Let’s Help Jesus Not Throw Up

“If Jesus came back, and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”
— Woody Allen


What am I supposed to do with the fact that, apparently, Robert Jeffress and Woody Allen agree with one another?
Besides being men who —many believe— carry sexual secrets, what else do these two have in common?

These questions have been boggling my mind all week.
I mean, Jeffress is a Rightwing Fundamentalist preacher, and Allen is an agnostic Jewish comic. But they both apparently agree that there a point at which we might do things to make God ill.

I was in seminary when I heard the Woody Allen quote.
My best school friend, Bill Frisbie, and I went to see “Hannah and Her Sisters.” 
It was the new Woody Allen flick at the time, at least a decade before folks started asking serious questions about Woody. (I won’t, and can’t defend him, fyi…)

The scene from the quote is with Max Von Sidow’s character, Frederick the Painter, a reclusive artist apparently mostly holed up in his studio. His wife returns to their apartment, and he talks about how he’s been up all night, watching the television.

“You see the whole culture,” Frederick the painter says, “Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers…beauty contestants, the talk show….Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?”

He grunts.

“But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers….third-rate con men, telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak for Jesus…and to please send them money…”

And then, came the line. The line I have remembered all these years…

“If Jesus came back, and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

Max Von Sidow’s character says the line, and in the movie theater all those years ago (the Inwood, I think…) Bill Frisbie and I both burst out laughing.

Not just a giggle…but side-splitting, uncontrollable laugher. Laugher so hard that other people in the theater were startled. Laugher so hard that I didn’t really hear what happened next. i think we might’ve laughed for two minutes straight.

“If Jesus came back, and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

Strangely, I tend to agree with both of them too. Both Jeffress and Woody Allen.

I have a fantasy that in his Sunday sermon, Jeffress is probably going to say something along the lines that God vomits because of churches like the ones I’ve served for decades now…

Churches that welcome all God’s children.
Churches that embrace the LGBTQ community or immigrants.
Churches that readily admit that we are all broken and all in need of each other.
Churches where we gather not to talk about how “great” we are, but where we gather to find support for the hard journey of life.

Rather than cause God gastric issues, I tend to believe those kinds of churches are exactly what God always hopes for in the Church, but what we get far too seldom.

Jeffress, of course, is a pastor who fully embraces the horrific policies of the current administration. He apparently has no problem with children in cages. (The ACLU is now saying today that apparently a thousand more children have been separated from their parents…) He apparently has no problem with make-shift refugee camps along the border, despite the Biblical admonition to welcome the sojourner.

Jeffress has *repeatedly* excused Trump’s horrible language and his documented abusive actions toward women. Jeffress has slammed and slurred religious leaders who are friends of mine…literally, he’s gone on national television and defamed actual personal friends of mine who I happen to know are doing much good in the world.

I tend to think THAT is the kind of stuff that makes God hurl.

But, what do I know?

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe…
…despite Jesus’ admonition to love the least, the lost, and the left out…
…despite the fact that Jesus says when we do this, we are actually loving God…
…despite Jesus’ strident word to his own hometown that they should love the foreigner…
…despite the countless times he chastises religious leaders of his day…really, the only people he ever seems super-pissed at…

Maybe despite all this, Jeffress is right, and I’m wrong.
Only God can know, for sure.

But I do recall one more thing from the dialogue in the film “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Before Frederick the Painter starts his diatribe about preachers, he says he’s also been watching a documentary about the Auschwitz concentration camps.

He describes that it’s “…more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions…”

Then, he offers…

“The reason why they could never answer the question ‘How could this possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’ Of course it does, in subtler forms…”

I can’t tell you how many people tell me privately how worried they are that our nation is sliding toward totalitarianism.

No, there is no modern Auschwitz, they admit. But, they say, it feels like 1930s Germany. The Germany where Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsys and the like were denigrated and despised. Where White Nationalism was on the rise.

And..where all of it was aided and abetted by either the silence, or the support, of religious leaders.
I gotta say, for months I could not agree with them.

But, after my trip to the border to see the crisis we are *creating* there…after more stories of more children being separated…after watching the President abandoned the Kurds (but! as of this morning, protect the oil fields!)…I have a harder and harder time denying the notion that we are in a situation that is a LOT like 1930s Germany.

Ultimately, human nature doesn’t change.
All those Nazis didn’t just vanish in 1946.
All the racists didn’t have a change of heart in 1866…or 1966…
Laws don’t change human nature, and human nature is remarkably consistent. It’s created GOOD, but can be quickly, and methodically turned and twisted.

I happen to believe we are created in God’s image, all of us, but that this original goodness get twisted up in a thousand ways. In every generation, hate gets imprinted into our spiritual and psychological DNA. We are tribal, way down in our old lizard brains. And that will NEVER go away.

The huge mistake “Progressives” often make is believing that progress in terms of law or social contract means that there will be some fundamental shift in human nature. We will, somehow, leave behind our lizard brains. I used to believe that. The last decade has convinced me otherwise.

Religion is neither all good nor all bad. It can be either.

Like politics —like any other human endeavor, really— it can be used to broaden our hearts and deepen our compassion. It can be used to PUSH us to move beyond our tribalism and embrace our shared God-goodness. It can challenge us to see God in everyone. (Like Jesus wants us to). It can deepen our compassion for the “other.”

Or, it can push us to further tribalism.
It can support tyrants and amoral despots.
It can be used to further their goals and objectives.
It can CREATE, not dissipate division, fear and mistrust.
It can speak TO our lizard brains, not challenge us to move to use our whole body, mind and soul.

So, maybe it’s not surprising at all that Jeffress and I would both believe there’s a kind of “Church” that would make God vomit.

He’s probably gonna say it’s a lot like the churches, and the people, that I love to the depths of my soul.
I tend to think it’s preachers and churches like his.

Again, you might find this maddening. But can you *really* say that it’s surprising from humans?

We humans who create Auschwitz and cure polio?
We humans who put kids in cages and help neighbors after a tornado?

For me?
I’m gonna pick the Churches that open their tables, pull up more chairs, forgive more than they condemn, and seek to lift up the left out.
Because…although I’m humble enough to say I can never be sure…I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus wants from us.

And I’d love to live in a world where Jesus can finally stop throwing up.

 

An Open Letter to Robert Jeffress” (Eric’s previous blog on him…)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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