Thursday, March 17, 2016

Oh my goodness.  Two inspirations in one day after nearly two years of not writing.  I actually had other thoughts that I wanted to put down and work out over those two years but I was simply to lazy.  I wish I had as this blog tends to hold things for me and help me rethink as I go back over the years.  I am not always in agreement with my younger self but that in itself makes life more interesting.

Anyway, I was reading up on the Abelard and the Moral Influence Theory.  I mentioned below that I struggle with atonement theories this time of year.  Each year I try to more fully understand them.  It has not led to an acceptance of them but has helped me see more of what our struggles and brokenness are when it comes to our relationship with God.  Each theory was developed in a period of time and in a specific context.  Yet each theory speaks to where people are at still today.  As I read I can see how the developers of the theory felt the fullness and awesomeness of God's love as well as their unworthiness and attempted to understand the two through intellectualizing them.  They tried to make sense of the love and the cross.  For me, they attempted the impossible.  I believe that God's love and Jesus' sacrifice are beyond reason and explanation.  I can live with the mystery of the depth of God's love shown in the very special space of the Incarnation.  For me, it is enough to know God's love.

Don't get me wrong.  I am well aware of my unworthiness in my response to God's love.  I am well aware of my brokenness.  But God's love inspires and compels me to move beyond that to following Jesus the Christ into a better and fuller way of life.

All of this is not what inspired me to write twice today.  I was reading under an article on Abelard about Adam and sin.  The article spoke of denying that in Adam all have sinned.  I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that because of the fall we are all sinners.  I see the story of the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil a symbol of our own brokenness on so many levels.  This is not the place to go into them.  But the idea that we are almost irredeemably sinful because of the actions of Adam and Eve has never sat well with me.  So my eyes "perked up" when I read this.  Hmm.  The article went on to say that it could not be that in Adam all have sinned because there was no agreement of our will.  In other words, we had no say in the matter, therefore we could not be held responsible for it down through the generations.

Okay, then that strange and convoluted mind of mine started off on one of its side trips.  I started thinking about the residential school issue.  I have always struggle answering my parishioners concerns over why we should be paying for our ancestors actions.  We had nothing to do with the residential schools.  I tend to agree with them.  We are not personally responsible for the residential schools.  So, yes, on one level,  why should we have to make payment for them.

But irregardless of whether or not we were responsible, personally for the residential school system, there are a few brutal realities we need to face.

1.  The attitudes that prompted the residential school system remain today.  We are still prejudiced against the First Nations people,  This is lived out in job markets, prison cells and coffee shops.  We need to work to change our attitudes.  The whole residential school issue is a wake up call to that fact.  In our attitudes we, ourselves, perpetuate the damage of the schools.  And so, yes we are still responsible and need to work to change this.

2.  Serious harm was done that affects people today.  Something must be done to bring about wholeness to all involved.  It is not paying for the sins of our ancestors.  It is about restoration and growth.  We need to work with our aboriginal sisters and brothers in restoring  themselves to the fullness and completeness of who they are meant to be.  Maybe in that process we will also travel further on our journey to wholeness.

So, the residential school did not actually have our agreement (although given the attitudes that still prevail today I think that is only a matter of logistics at times and for some than of agreement of will).  But we do bear responsibility because we are one people.  We are not First Nations.  We are not white.  We are God's people.  We are one under our Creator.  When one of us is hurt, we bear the responsibility and gift (not burden but gift) of reaching out to bring wholeness and healing.  The residential school system inflicted damage on both our cultures and yet only one culture really bore the pain of it.  It is only fair that we shoulder up to bear our share of the pain and burden.  We need to work for restoration and for reconciliation so that we are no longer two separate people but rather reconciled as one, celebrating our diversity of culture and deepening our experience of life.

Just some initial and imperfect thoughts while I avoid reading up on the atonement.

Love and Prayers,

Atonement Time

I love Lent, Holy Week and Easter.  They are my favorite times of the year.  (Now if only they could also be among the warmest times of the year my world would be near perfect.)  But they also bring to light my struggles with the idea of atonement.

