(Un)Conditional Love? (part 2 in my series)
January 13th, 2008 by Sonja

(Part 2 in my series … Part 1 is here at Pushing My Own Envelope.  I don’t know yet whether or not there will be a part 3 or more, I’m waiting on the muse for that.)

One night a few weeks ago, we all snuggled down together as a family and watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation together. I had truly forgotten how obnoxiously hilarious that movie is. But there was one character who had completely fallen off my radar screen. Aunt Bethany. Remember her? She was the elderly aunt who showed up on Christmas Eve having wrapped up her cat as a gift. Yeah, I’d left her behind too. I looked her up a minute ago, the actress who played her was the same lady who played the voice of Olive Oyl in all the Popeye cartoons for 30 years.

In the movie no one quite knew what to do with her. The actress did a marvelous job with her part, prompting LightBoy to comment that it must have been fun to play that role. This was my favorite scene. Clark reveled in having the family together for Christmas Eve dinner. Everyone gathered round the beautifully set table, dressed, and primped. He did honor to his aunt by asking her to bless the meal:

Her response is priceless. She knows what to do … sort of. When told that she is the speaker, she then knows that something important should be spoken, so she gathered all of her wits and recited. She recited the first thing that came to mind. The Pledge of Allegiance.

Clark was devastated. My heart broke for him. He wanted a blessing. He wanted blessing on the food, on the day, on the family, and most of all on him. He wanted to know that he was loved. But Eddie, well, Eddie the hick … he knew how to respond. He stood up and clapped his hand right over his heart, his whole body ramrod straight at attention. Yep. Say the Pledge and Eddie knows what to do. No one else quite did though. They did not know where to put their eyes. There were some uncomfortable wiggles. Sideways glances. Then everyone settled in and accepted the Pledge of Allegiance as the blessing for Christmas dinner.

When she done, Aunt Bethany smiled shyly at a job well done and Clark began to cut the turkey. And that was yet another disaster neatly averted.

You have to feel sort of sorry for Clark. He’s clearly going insane straining against increasing odds to pull off some sort of Norman Rockwell Christmas for his family … capped by a swimming pool gift at the end. He’s giving himself a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder and most of it is caused by his own set of expectations.

As I watched and later reflected on the film, I wondered how the story would have changed if Clark had just gone with it. In some cases, he did. As he did with the blessing to hilarious results. But in real life (irl) we don’t. We call this planning. We plan for things so that there won’t be snafus or messes to clean up. We don’t want people to be exposed to the Aunt Bethany’s and the Eddie’s of real life, so we plan and give out scripts …

We explain our expectations to people so that they can meet them. We script life, worship, events, parties, etc. so that when the time comes for a blessing we don’t get the Pledge of Allegiance or something equally messy. Real people misunderstand what is expected and/or asked of them in critical moments and they make mistakes. But here’s the thing … our culture has zero tolerance for mistakes. We have a zero tolerance for reality; for the texture and nuance of human-ness.

This is why movies like Christmas Vacation remain at such icon status. We laugh and wonder why no one is like this anymore. Reality television is a huge hit because mistakes get you “voted off the island.” Err at work, and there are hundreds more like you to hire in your place. Mess up in a relationship? Your significant other will find someone new. There are other friends, other relationships out there. Make a mistake, and you’re gone, done, finished, finito. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Church. Why … it’s Biblical to vote people off the island, doncha know? Just cover your behind by making certain that they’re unrepentant.

No wonder so many people are taking pills to cope. I heard just the other day of yet another friend taking up the pill train of anti-depressants and another friend who is investigating the possibility. A sister-in-law is on them and another ought to be but isn’t. I do not have enough fingers to count the friends who take them. Maybe I need to use my toes too.

As I consider this intersection of culture, expectation and reality I begin to wonder how it effects our emotional state. (Or is that affect? I never get that right.) We are in many, many respects a culture devoid of grace. We talk about love, but we have none. We talk about tolerance, but there is none. The roots of so very many of our problems may be found in a lack of love, respect and honor for our fellow human beings as individuals. We talk about large groups, but we cannot get along as neighbors on a cul de sac or street corner.

The other day I wrote about hope being necessary to the process of peace in Kenya and many other “hot spots” world wide.  But I’m beginning to wonder … I think hope may also need to be restored here at home too.  I think hope may look different for us.  Hope looks like clean drinking water, food, education and liberation in Africa.  Here, hope looks like real tolerance, and unconditional love, and acceptance of a messy blessing on Christmas Eve.

5 Responses  
  • Peggy writes:
    January 13th, 200812:38 pmat

    This is exactly what The Abbess means when she says that we must have enough order for relationships to thrive and enough chaos for creativity and communitas to emerge. ;^)

    Nice new look…seems there are a number of blogs sprucing things up for 2008!

  • Erin writes:
    January 13th, 20081:11 pmat

    Love the new header!

    I agree with you. There were so many women I knew in my CLB who were on anti-depressants…because expectations as Christian women and wives and mothers were so high that they felt bad about themselves for not meeting them.

  • Sonja writes:
    January 13th, 20082:32 pmat

    That Abbess … she is wise! 😉

    Yes, Erin … it’s about expectations from without and within, isn’t it? And how we handle those … so complex … oy!

    Thanks for the props … I get bored and need to change the scenery from time to time. It’s easier than changing the furniture around. Cheaper too 😀

  • Jemila writes:
    January 14th, 20089:57 amat

    Sonja, perfectly, painful written. I love how you say this: “But here’s the thing … our culture has zero tolerance for mistakes. We have a zero tolerance for reality; for the texture and nuance of human-ness.”

  • Peggy writes:
    January 14th, 20087:30 pmat

    Yesterday’s sermon talked about failing successfully. It was a good sermon…talking about how God uses failures (he doesn’t have much else to work with 😉 )

    But here’s the rub…as much as God (Rom. 8:28) stands ready to make good from our messes, the Body of Christ is more often more like an advanced immune disorder–attacking and destroying itself.

    To his credit, our pastor called on the congregation to do a better job at providing a safe place for people to fail. But this is the single biggest problem I see. Our church is not a safe place for failure. There is little mercy and less grace. Sigh…. :(

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