WHO IS JESUS TO ME–embroidered truth claims?

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Jesus: God: person: deity Mine. Yours. Ours. Not private, but personal. Not mine alone, but shared with many. Yet, there in the most private recesses of my heart, in the darkest corners of my fear, in the secret promise of … Continue reading

THE CROSS #6 – FORGIVENESS

Where Forgiveness Begins

Where Forgiveness Can Begin

There is a brand new canticle to sing.
It is a canticle of healing and salvation.
This canticle sings of Jesus,
forever God, forever human,
forever on a cross, forever risen, forever forgiving.
This new canticle sings of love,
of days to come, filled with hope,
where our sorrow is held in the joy of new life.
But wait, there is a challenge here!
For this forever forgiving God
who applies no strings,
who only offers life in abundance to all
asks that I, we, pay this abundance forward
and forgive those who have done us harm,
forgive past harm, forgive future injuries,
forgive calumny and insult
and those who have shamed us
and those who will shame us
and those who injure those whom we love
and those and those and those and those…
We are not to endure suffering or
seek out martyrdom or to continue living where the
violence is unlivable or to support the regimes
of bullies—domestic or national,
but, for the sake of our own souls,
and for the soul of the world and the soul of the cosmos
we are to forgive.
This is our spiritual work as humans: to forgive.
It truly is a brand new canticle!

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Romans 6:6 — The Message
6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

Luke 23:33-35 — The Message
33 When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.
34-35 Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!”

For this six-part sermon series on the Idea of the Cross, I have based my conversations on a classical and traditional vision of Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity and as being Fully Divine and Fully Human. I do this because it is part of my faith-system (I actually believe this). It is because I believe this that I find it impossible to believe in the Doctrines of Original Sin or the Atonement. For if Jesus shows us the true nature of God, then doctrines of violence and condemnation and rejection and abuse just plain do not work.

The cross was an event that carries multilayered meanings for us in our own time, and, we, just as those early followers of Jesus, are trying to make sense of it. At its most basic level it was a method of control used by the Romans to keep a subservient people in line and to deal with insurrection so brutally and shamefully so as to quell thoughts of rebellion before they started. It was a symbol of the power of force. For any individual going through the brutality it was a horrid process where death was not just an end of life, but an end to their suffering.

It was the cross that showed Christianity in its true light. Early Christians proved, not only could water be turned into wine, but that they could see an empty glass as half full, and that they could take the most sour lemons, and turn them into really fine lemonade. They took the shame of the cross and reframed it into a point of glory. The dead-end that was torture and death was turned into an absolute victory over death itself. The event that was built on the skulls of past victims of horror of an unforgiving empire, became a place of forgiveness where not only bullies, tormentors, and evil empires were forgiven, but even future followers of Jesus would discover the healing of Jesus’ forgiveness and a challenge to pay forward the healing received. Let us take a look at forgiveness itself.

Artist, Poet, and Spiritual Guide, Rev. Laura West writes, “When an ancient hatred becomes a present love that is true forgiveness.” (West is quoting from, A Course in Miracles, here.) She states further, “Untrue forgiveness is what most commonly falls under the notion of forgiveness. How often have we heard it said ‘I have forgiven my X (my parents, my sister, my in-laws, etc.) for what they did to me.’ The ‘for what they did to me,’ is the tip-off that a grudge is still being held.” WOW! I suppose it goes along with the idea that we have to forgive, but we were never told we have to forget. Rev. West says otherwise. She suggests we have to let go of the grudge. Ouch! Her calling our act of not forgetting a grudge makes it sound so, so, well so base. So like what one of those non-Christians would do. Untrue forgiveness, how can we possibly learn true forgiveness? Why would we possibly want to?

Don’t we rather enjoy nursing an old wound like it was a snifter of the finest ancient brandy? If we would listen to Rev. West it is never like fine brandy, but more akin to really bad wine that offers you a hangover that just goes on and on. She writes, “A person who feels this way has pardoned a criminal in their eyes. This person is still a criminal for what they did in the past and the past still binds them both because it is brought into the present.” The hangover goes on forever and the sorrow never ends. However, she continues by offering an out for the grudge-holder. “How many times have you heard this: ‘What happened in the past is completely irrelevant now?’ Anyone who says this has released themselves from the past and stepped into the freedom of the present. In fact the things we have truly forgiven are forgotten, not because we can’t remember them if we wanted but because we no longer have the need to remember them. There no longer is a grudge to keep alive by remembering.”

