Kool-Aid Jesus & “Ode to the End of the World”

If you grew up in or anywhere near a church with some sort of children’s ministry–or ever had school picnics or potlucks…or ever had a childhood for that matter… you’ve experienced Grape Kool-Aid.

In 1931Edwin Perkins, in Nebraska, had the idea to remove all the liquid substance from a fruit drink he created and packaged the powder by itself at a much lower cost–allowing production to skyrocket as well as his profit. Shipping was cross-country, the product was cheap, and marketing was a snap. Instead of soda, let’s offer kids a ‘fruit based’ drink, with slightly less sugar. Today, Kool-Aid is Nebraska’s official soft drink, and can be found in preschools, churches, daycares, and homes across the States.

In 1978, Jonestown hit the map with a famous toast of Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. Members of the Peoples Temple, following the urgings of their leader, chugged the toxin-filled children’s drink. Even today when we refer to someone “drinking the Kool-Aid” we imply they are blindly following faulty, lacking, or simply ridiculous ideology, theology, philosophy, or whatever it may be.

In (both) 1994 and 2011 Harold Camping predicted and proclaimed to ‘all the nations’ the end of the world. By now most have heard the gripping stories of couples siphoning their savings to run out on May 21. I’ve talked with educators of children hearing Camping’s message–and being truly afraid of what happens when the world ends. Cynics young and old have scoffed–knowing these claims have happened before–and they’ll happen again.

I wonder sometimes if someone’s faith can be “greater” than mine. Perhaps the world did not end because not enough of us truly believed Camping’s message that it would. Maybe Jesus was looking down from heaven, ready to go, and said, “Nope. No one’s down there waiting for me. Maybe I’ll just stay here and play chess with Gabriel.” What if we were truly lacking in our faith, and thus missed the coming of the Son of Man?

Similarly, I wonder if someone can have too much faith.

When someone drinks alcohol at 10am and has several more before supper and misses Parent-Teacher conferences because they were at the bar…again…we perhaps call them an alcoholic.

If someone is loosing teeth, hallucinating, and cannot distinguish reality from their private virtual reality–we may call them a drug addict.

After a stressful day at work you eat to relax. Your lover finds no value in you so you eat for comfort. Your reflection in the mirror drives you to the fridge-the pantry-the grocery store-and McDonald’s on the way home. We might you call a food addict.

But what do we call a person who is so filled with rage they would burn the possessions of their neighbors who have a differing opinion? What label do we give to the man who beats his wife because she is not submissive? And what do we say to a woman who leaves her lover because he is keeping her from “following God’s will”? And how do we help pick up the pieces after a family is divided over issues about orientation, gender, political affiliation, and anything to do with “eco” or “green”?

Addictions take hold of a person. Consumes and controls and turns their desires until their priorities reflect the addiction as the sole prize.

When we are addicted we cannot distinguish reality from a buzz from a high. Our addiction pulls us into a corner and separates us from our minds, our dreams, our family, our friends, & our world. We only let certain people in. We’re not really sure how or why it works.

The thing is, addictions are not just physical–they are indeed a sort of social disease.

Is religion a social disease?

A drug?

What else can split up a family, divide a household, a town, a country, a world–like religion? What else can provoke such passion and fury?

Religion tells us to draw battle lines because you are different. It asks us to decipher who is in and who is out. Religion tells us to remain pure and not to be tainted by “others.” Religion tells us to drink Kool-Aid laced with poison from a leader drunk on power. Religion tells us we can get exactly what we want from God, that having religion is part of the “good life”.

Religion is a marketable product.

Religion is a poison.

Religion is a drug.

Nonetheless, last Sunday was a communion Sunday at the United Church of Christ that we attend. The Pastor stood up front, behind a table covered in a yellow and white hand-made quilt. From under a starch white linen he pulled a beautifully baked loaf, prayed for God’s presence, called God’s people to remember, and broke the loaf. From a hand-stained ceramic pitcher he poured into a coup and called God’s people again to remember.

Row by row we were ushered forward to share in the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, the feast of the Lamb. As I took my piece of bread, dipped it into the cup and placed it prayerfully in my mouth–I almost choked.

It was not wine.
It was not juice.
It was Grape Kool-Aid.

Maybe sometimes my faith is too small. Maybe, sometimes, it can be too much. Maybe as humans we confuse religion for a way of life. And maybe sometimes we use ‘Jesus’ and ‘Religion’ interchangeably.

As high-powered, educated adults we get a high off of religion’s enticing smell. We become intoxicated by its power. And we misuse guilt and call it ‘love.’ We segregate and separate and call those people ‘lost’ and in need of saving. But maybe God is not waiting for us to find the correct formula for the Son’s return. Maybe the Spirit is not expecting us to save everyone–in the way we think of “saving.”

Maybe God wants us to chill out after playing tag outside and share some cookies and Kool-Aid with one another.

Kool-Aid can be just a cheap sugary drink. An easy substitute.

Kool-Aid can be used to manipulate and kill and destroy.

Kool-Aid can be offered and shared with all who come to the table.

This whole business of Jesus and Religion is tricky. We write off the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospels as cheap, meaningless–and of no substance. Then again, sometimes, we corrupt those same words and tie together lies and sales pitches to get others to do what we want.

But sometimes,
a prayer is said,
a loaf is split, a cup is poured–
and the hungry are fed,
the tired are given rest,
the wanderer finds a place to call home,
those who are in bondage are set free,
and those separated are brought together.

The end of times may just be an end of the corruption of Kool-Aid–an end to the Empire’s way of life. Let us then bring forth the Kingdom as we eat this bead and drink this Kool-Aid and proclaim that another way is possible. Jesus does not have to be a cheap, marketable sales pitch. We do not have to use his words to lay on guilt and manipulate or convince. We can instead share with all the saints past, present, and in the life to come, the wonderful mystery of grace and love.

Let us reclaim our vocabulary as followers of Christ. Let us live out a fascinating way of life that calls others as we were called to “come and see.” And let us come to the table, creating room for everyone–and say the prayer we have been taught, lift the cup in celebration and break the loaf. For there is always enough. Love is always enough. And we are continually being called to come and partake. Let us come, and let us come often.


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