The Right to be Unhappy
My high school English teacher was an alcoholic chain-smoker with a posh British accent who nursed a thinly-concealed disdain for his students and their parents. Naturally, he was my favourite teacher. Under his haughty gaze, I read Thomas More’s book Utopia, then the two 20th century dystopias - Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. Like many people before and since, I was transfixed by 1984. I was struck by the idea of screens through which one’s life is constantly on view, of newspeak completely destroying the nuance and creativity of the English language, and of course, the ever-present menace of Big Brother. ‘This’ I thought. ‘This is how things are going. We need to be on guard against a totalitarian regime who will control our thoughts and keep us in constant misery and poverty’. But I was wrong. It wasn’t Orwell who had it right, but Huxley. In Huxley’s Brave New World, people are managed by the constant provision of pleasure - soma - a hallucinogenic drink - plus regular and varied sexual acts, games and dances and nice things to wear. ‘Everyone’s happy nowadays’ is the catch-cry, and people are genetically bred into a particular caste - so an Alpha Plus is happy with complex and challenging tasks, whereas an Epsilon is happy with menial drudgery. The greatest sin in this Brave New World is to feel pain, fear, doubt or sadness. The culture we inhabit is obsessed with feeling happy. Perhaps you’ve seen (or been) a parent who can’t say ‘no’ to a child in case they become upset, or who shields a child from challenges in case they fail. Perhaps you’ve experienced the fear of grieving at a funeral - being jollied along in a ‘celebration of life’, instead of having space to ball your eyes out. Or perhaps you’ve seen (or been in) a relationship that fell apart because one partner or the other was simply unhappy, and went looking for pleasure elsewhere. Churches can be complicit with this pretense, especially with children, demanding that everyone be H.A.P.P.Y. Sometimes I’ve felt like shouting, ‘NO I don’t have that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart! I am not happy, I do know it, and I don’t want to clap my damn hands!’ Thank Christ for Good Friday. Jesus’ death was disgusting. It’s all very well to razzle dazzle the cross and parade around on a stick, or stick gems in it and wear it as jewellery. But the cross is hideous. Guns and ropes and knives and bombs, electric chairs and lethal injections, batons and bare hands - they’re all hideous. Today we can stop for a bit and remember that we live in a world of constant irrational violence. And we don’t have to explain it, or avoid it. It just is. Jesus was let down by people who should have been on his side. Not just Judas, the Temple authorities were altogether on the side of Rome and its need for a stable territory to oppress. And his followers deserted him. You know that moment when you’re betrayed by the person you trusted, or pushed aside when it’s inconvenient? We’ve all been there, been hung out to dry. We’ve probably done it to others as well. Today we can grieve if we need to, be angry if we need to. We can feel what we need to feel. Jesus failed on Good Friday. Yeah, yeah we all know that Easter is coming, and the tree of defeat becomes the tree of victory. But the reality is the whole movement was dead in the water. He saved others, he couldn’t save himself. He didn’t pretend to die, he didn’t use magic to screen himself from the agony. It was finished. The Empire beat him. They even gambled for his clothes, for pity’s sake. A complete catastrophe. Failing is bloody awful - that feeling in your gut that you just couldn’t cut it. The cross is like a mirror reflecting every time we ran last, every blunder, every downfall. Today we can contemplate the lost opportunities and the shattered dreams. We don’t have to justify, or defend. They’re just there. Who said being a Christian or, indeed, being a human was supposed to be a cavalcade of thrills and delights, anyway? Not Jesus, that’s for sure. Take up your cross, lose your life, give everything away, be persecuted, be hated. It’s a far cry from the pleasant, middle-class religion clubs we call ‘churches’ in affluent Australia. What kind of fool would choose the way of the cross? Perhaps Huxley’s Savage is on the right track. He is an outsider trying to understand the Brave New World and cannot understand why the Controller, Mustapha Mond, believes it necessary to replace fear and rage with a drug. "We prefer to do things comfortably." Explains Mond. "But I don't want comfort,” says The Savage, “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." "In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy." "All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy." We tend to want to see God in rainbows and butterflies, in newborn babies and soaring cathedrals. But today, let’s look for God in the pain and despair, the agony and the rage. Let’s look for God in the failure. In a world which demands that we should all be in a constant state of giddy euphoria, delighted by the sparkly trinkets and slick entertainment, gorging ourselves while people starve and laughing it up while our neighbours suffer - let’s claim the right to be unhappy. The Lord be with you The Reverend Chris Bedding is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Perth, Western Australia. He is also an actor, director, musician and comedian. His passions are ministry amongst people in the first third of life, dynamic liturgy and advocacy for the oppressed.

Source: http://www.hillsanglicans.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Sermon-Good-Friday-2013.pdf

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