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Category Archives: Love

The Slippery Slope: A New Paradigm

'101 km to Mount Everest Base Camp' photo (c) 2007, Marc van der Chijs - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A group of expeditioners formed a team to attempt a summit of the formidable Everest.  They anticipated the journey would be arduous so they spent years training and stock piling the best gear to aid them  with their ascent.  During this time of preparation they, through excited conversations with friends and acquaintances, added many to their numbers.  By the time of departure their group numbered over fifty.

As they set out the air was thick with excitement.  Taking the traditional southern route, the climb began in the small town of Namche Bazaar, Napal.  Yaks and dzopkyos were loaded heavily with supplies.  Sherpas and porters were hired.  The travelers would spend the next 8 days making their way to the Everest Base Camp at a 17,700 feet.  By all accounts the trek, even in its early phase, was far more difficult than they were ready for.  Even many of the most physically fit members had a difficult time adjusting to the thin air.

On that 8th day they finally made it to the Khumbu Glacier which is followed for the final part of the trail to the Base Camp.  The icy path was treacherous for the crew, each footstep was placed firmly to ensure safe passage.  After this obstacle they reached the location where they would rest and acclimate for two weeks.

'Tents, Everest Base Camp' photo (c) 2007, Andrew Eland - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Tents were pitched, a makeshift kitchen was setup, and the sojourners settled in.  When the winds weren’t whipping too hard they would gather into small groups discussing the journey so far and planning for the next section of the journey.  There were a few core members of the team that were widely recognized as the leaders.  They talked at length with each other about methods for keeping the others following the straight and narrow.  Each afternoon the leaders would call the group together as a whole to go over safety strategies and outline their plans.

Over the first week at base camp other climbers also arrived, setting up their makeshift settlements nearby.  A few of the leaders would go to chat with the newcomers, always reporting back to their own group that the others were inexperienced, ill-prepared, and had little business being on such a dangerous mountain.  Occasionally they would try to convince some of the other groups to come and follow them up the mountain.  Their sales pitches claimed that the only way they would be guaranteed a safe summit was if they learned from them and obeyed their instructions.  Some actually did agree to abandon their own teams to study at the feet of the leaders and to follow them to the mountain top.

Each time a new convert was brought into the group the training sessions would begin again.  Though the delays disappointed the original crew, the leaders explained that it was for everybody’s safety that the recruits received a full and robust training.

The two-week acclimation period passed, then another week, then another.  With each passing day the instructional lessons became more detailed, more rigid, and more strict.  What was a 1 hour informal gathering had now turned into a 2 1/2 hour class taught daily.  Each now had a title and corresponding theme.  One was called “7 Practices of a Highly Effective Climber”, another “Mountaineers in the Hands of an Angry Mountain”.

Eventually some of the members of the crew became disheartened at the postponements and the increasing fanaticism of the leaders.  The mountain grew colder, windier, and more frightening with each passing day.  A group of 5 asked a couple of the sherpas to escort them back off the mountain so they could return home.  As they began to hike away from the camp and down the glacier they could hear mocking from the distance…something about being quitters, being weak, being lost.  From that point on the classes would also contain a section on the failures of back-sliding down the mountain, of sliding down the slippery slope.

'Everest Base Camp Tent' photo (c) 2008, ilkerender - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There was one young woman in the group, named Amy, who had dreamed of this journey since she was a small child.  The walls of her room as a teenager were filled with posters of Everest.  As an adult her coffee table had been littered with mountaineering magazines for years.  She had taken smaller journeys across many of North America’s most famous peaks.  When she heard of this expedition Amy had convinced her fiance, Brian, to take this trip with her.  Brian had not dreamed of this trip since childhood, but Amy’s enthusiasm proved quite contagious.

Now she was forced to sit impatiently on the side of the mountain, so close…and so far away.  To Amy, the classes being taught each day were little more than pep talks and repetition of lessons she had learned years earlier.  She began skipping the lectures, instead venturing to nearby camps to express her vexation.  She dared not speak her doubts and frustrations among her own team lest they shame her for being on the verge of the slippery slope.

Eventually the quicksand of this base camp became overwhelming for Amy.  She had been thinking about turning back, going back home to return later.  There was one particular group she had been venting to for the past couple days.  When she told them that she was thinking about leaving they offered to let her join their expedition.  Upon hearing the invitation Amy glowed.

She quickly rushed back to Brian and told him they finally had a way to continue on their journey.  Brian was hesitant.  He wanted to join Amy and this new team, but the training was echoing through his thoughts.  The other groups are “unsafe”, “unreliable”…how could he put himself and Amy at such risk?  And of course he knew the shaming would be imminent.  He certainly didn’t want to be a back-slider.

