Easter, a time when family gets together for dinner, a time when families go to church and celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, and other families, giddy with joy, frolic about with children and hunt for store bought, over-priced, Easter baskets filled with candy and inexpensive tchotchke toys, which will no doubt break by day’s end leaving the little ones with broken hearts and the devoured candy leading to pre-teen cavity-filled mouths.
Yes indeed, I have a cynical outlook on manufactured religion and the festivities celebrating a holiday. Especially when America’s culture has replaced the true essence and meaning of holiday’s all in the name of capitalization and commercialism. Truth be told, I have not always expressed such petulance when it comes to holidays. Matter of fact, I rather enjoy the historicity and authenticity of holidays – in days of old. The antiquity and folklore found in tales of old actually get me going. Making homemade presents, reciting Dickens classics around the fireplace, chopping down the Christmas tree, and sleigh rides – get my blood flowing.
Easter is the one day of the year when my mom and my sisters would dress in their finest spring dresses; all three matching of course, adorn their heads with bonnets; ribbons flowing long and proud, and each had a cute little purse matching their outfit. The boy’s; we were strangled by button-down shirts, and we dare unbutton the top button for fear of our lives. We were asphyxiated by tightly tied neckties, oddly unmatched vest, freshly pressed firm and crisp pleated trousers, and the most uncomfortable spit-shiny patent-leather shoes that were sure to mark the shoes territory with near bleeding calluses by the time we made it home from church. Yes indeed, Easter was a fun day!
With Easter approaching once again, I am reminded of a church play, in which I acted as the main character (so to say). The play was staged several years ago, when I was a young adult. The play was a single act of the present-day adaptation of The Passion Play. I will be so bold as to say, the play was scripted and performed superbly. There was one big issue; however, children under the age of twelve-years-old should have never attended the play.
I had been attending a mainstream Baptist church, whose goal was to break away from the old strict German Baptist stronghold, which held its grips on the church for centuries. The church is located in Chicago and most of the congregation was genetically related to one another through a long line of German descendants and church history through family lineage. The big issue; numbers in the church had dropped dramatically, and the old German family ties were slowly dwindling as the elders were dying.
The church body, still consisting of many of the German family roots, decided to place a new pastor in charge. The old pastor retired at the ripe young age of 85. The new much younger pastor, fresh out of seminary, but still a tad on the conservative side, fit the bill for the church. That was until his children were beginning to grow, somewhere around the preschool aged years, the pastor and his wife changed their principles. They became, as they termed it, “contemporary” Christians.
The church began taking a new direction – a contemporary direction. The sermon format changed. The music hymnals were replaced by updated modern hymnals. The once closed society of staunch conservative German articles of faith had been “renewed” with more tolerant and acceptable dogma.
I had been a part of it all. I played music on the “modern” worship team. I sang in the now renamed “youthful” choir. I taught the “cutting edge” bible studies. As a student of Biblical Studies at a prominent seminary, I even delivered “state-of-the-art” five point sermons from the pulpit – augmented and stimulated by audio and visual aids.
The contemporary rendition of the play was vivid, much too vivid for children. It was a modern day depiction of the last moments Jesus spent on the cross. The way we presented it; Jesus’ cross stood in the middle of the three crosses and it was bare. Then there were the other two crosses on each side of Jesus’ cross (we used real 4×4 post of wood fashioned into life-sized crosses).
The costumes worn by the two main characters, the two thieves, thieve number I, yours truly (myself) and thieve number II, consisted of biker clothing; leather jackets, t-shirts, jeans, and biker boots. The secondary characters, the Roman executioners wore Roman robes and Roman helmets. The spectators attending Jesus’ crucifixion wore clothing authentic to Jesus’ time, robes, sashes, and sandals.
Everything was going swell. The two thieves entered (thieve number II and myself), and we entered down the main isle of the church (it was a semi-large church; seated 800). We were being physically forced to walk the isle by the Roman executioners while they were hitting us with large wooden mallets and stabbing at us with their ornamental battle spears.
After intentionally falling in the isle several times for dramatic effect, we (the two thieves) fell in complete exhaustion onto the stage of the church (where the pulpit normally stood erect, but was removed for the play). The Romans read our offenses. Then they used spikes (real spikes we bought at the neighborhood Hardware Store), and they nailed us (me and thieve number II), simultaneously, to the wooden crosses.
As the Roman executioners nailed us to the crosses, we (thieves) each clutched ketchup packets (you know, the kind you get with your sandwich at a fast-food restaurant), one soldier nailed while another secretly tied us with rope so we would stay on the cross. We each popped the ketchup packets to make it appear as though blood was actually oozing out of our hands (as it dripped down our wrists and arms). The soldiers had ketchup packets too, and clandestinely, as the plan went, they removed our boots before crucifixion (for effect) and the Roman executioners squirted the blood (ketchup packets) on our feet and ankles.
The two thieves crosses were lying prone on the ground for the “binding” and nailing so the audience was enthralled by the magnitude, but unaware of what was right before their eyes (ketchup, rope ties, etc.). The middle cross, symbolizing Jesus’ cross stood erect throughout the play. On His cross bare; there was no Sacrificial Lamb. There was a single scarlet and purple silk scarf draped across the pillars where Jesus’ arms would have been stretched across and attached.
When the two thieves crosses were erected by the Romans, with me and thief number II seemingly nailed to them and bleeding profusely from our extremities and our faces; bleeding and beaten because of the beatings we had taken from the Roman executioners while walking and then further beatings while lying on the ground, every adult gasped and every child screamed in horror. That’s what we were going for, the effect of reality – what it was like to be crucified.
I had family in the congregation. My nephews and nieces were scared beyond belief. My aunt said, “It was bad enough when they saw you crucified to the cross. They’ll never forget that image. But when you died on the cross, they wanted to know if you were really dead and if you were with Jesus. It was so realistic, I even wondered for a moment”
A while after my role in the play, I evaluated a few things. I began to wonder, when and where do we cross the line? Does sensitivity play a role? Do we take advantage of terms such as “contemporary” and do we push the limits. As a whole, do we dismiss the reality behind the agonies suffered on the cross?
I cannot answer these questions for you; however, I am responsible for my actions. I believe the line was crossed on that Easter Sunday.
Children are desensitized by things adults take for granted and as adults we seldom pay attention to; our actions, the actions of our families, the news, books, video games, movies, music, even comic books. I have a responsibility to the children I come in contact with; to care for their sensitivities. If a child wishes to believe in age-old folktales of Peter Cottontail and search for colored eggs hidden by a mystical creature from a magical world, I will and must, play along.
To push the limits, which I see happen in nearly every facet of the world today, is to invite the unexpected and scoff at morality. In AD I, the history of the world changed. The sacrifices made on our behalf give us reason to consider the great loss and affliction, which accompanied those sacrifices.
Our past has made us who we are today. Our actions today, will decide whom our children are tomorrow!
I am Dane Ladwig and the has been a… View From My Loft
[This is one view of an incident involving contemporary ideology. I neither condemn nor condone conservative or liberal viewpoints. I maintain a healthy neutral perspective of – to each, his or her own. I believe a proper balance embodies all perfect and proven ideology; perfect and proven is that which embraces, encourages, enhances, and exalts an exceptional, distinguished, and morally just lifestyle – a lifestyle to which respect and equality should be a by-product.]