The fantastic book “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk surreally explores the desire of modern American males to feel something, anything. The book is an adult version of The Velveteen Rabbit. It begins with the protagonist going to a testicular cancer support group in order to cure his insomnia. As he says, “when you have insomnia you are never really asleep and you are never really awake.” Soon he is attending many different support groups and crying with the best of them. Next the narrator meets Tyler Durden who projects everything that the modern day everyman imagines about a wild real man. Together, they begin an underground fighting club where men hit each other, bond to one another, etc. In order to feel like a real authentic Christian throughout the centuries, believers have created their own “fight clubs” of sorts. Perhaps it began when Anthony first went into the desert to escape the recently civilized and sterilized bourgeois Christianity. Without persecution and suffering, and filled with men and women who buy their furniture at Ikea, the church lost that edge. Maybe Anthony was the first Tyler Durden, a projection of Athanasius!
During the middle ages men and women went on pilgrimages and purges. Others would celebrate visions and trances. Mystics claimed secret experiences that made them feel something; the nails in Jesus hands, the blood dripping down his brow.
All of these enterprises are born out of a desire to feel alive, authentic, truly a Christian, truly connected to God. None of these things quite work though.
What is your fight club? Who is your Tyler Durden?
Recently I have realized that I have made Lent into a kind of Fight Club in order to feel authentic and real. Like the narrator of the book I watch myself going to Lenten services like a support group, hoping to feel something. I place ashes on my forehead and force myself to feel really, really sorry for my sins. Lutheran Public Radio plays away in my office, every mourning lenten tune on God’s green earth. I fast and pray. Perhaps I will watch the passion of the Christ for good measure and choke up when they beat my Jesus. And of course I push Holy Week. “Let us walk to the cross with Jesus”, I invite the congregation. This time let’s REALLY walk with Him, I pray.
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are decorated with serious songs and dark decor. BAM! The book slams secretly in the back of the room and the light is removed. An old lady shrieks and a young girl cries. Was it enough?
Do you feel anything?
I used to.
I don’t anymore. Like Christmas, I no longer can squeeze out that spine-tingling sorrow or joy. I’m numb to it. That scares me.
Have I awoken or returned to sleep?
Have I been projecting my own vision of a strong believing Christian all my life? Have I created a Tyler Durden and now he is gone? Is my faith fake? Or was it before?
Am I really sorry? Do I really believe? Why don’t I cry when we sing “Were You There?”
Even when I did, I didn’t really. Not all of me. Part of me watched and questioned whether my tears were real.
It doesn’t matter. Fake faith. Frail faith. Flimsy faith.
Stop worrying about your faith, your emotional response. Until my body is buried, I will be two people. I will be insincere. I will be half there. I will be sometimes unattached. I will be fake sometimes.
Lent, Easter, Christmas, the Christian life are not about me. How I feel. Whether I cry. Whether I really believe.
It’s about Jesus. He is the only one who is authentic, real, and certain. My faithfulness and my faith may be fickle. But He is faithful, faithful enough for both of us. He is no Tyler Durden, yet He has come to blow everything up; every false notion of righteousness, every false path of reality, every false god and every false confidence so that there is nothing left but Himself and His words.
And His Words are true whether I cry when I hear them or not. They are even true whether or not I really, really believe them or not, “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and “I will raise you up on the last day!”
He is my authenticity. He is my reality. He is my salvation. He is my fight club.
And on that Last Day when I am raised from the dead without sin, I will sing loud with sincerity and authenticity.
For now His words keep me awake, free from insomnia, and alive.
Come, Lord Jesus.