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Giving Thanks for Easter
Today is Easter, the major holiday of the Christian religion. Well, it's Easter for Western Christianity, as the Eastern branch celebrates it next week this year.

I grew up with a number of religious traditions. As I like to tell people, I had a confusing childhood. My mom moved to Atlanta, Georgia from St. Paul, Minnesota where she was in a large Catholic family. My dad, whose family was Southern Baptist, met her when he was a student at Georgia Tech and she was working in one of the offices. So, until I was around 7, I would go with my mom to early Mass in the morning, then attend Catholic Sunday School, then get picked up by my grandmother who would take me to Baptist Sunday School and their 11AM services. When I started Cub Scouts, Mom and Dad decided to join Varnell United Methodist, the church that sponsored my pack, and that's where I spent the rest of my childhood.

In college, I had the honor of spending a lot of time with the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Tech, the campus ministry for United Methodism. Much of this time was spent learning from Dr. Bill Landiss, who ran the group for 34 years. Bill was not only a campus minister, but he lectured at Emory University's Candler School of Theology and was an active scholar. He exposed me and the other WFers to a wide range of theological thinking, looking not only at the original biblical text through a scholarly light, but exploring what modern writers have written about the God experience. I found authors like John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox, Paul Tillich, and John A. T. Robinson, people who struggled with the conflicts between traditional Christianity and the insights into the world brought on by science, psychology, and history.

I have a lot of problems with the practice of Christianity in modern America. I see mega-churches spending millions on giant facilities, family centers, and direct mail advertising pushing the idea of "prosperity" to recruit members. I see communities of faith turned into wings of our political parties, eroding the American ideal that we have a secular government where people of any faith should receive equal treatment and respect. I see empires that broadcast messages of fear and greed through TV and radio. I see the fostering of intolerance justified by appeals to the literal authority of one book, ignoring the authority of reason and compassion. I see powerful interests that have fought to keep women from full participation, and that have tried to hide their own evil acts.

However, I also see a lot of positives. I see churches that make a huge impact in their communities, providing food and shelter to people in need. I see places where people connect to each other, doing simple things like singing together, sharing meals, and doing service. I see people having fun, supporting their sick, and sharing joy. I see people genuinely touched by the faith experience, and that motivating them to be better people. I see struggles for racial equality and struggles against war. I see an institution that helped me grow, that brought me into contact with philosophy, history, and the love of many people. I see a body that preserves the teachings of a man who told people to love each other, to be kind, and to think beyond the material world, one who was killed because his message threatened the power structure of Jerusalem, but who made an impact on the world large enough to span two millennia and be a major force in the world today.

For that, I am thankful this Easter Sunday. The church isn't the source of all of my answers, but it was the start of my quest, and that makes it a valuable part of my life.

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Huh. I didn't expect to see this kind of post from you -- not for any specific reasons, but mainly because I assumed -- like most liberal Austinites in my general age bracket -- that you'd have the same cynical down-on-religion-and-especially-Christianity views. I'm glad you pointed out some of the positives, though, which I often tend to overlook myself; being one of those down-on-religion types.

I know there's a part of me that sometimes longs for the communal and sharing qualities of a church. It's nothing I've ever really experienced before; unlike you, my more "spiritual" side was somewhat neglected while growing up. Aside from sporadic forays into church groups brought on by my Mom's fad at the time, I never had much contact with it. I'm usually glad of that, but every now and then I wonder if maybe I'm missing out on something. I've never wanted to be one of these brainwashed, Bible-thumping Jesus-freaks, but, like you pointed out, there are some positives to be found in a religious community, and maybe some of us ought to explore that a little more -- or at least keep it in mind -- before denigrating it. Thanks for the post, at any rate. Food for thought.

The trend toward brainwashed Jesus-freakism is one of the reasons I don't participate much myself. To be honest, I think I'd have ended up on the "down-on-religion" camp if it weren't for my studies in college. I've certainly got lots of negative memories of church too, but I strive to not be cynical in my life, and it just felt appropriate today to look for the good.

you might want to attend a service at a Unitarian Church. It's very much the opposite of a fanatical environment. They're accepting of homosexuals/transgender, even atheists/agnostics. They're more of an "intellectual's" church in that they play classical music and take readings from many different great and holy texts, taking the wisdom from many different paths and using them in a true nondenominational fashion.

I myself was raised in smalltown Texas Fanaticsville, and had to go through a period of anger and rejection of the Christian faith before I could see objectively how people really need their faith and community during difficult times(personal tragedy, national tragedy. Going through the death of a lover of mine(she died suddenly at the age of 24) as an agnostic was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, because I couldn't even lean on the "she's in a better place with God" comfort.)

As a member of the medical field and volunteer over the years, I've also come to truly appreciate the charity that churches provide...without churches, so many in need would continue to be in need. I don't really care if it's guilt or racking up points for the afterlife that makes people take care of their fellow man, as long as they're taking care of their fellow man.

Best of luck to you...I have some understanding of your conflict.

*hug* Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I spent time this weekend working in my garden, which I always find restorative. It reminds me that feeding a small seedling just a little can make it thrive, that simple effort has great value, that sometimes we have to let go, but also that renewal is always possible. Your post has started me thinking about these things, so I suspect you'll see a post from me later in the day.

I look forward to seeing your response! I was thinking of several of my friends, including you, while I was writing this, hoping to see what takes you'd have on the topic.

There's a lot of problems with many modern churches and religion, but the gospel itself remains simple and true. Spirituality can never be overrated.

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