There was one thing, though, that he felt more strongly than any of those fears.  He wanted Amy to be happy.  Brian told Amy he would love to join her and the new climbing team she had found.  As they packed their gear some concerned companions came by to convince them that they should not leave.  They expressed that they were worried for their safety.  Brian and Amy thanked them for their concern but also conveyed that they were going to continue the climb and didn’t believe they could do that with the original expedition.

'Depuis le sommet du Kala Pattar (5545m)' photo (c) 2012, Jerome Bon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As they finally began their long-awaited trek out of the base camp they could hear murmurs behind them.  The words they had expected finally came as somebody mentioned the “slippery slope” Amy and Brian were on.  They smiled at each other because now they knew that not all slippery slopes are a descent…some are a long, hard climb towards your dream.

 

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Breaking Up With G-d

Occasionally a song resonates with your soul.  Sometimes that resonation has little to do with the artist’s original intent.  Perhaps that is one of the signs of truly meaningful expressions.  There’s something wonderful about a song that transcends its topic.  I’ve had that experience over the past week.  Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” has been that song for me.  Rather than a reflection on a former romantic relationship the song has placed melody and lyrics on my former relationship with G-d…the one I knew in my youth…the one I knew from my Evangelical born-again phase.


Reflect with me, if you will, on the lyrics for a moment:

Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
And you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

SomebodyI used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
SomebodyI used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

I used to knowThat I used to know
I used to know somebody

I should probably specify at this point that I haven’t become an atheist or agnostic.  I still believe in G-d but what that looks like is quite different from what it has been in the past.  I have broken-up with the anthropomorphic projection of my fears, hopes, insecurities, prejudices, self-doubt, anger, and desires.  Moreover, I have ended my relationship with those projections of my culture and the cultures that serve as the foundation of my culture.  There are, I still believe, parts of that affair that were shadows of the divine.  All of those elements were, though, tangled hopelessly into an idea I named “G-d”.

I feel particularly connected to the imagery in the video.  The relationship I shared with this G-d was created by filling in a paint-by-numbers pattern.  Piece by piece, doctrine by doctrine, sermon by sermon…the tapestry of our journey together took on shape and color.  It was not until later that the sharp corners and lack of shading began to bother me.  By the end…color drained away all together and the borders vanished.  All that remained was raw human flesh ready to move tentatively toward a new era, a new love.

'Broken Heart' photo (c) 2006, David Goehring - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Breaking up doesn’t mean though that I am free and clear of that previous “personal relationship”.  I will carry the baggage of that failed relationship…it has undeniably become a part of who I am.  It is intertwined with my very being for better and for worse.  That was love and it’s an ache I still remember.

Your friends, divine former lover, still come around to remind me that it’s over.  They snatch back the mementos of our relationship, as if they actually could, to serve as a reminder that you never needed me to begin with.  Though we shared a deep and meaningful history, when that relationship was over your messengers told me I could no longer call myself “Christian”.  I became a stranger and that feels so rough.  You found others who will love you more truly than I ever could.  I did love you, but we found that we could not make sense.  I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over.  

I’m deeply sorry I had to leave. I needed to.  You see, I didn’t feel like I could be myself.  The relationship demanded that I become someone I couldn’t truly be…but I’ll be damned if I didn’t try to become that person.  Every time I failed to accomplish the impossible you claimed to forgive me by acting large and when you did I felt so small.  I realize now that I was always set-up for failure.  And I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say.

In the end it is better off this way…for both of us.  I will always remember the good times we had and the love that we shared.  The past is the past though.  Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.

Somebody…

…that I used to know.

 

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Satan and Christus Victor in the 21st Century

First, I must apologize for the past couple months of absence from blogging.  Life has been busy through the holidays.  I have found a moment to catch my breath and as such now have time to write a bit more.  I currently sit overlooking an ice covered lake with a backdrop of snow blanketed mountains.  Perhaps this post will find a somewhat more positive tone then the previous…although we should start there to address this topic.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my last post please take a second to do so: An Abusive Relationship with G-d.

This last post was a reaction to a particular doctrine that I formerly affirmed, namely Penal Substitutionary Atonement (I’ll refer to it as PSA for convenience throughout the remainder of this piece).  I felt it necessary to express my frustration with this commonly espoused atonement theory to perhaps point out some of its short comings and the damage that it can do to us personally and our relationship with G-d.  However, it certainly isn’t enough to tear something down and walk away with the dust of the rubble falling off my boots.  So then, I offer an alternative for consideration.  Please keep in mind that what I will present is just another theory.  I am not advocating that this is the final and true atonement theory…only that it is perhaps a better alternative to the popular PSA.  I wouldn’t suggest anybody simply take this explanation and build a rigid doctrine around it, but rather use it as inspiration to continue the journey of finding new ways to experience G-d, love, and life with each other.