The first issue for me is that of the story of the scriptures.  I do not find, in either the gospel writers or Paul, a preoccupation with the idea of atonement.  In general the theories are developed by taking a verse here and a verse there.  The theories appear, to me, to be a reading into scripture rather than a reading from scripture.  Ah, woe with me - it is ever thus - that I struggle with doctrine that does not necessarily involve a clear and straight forward reading of scripture.  I have a tendency to feel that we take a very human issue and then read it into the scriptures to develop theories and doctrines.  I believe that scriptures are not so much about the brain stuff as they are about a way of living for which we were created leading to wholeness and vitality.

And that is part of my issue with the theories of atonement.  I don't think it is God's issue.  I think it is ours.  Ransom, Satisfaction, Penal Substitution etc.  I think they stem from our own understandings of justice and our sense of unworthiness.  I feel they devalue the amazing gift and strength of God's love.  They develop out of our own sense of needing balance and payment.  They do not allow for the fact that God's ways are not our ways.   I believe that our biggest sin is shown in these theories.  Our biggest sin is that we cannot accept fully God's free gift of grace and then live it out in our lives.  We don't have enough faith in God and God's ability to have made us capable of following God out of and through love once we accept the freely and lavishly given gift of grace.  And in the end, I believe they also demean that other freely given and beautiful gift - free will.

So how do I see the Incarnation and the Passion.  I really don't know.  It is something with which I struggle and more so at this time of year.  I see the gospel stories as they are written.  When it comes to the passages most pertinent for this time of year I see Jesus' passion and willingness to face the cross coming out of his love for God and for his people (meaning in the long run of time - for us).  He had strong convictions stemming from his understanding of and relationship to God.  He was willing to die for them.  The resurrection shows that God will not be silenced and there is nothing we can do that will silence or defeat God.  

At the base of all this is God as love.  I keep going back to 1 John 4.  I do so love that passage.  God is love.  The Incarnation is a manifestation of that love - God so loved the world (John 3:16).  God gave the Law.  God sent the prophets.  Our hardness of heart prevented us from seeing those gifts fully and from responding.  So God sends the Son.  Pure love.  In the Son, God gives us actions to fill out the words.  God shows us what the Law and prophets attempted.  We learn how to live in love with God and with each other.  We learn that it can be done.  But our own hardness, greed, and self centeredness - our own lack of faith in God and God's way - lead us to respond with blind violence - the cross.  And out of that God's great love continued.  Still God did not wash God's hands of us.  Whereas we chose only to exercise our power of death, God chose to exercise God's power of life.  Our puny attempts could not contain or limit God's love.  The empty tomb and appearances of Jesus are proof to that.

For me, this is the beautiful story of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.  It is not atonement but Love.  For me, the theories of atonement speak of our brokenness and inability to freely accept God's wondrous and vast gift of love and grace rather than the love and beauty that is God.  Instead we cheapen this beautiful gift by instilling human ways and values up on it.  Because we have been conditioned that there be balance and payment of debts and punishment for wrongs, we insist that the cross also have these meanings.  And maybe our own sense of unworthiness plays into this.  We are not worthy of so great a sacrifice of love on God's part.  There has be a reason of more than just love for the cross.  There has to be something that makes us worthy of God's love.  Have I got news for each and everyone of us.  We will never, never be worthy of God's great love.  Never!!!  We are too human, too broken.  But this makes God's free gift of grace all the more great, powerful and awesome.  Freely given out of love for us, bearing all the consequences of our brokenness so that we might learn and have life and have it abundantly.   The Passion, Cross and Resurrection are solely and simply an outpouring of God's pure love for us.  They are the actions of God willing to work through our brokenness to bring us the promise of and way to the fullness of life here and now and ever after.

Love and Prayers,

(PS.  I also believe that our preoccupation with sin, punishment, etc stem from a huge lack of faith in God and an extreme sense of self centeredness, but that may be a topic for another day).