West states that the great change, the transmutation, the alchemy can happen if we can take ourselves, “out of the center of [our] awareness.” She states that, “ This is not so easy to do because almost all our thoughts flow in an effort to maintaining the centrality of a self-image that is inherently false. That is why it takes so much effort, so many thoughts. Spiritual practices of all religions address this very need to take one’s false self out of the center of awareness.”

I think we can all relate to this idea of having a false self. We can feel its presence when we are interacting with others and we are not being truly ourselves. We may say we do not lie, but that is really only a half-truth. Many times what we really do is to act non-authentically. We do not present the truth of who we are to others. There is a being within us that is holy, divine, sacred, godly. There is a false presence also that is full of fear, anger, pride, hurt. The one part desires truth, goodness, peace, holiness, and healing. The other part feels small and wants to get even, to last out, to exact payment for wrongs, and will not let go of perceived pain. The natural instinct’s of a human is for survival. Fight or flight. What do we do on our crosses? When we are in danger we need to take care of ourselves—defend ourselves in any way that is needed, run, or seek shelter, But true survival depends on how we respond to the situation after it is over and we are safe. Do we carry it around with us? Do we worry at it like a creature with a never-healing sore? Do we pretend it never occurred and try to act as if we are just fine? Do we dream or scheme away our hours planning revenge—real or imagined? What if the rest of eternity depended on how you, like Jesus responded to your suffering? Could you bring yourself to forgive your trespasser?

What would your true self do? Your honest to goodness true self. There are times when you do or say or think in ways that afterwards you wish you had done otherwise. The self you wish had acted instead is usually your true self. That self that is itself divine and is as Jesus is. It is the self that would rise to a higher calling if you would allow it. It is the self that was created in you that is good, kind, vulnerable, strong, beautiful, not fearful, cheerful, generous, and so complete that it can love even its enemies. It is a self that cares for itself and is kind to itself in ways that protect you from harm, can confront, stand up to, a bad situation out of the strength of love, not fear. It is a self that can fight for what is right regardless of the odds and know when also to run and hide. It is a self that is true to your strengths, understands your weaknesses, and judges you good because of both. It is this self we are called to grow into, but more, it is the self that is truly you, that self that is always within you waiting to be released, that self God created in you, with which you were born.

Jesus, hanging on the cross, in the midst of his personal suffering, offers forgiveness to his tormenters. In so doing he releases himself from the violence of the mob’s hatred and vituperation, and I believe was able to move into a present that held a future which included an Easter Morning. West suggests, “True forgiveness is a kind of transmutation of hatred into love.” She calls it, “…alchemy of greatest value.” It was a movement from violence to grace. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had acted fully human? What if he had cursed his tormentors instead of forgiving them? It is obvious to me that Easter would not have happened. Death would have gone on, business as usual. God would have lost. Evil would have won. Humanity would have surely lost, too. But Jesus reached deep into his divine self, that half that wasn’t fully human, and forgave. But what if this choice and this consequence is offered to us daily? What if within our decisions to forgive or not forgive are the fulcrums upon which Eternity balances? I think that in part it is.

What I want you to take away from this sermon is that our full reception of true love is based on true forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an act we have to do to get God’s love, but I believe it is an act that opens our hearts to receive God’s love to the utmost and fullest. In the same way the forgiveness we seek and desire from God and others is a forgiveness we already possess, yet for us to fully taste, touch, feel, absorb that forgiveness we need to be fully practiced in the process of forgiving.

However, the act of forgiveness is not a prescription, whereby should you choose to forgive, then the whole world and your life and what you need to forgive will just disappear and all will be well. That is not how I believe it works. That is like telling someone that they should look at their suffering as a means to getting closer to Christ, or that they should try and find hope in their suffering, or that because Jesus suffered for you, then you should suffer for Jesus, and therefore all your suffering is a sacred process to which you should look forward. Blauch! There are no magic tricks here, no sorcerer’s words for a get-better spell. I can say with assurance, though, that when I forgive, sometimes, if the situation or person doesn’t change for the better, at least through my act of forgiving, I do change. AND isn’t that the true miracle, that somehow, however minutely, we change—just a little?

The post from which I quote above, was posted by Rev. Laura West on her blog, Mystic Heart, on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. You can read more of Rev. West’s thoughts at http://www.mysticheart.blogspot.com

THE CROSS #5

For What Do We Search?

For What Do We Search?

