Religious Lipstick

This Winston Churchill quote came across my digital inbox today:
"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."
Even though the quote is a bit cliche-like I agree with Churchill's sentiments about life being an upward climb. What the quote doesn't say is that we sometimes have to take a step down for every two steps of upward progress. Sometimes we miss this and have a tendency is to view our climb with rose-colored glasses.. we occasionally see sinful, and somewhat evil, behavior and phenomena as being a part of "God's plan" for our "ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path". It reminds me of this verse from Isaiah's fifth chapter:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
I have been guilty of doing this.. of painting a "God's plan" picture over the bad behaviors (mine and others) of my life.. it is like (that popular phrase from last year's presidential campaign) "putting lipstick on a pig" or the saying that the guys in prison used to chant: "Its all good!.

Owning up to my own bad behaviors and realizing how I used lipstick to pretty up my and others' bad behaviors has been a long and difficult journey. I so often want to be "positive" and "optimistic" about my life.. to see the bright side of sin.. to say "It's all good!".. I guess I just love the color of that lipstick :)

One of the problems believers have is misinterpreting this verse from Romans 8:
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
I think that.. on some level.. we want it to say all things are good because God uses them for our good. This kind of thinking leads us to some strange places.. places where we say things like "God is using cancer to teach me things" and inadvertently give the impression that something is "good" just because it seems to be producing good results. Another passage that is sometimes distorted is this one from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Notice that it says "in" (and not "for") everything give thanks. This passage seems to indicate that our rejoicing, praying and thanking are not dependent upon our circumstances.. they are independent of the bad stuff that comes from within creation. I think that our focus in these times is to those things outside of creation and not from inside of creation.

We do not need phony religious lipstick.. we can be real about the darkness.. we can call the darkness dark.. it does not detract from the light.. we need not call evil good.. after all there is only one who is Good :)


  1. Thanks for this Bob. Religious thought provoking. I like the way you always make me think.

  2. Bob, wow!! I can't believe you wrote this today when I shared what I did. We are tracking on the same wavelength. I think it is so easy to use optimism to over up what is painful. I also think it's easy to compartmentalize abuse or pain and to focus on the good, creating an internal split self.

    I love you calling out the religious version of this. You're onto something!

  3. This has been such a gut-wrenching realization for me. Living in a religious cliché world is so much safer.. so much less risking.. so much less transparency and vulnerability. Yet I find the road to be a freeing one.

  4. I think I understand you: some people think that awfulness is good because God willed it. I think I've heard people say that at wakes, thankfully for them out of my reach.

    I'd say instead that accepting God's Will is good. The awfulness is inevitable: all creation has fallen and groans in anticipation of its redemption. We all do what we ought not do, we all sin and have fallen short of the glory. The world is full of evil.

    But we know that suffering is efficacious. We are told by the evangelists and by Jesus Himself that we will experience suffering, that we should embrace it. Jesus left us room in His suffering for the salvation of the world, for the sake of the Gospel! So we shouldn't despair but join our sufferings to His for the sake of His Body, the Church.

    Contrary to Rev Osteen, things are swell around here - mother turns against daughter, our crosses are there and Jesus requires that we take them up. These easy-breezy name-it-and-claim-it prosperity preachers give me a royal pain, because they lead people into a place where, when they DO suffer, they are so wrongly educated that they are tempted to think (1) God is punishing them and they can't think of anything they did wrong, (2) their faith must be somehow imperfect or weak or (3) none of the Good News is true.

    If he would stick close to Paul and preach only "Christ, and Him crucified" he'd serve his people a lot better.

  5. Obviously, things are NOT swell around here....!

  6. I agree with what you are saying TZ.. thx for saying it!

    About Joel.. as a long time infrequent viewer I have to agree with you that he often comes across as a one of those "name-it-and-claim-it prosperity preachers". He also comes across as a very compassionate man who says things like:

    "A good thing to remember is somebody's got it a lot worse than we do."

    "Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you're going to live your life."

    "Do all you can to make your dreams come true."

    "God didn't make a mistake when He made you. You need to see yourself as God sees you."

    "You can be happy where you are."

    Joel's message at Yankee Stadium was filled with hope.. as a one-time New Yorker I have to say that I am glad someone is preaching hope in NYC :)

  7. I agree that he is cheerful and attractive AND inspirational in a temporal way.

    But is he preaching Christ? His "good news" seems to be you can live better and be better and be happier and be be be.

    Not that God so loved the world...that Jesus died for our sins...that Jesus rose again and ascended into Heaven, and opened a way for us...that we know exactly how to live in His Commandments and the one way, truth and life.

    Ya know, that Good News stuff.

  8. I may not resonate with some of his message but I would not say that he does not preach the good news.. he invites people to Christ all of the time.. just not in the direct manner that many evangelicals do but in the way that many mainline Protestant and Catholics do.

  9. Someday I'll figure out the appeal of him, Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, etc. I must admit they're WAY better than the old sweaty Jim Bakker/Ernest Angley models of the 1970's which I used to watch in horrified fascination, at a time I was far from faith, but trying to fit a worldly lifestyle together with a belief in the one Way, Truth and Life, and His Church.

  10. Your quotes of Joel Osteen reminded me of this aphorism:

    You don't need to seek God's will. You ARE God's will.

    To me, that is the essence of what he wants to convey, even while culturally his style is completely out of sync with what appeals to me. Still, I think we forget that everyone suffers (the great white privileged as well as the downtrodden Mexican immigrant). People who offer footholds in life are what love is all about.

  11. "footholds in life" - maybe you can expand on that Julie.. sounds like something I need to understand :)

  12. Ha! I will. Sounds like a plan. I had so much come to me today in the shower about God and empathy and love. Seems like right now is a good writing time. I need to jump on it before the bus leaves without me. :)


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