Let’s start by taking a step back in history, considering where PSA came from and why it emerged.  Throughout most of the first millenium of Christianity the atonement was understood by a vast majority of followers through either of 2 metaphors.  The first would be the Ransom theory. It teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, paid to Satan, in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. The second is closely related and is known as Christus Victor.  This theory sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor.  In the 11th Century the established western church officially rejected both of these theories in favor of the Satisfaction theory at the direction of Anselm, then Archbishop of Canterbury.  Satisfaction theory eventually emerged into PSA under the Reformers 500+ years later.  As a reminder, PSA argues that Christ  was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so G-d can justly forgive the sins.  So here we are in present day…dealing the the Mark Driscolls of the world telling us that G-d hates us and that we need to feel guilty because we aren’t holy enough for him, that G-d demanded a human sacrifice to appease his wrath against us.  If such an assertion came from any other religion we would immediately be able to identify how dangerous such an understanding of G-d would be…but since it comes from our own tradition we seem to be generally quite blind to it.

I’d like to pose this question:  Why did Anselm send us down this path?  Why did he see it necessary to change the path of a millenium of Christians before him.  It is reported that Anselm rejected the ransom theory because he had discerned that Satan, an actual spiritual being, could not have possibly had any just claim to G-d’s creation, thus eliminating the legal requirement for a ransom to be paid.  For Anselm a similar dilema was posed by Christus Victor in that it portrayed Satan as such a powerful being so as to be able to enslave G-d’s creation against His will.  Anselm contended it was much preferable to see us (humanity) as enemies of G-d, through our sin, then to assert godlike power to the spiritual being of Satan.  I wouldn’t argue with Anselm on his identification of a problem, but I would obviously have some contention with his resolution (again, see my previous post).

In the tradition of this blog I would approach the resolution of the criticisms of Christus Victor by exploring the metaphorical interpretation.  We have already established that it is fairly unattractive to view our condition as a subjection of humanity to the literal spiritual power and authority of a being that is not G-d, namely Satan.  If we do this we effectively create another god who is just as powerful as, well maybe just a little less powerful than, the main G-d, in so doing we become polytheists.  So what if Satan is a metaphor for something?  Is there some problem, power, set of issues that humanity faces from which we would need a savior, a hero?  If there were, then perhaps the analogy of the spiritual battle of Christus Victor could still be maintained, albeit slightly modified.

In searching for the villain, our Satan, in the narrative of Christus Victor I would introduce us to, or for some remind us of,  another atonement theory that has seemed to exist in some form or another throughout the history of Christianity.  This atonement theory is known as “moral influence“.  It teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection.  If we let moral influence inform our decision on choosing a metaphorical definition of “Satan”, then it would appear that immorality, as defined by Jesus, would be the villain in our narrative.  If we review Jesus’ teachings it appears that our Satan, the one he came to defeat, is/are the systems and individual interactions that are unloving, those that cause alienation and oppression, those that ignore or perpetuate poverty and need, etc.

This way of approaching the question gives us something real and tangible to work with.  We are no longer fearing and struggling against some lower diety who is manipulating our life events (I hate it when Satan hides my keys on Sunday mornings to keep me from getting to church, but Jesus usually overcomes the attempts of the Devil by helping me find them! PTL!).  Rather we move into addressing real world problems by practicing “The Way” (for those who don’t already know, early Christians identified themselves not as “christians” but rather as followers of “The Way”…that way of course being the one Jesus taught and demonstrated).  We are trying to solve issues like poverty (locally and globally) with generosity and compassion, we try to find ways to create and maintain peace by rejecting the cycles of violence and retribution, we seek to have relationships that are healthy, beneficial, and that demonstrate authentic love regardless of race, class, religion, or sexuality, etc.

If we see the reason for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of this collision of Christus Victor and Moral Influence then we effectively resolve Anselm’s problem with these traditional atonement theories while simultaneously avoiding the afore mentioned pitfalls and abuse of penal substitutionary atonement.  I see this approach as much more beneficial, hopeful, and as calling Jesus’ followers to a higher responsibility in the narrative of life and existence in the universe.