Acts 20:27-29

We see that for which we look.
Our discoveries mostly match our expectation.
This is the grave
distinction between exegesis and eisegesis.
In the end it may well be that theology is all about eisegesis.
If that is true, I will look for love
and not hate—
healing, and not wounding,
A God who is not repugnant.
That am I to make of a story
about a loving God who
demands that forgiveness be forever
bathed in his Jesus’ blood?
Where do I find hope when violence and hate
can only be ended by more violence and hate?
How do I cure fear with more fear?
How can I create love out of a hateful act?
How will God ever be satisfied with me
when I cost him the life of the one who know his as father?
And, how might it be even possible to
trust a God to be a God of all Grace
when it is so evident that Grace itself is graceless? How?
I will begin with an understanding that the original story
was a mis-visioning of God by a people
bathed in blood and violence,
needing hope and justification for the
national terror in which they survived.
I will then re-read the stories with
hope, love, forgiveness, grace in mind,
and find what is there to be found.
I then will re-vision those stories
through my own experience of
hope, love, forgiveness, and grace.
What is it I discover?
I find a God who does not demand death
but demands love as a sign of my faith.
I find a God who offers and expects forgiveness.
I find a God who has experienced
my own pain and fear and suffering,
with whom I find hope and succor and nurture.
I find a God of Glory in whom
all creation is held in absolute love!

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Below are my research notes.

CROSS AS PAYMENT OF DEBT (Substitutionary Atonement)

ACTS 20:27-29 — King James Version
27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

THE DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN—is a doctrine that began as an argument against the gnostic heresies, and first stated by Irenaeus who based his agrument upon Romans 5:12-21.
The development of the Doctrine of Original Sin is more a development of the Roman Catholic (Western) church than of the Eastern Orthodox. It is based on the actual and factual existence of the persons of Adam and Eve and an original, one-time act creating a forever rift between God and humanity that is transmitted naturally through the propagation of the species.  The doctrine was further clarified by Tertulian, St. Cyprian, and St Ambrose taught the solidarity of the whole human race with Adam.  It was later expanded by Augustine, in an argument against another heresy, Pelegianism (that free will, supported by ascetic practices, was sufficient for living the full Christian life and the securing of eternal salvation), and became understood as transmitted by the concupiscence accompanying the conjugal act.

It should be noted that CONCUPISCENCE is defined by Augustine as humans having a nature in which the desires of the flesh are no longer subordinated to reason.

It should also be noted that according to Roman Catholic theology, that prior to the Adamic Event, humans lived in what is termed, ORIGINAL RIGHTEOUSNESS OR JUSTICE, which is the original created state of humanity where humans were created to be free from concupiscence, and we were gifted with bodily immortality, impassibility, and happiness.

THE DOCTRINE OF THE ATONEMENT—

In traditional theology this is the reconciliation of humanity with God by way of the sacrificial death of Jesus, and it is based upon the Hebrew Scripture notion that God is so pure that nothing impure may approach the Divine Person, and purification can only be achieved through the shedding of the blood of an animal. Leviticus 3 King James Version 3 And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer it of the herd; whether it be a male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord. 7 If he offer a lamb for his offering, then shall he offer it before the Lord. 8 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of the congregation: and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle the blood thereof round about upon the altar The Christian Doctrine is itself based on John’s Gospel where Jesus becomes that Pascal Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

The Church Fathers developed the doctrine of Atonememnt based on problems that went beyond the purview of Scripture:

Origen, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Augustine, and St Leo, considered the death of Jesus as the ransom paid to Satan who had acquired ownership of humanity by way of the Fall.  St. Athannasius claimed that Jesus took on human nature (became human) to effect a change in our nature so as to make us divine. “He became man that we might become divine.”

Patristic teaching took on the affirmation that Christ was our representative not our substitute; and that the effect of his teachings, sufferings, perfect obedience, resurrection, extends to the whole of humanity and beyond.

Scholastic, St Thomas Aquinas, suggested that while the act of Atonement might have occurred through Christ it was not necessary because God could have redeemed us without any satisfaction whatsoever.

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ANOTHER WAY TO VIEW: The little girl said as she was about to be confirmed into the church, “But I don’t want to be a Christian, Daddy. I don’t want to have to believe that God is mean. If you and mommy are nice and would never send me to hell, why should I believe that God would be meaner that you and mommy and do that to someone?”

What are we to believe? We have been so indoctrinated by these doctrines of original sin and the atonement that we are many times afraid to even consider that it could be different. And yet I believe that it is, different. Humans need to know about what they don’t understand. Humans need to have a handle on Mystery. We seem to need to know what is not knowable. We try to make sense out of the senseless. We stand with our faces to the sky and shout, “WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT!!!” Usually there is no answer, so we try to answer the question on our own, and by our own means.

