The first of two reflections on this theme. I’ll post the second one tomorrow.
In my experience, pervading the atmosphere of too many churchy groups are unspoken expectations which leave me with the impression that I should look and feel as inspired and triumphant as actors in the finale of a Broadway musical or as energetic and confident as college athletes competing in basketball’s Final Four.
Maybe these expectations are more common in the south and among evangelicalish Christians. I know that I’ve felt them more often than not, especially during my years as a pastor.
Smile. Be unfailingly nice. Shut down your imagination. Never look bored or even admit to yourself that you are bored. Deny anger. Don’t express your deepest doubts. Hide your vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and fears. And, be sweet. Don’t forget to smile.
Excuse me, but, in almost every way, these expectations are just nonsense. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m all for being nice; nice is good. But “nice” can be a polite mask for a lack of true kindness and compassion. “Nice” can cover a closed heart. “Sweet” can be good, too, unless it’s staged sentimentality which makes it possible to act as if we feel our own and other’s pain but, in fact, to keep our distance from complexity and struggle.
About anger: I suspect that, if we can’t feel genuine anger, it’s likely that we can’t truly love. Anger flashes when we or someone we care about or some good that we cherish comes under threat. It flares when people ignore “no trespassing” signs which border, bound, and protect what matters to us.
Sure, there are petty angers, since we sometimes care about things which don’t matter nearly as much as we’ve convinced ourselves that they do. However, there are legitimate and important reasons to be angry: injustice, oppression, cruelty, and harshness.
When human dignity is demeaned and distorted, we should be angry. It’s wrong not to be angry about the wrongs people endure. The issue is what we do with our anger. After it rises in us, we can convert anger to energy we use to make right what has gone wrong, to rebuild shelters for human flourishing, to seek justice, and to make peace.
Like pain to the body, boredom is a warning to the spirit that there’s something drastically skewed about our understanding of God and of life. Boredom is diagnostic: it’s a symptom of diminished attentiveness. After all, if we can make the Artist who fashioned creation boring, if we can find this gorgeous world in any way dull, and if we can turn the pilgrimage with Jesus into fuller humanity into pedestrian routine, then we need the wake-up call which boredom provides.
Doubt is part of real faith, not its opposite; questions are doorways into truth.
Vulnerability, weakness, and fear are openings for love to flow into and from us.
A sure sign that we’re in the wearying grip of such nonsensical expectations is a scarcity of joy.
We pick up here tomorrow.