So part of this is that I am only 24 years old, and that I have always had issues sitting still, and so the idea of going to church is just not on the top of my list of things I would love to do. But here is something else, I am a bit of a writer – a dramatist on my better days – and church is a place where drama is denied instead of dealt with. What does any of that mean?
Drama is conflict. People who want something and can’t get it because something stands in its way. That is drama. Good drama, as some Greek poet probably articulated long before I was ever thought of, ends in a surprising and inevitable way. That means, at the end of good movies, we say “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that happened!” and simultaneously “Of course that had to be the end!” Bad stories are often neither, decent stories are sometimes one or the other, and the truest stories have an ending that is both surprising and inevitable.
We come to church to hear stories. We expect the pastor to tell us a story that rings true in our life. Some of us expect moral instruction, which might be great, but we will never follow moral instruction without a story that inspires the moral instruction (it’s why we have to endure so many Mother Theresa anecdotes). The idea most pastors have who tell inspiring stories of good deeds and morality is that by bringing you into a story, making you empathize with an exceedingly moral character, you might become like them. It’s possible that it can work, but those inspiring stories should stand up to the scrutiny of our dramatic requirements (inevitability and surprise), otherwise they are Lifetime-movie melodrama, with a splash of well-meaning religiosity tossed in.
The problem with melodrama is that it ultimately perpetuates lies. Just because you act like Mother Theresa doesn’t make you anything like Mother Theresa. You can’t really know her motivation for doing good deeds, and when it comes to good deeds motivation seems to matter – which is why we laugh at presidential candidates who supposedly volunteer at soup kitchens. You can’t really be like Mother Theresa. No matter how simple the pastor breaks it down in steps. It will never be true.
Let’s be honest, since we are talking about lies and all, the most pressing drama at church is usually nothing that comes out of the pastor’s mouth at all. It probably has something to do with the perception of the people around you. In a perfect world, we could give a shit less about people’s opinion, but we long to be loved and accepted, so we do. But there is a more captivating drama going on anytime the gospel is preached.
The gospel is a story that is wildly surprising but also – we must admit – inevitable. Of course a God who created an earth and called it good would be willing to become part of it in order to save it. At the same time, can you comprehend that the God of the universve became a child?! Of course a God who loves his people would be willing to die for them. At the same time, how in the hell can it be true that the King of Kings was beaten and crucified by mere men?!
And here is the conflict in your life. You want freedom, but there is a lifetime of failures and an understanding that this world is not a friendly place standing in your way. And here is the inevitable but surprising reply from the story of Scripture: believe that Christ’s righteousness covers your transgressions and God loves you because Christ says so. Of course a God that loving would make it so easy (inevitable!), but how surprising that a God so just would ask for your faith over your works (surprising!).
There’s some Church drama to think about next time you get bored in the back pew.