Friday, April 08, 2005

Flip Wilson Theology - Don't Fight the Feeling

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I heard a comedy clip this past week and it brought back a wave of memories. The bit was a take from one of my favorite shows when I was a kid -- The Flip Wilson Show. Flip was (at the time) a young, black comedian who did a lot of character or sketch comedy. He became widely recognized from his time on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in the late 60's. When he got his own variety show, viewers were able to meet a stable of characters which included Rev. Leroy of the Church of What's Happenin' Now and the irrepressible Geraldine Jones. He also had a fistful of catch-phrases which popped up on every week's show. "The devil made me do it!" "What you see is what you get!" And the phrase I want to look at today, "Don't fight the feeling!"

Around the same time that Flip was on the air, a popular philosophy was "If it feels good, do it." Feelings have always been important to us. Even before the early 1970's, people made critical decisions based on what felt right -- how it felt in their gut. It's probably always been that way. A personal experience seems to trump all else. How could a pleasurable sensation steer a person wrong?

Of course I could share the testimonies of many folks who found out how a series of good feelings worked out to have horrible consequences. There's the man whose life was a series of drug highs which made him feel good but left him broke and with a prison record. There's the woman who lived for sexual experiences -- one good time after another -- but ended up with two serious sexually transmitted diseases and other medical complications. When feelings are your master, logic and consequences are often not considered until it is too late.

But I don't even have to go as far as the horror stories above. Many people have been betrayed by their feelings. Love which is supposed to last forever lasts maybe three years. Curiosity turns to boredom. Yet still people will bow to their feelings over fact.

The theological problem with "Don't fight the feeling!" is obvious. Or at least it should be. I remember the little choo-choo train drawing from the tract with "Fact" written on the engine and "Feeling" scrawled across the side of the caboose. The point was simple: Feeling should never be what drives you, it comes along for the ride. And the point is correct. Feelings are notorious for giving us false information. Feelings lie to us about what the situation truly is. Still many Christians place such strong importance upon a feeling. Feeling like you're saved. Feeling like God is present. Feeling like what you believe is right.

I suppose we become more emotionally attached when our feelings are touched. They can be quite powerful. But, like a kidney stone, our feelings always seem to pass. And if they don't pass, you may need to seek medical attention! Facts can leave us cold. We don't feel like we have anything invested in them. Facts remain regardless of how we feel. How impolite! How rude of facts not to consult us as to how we want things to be. Feelings transport us to a higher plane. Facts keep us level-headed. And that bothers some people.

I've never been a drinker, but I've been around plenty of them. Most seek the feeling of drunkenness. It's a rush. . . a thrill. It's out of the ordinary. And the drinker decides to go and get drunk -- he or she has some control, at least at the beginning. Yet at the same time, the drunken feeling goes away. Sometimes it is replaced by a completely different feeling. The pounding head, the pain behind the eyes. The good feeling turns bad. Yet the drinker will return once again still chasing that good feeling. Eventually it takes more alcohol to get to that feeling again. The thrill becomes harder to catch. But when it comes, honey, don't fight it.

Since our human weakness is to desire and respect the feelings, some churches treat this as a sign from above to feed the worshipper a rush of warm fuzzies. Worship bands may repeat a chorus over and over to influence the worshipper's emotions. The mind becomes numb. Certainly a person will come back again and again for that thrill. They'll have to because the feeling goes away.

Ultimately, feelings push us into selfish mode. It's about us feeling good. It's about what we experience. It's all about us, right? But, it's supposed to be about God. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz, put it this way, "The most difficult lie I ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me." It's a tempting lie to make worship and even life itself about our comfort, our feelings, our desires. But it's not supposed to be about us.

The feeling is supposed to be a fringe benefit -- a side dish. The main course is fact. Fact which is not blown to and fro with every new wave of teaching. Fact which stands unchanged like the One Who calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Fact which doesn't fade away like the warmth of a mug of hot chocolate on a wintery day. Fight the feeling? Not necessarily. But treat it like it is meant to be. The feeling is fleeting and not worth seeking. Yet seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you as well.

For you budding Flip Wilson theologians craving more, try The devil made me do it! and What you see is what you get.

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