What's Tony Thinking

Easter Eve


A blessed Easter to you, each and every one! I’m definitely “back in the saddle” here in San Miguel. Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, will be my fifth week in row in the pulpit, with four more to go in my stint here. It’s been quite a while since I’ve preached nine Sundays in a row. Someone asked if I re-cycled old sermons, i.e. reached “into the barrel.” That’s never worked for me. I listen week by week to the assigned texts of Scripture asking, “Is there a word from the Lord?”

Last time we were here it was Advent and Christmas. Now it has been Lent, Holy Week and Easter. More challenging terrain for the preacher. And the cultural context is a different one than at Christmastime. A lot of American Christmas has been imported here, leading Linda to observe that in a visitor mecca like San Miguel there was a bit of a “Disneyland feel” in December of 2022.

Not so for Holy Week and Easter. Truth is, it’s pretty hard to turn a bleeding man on a cross into a “Disneyland” experience. The rich and pervasive religious nature of these days here, which infuse the entire culture, has made me think a lot about our own American culture.

I get that many people, for legitimate reasons, have little regard for the church or Christianity. Yes, we have failed in many ways. But, in contrast, to this place, our own culture now seems so spiritually bereft and bleak. Easter in North America, from a cultural point of view, is mostly a commercial thing with candy, Easter bunnies, Easter baskets and presents. There’s nothing else in the general culture, no shared spiritual inheritance or experience. Honestly, I’ve seen none of that here. Not a single fricking Easter bunny!

Does such a moral/ spiritual vacuum work? Can a culture survive on the thin gruel of consumption and everyone doing their own thing?

What’s the alternative? Certainly not “The Trump Bible” and tying it to the “Make America Great Again” agenda. His branding and selling of Bibles is utterly grotesque. We’re in “Is Nothing Sacred?” territory here. But, truth is, with Trump nothing is sacred. Nothing. Everything is instrumental to his self-interest. Would that at least one of his so-called “evangelical Christian” supporters might stand up and call this latest blasphemy for what it is?

The alternative? I wish there were 1) a way that many faiths, their traditions and practices, might be allowed and respected, and, yes, that there was a resurgence of a Christianity that might be characterized as a “generous orthodoxy,” and 2) that we still had some measure of a common national narrative that we could celebrate with pride, while being honest about our failures. We are not a perfect nation, but we may, as Lincoln said, “be humanity’s last, best hope.”

Humans are meaning seeking creatures. By comparison with our experience here, Americans have so little to go on morally and spiritually. The public square is naked but nasty. It is every one for him or herself. Invent your own story, your own meanings, your own rituals — or not. “Not” meaning you just accept the deluge of plastic consumerism and tech toys as the material from which to make a meaningful life. Good luck trying to make moral meaning out of that!

In his column of 3/29 David Brooks described our American turn away from the historic moral and spiritual traditions and communities that have funded Americans.

“Over the past few generations, the celebration of individual freedom has overspilled its banks and begun to erode the underlying set of civic obligations. Especially after World War II and then into the 1960s, we saw the privatization of morality — the rise of what came to be known as the ethos of moral freedom.

“Americans were less likely to assume that people learn values by living in coherent moral communities. They were more likely to adopt the belief that each person has to come up with his or her own personal sense of right and wrong. As far back as 1955, the columnist Walter Lippmann saw that this was going to lead to trouble: ‘If what is good, what is right, what is true, is only what the individual ‘chooses’ to ‘invent,’ then we are outside the traditions of civility,’ he wrote.”

There’s something both flimsy and arrogant about believing moral and spiritual meaning is simply something we “invent” for ourselves. Creating the god we want and find flattering to our sensibilities and self-image is simultaneously seductive and ridiculous. We need more. We need not re-invent the wheel. Our children need more. Our society needs more.


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