Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Loathing and the Love of God

Today, as the Church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul, I am led to consider the special gift of my generation (Gen X) -- self-loathing. (My parent's generation got to revel in free love, and I get self-loathing. Where's the justice?)

If you are a GenX'er like me, you know what I'm talking about, but if not look at the culture and see our special contribution. What begins as self-loathing becomes an ever-growing gray cloud encompassing everything around the self in cynicism, despair and disgust. As teenagers we were just finding our footing so this was limited to bad haircuts, black clothing and anti-social behavior. Now, as adults, we're learning to come to terms with the scope of who we might mean by self and have turned this into a socially acceptable art form. What I mean is this -- we have gifted the culture as a whole with a cynical attitude and general ill-will toward our indigenous institutions.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the movie "The Last Samurai". This movie is about a worthless, drunken American soldier embittered by his experience of American hypocrisy and Indian killing. Sent to Japan, he discovers the beauty of the Samurai culture and learns the "true" meaning of things like honor and respect. In short, this movie, disregarding the hideous socially regressive effects of Samurai culture in 19th century Japan, spits upon all that is vile and sordid in American culture and puts another culture on a pedestal. Us: bad. Not us: good.

This sort of thinking is very influential in our cultural attitude toward Christianity and the Church. Christianity can easily be beaten down by reference to its track record. It brings about hate and division. It cripples our educational system. It was used to support slavery. It helped subject people to autocratic rulers. It was a tool that Constantine used to solidfy his power.

To review: America sucks, the Church sucks, Christianity sucks. Who wants anything to do with these rotten institutions? I'll just be spiritual. What? You're not convinced? Look at the Bible. Abraham sucks. Moses sucks. David sucks. Israel sucks. Peter sucks. Paul sucks. In the past this has been glossed over, and these people were polished up to be "Heroes of the Bible", but now we can look at them objectively and see that they suck.

Here's the thing. They do suck, and the Bible surely means for us to see that, but that's not all we are meant to see. The big picture is that God is redeeming all of this suckiness, and one day everything that sucks will "shine like the sun" (Matthew 13:43).

The story of the conversion of Paul helps me to see past my generational heritage. It gives me hope. It reminds me that in spite of all the sordid and vile things in our past, I have reason to take pride in our nation and to take pride in the Church.

Today's Sacred Space prayer begins with a reminder that "to be present is to arrive as one is and open up to the other." Naturally, I went right into thinking about how I needed to open up to God as I am, but the next line threw me for a loop. "At this instant, as I arrive here, God is present waiting for me." Do you see the radical idea that emerges by combining this definition of presence with the awareness that God is present?

God arrives, as God is, and opens up to me! And my response must be to come to God, as I am, and open up to God. This is how Christ met Paul. This is how he meets me.

Now the challenge is to take that wonderful Gospel of God's love and extend it out from myself and into the world around me in the same way that the self-loathing has previously been spread.


Thomas Adams said...

One day everything that sucks will "shine like the sun"

What about parking tickets, John Tesh's albums, Busch Light, and the Kansas City Royals? They all really suck!

*Christopher said...


We are the pessimistic check to the overly optimistic Boomers who make up the bulk of our parents. A little via media lets us say, yes our institutions are imperfect, yes they're constantly in need of reform, and let's put our hands to the wheel rather than whine and get cynical. The Boomers thought we could live without institutions, and we inherited that, but the truth is we can't, so what type of institutions are we working for. Hopefully, with regard to the Church as institution, it's one conformed to the Mind of Christ and working to build up God's Reign.

LutherPunk said...

The homily I delivered for the Eucharist on this day were very focused on God's ability to redeem even the worst of us. I had not thought about the perspective of our (gen-xers) sense of self-loathing. Great observation.

And Thomas: It is not that God is incapable of redeeming John Tesh's music, Busch Light or the Royals. These things are God's gift to us to help us discern what is good by showing us what REALLY sucks!

Andy said...

Hey! I like Busch Light!

Christopher said...

As a counter-point to "XYZ sucks" here is another take "XYZ funny"