Beautiful Terrible Reckless Love.

It is once again time for a #progGOD challenge. Tony Jones called all us emergent-y types to write on the meaning and, potentially, necessity for the crucifixion. This time, he’s rewarding the person whose post gets the most likes, shares, and whatnot, so if you like what you read here, please, share it so I can get free books. You can read my other #progGOD posts here (nature of God) and here (incarnation).

Today is Ash Wednesday.

This is my first Ash Wednesday since I began practicing an active faith in which I will not be going to a church service. No, instead, Doug Pagitt (more likely, his wife) is going to make me tacos. For real. But, this is a very strange feeling for me. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

Similarly, I’m not sure if it is very timely or horribly inappropriate to write about the crucifixion today. We’re in the right season (sort of), but we’re also not. Lent is a process.

I’m going to go ahead and write anyway, if for no other reason than that Tony posted the challenge today.

First, I must begin with my atonement theology history.

I recall writing a paper roughly two years ago for a theological controversies class I was taking. The class was instructed to write on the nature of the atonement, based on a book our professor had written. This book contained expositions of four (really three) atonement theories: Ransom, Penal Substitutionary, Christus Victor, and Kaleidoscopic. I remember writing my paper and affirming the Kaleidoscopic theory, which claims a multifaceted understanding of the atonement, simply because none of the other three really seemed to accurately depict what I thought happened on the Cross.

Probably because there are many more major atonement theories than the three/four listed in that book. Talk about limited atonement (ba dum shhhh).

A few months later, I read Love Wins by Rob Bell. I had to rethink my atonement theology as a result. I came out basically agreeing that love does indeed win.

Last spring, I wrote my senior thesis on my emergent systematic theology, and had to rethink not just the atonement, but all the related theological issues. It was at this point that I rejected the idea of original sin.

I have since realized that, without original sin, there is no express cosmological need for the crucifixion (or the resurrection).

So then, if all this is to be assumed, Tony rightly begs the question–why a crucifixion?

If Jesus didn’t die to break some cosmological sin-curse, why did he have to die? Why couldn’t he have just “ascended” like Elijah (physics and historicity aside)? Why is this violence central to Christian theology?

I think this requires a quick reworking of the associative property:

  1. God is love.
  2. Jesus is God incarnate.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is love incarnate.

Ha. Mrs. Eldredge was right after all–I would need to use math in real life.

So, if Jesus is love incarnate, then the reason for his life is to spread and teach the ultimate  αγάπη love. This is a radical movement on his behalf. While there might not be such a thing as original sin, we can think of sin as a disease that spreads throughout all humanity–namely, selfishness–and thus we can understand that we are all chronically, but not terminally, ill. Jesus is our great healer. His radical, completely selfless love is the means by which humanity is redeemed. He invites all creation in, even the sickest people, and loves them recklessly.

However, if this love is our medicine, it surely is not one that goes down easily.

Because this great love can move us to do wonderful and amazing things, but it can also make us furious, jealous, or even vengeful when we can’t seem to look past our own selfishness and let love abide. It is especially threatening to those of us with great privilege, as this love requires us to let go of the things that have given us power over others, power which we rather like.

So, forsaking humility, we take that love and we dominate it. We arrest it, strip it, scourge it, and mock it. We pin it down and nail it to a tree–where we can keep an eye on it and be assured it won’t get out. We starve it of food, drink, rest, even air. We push it to its breaking point. We let it die.

And the beautiful, yet incredibly terrible thing about this love is that it submits to it all.

This love chooses to die. Because if it chose not to, it would be going against its very nature and choosing self over others.

But do not let submission read as giving up. Because this love does nothing of the sort.

Beautifully and terribly, this love rises from the ashes. This love is so strong that not even the worst thing we can do to it can overcome it. Our very worst–the depths of our selfishness–are nothing in comparison to the depths of this love.

Tony asked why a crucifixion is necessary. Ontologically speaking, it isn’t. Even considering the pervasiveness of sin, it still isn’t necessary. But, presented with the choice between being crucified and saving himself, Jesus shows us why choosing the crucifixion is the only choice, and why the resurrection is the only possible outcome.

Because, dear friends, in the end, love wins.


Unrelenting Lutheran Lent

I am a non-denom-er.

I don’t ascribe to any specific denominational doctrine.

I pick and choose. There are elements of just about every (major) Christian denomination that I like. I don’t think we need to fully fit within one.

I also don’t put much emphasis on tradition. I find that my beliefs often contradict what tradition says, and while I’m willing to engage that debate, I rarely end up siding with tradition.

But it’s Lent. And that changes things for me.

The first church I went to was Lutheran. It’s also the church I have attended longest. So it’s had a pretty significant impact on my theology.

