Nothing joyful about Easter memories for me

April 12, 2009 at 8:50 am 18 comments

I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it. I hadn’t even been born at the time!

For a long time I always associated Easter with guilt. Although my family would try to stuff me with chocolate, and church would try to tell me it was joyful with antiquated, mournful melodies, it is the feeling of guilt that lingers in my memory. I partially blame it on Aunt Lil.

Aunt Lil wasn’t a real aunt – just a kind lady that used to provide hospitality and a warm fireplace to a lost adolescent. Relatively recently, after two years in psychotherapy, my therapist and I concluded that I have spent my whole life looking for my mother. Aunt Lil was one of the many that I have found en route.

For all sorts of reasons that I won’t bore you with now, my mother was ‘absent’ for a lot of my formative years. After my mother died when I was a teenager, my father and I often popped round to Aunt Lil’s – a kind lady from the local Methodist church who would sometimes cook a meal for us and offer cheese and biscuits when my father came out of the pub. She was a widow and seemed to welcome the company, and we appreciated her care. I spent a lot of time round Aunt Lil’s chatting and drinking tea, listening to how much she missed her husband, and sharing my own teenage angst.

Although Aunt Lil and I shared a sense of mischief, Easter Sunday was always very serious. When we first knew her, she wouldn’t go to the Easter morning communion service. Although she would take communion throughout the year, she wouldn’t on Easter Sunday. She told us she wasn’t good enough. Jesus had died for her. Easter was special. She wasn’t good enough for Jesus, especially on the weekend that we celebrated his death, so she couldn’t bring herself to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

When the minister got to hear of it, he apparently gave her a good Christian talking to. I wasn’t there, but having been around churches for most of the early and middle part of my life, I can imagine what was said. Communion is not for people who feel good enough, but for those who are sorry. We can never be good enough for god, that is why he sent his son as a sacrifice (to himself). We shouldn’t hold back from god, but draw close to him.

That apparently did the trick, and Aunt Lil started to go to communion on Easter Sunday morning. But, there was a catch. In order to demonstrate how sorry she was that she had caused the humiliating and painful execution of god’s son by the heinousness of her sin, she would fast – go without food and drink (other than water) – between teatime on Saturday until teatime on Easter Sunday. It would somehow demonstrate to an all-knowing god how really, really, really sorry she was, and how seriously she was taking the whole thing. After church on Easter Sunday morning, I could have a cup of tea round Aunt Lil’s, but she couldn’t. She felt guilty about Easter, and I couldn’t avoid seeing it.

I don’t know why I was enslaved for so long to a story of a deity that has to cause his own son to be tortured to death in order to appease himself, and that somehow this appeasement worked for all time for the whole world for those who apparently chose to believe in him (but who somehow had also been mysteriously pre-ordained to do so). However, now that I am not, I am gladly able to shed the guilt for my part in the death of a first century religious leader in a country a long way from where I was born.

Do I feel guilt about things I have done wrong? Sure. Do I feel regret and pain for some of the big things I have done wrong years ago? Yes, I do. But interestingly, I would still feel that pain and regret, whether or not I believed that Jesus died for my sins and had forgiven me.

Now that I am free from a barbaric myth about an expiatory execution that is supposed to both induce guilt and somehow free me from it, and now I know that life is not a dress-rehearsal, but the real thing, guilt is a real emotion that I have to deal with. Let me share some questions that I occasionally find myself asking.

  1. Is this guilt legitimate or illegitimate? Do I really need to feel guilty about this? So, and so is trying to make me feel guilty and accusing me of upsetting them, but I have done nothing wrong, what I said was true and I said it in an appropriate way. They have chosen to take it badly, but that is not my responsibility. I spoke authentically about my feelings in an appropriate way. I don’t need to accept the guilt they are trying to load onto me.
  2. Is this guilt proportionate disproportionate? Ok, going five miles an hour over the speed limit was bad, but I wasn’t drunk or on drugs or driving without due care and attention, so I was wrong here, but I didn’t behave extremely badly.
  3. Is this guilt boundaried or unlimited? There is a time to feel guilty, and a time to stop. I have choices about whether I continue to wallow in unproductive guilt, or whether I can deal with the paralysis and move on. If unforgiveness is choosing to hold something against someone, and forgiveness is choosing not to go on holding something against someone, I have real choices about whether or not I forgive myself. I can choose to put a boundary on my guilt by consciously choosing to forgive myself (whether or not others have forgiven me). God may demand perfection, but I know I am living with a fallible human being.
  4. Is this guilt productive or wasted? What have I learned from my failings? What steps have I put in place to help me avoid messing up again? How will this experience of failure make my life better?

