Lunch with Ministers

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.


6 thoughts on “Lunch with Ministers

  1. So when Hume writes about the problem of evil he lists out all these–to his mind at least–unnecessary and avoidable sufferings that believers have to explain before he’ll be satisfied with their account. And there’s a great passage that I always make my students discuss.
    Hume’s saying that it doesn’t make sense to give all creatures different limits (like why can one be fast or strong but rarely both or why are we so smart but kinda weak). And then he says “An indulgent parent would have bestowed a large stock in order to guard against accidents and secure the happiness and welfare of the creature, in the most unfortunate concurrence of circumstances.”
    And isn’t that interesting – the expectation that God would act like an indulgent parent?
    Too bad student often conclude that if parents shouldn’t be indulgent then neither should God. But then I try to ask them if the right organization is an indulgent God but strict parents.

  2. The fear/anger is why I left Christianity. And the guilt tied to it. I’ve never felt so relieved as when I decided to just stop trying to figure out any possible sins I’d done that day (and the general catch-all of any I couldn’t remember) to ask forgiveness.
    My mother is fond of telling me that God loves me. With a whole lot of implied ‘anyway’ in the subtext.

  3. The Professor, I wonder if part of the problem is that Hume must, just by context, always have the example of a monarch in the back of his mind, even when he’s talking about parents or God. And yet, how difficult is it for us to sit here in the United States in the 21st century and know what it means to live under a strict king. And yet, Hume must have viscerally felt the problems with being under the command of a leader you can’t easily get rid of who enforces grave inequalities. The only close metaphor we have is of parents.

    But it’s interesting to imagine what prisoners might make of Hume and of your discussion of him.

    rheather, as I was drifting off to sleep Saturday night, I kept thinking of all the things I wished I’d asked the Other Minister. They all basically boiled down to “Do you even like God?” Because, though I know my own beliefs are corny and strange and probably just seem contrarian in some ways, I experience the Old Man as Someone I enjoy hanging out with when He’s around. I miss Him when it feels like He hasn’t been around. I like reading about Him. I like wondering how clear the lines between, say, Odin and Woden are, and if Jupiter, Tyr, and Zeus are really separate or not or what. I like saying the words Frigg thought were strong enough to keep Odin safe when people I care about are traveling. I like feeling I’m in ancient relationships.

    I feel better off for having the gods in my life–frankly, even if they are just stories and self-delusion on my part, this would still be true–and not in the “I Dream of Jeannie” way where they fulfill all my wishes. But better like I feel better having you guys in my life–like friends and acquaintances I enjoy knowing. and I genuinely feel the they enjoy knowing me.

    The whole time I was Christian, I never felt that. I implicitly understood why I needed to beg God to like me, but I never thought, other than out of pity, he actually did.

  4. So do you think all our talk of the Christian God as a Father is leftover from monarchs? I’m not good at the history here, but I guess it really was a strategy of early Christians to tie themselves to political leaders. And plenty of people do read the bible as giving men a mandate to run the home in a manner analogous to the way a king runs a state.
    I have always been hesitant about understanding God as a parent – and I am waiting for a student in class to challenge the whole comparison rather than just the indulgent part – but I am not so sure that it is an old comparison born out by Hume’s political reality. Or, if it is, I wonder if we’ve really overcome it much as all.
    So I guess what I am really saying all along here is that I was facinated by your post that questioned the kind of parent God might, or should, be that already suggested that maybe the parent model is a shitty one too. And that maybe the Other Minister doesn’t even know much of the baggage he is carrying around and expects all of us to also pick up with him.

  5. Well, the Jewish Creator was seen as a father (and also, on occasion, as a mother) and a ruler long before Jews had their own king. The political situation described in שופטים (Judges) was one where charismatic, situational leaders (male or female) emerged when needed and were followed until the need was met. There were no dynasties or even lifelong leadership. I don’t think living under a monarchy is a necessary condition for thinking about the divine in parental terms, and I think that Christianity took the concept of divine parenthood (and the concept of divine rulership also) from Judaism.

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