 

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An Abusive Relationship With G-d

This weekend Mark Driscoll, pastor of the NW mega-church Mars Hill, came right out and said exactly what he thinks that g-d thinks about you…”G-d hates you“.  Watch here (quote starts @ 4:25)…

Those who know me might be surprised by this, but I have a slight problem with that.  It isn’t just that I find his approach rough or his words lacking in tact, even though I certainly do.  My criticism goes beyond the shocking phrases he spews with such malice in this video.  If you have an hour, man he loves to hear himself talk, you can watch the full sermon here.

In the full sermon, Mark goes to great lengths to explain to us how evil we are.  He thinks it is incredibly important that we all realize just how sh*tty we really are and how much his g-d righteously despises everything about us.  We must come to the realization that g-d’s wrath is boiling over and his “justice” eagerly calls out for our blood.  Mark thinks saying all that is okay because it highlights just how great g-d’s “love” is when he finds a way to redirect his wrath onto a substitutionary scapegoat.  The only way we could possibly understand the love of g-d is if it comes in contrast to wrath-filled hatred and the threat of eternal torture performed by our beloved.

Forgive me for being as blunt as Driscoll usually is, but Mark’s gospel is bullsh*t.  I usually wouldn’t be so forceful in this venue, but this kind of theology is severely psychologically and spiritually dangerous.  His message, given with authority to an audience of over 10K, paints g-d with the following characteristics:

  • Jealous & Possessive
  • Controlling
  • Sets Unattainable Standards
  • Manipulative
  • Prone to Mood Swings
  • Conflicting Actions and Words – Like saying he loves the world then eternally tortures most of it
  • Punishes For Not Meeting Unreasonable Expectations
  • Disrespectful – devalues who you are
  • Historically Violent

The real problem here is that these are the warning signs psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have identified of abusive relationships.  The analogy of a husband and wife are often used by Christians to symbolize our relationship with g-d.   If Mark Driscoll’s g-d is like our husband, then we are the victims of domestic abuse.  His g-d tells us that we are worthless according to his standards.  We weren’t able to live up to the rules that he made for us, as a result his anger is boiling over. Every time we fail to reach perfection seething words escape through our holy spouse’s clenched teeth promising, “One of these days…one of these days my wrath will reign down on you with unrelenting fury.”

Maybe one day we might work up the courage to respond to such threats by saying, “Remember when I did that thing you asked me to do yesterday, did that not mean anything to you?”.  He, of course, would respond with an open hand raised and impatience in his tone, “Unless you do everything perfectly, whatever good you think you do is complete and utter garbage!”.

After such an interaction we might cower before him and ask “I really do try to be a good person.  You wouldn’t really hurt me just because I fail sometimes, would y…”.  A booming growl cuts off our words, “I AM THE DESTROYER OF SODOM, OF GOMORRAH, OF UZZAH, OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, OF THE WORLD IN THE FLOOD! DO YOU THINK FOR A MOMENT I WOULD TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY?”  His voice lowers a few decibels as he continues, “I’ll tell you what, because I am such a merciful and generous g-d I might spare you from my righteous punishment…I could torture and kill somebody who is innocent instead.  You should feel like crap, you made me do it.  You made me torture Jesus, you made me kill him…his blood is on your hands. Live with that guilt for the rest of your existence. Now get down on your knees!  Tell me how horrible and sinful you are.  Acknowledge before me and everybody else that you are nothing without me…a complete waste of human existence.  Say that you deserve my unending torment as retribution for your inability to be perfect, then beg for forgiveness.  Vow to change your disgusting ways.  Admit that it was all your fault that a righteous man died.  SAY IT OR BURN!”

As his voice crescendos, we find ourselves instinctively whimpering the confessions we were instructed to say. As we do, he continues, “Good…now realize what has happened here.  I must love you incredibly to even accept trash like you into my presence.  I ferociously despise you, but my love is greater than my hate…which is saying a lot.  Can you see that?”

“Yes sir” we murmur without making eye contact.

“Very well.  Then perhaps I might be able to do something useful with you.  Go and tell others that they too are worthless sinners.  My wrath burns against them as well, but perhaps they might be able to work out a deal like I graciously extended to you…because if I can forgive and love a P.O.S. like you surely I can do it for anybody.”

The last dig hurt.  For a moment we think to ourselves, “maybe we could just leave, find somebody who didn’t make such threats, find somebody who didn’t set unreasonable expectations, who loved us for us and not despite of us”  As quickly as the thought occurred, fear pulls it back.  If we run he will catch us and we will surely be punished.  If there is one thing we know about g-d, he will follow through with his violent threats…Mark Driscoll told us he would.

UPDATE

 
9 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Bad Theology, Christianity, Hate, Love, Theology, Wrath

 
 
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