EMOLICIOUS: ON CHRISTIAN MASOCHISM



After my second year of having founded STONE TABLE, I decided to explain to my elementary students the lyrics to Martin Luther’s FROM DEPTHS OF WOE which I had them routinely singing for over a year, the first verse of which begins “From depths of woe I raise to Thee the voice of lamentation….” As I began to explain the line, a third grader from South Africa, screwed up her face and corrected me.

"Wool" she said.

"Excuse me?"

"Wool" she said again. I paused to let her words compute.

“Wool what?"

“Wool. You mean ‘From Depths of Wool.’"

I paused. Then it dawned on me, paralyzing my train of thought. After a year of subjecting students to a song I thought they understood, I realized I had ingrained in them (by the looks on some of the other children’s faces) the correlation between praying and suffocation. I can’t tell you how aghast I was and even more aghast as the third-grader tried to explain her logic.

"No, it's like you are under all of these blankets and Jesus hears you crying. Like a little kitten. Which is cute."

I strongly objected, even laughing a little to ease the concern of the other students who seemed relieved that someone was finally explaining some of the archaic terminology I enjoyed using in my elementary classes. But it was no use. She did not understand spiritual abstractions save in one area: spiritual abstractions have a unique logic that does not often lend to rational deduction. That is not the fault of the spiritual abstraction itself. It is, rather, a communication problem. From that point on I began to doubt my communication skills with my students or even with my own children who have had nightmares more than once because of my "miscommunication."

It brought about a concern I had only remotely felt until then, and that is that much of the masochism expressed in Christian culture is less a proper doctrinal view or legitimate judgment of God and more an area in which Christian culture delights. Consider that each of our lives are punctuated with disappointment, heartbreak, unrealized expectations, fears, social or psychological loneliness, injustice, and much of it without our input. And we get to end it all by dying, each of us going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death alone with no other person than the God of the Universe at our side. 

A few months ago I had a nightmare (actually, it was a daymare). I dreamed I was some oily sludge going down the inside of a sink, fast approaching the drain. It was happening slowly, but there was no way that I, sludge, could grip the sides of the sink. I was being pulled down largely because of the contour of the bowl and largely because of the momentum of my own weight. I hit the drain then slowly and dramatically slipped through to the other side. 

I literally jumped myself awake, trying to grab onto something and my heart beating ferociously. It dawned on me with a nascent wonder that everyone has to go through that event and they have to go through it alone. Is that not terrifying? And at that moment I felt both a love and an admiration for every human being alive, good or bad. I didn’t tell my wife or my children or my friends, because I felt it would dampen their day (and their life). I walked around the house looking at everything in a new light: Judge Judy was yelling at someone, the kids had left the refrigerator door open, music was blaring downstairs, and I'm going in my head “Surely, death can’t be that ugly. Or final.” 

What is interesting is that such realities do not seem to be enough for the Christian. In many cases he must add his own severe rules and regulations that hamper enjoyment and restrict healthy function on top of the grief we must all suffer. So he cannot laugh except to repent at the end of his laughter because he should have been thinking about all of the unfortunate people. Or he cannot take a vacation because that money should go towards the same unfortunate people. Or he cannot have a nice television because the money could go to the starving. Or he cannot have a nice meal or he cannot take time to have a long walk for walking's sake, or he cannot have a streak of continuous enjoyment with his spouse. Somewhere along the way he is always there sabotaging the little joys of life. He imposes grief upon himself because he does not think the grief of the world to be enough. He thinks that if he keeps his head down, then God will not hear him laughing and go Shame on you. You are not taking this life seriously. I think a stroke will cure you. Oh, and I will also have you lose your job. Yeah, and your wife will cheat on you. No, your wife will leave you. You lose your wallet. You get pulled over by the cops. That should do the trick.

As much as the Evangelical Christian talks about the differences between himself and the Roman Catholic or the Muslim or any other group that seems to routinely employ severe acts of penitence or remuneration, he subjects himself to lashings and sufferings of his own design, and happily so. That's the sick part. That's the part that makes me throw up. He will ugly his beautiful Nissan Altima with evangelism bumper stickers. She will hide her lovely frame in some oversized burlap sack. He will let the mugger slug him and rob him in front of his family instead of showcasing his God-given strength on the offender's face. And he will carry such burdens and grievances inside the inner, hidden part of himself, crippling himself with the lascivious delight he gets from making himself that much more a vulnerable target for ridicule and oppression.

Emolicious is a term I used to describe the fascination my last-year students had with other people’s demise. They would eagerly share Youtube vids of people in potentially fatal situations only to laugh when that person fell on his head, was scared out of his wits, or otherwise realized she was succumbing to a life altering event. And all of it caught on tape to replay over and over again.

I’ve been to enough funerals and will go to more. I've had enough heartache and will have more. I've wrestled with loneliness on more fronts than I can think and will probably wrestle with more unknown fronts. But I don’t have an interest in contributing to my burden as a human. I don't have an interest in adding to grief's glut. I am not sure if people have considered that of all sentient creatures, humans actually spend time thinking about these horrors, another impediment to human enjoyment and function. 

It is as if we think For years and years we can think about what we think the next poor turn of events will be for us. What kind of shoe will drop next. What kind of disappointment I will suffer next. All for the glory of God. What a life! What a God! Yippee!

Suffocation is a great name for this kind of behavior.



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  3. Well said Bro God is far from a distant Deity or near kill-joy; His heart is that we live out loud His life within us, finding personal enlivenment even in seemingly needless bumps He punctuates our journey with to draw us in, the more close :) Love you Bro.

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