Easter never used to be a particularly good time for me, but I can now honestly say that I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it. It’s great to be free from all that!

- AThinkingMan

Entry filed under: AThinkingMan. Tags: , , .

Two “miracles” The Illusion of Moral Absolutes

18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LeoPardus  |  April 12, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for the story. I don’t think I’ve run across anyone before who had bad associations with Easter. I’m sure there are many others out there though.

    For me it was always fun. A better service that usual, egg hunts, chocolate, a good lunch, etc. And I gotta say that the Orthodox make Easter a complete blowout. Those folks know how to party. (I actually am looking forward to next Sunday. Easter for the O’s.)

    Thanks again. Interesting perspective.

  • 2. orDover  |  April 12, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I always like Easter because it was one of the few days were it was guaranteed we wouldn’t be going to church. My parents never took us on those busy church holidays because they didn’t like dealing with the crowds. :)

  • 3. JS  |  April 13, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Someone seems to have misinformed you about Jesus Christ and his death by crucifixion. The cross is not there to make you feel guilty – that is the purpose of the Old Testament Law. In Christ, there is no condemnation. He came to die to free you from your sins and guilt so that you may have eternal life and live in the freedom from sin afforded by God’s grace. Anyone who says that you’re an unworthy sinner is plain wrong because God says otherwise.

  • 4. Quester  |  April 13, 2009 at 4:43 am

    JS,

    Thanks for dropping by and letting us know that you have the one true understanding of what God is thinking, and the one true interpretation of the incoherent mess that is commonly referred to as the Bible. Since you’re so close to Him, perhaps you could ask Him to use you for something more useful than looking like an insensitive donkey on the Internet- there’s a lot of people suffering hideously and dying from curable diseases and preventable starvation in the world, perhaps you could start by helping out a few of them. Someone has to; God isn’t.

  • 5. Quester  |  April 13, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Thinking Man,

    Good Friday was the day of guilt for me. I’d think of every sin I’d committed and imagine it as a bit of extra weight for Jesus to bear while hanging there on the cross. Every thought, word and action I’d been taught as wrong, as well as all the correct thoughts, words and actions I had not performed- I’d dwell on as many as I could remember and wish I could suffer for them instead of poor Jesus. I’d imagine myself alternatively as the one holding the whip or the hammer, or the one being scourged or crucified. It was an annual horror that I’d try to forget by Easter and beleive this made it all good again. I managed it until I got to know the Bible a little better. It’s so much better to finally wake up and let go.

  • 6. athinkingman  |  April 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    LeoPardus
    I’m completely ignorant of the Orhtodox’s traditions, but you make it sound fun. Anything that can make a party out of a Easter must have got something right :-) I suppose they downplayed the crucifixion and foregrounded the resurrection.

    orDover
    Your comments bring home how different things are in the UK. Even when people do go to church more in religious holidays, there are still PLENTY of empty seats over here. In an increasingly secular society, your parents wouldn’t have been able to use that excuse. :-)

    JS
    I know the textbook answer and preached it for years. But there is something psychologically difficult about telling people they were sinners and telling people that Jesus suffered a terrible death because of sin, and then not expecting people to feel personally responsible for, and guilty about the execution.

    Quester
    I agree and can identify strongly with your comment. It is hard not to feel guilty about fancying the attractive worship leader when you know that those thoughts are hammering the nails into the cross!

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  April 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Someone seems to have misinformed you about Jesus Christ and his death by crucifixion.

    Several of us here could outline it is as well or better than you can. We know the whole schpeel by heart.

    The rest of your sermonette we also could have spoken easily. You did however make one glaring error.

    Anyone who says that you’re an unworthy sinner is plain wrong because God says otherwise.

    Like I said, a glaring error. Like most “christians”, you need to study your holy book.

