We had a weird lunch on Saturday. We went out for my mom’s birthday and it was me and the Butcher, our parents, the Red-Headed Kid, my parent’s minister friend and his wife (who were in town because their son and his wife live in Spring Hill and I guess meeting us at the Madison Red Lobster gave them something to do?), and their son and his wife (who is an exquisite jewelry maker).
Anyway, on the one hand, my parents really like this other couple. They are the kinds of buddies who see each other every couple of days up where they live.
On the other hand, lunch started awkwardly because the other minister insisted we pray before the meal and then he tossed the prayer to my dad. My dad loathes showy public prayers. You want to say a quiet private prayer over a restaurant meal? Go right ahead. But this nonsense? And there was a brief scripture-off where Other Minister quoted some verse about how God’s children shouldn’t be embarrassed to be known as such in public and my dad was all “Don’t pray in public like the hypocrites do” and then something about how Jesus says God already knows what’s in our hearts. And then there was a weird stoney silence. Then my dad prayed.
And later I was all “It’s the South, Dad. No one is going to be surprised by a group praying publicly.” But he was still kind of put out by it.
Anyway, that’s just to give you background.
The part I want to talk about is how, at one point, the Other Minister looked over at the Red-Headed Kid and was all “I see you have a Celtic cross tattoo. Why did you get that?” The tattoo is actually of a Celtic cross headstone.
And the Red-Headed Kid just goes right ahead and says “That’s where I buried my religion.”
Another deathly silence falls over the table.
“Excuse me?” The Other Minister asks. And then the Red-Headed Kid remembers that he’s also a minister and says, “I was raised Catholic. I’m messed up,” shrugs and turns to talk to the Butcher instead.
Then, Other Minister, I guess in an effort to keep talking about God or something, asks me if I have a church home! I said, “No” but that I take the folks over to Old Hickory United Methodist Church when they’re here. Again with some weird silence and my dad jumps in to tell them all about the minister there.
And then the wife asks me how I liked being a minister’s kid. And I was honest that there was a lot about it I didn’t like.
Which they also seemed kind of taken aback by. Her son was like “I thought it built character.” Which, you know, fine, but I’m not sure that’s an unalloyed good.
And they asked the Butcher about going to California and he was all “I failed,” which made me a little sad. And then I threw in something about being excited for Rose’s arrival.
So, you know, there it was–these kids who don’t go to church, who don’t have their shit together, who hang out with people who are pissed at God. And we’re all teasing my parents and laughing at each other. And finally even the wife joined in on it, which was a great relief, because, otherwise, it was just going to be us and an audience.
But I came away feeling like the Other Minister both looked down on us and was terribly jealous of us.
So, that was weird.
But I sometimes even see that in my dad–that he wants happiness, but he doesn’t trust it. Like it’s some fleeting illusion that might tempt you away from God.
At some point, it came up whether the Red-Headed Kid was worried about going to Hell (I can’t remember if the Other Minister brought it up first or if the Red-Headed Kid made some joke about it), but it just struck me as such a stupid thing to worry about. Like what kind of asshole wouldn’t let the Red-Headed Kid into Heaven? It’s ludicrous.
But even among Methodist ministers, there’s this belief in the God as Abusive Parent model, in which you have to sit around and appease, appease, appease or else the punishment rains down.
And I realized at lunch, this is what’s killing the Church in the United States. We’ve undergone a great cultural shift. We marry for love. When we feel mistreated or unappreciated, we can easily dissolve those unions. Parents “tough-love” their kids out of the house. Kids decide they can’t have relationships with their abusive parents. We have a cultural expectation that we are in relationship with people where both parties are benefiting from it or we don’t have those relationships. It’s not always worked out that way, but that’s the overarching cultural narrative.
We choose who we love.
But the Church–as a whole–still serves God out of fear. Even when it gives lip-service to serving God out of love, when you spend enough time observing the sales pitch, even the one ministers give to each other, you see what it comes down to. Don’t say that, do this, pray this way, etc. or God’s going to be pissed.
And He gets so pissed, so easily, that he will torment you for eternity if you can’t manage to appease him in the brief decades you have on earth.
If your friend were dating a woman like that, you’d do all in your power to steer him away from marrying her.
Don’t get me wrong. Even if the Church were suddenly like “yes, God is love, real love, not love redefined as abuse” and acted like it, I just can’t change my heart. I just can’t experience there being only one god. I don’t foresee some way that I could ever become a Christian again, but it’s much more likely that I’d become a Christian than I’d ever become a monotheist. It’s just contrary to my experience of the world.
And the Butcher doesn’t seem to believe in the divinity of Christ, so he’s out.
But someone like the Red-Headed Kid might be open to an experience of God that wasn’t fear based. But I know my dad’s friend put the day when the Red-Headed Kid might go back to church for his own reasons (and not to mollify his mom) further off.