Sunday, December 14, 2014

What in Dickens name?

    I can often feel shame at my level of frustration with the Christian community at large. See I was taught that anger makes you bad, hateful, unreasonable, even disobedient. While I understand where my frustration and anger come from, and that it has sat a long time unexpressed I still feel the urge to repress it or risk being seen as irrational. It makes sense that something that was inadequately diffused in the past may not come out eloquently or be the Emily Post version of expressing anger. In fact I think it takes a while to find a balance to expressing frustration and anger. I have also found that things that frustrate me, or make me angry are things that actually deserve a solid thoughtful critique. But it can come out as just an angry rant without enough thoughtfulness to show the larger picture or question at hand. So I am going to thoughtfully try and tackle an experience I found truly frustrating and it begged the question; what in Dickens name?

Scrooge; The musical!

      But it isn't "The" musical, it is "A" musical. "The musical" could imply that this was a Broadway production on tour, but it is not and it's only the beginning of a slight deception that becomes a very large one. On the radio it is announced that the musical is being held at the Champion Center which sounds like it is a local sports arena or the cities main event center- it is not. You don't really see anything on the musical home page to indicate that it is not what it seems except for the tab that mentions church resources. So I Googled Champion Center and found that it is indeed a Church and that they are producing the musical in their event center.

      I was now weary of this fact, especially in light of what seemed to me to be deceptions on their part to get people to come. However I tried to keep as open mind as possible, I felt that Dickens work stood on it's own for conveying some great spiritual messages, and that a church could have chosen to produce a musical of it for those reasons. I could see how A Christmas Carol reflected a lot of Christian Values.

     I was sadly mistaken. The Church didn't feel Dickens work had enough messages of salvation on it's own. They re-wrote it to fit their message of salvation. It was no longer a story about Ebeneezer Scrooge finding personal salvation by not shutting off his heart from love and connection others. It was a story of why Ebeneezer Scrooge had hardened his heart to Jesus, and therefore Christmas.

     It followed a classic Christian line of reasoning that Scrooge had hardened his heart against Jesus and God because he had gotten hurt (during childhood) and it caused him to abandon all thoughts of faith. So then he was shown as the unrepentant sinner who just needed to give Jesus a second chance. And the reason he was to do this was not only because God loves him, but because if he did not he was going to hell for all eternity. Hell and damnation was actually part of the theme in the production. There was even a brief intermission where a Pastor came on stage to lead everyone in a prayer and to accept Jesus into their hearts if they wanted.

     Of course after being shown that it was people who had hurt him in the past, not Jesus, and that the alternative to a loving God was all eternity in hell, Scrooge accepts Jesus into his heart. Cue the bursting celebration music.

     I was quite upset for the ride of deception I had been taken on and for how my good will was abused. This wasn't a church who appreciated Charles Dickens or A Christmas carol. This was a church who seemed to so desperately believe it needed to convert people to salvation that it was willing to use deceptions to do so, then spring the message of salvation on it's patrons attending the event. It's the kind of desperate belief that starts out as well meaning, but turns dark. They believe that people don't know what's good for them and they are going to save them, give them the good medicine whether they want it or not, and shove it down throats if they have to, if it means saving souls. As a matter of fact we have seen this well meaning belief turn dark before. Sir Thomas Moore was so deeply committed to his beliefs that he decided he would rather burn people at the stake than risk them being sent to hell. He felt he could at least save their souls. This man wrote Utopia, was an idealist and a conscientious objector to war. I cite this belief being taken to an extreme but it is the same belief.

     I have always felt that as a community if Christians needed desperate measures to convert others, and that their being a shining example of God's work was not enough, that there are some flaws within their beliefs. You shouldn't have to work so hard to convince people that something can bring about amazing benefits to their lives, if that is truly the case. But many Christians don't believe people know what is good for them. I think this might come from some of those same philosophies that are applied to Children. Children don't know what is good for them, children need to simply obey and bend their will to God and their parents. We see the message about being children of God frequently so it makes sense that those other child rearing philosophies also influence the spiritual realm of thought.

     The frustration and fury did not end with being given a message about an eternity in hell. The patriarchy and misogyny were alive and well in this production of a Christmas Carol. I have seen this type of patriarchal misogyny over and over in the community I was raised in. This was particularly true of the Christian community where “women are from Venus and men are from Mars”. It seems to start with people getting married. There are the jokes about a wife being an old ball and chain, a nag, over emotional and having to literally drag her man down the isle from the former life he loved so much (there are way too many cake toppers for this). Then it becomes about her being a Mom, a nag, an old ball and chain, and over emotional.

     This production seemed to take it's cue from those jokes. What should have been a sweet domestic scene in the Cratchit family was instead a scene of the family sitting down to dinner, and when Mrs. Cratchit wasn't looking they all made faces and gagging noises because everyone knows women, and Moms are terrible cooks.

     You can't seem to tell those that prescribe to this type of humor that it is wrong because they will look at you as an over emotional nag. I know from experience that when you say something about this being problematic, and you dare to object you are met by the good old boys patriarchy club who laugh it off and remind you that you are too sensitive to take a joke. I think that if I wrote a letter to this church telling them this is how I saw the scene they would probably tell me “of course we respect women, it was just innocent fun”.

     The portrayal of women being nags wasn't left in the kitchen. No at one point Scrooges housekeeper is featured flying on a broom and cackling like a witch. And this same poor woman was later subjected to Scrooge chasing her about his bedroom in his fit of happiness at having made Jesus his Lord and savior. He was trying to hug her against her protestations and lack of consent. We can see here the traces of the idea that women don't know what they want, they are irrational, and consent doesn't matter. And her consent matters even less because she is a miserable old nag who just needs a hug from Jesus Christs new poster boy.

     I think the truth is that most of those who end up purporting these beliefs have been learning them from a young age, soaking them up like a sponge. They genuinely don't see a problem with it or understand the larger issues of a patriarchal mindset. In fact it's so normal that a lot of it is unconscious. Adding in the spiritual component of Christianity can seem to lend some legitimacy to a patriarchal way of thinking, because it seems sanctioned by God. That is I believe one of the main arguments for traditional gender roles. And you know what, that's fine. If traditional gender roles make you happy, then all the power to you. However I would very firmly argue that the belittling mockery of women, and taking away their right to consent is not something a good, benevolent, loving God would ever sanctify.

     I actually think Jesus held women in higher esteem than do many of today's Churches. I think of the woman at the well, and how Jesus sought her out. I have always thought that in the midst of chaos she represented quiet wisdom and an openness. I think he went to her to be grounded because she represented a pillar of strength, and not because she had a weakness that needed to be ministered to. I think he truly respected her. How can churches claim they respect women in the same manner when they choose to not be reflective of the ways they diminish and demean them? They can't. To truly say they respect women; they would have to become self reflective and change.

     Thus concludes my really saddening and anger inducing experience. And it becomes more so by the fact that I know this was not an isolated experience, or an isolated set of beliefs I encountered. The parts of Christian communities that feel a drive to minister and convert, along with holding patriarchal ideals has and will create many similar productions.

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