Do I think everything within Lutheran doctrine is correct? By no means. I actually disagree with much of their doctrine.

But, Lord, I love the way they do church.

I love the adherence to the church calendar. I love the church seasons and the colors that we associate with them. I love the liturgy and the lectionary texts. I love the hymns and the LBW. And I love love love the Sacraments.

Part of it is the dependability, the regularity, the consistency of it. Part of it is the unity that comes from knowing that everyone in the building is making the same statements and prayers together, that everyone (both within the individual churches and within the denomination itself) is meditating on the same text, and that so many from years past have sung the same hymns. Part of it is the beautiful meaning of the Sacraments and how deep they cut into the human soul. There are a myriad of reasons why the way Lutherans do church resonates so deeply within me.

I’m okay, most of the time, with not having this in my life. I go to a Baptist school and a non-denom church. I’ve seen plenty of adult immersion baptisms and I’ve done communion with Welch’s and Wonderbread more times than I can count. I sing 90’s worship songs at church on Sundays and listen to a forty-five-minute-long sermon. My husband (who you can now find here) grew up Baptist-Covenant, so he’s not big on anything that has to do with liturgical churches, and I’m okay sacrificing that for him. I can deal without Lutheranism for forty-five weeks out of the year.

But…Lent is different.

I’ve learned that many non-liturgical churches (and their members) don’t really do Lent, or they do it in a very different (and almost unrecognizable to me) way than liturgical churches do. It’s this thing in March or so that starts by getting some ashes smudged on your face and you give something up for forty (or forty-six, because many don’t realize that you’re supposed to break your fast on Sundays) days. Then you go to Easter service and everything’s good and not weird again. Which is fine, I’m not bashing that. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to celebrate Lent.

But it’s not fine for me.

Christmas, Easter, they’ve been taken over by capitalism and pop culture. I know Jews who celebrate Christmas because, why the hell not, everyone else does. Lent is different. It’s still ours. It’s precious. It’s beautiful. It is mournful and solemn but it pushes towards the joy we know is coming. It moves us to rethink ourselves and our actions and commit ourselves yet again to Jesus, to prepare ourselves for this coming joy. It requires us to walk in the steps of his pain, but it also sets us free to rejoice with him on Easter morn. It is the most stunning example of how we ought to live as followers of Christ that I’ve ever found in the Church.

And we do this every year. For six and a half weeks. Beautiful.

Two days ago, I (and my husband, reluctantly) went to Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran church in our neighborhood. We sang hymns out of the LBW. We listened to the (classic twelve-minute-long) sermon. We took communion of kosher wine and unleavened bread. We prayed the confession. We received the ashes. It was wonderful.

I recall, as the pastor was reciting the Words of Institution (for Holy Communion, for all you non-liturgical types), I was mouthing along with her. I watched as every person spoke the Lord’s Prayer together. I saw everyone bow their heads and offer their empty hands up to receive the elements. And, for the first time in far too long, I received Holy Communion. And it meant something.

Lent, at that moment, renewed its grasp on my heart.

Because I was reminded that this Communion was not simply something done to unite my brothers and sisters and I. I was reminded that I am being invited to a table, not only with all these people, but with Christ. I, who am not worthy, was offered an outstretched hand and the simple invitation of “Come, the table is prepared, all are welcome.” I was reminded that this bread and wine is not just bread and wine, it is the manifestation of the body broken for me and the blood shed for me on the Cross that we are walking towards in this season.

Broken. Unworthy. Sinful. Invited anyway.

But first, we must walk. Forty (forty-six) days in the valley of the shadow of death. My sins. Seeing every ugly detail thrust out into the open like that. Still, we must walk. At the end of this valley lies a hill with a Cross atop it. We must make it that far. The further we go, the more I look back. I want to return. I want to stop walking. I begin to limp. Soon, my legs give out. I can’t do this anymore. No matter. I will be carried there if by no other means. Laid at the foot of the Cross. You who carried me here are now nailed to it. Your body is broken before me and your blood runs over me. I lift up my hands to give something, anything, to stop your pain. Hush, child. Now is not your time to give. You must receive. I don’t understand, I am the wrongdoer. Before you can explain, your last breath escapes. I cry out in mourning. If it is all I can do for you now, I lay you in your grave. I weep. I come back two days later to find your grave opened. I don’t understand, I don’t know why. I ask the first person I see, the gardener, if he knows what happened. He turns and his face is yours. I don’t understand. Joy fills my heart and I am ready to dismiss the last six weeks as a dream. You tell me no, I can’t. I must always remember that journey. Without it, we would not be here. This joy is a product of that pain. But rejoice, child, for the pain is now over; the journey is complete.

Come. The table is prepared, all are welcome.