Monday, October 3, 2011

Humanity's Burden is Heavy

"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." -- Matthew 11:30

There is a sentiment about, especially where I come from, that "no one promises Christians they will be happy." That there is nowhere in the Bible that says that Christians get to have a better life than anyone else, just because they're Christian, that the reward is all in the afterlife. That these 70-odd years (or however much or little you end up getting out of life) are something to be suffered until we can get it over with and go on to heaven where things are perfect and we don't have to deal anymore. In fact, because you're Christian, the world will often treat you like a sack of old cow manure. No one will understand you, and everyone will think you suck, and this is something you should expect and get used to -- in fact, encourage. Because, apparently, if you aren't suffering, you are following the world too closely. You should be under attack from Evil at all times, or else you're cooperating with it.

So I always turned to the verse at the top of this post, scratching my head, and wondered where it fit into things. How does that fit into the "suffer valiantly" mentality? How does it fit into things when being a Christian seems like the hardest part of life? How can Jesus say that his yoke is easy, when we don't get to do anything cool and we're bound by rules that demand we socially embarrass ourselves and make people think we're obnoxious? When we're the ones people are pointing fingers at and saying we're what's wrong with America and the rest of everything? Saying we're obsolete, or misguided, or foolhardy?


Jesus never caused any of that, not really.

First, here are all the rules for Christianity. All of them. I will list them all here.

"Love God."
"Love your neighbor as yourself."

There, that's it. This is straight from the New Testament -- all commandments boil down to this. All that shenanigans about adultery and stealing and not doing them, that's all in the second. All that about keeping the Sabbath holy and not worshiping idols, that's all in the first. Every little nettling piece of instruction from God will fall into one of these two categories. That means that if you let yourself look at your thoughts and actions broadly, you can drop all the nitpicking and simply ask yourself, "Am I loving God through this?" or "Am I loving my neighbor and/or myself?" I don't mean "greed" by "love yourself"; I mean "treat yourself like you would treat a neighbor, and a neighbor as you would treat yourself." Ironically, in that second commandment is a statement that you are assumed to already love yourself. You should treat your neighbor well...because of course you treat yourself well, right?

This means that all the shenanigans about "your desires are bad" or "you should not serve yourself" are sending the wrong message. What is supposed to be a sermon against mindless hedonism seems these days to easily devolve into a rant against having anything that we could want. Preachers are all too eager to tell us to give up things, and in the end, hearing that day in and day out can make one feel pretty guilty about taking breaks, or eating that nice food just because it's nice, or buying that sweater we really want. Doing nice things for ourselves is a key part of life. So is doing nice for other people.

It's not about the specifics of telling lies and whether little white lies are okay and whether telling someone they're not looking fat in that dress is a bad thing. It's about whether you hurt or help. That's all that matters -- are you hurting people? Are you helping them? Are you doing your best to hurt as little as possible, when there's no alternative? That's really, really it. It's not about the movies you do or don't watch. It's not about what you do or don't draw or write or sing or listen to or whatever, not really. It's all about the general case.

So now that we've eliminated all the legalism in one single cut, that allows Christians to suddenly do anything cool that anyone else can do. We can get tattoos. We can marry whoever we want. Sorry, Catholics, but we can choose contraception. We can do anything as long as it falls within those two boundaries.

Looking at the other sources of religious-induced pain in our lives, there is a reasonably long list:
- People saying we suck, for whatever reason
- People treating us less than others because of our beliefs
- Spiritual doubt and confusion
- People trying to 'disprove' our beliefs
- Feeling alone and alienated because of our beliefs

Note that the real common thread here, while it seems to be "our beliefs" is actually "other people."

Other people are what burden us, not God. God tells us that we have reasonably free rein over our lives, and that so long as we abide by two concepts, life is pretty awesome. People, though, tell us we're wrong or stupid or not good enough or what have you. People are the problem. The reason we suffer isn't because Jesus' burden isn't easy or light, it's because people's burden isn't easy or light.

People are amazing, and people really suck. They can both make you feel like you're on top of the world, and squash you until you think you're never going to get back up. People are what's wrong with this world, and that is definitely a Christian concept right there. Sin is what's wrong, but people have to do the sin. Sin isn't a cloud of smog that hangs around and floods the world and does bad things on its own. People have to do the bad things. People have to hurt people. People have to kill people. People have to belittle others and strike them down.

People can include ourselves. We can self-sabotage, or we can be inhibited by what has been done to us in the past. For some, it's still hard to see spiritual questioning as anything but a horrible concept that must be squashed whenever it appears, and then they feel unfulfilled and like they're following a trail that they can't see and don't know why they're on it.

In the end, it's all about people.

Jesus' yoke is easy and light. You just have to take off the layers upon layers of sandbags that humanity tries strap to the yoke, then pretend that this is what the yoke really looks like. So if you're thinking that the Christian life is all about being boring and lame, or about feeling intellectually unfulfilled, or what have you...take off the yoke humans have glued to the real one underneath.

It's like a contact lens. If you're doing it right, and there's no dirt and grit contaminating it, you won't even know it's there, and it will help you, and you will carry it with you gladly.

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