Friday, September 10, 2004

Happiness, Protestantism and "hurting hearts"

Erica's post about not being angst-ridden enough for Biola made me start reflecting on the Protestant problem with happiness. I should be more honest -- it's more my problem with their perspective. They don't think they have a problem -- but I think that's what made Erica's professor lecture a class full of young Christians that it's okay to feel as miserable as they do.

Because the Protestants (oh heck, let's call them 'prots' to save keystrokes) I've met recently do feel miserable sometimes, and when they do, their flavor of Christianity tells them that they've failed somehow. Since it's just them and Jesus, they should never feel gloomy, right? Not even if they lost their job and they've contracted yellow fever. If they're a Good Baptist/Evangelical/Whatever this is the time they should "Let Go and Let God" or "Turn Their Scars into Stars" or whatever else their minister's bumper stickers have told them. Now's the time to contemplate the big-eyed figurine that tells them "Jesus Loves you THIS much."

Ugh! Sorry, I can't go on. I'm having flashbacks. My first real job was as a letter-reader for Robert Schuller Ministries in Garden Grove. I thought it would be a good thing to do, since I was just starting out as an Orthodox catechumen. What a mistake. The weight of all that flowery, paper-thin buoyancy just about did me in. Looking back, though, I don't know how they made it.

Well, maybe I do. They didn't make it. Not all the time anyway. Who could? Who would want to? Where in the philosophy of Christian Cheeriness is there a place for normal hills and valleys, not the ones that lead to death, but the ones that lead us to maturity and repentance and leave us with a bigger view of life.

The prot radio ministries are big on the kind of message that Erica's professor gave. I was surprised how many times they were addressed to "hurting hearts" out there that needed to pray and pray and pray and then send them a check or money order. Why so many hurting hearts? Like Erica, it made me feel like the odd man out. My life isn't perfect. There are a lot of things I probably would've changed. But I'm not sorry. Those aren't the things that hurt me really, or at least not as much as wondering what would've happened if I had been a better person.

I think prots are uncomfortable with us Orthodox sometimes because we don't smile more and, I don't know, cheer up. I get uncomfortable with them because they do. There's something a little brittle, a little shiny about all that. It's good stuff in small quantities, but it's sugar-water -- all zip and no substance. No wonder their hearts are hurting.


Blogger Karl Thienes said...

I've blogged about this phenomenon in the past--I call it "the Cult of the Nice" (sort of a Lewisian play on words)...

As a friend (newly Orthodox) said to me once: "Finally! I'm in a church that tells me it is ok to suffer!"

September 10, 2004 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Tell me how far back to look in the archives. I would love to read someone else's thoughts about it. I had been thinking about it for some time, and yet, it was harder to write about than I thought.

September 11, 2004 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Karl Thienes said...

No specific is one of the defining elements of our contemporary (and Protestant) society...

I was once told in a 24 hour time span that a) "You Orthodox are too sullen, to sorrowful, to somber." And b) "You Orthodox enjoy your feasts, vodka, and community too much."

Well, which is it, folks? Or could it be that you need both ends of the "Happy Spectrum" before you can be whole?

September 12, 2004 at 6:04 PM  

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