  • 8. Lucian  |  April 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Well, two links I think are in order here: the first one touching upon the post’s actual subject, so as not to create the impression that the whole reason for me posting this comment here was solely for the purpose of actually offering the second one all along. 8) — Man, I’m sneaky! (and no, I don’t mind saying so myself…) :D

  • 9. Lucian  |  April 14, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    A Thinking Man said:
    LeoPardus, I’m completely ignorant of Orhtodox traditions
    .

    Oh, You poor soul… :-( Well, please allow me to rectify that: here’s a short introduction to the faith, … just in case You’re interested, I mean. (For further, in-depth study see this).

    If You’re interested in joining us for experiencing one of our worship services, please take a few minutes to watch this.

  • 10. LeoPardus  |  April 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    I’m completely ignorant of the Orhtodox’s traditions

    As was I a few years back.

    but you make it sound fun.

    It actually is. Even as an unbeliever I can enjoy much of it.

    Anything that can make a party out of a Easter must have got something right

    Really gotta give the O’s credit for knowing how to party.

    I suppose they downplayed the crucifixion and foregrounded the resurrection.

    Actually they emphasize everything. The entire week before Easter (Pascha as they call it) is called Holy Week. There are services everyday to commemorate the events of the week. The week’s services are quieter, more solemn, and dimly lit compared to normal services. On Easter morning you come in before sunrise and start a quiet, dark service. Then all go outside and process around the building. (This is timed to coincide with the exact time of sunrise.) Then you come back and seek entry to the church (a small and interesting service itself). Then, when you come in again, all the windows are open, all the lights are on, the censor that is being swung has bells on it, the chandelier is set to swinging, and all is noise and light.

    Christians say Easter is a celebration. Only the O’s treat it like one.

    Like I said, the O’s really know how to party.

  • 11. Quester  |  April 14, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Leo,

    You can take your Orthodox sunrise service. I’d trade in for an Anglican Easter Vigil midnight liturgy any year- going from dark to light at the stroke of midnight and embracing the whole story in the one service.

    *grin* To misquote, “When I’m not in church Sunday morning, it is the Anglican church which I am not at.”

  • 12. Eve's Apple  |  April 14, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    It wasn’t so much Easter as Good Friday that was guilt-inducing in the Catholic tradition–in fact all year long was guilt-inducing! The nuns made sure of that. It was YOUR sins that put him up on the cross; every little thing you did wrong was just another blow of the hammer. And of course there he was up on the cross at the front of the church for all to see. Every Sunday. That is what you did. That is what we all did. We are all responsible. And so on and so forth. Yes, the Bible talks about the Son of Man laying his life down freely and all that, but if we hadn’t been bad, if Adam and Eve hadn’t been disobedient, none of this would have happened.

    JS – I would suggest that you read the first three chapters of Romans. That is what one of my would-be evangelizers said to me recently. It lays it all out about how everyone has turned away from God–no exceptions–even though they know in their heart what the truth is. The author of Romans doesn’t have a very high opinion of mankind’s natural state. The whole reason for the Incarnation/Crucifixion etc., is because ever since the Fall our default destination is Hell, unless we repent and ask Jesus into our heart (am I getting this right?). You can say all you want about God and love but at its heart Christianity is a religion of FEAR. My would-be evangelizer even admitted as such, saying that we SHOULD fear God.

    Now I have a problem with this (and it is one of the reasons I deconverted, in case any Christians are reading this). If you have ever tamed a feral animal (say a cat or a dog), the very last thing you want to introduce in their relationship with you is fear. Because if they fear you it is all over. Bye-bye. My cats love me and stay with me because they want to, not because they are forced to.

    Now if the relationship between human and animal can be this way, then why not the relationship between human and God? Why does fear have to be part of it? And please don’t quote me Bible verses or talk about original sin. If God is so great and loving, it should be natural for people to gravitate towards him in much the same way my cats follow me. I mean, we are talking about a relationship here, right? That leaving, deconverting, would be as unthinkable as my cats running off to live in the wild. They don’t want to. The very fact that God’s spokespeople feel that they have to make fear part of the equasion tells me right there that what they are peddling isn’t all that great. It isn’t attractive. I am the feral cat peering out from under the bush, I want a safe home where I can be loved. Not one that is full of threats and punishments and loud voices. When someone tells me “You are playing a dangerous game” that does not make me want to come out from under that bush.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  April 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Quester:

    Oh, the O’s have the midnight service too. And the all night vigil. And not to leave out the Holy Saturday service, and the Good Friday services, and ……. You could just about camp out at the church during Holy Week.

