Behind the talk of God’s love lurks the shame and anxiety that has always been the driving force of church. Tonight’s Good Friday service will once again hammer home the gory details of the crucifixion. People will weep and nod in solemn agreement that it was their own sinfulness that caused Jesus’ agony.
We use the story to tap into the shame and anxiety that most of us harbor inside ourselves all the time. And we’ll use it to motivate ourselves to do good deeds.
But there’s a problem and it’s a big one.
Shame and fear do not promote nobility. They make us sick with an anguish that fosters addiction, and corruption. They further lead us to conceal these miseries so that we can’t face ourselves and make our corrections.
Church is the place where people are scared to really face themselves. On Sundays, with few exceptions, they won’t talk about the things that keep them up late at night with fear and shame. Instead, they put on their nice clothes, plaster smiles on their faces, and talk about how blessed they are. And perhaps they whisper to each other the terrible secrets their neighbors are harboring.
People will read this and feel defensive. Or perhaps they’ll feel shame because they’ll recognize the truth of what I’m saying and blame themselves for it. But it’s not their fault.
The problem is systemic with no specific person to blame. Church can’t be a place for openness and healing when its basic premise is that people are awful sinners who caused the death of God’s child.
We need a safe place where there is no pressure, where people are loved with softness, and humanity is celebrated with quiet joy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were a place where people could freely air their true worries and flaws, where they could help each other with authentic words of comfort and encouragement?
Too bad we can’t find that at church.