I am really excited to share this column with you guys – it originally appeared in catapult magazine in April. It’s a little bit of a departure from some of what I share here, but here goes 🙂 Enjoy!
“Check this out, we finally have enough merchandise to do an Easter display,” said Sean, the store manager.
“Well, I’m an atheist and I don’t really care what we put on display. I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus on Easter,” says Jeff. Then he quickly questioned his statement asking, “Wait, when was Jesus born?”
“I believe that would be Christmas,” said Sean, slightly sarcastically.
“So what’s Easter? Is that when Jesus died?” Realizing he’d already made a rather epic error, Jeff wanted to try to get some of these facts down correctly.
“No, Jesus died on Black Friday,” said Andy, convinced he was correct.
“No, dude, you have it wrong, Black Friday is when you get good deals on TVs, not when Jesus died,” responded Jeff.
“Jesus died on Good Friday,” explained Sean, “and Easter is the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead.”
With the boxes unpacked, Jeff and Andy began putting the merchandise out, and Sean texted me from his office to share the story.
I love this story because it brings to light something that is happening in our society. It’s a snapshot of the conversations around water coolers, lunch rooms and stock rooms. It’s a growing trend that many people claim to be atheist or agnostic and, that as a culture, we know more about the civic celebration that bookend religious holidays. Lent has disappeared behind the party of Mardi Gras, the true meaning of Christmas is muddied by the excitement of cheap TVs, and All Saints Day sits in the shadow of Halloween.
How is it that we find ourselves in this place where secular culture seems to overshadow religion? Are people so intimidated by the dates and perceived rules of organized religion that they no longer feel the church holds a place for them? Is it a natural progression of the generations, with Gen X questioning authority, and Gen Y and the Millennials being a defined as the “Me” generations that is causing us to be so self-defining that we no longer see a need God?
Ironically, what seems to be missing for today’s younger people is an understanding of the original radical spirit of Jesus. If we take away the rituals, the memorization of Saints and scripture read from the King James Version, we find again the founder of the Church. Jesus was a true rebel in his time, who dared to love all people, who was seeking equality for all people, who saw the connectedness of all people. Jesus threw out the old rules, and was even so bold as to state that there were only two rules: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, which flew vehemently in the face of the traditions of his own time.
What could be more relevant in today’s world than a leader who questioned the status quo, interacted with people of all classes, of all races, no matter how “appropriate” others deemed them? What could be more timely than a man looking to end poverty? What is more motivational than a man who publicly admits he loves others, and who will die for the people he loves, all the while forgiving those who kill him?
If today’s atheists and non-believers could look past the rituals, the songs, the traditions, the stereotypes of Christianity and organized religion, what they would find is a message of love brought to us by a man who is as relevant today as he was over 2000 years ago.
We see the truth of this story in the resurrection, as it is the end (and beginning) of a gorgeous love story. It is the story of a Father who loves his children, of a Son who loves his Father. It is heart wrenching and life affirming in the same breath. It is the recognition of sorrow and promise of joy. It is the story of humanity, it is the story of each of our lives.
The resurrection is God’s love, alive. The call I hear in this is to work every day to be a small representation of that love, alive in God’s creation. I have studied the Bible, I know the songs, I’ve memorized the dates and I can hold my own with the traditions. But, instead of leaning on those things, each day, I try to find a way to share Love with others. This love inspires me to be my best at work, to love my family unapologetically, to smile at strangers, to really listen to my friends and to be accepting of all people just as they are. These are the things that people respond to, and these are the things that Jesus taught us when saying we should love others as ourselves. And, these are the things that I imagine Jesus would do and teach if he was walking among us today.