When I was a Catholic, I went through the stations of the cross several times, including a couple which included props and sound effects. It’s one of the reasons I never felt the need to go see Mel Gibson’s snuff movie – as a former Catholic, I was well aware of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. It was real for me already.
However, since The Passion of the Christ, the movie, accomplished the task of helping Christians experience the horror and suffering of Jesus’ passion and death, the Episcopalian Relief and Development Agency has apparently decided that they can move on other, important topics. Like reducing our carbon food print and promoting third world debt relief. From an article about it on Slate:
This year in time for Lent, Episcopal Relief and Development, the relief agency of the Episcopal Church, began offering a variation on the Stations of the Cross called the Stations of the Millennium Development Goals. It features eight stations, one for each of the global priorities identified by the United Nations in 2000, from eradicating poverty to promoting gender equality. Where each of the 14 stations of the traditional Stations of the Cross represents an event leading up to Jesus’ death—”Jesus is condemned to death” and “Jesus falls the first time,” for example—the alternative version, promoted by Episcopal Relief and Development, shifts the focus to righting global problems. At Station 8, “Create a Global Partnership for Development,” participants are reminded that a “fair trading system, increased international aid, and debt relief for developing countries will help us realize” the U.N. goals. An optional activity at Station 7, “Ensure Environmental Sustainability,” asks that “pilgrims calculate their carbon footprint and come up with three strategies to reduce it.” . . . A suggested activity for Station 4, on reducing child mortality, calls for participants to shade in drawings of children’s faces, coloring-book-style.
Goodness. Now, while I think that the traditional stations of the cross are a good thing, there’s nothing magic about them and they can be changed without putting our eternal souls at risk. However, taking the cross out of them entirely and replacing them with contemplations on global warming and clean water wanders well into crazy land, I think.
It seems to me that the thinking which leads to this reflects a rather pervasive problem in our understanding of the Christian life. The Christian life is often described as a walk. Which is entirely appropriate as it is a process. We don’t start at the end, or at some pre-approved point along the way, pure of heart, ready to work wisely and well. It has to start with submitting our hearts to God to be shaped and molded according to His will. A heart which is shaped by God will in time, naturally overflow with the purity, noble habits of thought and righteousness which more conservative Christians know are required of us. Likewise, a heart ordered by God will naturally overflow with compassion, kindness and a drive to work for justice.
So often, Christian leaders want us to skip over the messy process being shaped over time by God. They put the results of a Godly heart in front of us as a standard to be lived up to. However, this is like asking us to produce a cake without taking the time to gather the ingredients to mix and bake them. It is a mis-ordering of the Christian walk to ask us to focus our eyes on the results of a Godly heart rather than on the God who creates that heart. And this is why churches so often are frustrated that they are not more effective in changing people’s thinking and behaviors. Which gives rise to devotions to social justice goals rather than to Jesus on the Cross. Or purity ceremonies which only delay sexual behavior outside of marriage rather than stop it. These are God sized jobs, no human sized ones. And God works through our hearts. It’s all about the heart.