, or excessively afraid of it -- and neither extreme is healthy (either emotionally or spiritually). Balance seems to be a rarer and rarer thing in the modern church (and society in general), but isn't balance just the kind of thing Christians are called to model in this unbalanced world?

The Reverend also said they want to portray "an accurate biblical picture of the crucifixion as a moment of hopefulness for the world, and not one of despair." But the Apostle Paul spoke of the world viewing the cross as an offense and foolishness. And the writer of Hebrews encouraged Christians to: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

And maybe therein lies the problem. We are to focus on Jesus, but too many want to focus on just the parts of Jesus that don't upset them too much. People (believers and non-believers alike) prefer an amputated Jesus. The Liberation theology Jesus; the prosperity gospel Jesus; the positive thinking Jesus; the fire & brimstone Jesus; the New Age guru Jesus; the ethno-centric Jesus; and I expect to soon start hearing about the 'Liberty-Minded' Jesus (who is a Libertarian/Anarcho-Capitalist). But the Jesus of the Bible transcends and defies such neat and easy catagorizations. The fact that he had a zealot and a tax collector as two of his disciples should be proof enough of the radically life changing nature of the gospel (a zealot would have likely killed a tax collector, if ever their paths crossed in a dark alley -- but not after they encountered Jesus).

Then there are those who confuse the offensiveness of the cross with the offensiveness of their preaching style. But just because people are offended, that doesn't mean they're offended in the way the bible describes. Some people seem to confuse the offensiveness of the message with the obnoxiousness of the messenger. (Which is kind of how cultists think: "Ooooh, we're being persecuted because we're God's true chosen." No, you're being investigated because you're stockpiling an arsenal of military weapons, you're involved in financial illegalities, and you're practicing mind control on your members. Get a clue.)

Christianity is a faith that is full of paradoxes that, if not properly understood, may seem overly negative to some (e.g., you've got to die to get life; the last shall be first; he who saves his life shall lose it; etc). But one doesn't have to have a degree in theology to grasp such paradoxes (I mean, have you looked at the kinds of people Jesus called -- and still calls -- to follow him? You should meet the one writing this post). On the other hand, you can't approach the Christian faith and scriptures with an anti-intellectual "Oh, I just trust the Holy Spirit to explain it all to me, if it's really that important" mentality. Which brings us back to the concept of balance.

The church's curator said, "That today isn't an image which a lot of churches want to follow. They'd much rather see an empty cross where Christ has risen."

I can understand not wanting people to think that Christ on the cross is the whole story. Without the resurrection, he's just another deluded false messiah that got himself executed. But it just seems to be symbolic of modern Churchianity's obsession with never offending anyone -- i.e., the suffering Christ is more welcome in a museum than a church (providing he stays on the cross), while the church attempts to offer a "hopeful" resurrection message of a Christ that never suffered.

Still, the curator may have inadvertantly said more than he knew, when he stated, "They'd much rather see an empty cross where Christ has risen." Because an empty cross only indicates that Christ was taken down and buried. The empty tomb tells us Christ has risen. And, unfortunately, an empty church is usually the evidence of an amputated Jesus. God help us.

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