THOUGH I LIKE THE DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL RIGHTEOUSNESS OR JUSTICE, IT NONETHELESS TROUBLES ME — because it offers an unreal “Golden Age” mentality to humanity’s relationship to God. In this Golden Age of temporal righteousness we didn’t die, we could not be swayed, we were continually happy, we could talk to the animals, we could walk and talk with God who was our best friend forever, we smiled a lot, we had no understanding of racism because we were all the same (white?) color, there was no carnal knowledge (sex), and I assume that there was no Rock ‘N’ Roll either. This is that Garden of Eden we got kicked out of because we disobeyed God, attained knowledge… But I ask, If we were created IMPASSIBLE, how is it that we could have been swayed to disobey God at all? This state of idyllic innocence is more or less a dream state for a humanity that cannot accept itself as simply a sinner, and needs to find some way out of its own reality.

Impassible in its theological meaning is incapable of feeling or suffering, or of being moved. If one of the characteristics of our Original Righteousness was our impassibility, then God created a flawed humanity.

DOCTRINES, by their very nature, attempt to create teachable realities and meanings we can apply to what we observe in our daily lives.

Doctrines have consequences. Because they are teaching instruments, they become guidelines for how we are to live our lives.

Instead of being descriptive doctrines become prescriptive. Rather than being how it was, they become how you should be, and dysfunctional forms of faith seem to arise from various and toxic prescriptions.

Various leaders arise who demand that we view them as if they were God.

Some fathers, and many supported by their church communities abuse their families, because Bible Based Doctrines give them privilege.

Women are systematically abused and made subservient through mis-read and mis-understood scriptures—even domestic violence and rape are excused through a twisted scripture-based reasoning.

Jesus suffered and was glorified, becomes if we suffer we will be glorified as well, becomes I/you should suffer if you want to get close to God

Suffer here on earth because Jesus did and you’ll be like Jesus if you do.

IT SEEMS TO ME & THIS IS MY OWN PERSONAL DOCTRINE AND IT BEGINS WITH A QUESTION — What is it that we want from our God and our faith?

FIRST, let me say, that for both the Doctrines of Original Sin and the Doctrine of the Atonement to function, the premise of a six-day creation with an actual physical living and breathing Adam and Eve must be taken as literal. The Doctrine of a six-day Creation and the Doctrine of Evolution (say Ongoing Creation) are incompatible. THIS IS WHERE ONE MUST START FOR BELIEF IN THESE TWO DOCTRINES, because the Doctrine of Original Sin is based upon an Adam and an Eve, and the Doctrine of the Atonement is based on Adam and Eve as well. These stories are sacralized and reified myths–but we must decide if we are to believe in them as great stories and metaphors, or as fact and actual history. Because we each have the freedom to define the parameters of our own faith we need to do so by starting here, with this choice, at the beginning, and then working forward. I cannot decide this for you. It is truly your choice to make. Remember theology is descriptive, not prescriptive. Theology/Doctrine can only offer a description that leaves you free to choose.

SECOND, let’s talk about God for a minute. Who teaches us about God? How do we learn? Do we only know God through Doctrine, or do we come to understand God through some internal communication between God/Holy Spirit and our own selves? Can our God be bigger than the small words of doctrine, and come alive in our own hearts in ways too large to be contained by doctrine?

I do not deny that Jesus died. I do not disbelieve that he rose from the tomb. I believe in both the Cross and the Resurrection. However I do not think so lowly of God that God would demand a blood sacrifice to right a long past mythical wrong. I just do not.

I do believe there is sin in the world. I do believe that in the description of the Crucifixion that we can understand the nature of our own lives and find hope. Jesus died, I believe, for the singular reason that he believed in the good of God, and in the Truth of Love and Forgiveness.

In truth people just do not want to forgive and to love, and will kill rather than doing so, because truly loving and forgiving, means that people must, I said MUST, give up the hate and anger and rage and past hurts and insults and vengeance, and actually forgive and love those who have trespassed against them. I have actually heard of people who will not say the Lord’s Prayer because of the Forgiveness clause in it.

SO, to answer the second question, THE VERY ONES WHO TEACH US ABOUT A UNMOVABLE, UNAPPROACHABLE, BLOODTHIRSTY BUT LOVING GOD ARE THOSE WHO THINK OF LOVE AS UNMOVABLE, UNAPPROACHABLE, AND BLOODTHIRSTY. What I learn from this is that the God in whom I place my faith and trust is a God who is just not like that at all! I do believe that Jesus is not God’s sacrifice, but God, God’s Own Self, and God’s way to show us who God is! I believe that all the biblical stories around the Cross and Resurrection are the rationalizations of hurt, scared people who lost a close friend because he challenged the Jewish faith community and the Roman State to love and forgive as God loves and forgives, and was killed for his message. He would not back down. He would not recant. He would not let the torture and mob hatred and rage change his message of love and forgiveness, and so he died.