  • 14. Lucian  |  April 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    QUESTER,

    don’t listen to a bloody think that LeoPardus fellow’s tellin’ You! I mean, all that that guy’s done so far is pushin’ his supposedly-“former” religion with a zeal that would fill even the most fervent new convert with envy! (“De-convert” my ass…!). Are You guys so blind You can’t even see what he’s up to!? [Sneak two miracles here, ... a service-presentation there ... ]. Man, You atheists are gullible! — Heck, I wouldn’t even be surprised if this comment magically disappears [since we're approaching Easter now, and it's time for miracles again]. My hunch is he’ll even give some “clean-cut” excuse like “I’ve deleted the comment because it exposed insulted me“, or whatever. — Hey, don’t get mad at me: I’m just tellin’ it like it is… :-| (I mean, I’m not against witnessin’ to people, or anythin’, but not in this deceitful manner, no way!). :-| Though it wouldn’t surprise me to see him use Joshua 2:3-6 or Proverbs 26:5 in his defense: I mean, these guys are capable of just about anything… :-(

  • 15. grace  |  April 22, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Amen, to that, Eve’s Apple, it is completely unthinkable!

    Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Why would we want to leave Him, any more than your cats would run away from you. I’ll be honest, and freely admit I can’t really understand deconversion at all, despite my best efforts here.

    I think the primary purpose of the incarnation is to show us the love of God. God entered fully into human life, and suffering so we could share in His life. Christians think that we are all changed by our unity with Christ to more, and more reflect His love, and grace.

    And, Leo Pardus, you about have me converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, you sheep in atheist’s clothing. (laughing)…teasin you, Leo.

  • 16. Quester  |  April 23, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Ah, Leo, the pageantry of bestowing ashes on Ash Wednesday, the foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday, the all-night prayer service of Tenebrae, the ecumenical procession down the city streets on Good Friday, the Festival of Light for Easter Vigil, and then the sunrise service of Easter, these are all beautiful from an aesthetic viewpoint and can be very moving. I always preferred Christmas, though, from both a theological and an emotional point of view.

  • 17. Lucian  |  April 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I always preferred Christmas.

    Traitor! How could You? (And he’s not even ashamed of admitying it! Sheesh! The impertinence!). 8)

    On second thought, You should probably ask Leo here to take You to some Easter services with him next time — You know: the ones he’s so forcibly being forced to attend, despite the fact that he doesn’t really wish or want to, … which itself is despite the fact that he does like them (seemingly a lot even) — but he’s actually on Your side, so Y’all should probably just ignore me… :D

    After all, all that he’s really trying to do is just to dispassionately show You the beauty, riches and claims of his ‘former’ religion so as to inform and report back at You the latest news from the Eastern front (because, as we all know, there’s `Nothing New On The Western Front`, … right?). :-|

    I mean, just ’cause You guys don’t believe in God does NOT mean that You can’t [blindly] trust a fellow blogger … right? :-|

  • 18. Amy  |  April 29, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Hmmm. Apparently I’m the only one that’s had a problem with Easter for the sole reason that it was always a reminder to me that I didn’t really believe the Easter story, and that I likely never would. In spite of the beauty of a bonfire at Easter vigil service, despite how I love the smell of incense-infused sanctuaries, despite the soothing effect a bunch of Hail Mary’s have on me, despite, in other words, all of the beautiful, sense-stimulating rituals I love in the Anglican/Catholic traditions, in the end, in my heart of hearts, I just don’t believe a man was God and that he died (but how could he die, really, since he was God?), and that he came back to life and walked around talking to his old pals for forty days or so. And I really tried to believe it. For years. I really wanted to believe it. I longed to believe it. I prayed for faith. I asked others to pray for me. I read books, I went to a monastery, I talked to priests and friends who really believed. Still, nothing.

    So I found Easter, for the last couple years I went (skipped out this year), to be a painful reminder that I just didn’t “get it”, that I was a failure, and that I would never really belong.

    Leo, I honestly envy you that you can still go to church and enjoy it even though you don’t believe. It just depresses me, which is too bad, because I love me some liturgy. I love the genuflecting, the crossing, the holy water, the warmth of the wine as it trickles down my throat. But to go now just reminds me that I’ll never have what I longed for for so many years. Maybe in time…

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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