Friday, April 22, 2011

An Open Letter to the Easter Bunny

Dear Easter Bunny,

I have one special request for Easter this year, and if you would honor it, I will be ever so grateful. Please note that aside from the incident with the garden hose and twenty gallons of tapioca pudding, my behavior has been excellent. I've helped other people whenever they've needed me, even if it meant changing my plans; and I've gone out of my way to live in peace with everyone, even the people I don't like.

I know things are busy at the Nest right now, and you've got all the little bunnies working overtime laying eggs and painting them up all shiny, what with Easter being only a couple days away, but I'm really hoping you can help me out. After all, it's about Easter.

Now you know me. I've never been one to be worked up over your backstory as the spring goddess Ä’ostre. You've been a tremendously good sport about taking a back seat to the new narrative for your holiday, to the point that virtually no one today knows what your story was, or that you even had a different job before you were bumped down to the children's department. When Christianity came along, you just went along with the flow of the thing, and let people reinterpret your customs about renewal, and got a minor but entertaining role in a much larger and more enduring story.

And you know, it's that larger and more enduring story that I want your help with. See, it's at times of year like this one that I feel like I get mugged by fellow Christians. In more extreme cases they hand out tracts with titles like "The Five People You Meet in Hell" or "Homosexuals, Liberals and Other People God Hates," and in better cases, they still like to explain how a lie is just as horrible to a holy God as making cookies out of Girl Scouts.

I know their intentions are good, and I know that people driven to exercises like this often are driven by a very real desire to see people reconciled to God. I just wish the message weren't so often "God loves you, you worthless son of a bitch."

Even the mildest forms of this sort of evangelism still feel like a drive-by shooting. "God is ready to forgive your sins," one may declare with the joyous rat-tat-tat of a Tommy gun. "It really is that simple! All you have to do is ask."

I mean, good grief, Easter Bunny, that kind of delivery is just nuts! A person who is suffering from depression may feel like she deserves to go to hell, but if that's the case, it's hardly the right thing to encourage her self-destructive attitude. For most of the rest of us, it seems genuinely unbelievable that we would belong in hell with the likes of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. After an hour of listening to an increasingly frustrated true believer argue that our sins really are that bad, the message becomes what musician Larry Norman widely quipped was, "So have you heard the good news? You're going to hell!"

Where did we ever get the idea that Christianity was all about escaping hell? Jesus healed people who were still alive, he fed the hungry while they were still alive, he treated people with compassion and uncommon dignity while they were still alive, and when he did speak to people about hell, invariably it was to warn people who were already following him against things like pride, hard-heartedness and indifference.

We're way off message. The whole thing comes across as an advertising campaign that is so nearly brilliant that it's appallingly stupid. Just picture a strikingly beautiful woman in a shimmering black dress, snuggling up to Jesus, while in the opposite panel a mousy brunette is screaming in the torments of the damned. Underneath is the caption, "Choosing the wrong deodorant to wear doesn't make a difference ... until it does." That's about the size of it.

And as religious as I am, if this annoys the stuffing out of me, I can only imagine how it makes other people feel, who aren't half as religious as me, if at all.

And so, Easter Bunny, while you're usually concerned with things like hiding psychedelically colored eggs in strange places to make little kids feel all trippy when they find them, I'm hoping you can beat some sense into us this year with those big ears of yours.

Remember back when Easter was all about you? I don't want to go back there, but it did have some nice stuff going for it. It was a celebration of renewal, fresh starts and new beginnings. Horses had their foals, ewes had their lambs, and cattle their calves. The days grew longer, the sun got warmer, the grass was greener, and everywhere there were signs of new life: flowers blooming, trees budding, ice melting and the weary drab running from sight.

When the earliest Christian missionaries arrived on those shores where the pagan Easter was practiced, before you grew those ridiculous floppy ears and joined the Playboy set, your worshipers saw a connection between their Easter celebrations and the story the missionaries were telling about Jesus. They saw a temporary, yearly renewal as the shadow of a permanent renewal. They understood the idea of personal rebirth, and they understood, despite the absurdity of the story, that a belief in the Resurrection had altered the priorities and the focus of the Christians in their midst, so that they cared about the people with the least status.

Our focus on how sinful everyone is has affected us, too, but not in a way that inspires people to seek redemption, as much as to escape the unpleasant troglodytes who give out unsolicited moral lectures.

So that's my big request this year, Easter Bunny. I don't need any chocolate, even if it's fairly traded; and I've never had any use for jelly beans. And let's not get started on those marshmallow peeps. But I'd really like it if you could help us all rediscover what Easter is about, to appreciate what Jesus' life, teachings, and death mean for this world and for the people with whom we live in it, right now.

You'd better hurry, too. It's Good Friday, and the muggings have already started.

Copyright © 2011 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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