I also believe in the Resurrection. I believe that somehow Love and Forgiveness overcomes the darkness of rage, fear, hatred, and violence and rises into the light of hope and true forgiveness.

I do not believe in a mythical golden age of righteousness, because I have learned that love, forgiveness, and hope take one whole bunch of hard work. Jesus experience of the crucifixion is the human experience of life, but the resurrection tells me of hope and strength, and that despair is uncalled for because in Jesus’ we can see our own selves.

I understand that Jesus rose in both the hearts and minds of his early followers as they discovered his message of love and forgiveness come alive in themselves, and at the tables where they met to remember his life in stories and bread and cup.

I believe that is what we find Jesus doing, saying and experiencing we can see something of our own stories. We do not need to try to suffer or needlessly endure suffering or find ways to suffer to be like Jesus! But I believe that precisely because God, in the person of Jesus suffered and died and was resurrected, we can find the hope of resurrection in our own suffering. I believe that the darkness of the Cross, the light of Easter Morning, are all found in our own personal stories and that because God experienced all we suffered and more, and even though we may feel deserted, we are never alone.

THE CROSS #4

Not Abandoned but Companioned

Not Abandoned but Companioned

Abandoned
Psalm 22:1-11
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Left alone, deserted, cast aside, discarded,
dropped, dumped, eighty-sixed, eliminated,
forgotten, forsaken, given up, jilted,
left in the lurch, neglected, outcast,
rejected, relinquished, shunned:
these are synonyms for the experience of the Cross.
In some way or other,
at some point in our lives,
we’ve all been here.
Many around us live in singularity,
alone and lost to others,
ignored and discarded:
The mentally ill,
bullied children,
latchkey kids.
Victims of violence afraid to step forward.
Outsiders who become aliens
to even their own families,
for reasons of interracial marriages,
same/trans/bi-gender love and commitments,
for living out who they are.
There are times when the choice for
education, sobriety—growing up,
forces one into a sense of abandonment,
and a descent into the dark of depression.
We experience this cross at times ourselves;
and it is emotional, psychological, financial, physical, spiritual,
leaving us feeling empty and drained.
Loss of job, home, youth, health, love, security—hope—
and we sink into the despair of the Abandoned.
But there is hope precisely because there is the Cross,
and in the Idea of the Cross,
we discover that Jesus’ integrity and love
was so unconditionally faithful to God’s own truth,
that he was willing to
stand before the forces of despair,
hang on the cross, abandoned and deserted,
out of a commitment to love so strong,
so powerful, so enduring,
that we, in our own time,
can find ourselves
touched, understood, held, defended,
cherished, and no longer abandoned,
by a God who has been here before
and so companions us
through our time of need.

THE CROSS #3

Cross #3

Cross #3

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The idiocy of the whole idea—
to hang the foundations of our faith
on something as hideous as a cross—
is a stumbling block, a fool’s errand, a faithless endeavor!
But I wonder if the Cross is as powerful an image as we think?
Most of us have never witnessed any kind of execution.
Or participated in an act of torture.
These acts are distant and remote from most of us.
We hear about atrocities, but we are rarely touched by them.
What would be the mind boggling correlations for us?
What is it that would put a burden on our own faith
if we had to believe it to have faith?
The word I would use to describe this
would be neither burden nor shame
but preposterous.
What is it on which we might base our faith
that would be considered, preposterous?
Do we, in our age, time, and place,
even have anything close to crucifixion?
The students at Tienemon Square?
The Disappeared Ones of Nicaragua?
the Invisible Children of Uganda?
Probably not.
Somehow they have not come
to represent our own Salvation,
only the lack of it,
and have never captured the imagination
of a major part of the human race.
Still, in the end, and for me,
Crucified-On-A-Cross
wins out in the preposterous category.
Not for the same 1st and 2nd Century reasons
it held for the early Christians,
but because, and precisely because,
I have to stretch so hard
to claim
that this distant and remote action
is at the heart and soul of my own faith,
and then to profess it—
now that is truly preposterous.
I have friends,
liberal and progressive Christians,
agnostics, and atheists,
who consider me off the mark
to believe in this preposterous nonsense
of a Risen Christ,
this 2nd Person of the Trinity,
fully divine and fully
existential and historical Jesus.
They say,
“How can you, with your
education and intelligence,
believe in such swill?”
But you know what?
Dreams, myths, faith-systems,
all must be larger than
our imaginations
in order to be of consequence,
and, for me,
the Christian story,
is just preposterous enough
confounding enough
and so thoroughly flabbergasting,
and just believable enough,
to be worthy of my faith.