Religion Whiplash

Sometimes, I worry that going to seminary has killed the Christian in me.

Take, for example, the experience of Holy Week. As a child, I remember most Easter weeks as a rush of excitement. After all, on Palm Sunday you got to wave branches around at church and then, just a week later, came Easter baskets and candy and spying on my mother with my cousin so we could make sure we found the most eggs. It was a fun week, and sure, there was some vague idea that there were things in-between the Sunday celebrations, but that never bothered me much. I mean, on Friday, we usually got off of school, and it was even called Good on the calendar.

Later, I caught on to the language we were using in hymns, and figured out that the word ‘miracles’ wasn’t just a figure of speech – we believed in a God that did the impossible. And somehow, it was all a gift, meant for each of us. It’s a confusing concept, so I generally focused on my Cadbury crème egg instead.

In seminary, though, you live and breathe the theology that surrounds Easter. It is, in some ways, your entire reason for being where you are. You spend hours dissecting and explaining and rationalizing, trying to figure out the whys and hows of a God that can die…and be restored. If, in childhood, Easter is all about joy and celebration, then life comes full circle in seminary, giving you an Easter week full of doubt, questioning, and existential worry – all while you are likely juggling school and church responsibilities besides.

Put quite simply, my experience of Christianity has often been one that struggles with the mundane. Things are jubilant, hopeful, and triumphant, or they are alternatively dire, desperate, and lost. Both of these extremes are valid places to be, real ways to experience things. But I can’t help but feel that when trying to journey through life, holding on to them can be a little exhausting. Shouldn’t part of religion be the ability to exist in everyday, to help to infuse the daily experience of living with meaning and purpose?

In rushing from Palm Sunday to Easter, one only experiences the highs of Christian theology, with its pomp and circumstance and somewhat self-congratulatory sense of triumph. Of course, being mired in Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday can get you stuck, lost in questions that don’t have any provable answer. And the transition between the two extremes is so abrupt, so jarring, that it can leave you a little befuddled. In many ways, Christianity is a religion of whiplash.

I will honestly admit to not knowing if other religions suffer from this extreme emotional see-saw in quite the same way, but I would venture to guess that it is a surprisingly common problem. In so many ways, our religions are reactionary constructs, designed to respond to the extreme situations in life. Unfortunately, this also means that incorporating those same beliefs into a more even-keeled worldview is tricky. For me, it has required putting some distance between myself and the extremes of my own faith, needing to understand how I can best live like a Christian in the everyday before I embrace the manic roller coaster of emotion that the traditional liturgy inflicts upon me. Still, I can’t help but wonder: how do those of other faiths find religious sustenance in the midst of the mundane?

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One thought on “Religion Whiplash

  1. The crowds that accompanied Jesus as they approached Jerusalem were certainly on an emotional high. Their hosannas and blessings on the coming king echoed words from Ps. 118, all about triumph and victory for this king.

    But in Mt. 21:10, it says when they actually entered Jerusalem, the whole city was “stirred” (“shaken,” as in an earthquake, the same word used in Mt. 2:3 for King Herod and all Jerusalem when they heard the news of the wise men about a new king). The upset city confronts the excited crowd with a question: Who is this? And the crowd answers with a less excited response: This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee (21:11).

    Between those two emotional extremes is Jesus himself, who is not thinking about Ps. 118 but Zech. 9:9 (quoted in Mt. 21:5). His riding on a donkey, even the colt of a donkey, shows what kind of king he really is, namely, a humble and meek (gentle and kind) king, a contrast to the high and mighty kings who ride on war horses. It is the latter kings that produce the emotional extremes of the crowd and of Jerusalem. Jesus himself is quietly continuing his ongoing, mundane humble and lowly state, showing gentleness and kindness to those who need his mercy and compassion.

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