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Getting out of my head


In college I majored in Religious Studies. Sometimes I think I graduated more confused than ever about religion. As much as I enjoy talking about it, I can get very bogged down with overly theological stuff. To the small extent I do it, I like following parts of the Church calendar. Last weekend was Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. In my experience, the Protestant churches I’ve been apart of try to send congregants on a rollercoaster this weekend — a somber Friday, a feelingless place holder of a Saturday, and then a celebratory Sunday. For several years I’ve tried to get something out of this sequence. It’s not bad, but something happened to me this year that helped me encounter God in ways I had never done before: I put the religiosity aside and asked the child inside of me what he saw in Good Friday. Good Friday in particular can make me feel strange. Jesus is sentenced, beat up, and hung up to die on a cross. Growing up it was emphasized that Jesus did this for your sins and my sins. Whether I asked for it or not, I seemed to have had a role in his death, and felt encouraged to feel a certain way about it. The imagery I hold of Good Friday comes mostly from the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ,” which I still remember seeing in theaters. It’s violent, raw, and emotional. Words like sacrifice, sin, crown of thorns, spit on, and mocked come to mind. Historically it pushed me to reflect on what Jesus did, why he did it, what it all means, and what my role in it may be. Honestly, it seems complicated to balance it all, and it has truthfully been a story I reluctantly dwell on only once a year… because I really don’t know what to do with it most of the time. I’m sure there are many thousand-page commentaries about the death of Jesus. I bet they’re impressive books, but the more impressive task, and the more practically helpful exercise, is to simplify an idea to its core meaning. I had a professor who once pushed his students to figure out how to synthesize complex theological concepts to a kindergartner. For Good Friday this year, I started thinking about how I would explain it to the 5-year-old inside of me, and what that Conor may think about it. This shift in approach got me out of my head and into my heart. The little child in me — the one who feels without overthinking, who trusts what he sees at face value, who doesn’t have much baggage yet — he experiences Good Friday as actually fully good. He experiences a story about an unbelievably inspiring friend (Jesus) having a very, very hard day with lots of owies and a handful of mean people doing bad things to him. Staying true to himself, and against what almost everyone else thought he should do, Jesus showed everyone that love really does win, that sometimes we suffer, and that Jesus was very, very special. The little Conor inside of me is simply in awe. That Conor doesn’t think for one second he could have done what Jesus did, and for that, Jesus is a bonafide hero. When I saw what Jesus did through the lens of my inner child, it softened me. It moved me to awe. It rekindled a sense of heroism in what Jesus did. It became actually a good story — yes, Jesus died on Good Friday, but love and restraint and strength was mixed in. As soon as I got into the heart and considered what little Conor would most latch onto, I encountered it afresh as my current self, and I didn’t have to wrap my head around it so much. I moved from a somber, guilty, self-focused view of Good Friday to a childlike, awe-filled, that’s-my-hero view. I felt a weight lifted and I could worship my hero. The next time you’re bogged down with a religious concept or story — or heck, even with the story you’re living — consider how your inner child may see it. There’s a good chance you’ll encounter God in a different, deeper way. - Conor




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