The Ugly Crucifix

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God takes what is ugly and turns it into something beautiful.

When I first saw the crucifix, sitting among other far superior items on the shelf of random knick-knacks at the thrift store, I noted how ugly and rough it was, and I knew that this was the perfect crucifix for me and my home. I picked it up and felt it, it wasn’t any prettier close up. I even smelled it and it didn’t even smell good. There was nothing redeeming about this crucifix. The truth is that the crucifix is butt-ugly.  But the thing is that the crucifixion of Jesus was a very ugly event, and I feel like sometimes I forget the ugliness of it because the crosses we tend to put in churches or around our necks are much prettier and ornamental (and please don’t think I’m arguing against this because I’m not). But the reality is that it was a very ugly event, to take care of a very ugly problem.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was dark and ugly, but it is from this ugliness that beauty emerges. Because Jesus was crucified, I can partake of his very body and blood. When I partake of the Eucharist, it’s a picture of how something so ugly can be so beautiful, because as I eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus every week, and it nourishes me spiritually.

I went through an experience Saturday that was horrible and surreal and I couldn’t believe that it happened. It only lasted forty-five minutes but the event shook me so deeply. I was cursed out by a cashier for simply asking if I was in the right line for lay-away. She also tried to get me to fight her, an offer which I declined. I was shaken up so badly by the event and the thing was that I was there to get the suits that I had put on lay-away for my kids’ baptism this coming Sunday. The ugliness of the event in the store hopefully will be overtaken by the beauty of baptism.

I brought the crucifix up to the cashier, who asked me if I was sure I wanted it because, well, it was rough. I told her that I am rough too and that was the reason I wanted this crucifix. I belong to Jesus, but sometimes my language is rough, sometimes my actions are rough, sometimes I’m a very ugly person. I’m certainly not a nice person and I don’t make any pretense to be.

I took the ugly crucifix home, and put it up on the wall in the living room, and it’s not any prettier hanging up than it was on the shelf. But the things that mean the most aren’t always pretty. It is because of darkness that there is light, without the darkness there would be no need for light. The crucifix hasn’t gotten any prettier despite the fact that it’s been hung on the wall in the living room, but I put it there to remind me of the ugly event, the things that happened on Good Friday that ultimately led to the death of Jesus, just to have Sunday morning roll around and Jesus was alive. His death was ugly, but his resurrection from the dead was beautiful.

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Empathy

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So I wrote a book, The Girl with the Grace Tattoo, and included a lot of examples of abuse being done or overlooked in the name of Christian fundamentalism. A fundamentalist pastor told me that I should have been put to death when I was nine years old because I was raped and I was too scared to scream and he said that meant I was complicit and committed adultery and that the old testament penalty for a woman who committed adultery was death and that was what I deserved because I had sinned sexually, and sexual sins were apparently the worst kinds of sins a person could commit.

It’s taken a long time for me to even talk about things that happened to me in the name of fundamentalism, and the sad thing about it is that when I do, I’m told things like “well, not every fundamentalist church is like that” or, “my church isn’t like that and I’m a fundamentalist” and “it must just be the area that you lived in” (really, because I thought that the USA and Australia were two different places and the abuses happened in both places).

It seems that rather than admitting that Christian fundamentalism has a problem and to repent, fundamentalism wants to overlook the abuses and act like they haven’t done anything wrong even though it’s the actual fundamentalist beliefs that are the problem. The fact is that I was abused in the name of God in fundamentalism because it’s precisely what fundamentalists teach. I heard from the pulpit that I should be thankful even for the shit that happened to me because anything short of an eternal hell was better than I deserved. I also heard that a parent was Biblically allowed to beat a child within an inch of death to “save his soul”. Basically, child abuse wasn’t just allowed, but parents were taught to abuse their children in fundamentalism.

The thing is, when you look at everything in light of an eternal hell than I can kind of see how people would say some of those things even though they aren’t true and they are hurtful. Hell is what fundamentalist Christianity uses to justify their abuse, and that is not ok. It’s not ok to tell me that I just “landed in a couple of bad churches” and thus illegitimating the things that happened to me. When I’m told that “not all fundamentalists are like that” I learn that fundamentalist doctrine is more important to you than people and what they have been through.

The thing is, when it comes down to it, it’s still victim blaming and shaming, and it’s not ok. Instead of replying to my experiences with: “well, not all churches are like that”, the more appropriate response would be: “I’m sorry that they used God as an excuse to do that to you”. Empathy rather than defense is the best solution. To me, the problem is fundamentalism itself, which means that I think fundamentalism itself is harmful and damaging. I’m so thankful my children won’t be raised in it although they almost were because leaving is so hard.