One Body

We have now adjourned from the time of Advent, exited Epiphany, and are now fully in the incarnation of Christ living amongst us. I can’t think of a better time to contemplate what it is that “incarnation” looks like and what it could mean for all of us (not just Christians), this union of God and humanity.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John 1; 1-5, 14 (emphasis mine)

If there is one thing which I truly loathe in this world (and there is definitely more than one), it is the idea of arrogant and elitist exclusion. The notion that there are special snowflakes set apart from the rest of us plebs who feel entitled to better treatment, especially if it’s to the detriment of others, is infuriating. It brings to mind that nineties SNL sketch where the whole bit was Kevin Nealon responding to every perceived slight with that Jersey attitude of, “What? You think you’re better than me?!” While not nearly as impulsive or aggressive, that reaction is not terribly unlike my own regarding the arbitrary divisions that have been built between clergy & laity (arbitrary divisions of all kinds that hurt others are not okay, but I’m trying to stay on topic). Any religious institution which divides its members into class systems and places more value on one than the other is not one whose religious foundation can claim to be built on the love of God. Why? Because such distinctions which put clergy in a position of unquestionable authority and sanctified power over “regular” people breeds environments that more easily permit abuse & corruption. Hierarchy has no place in a truly loving & healthy spiritual relationship. Furthermore, Christ did not put himself above his disciples, above the prostitutes and tax collectors, above children, or any other class of people. Our modern church power structure is not one modeled on the life & ministry of Christ as he lived it while he inhabited our world. Everyone was equal in the eyes of Christ regardless of education, wealth, nationality, sex, age, or social standing. The longstanding divisions that have been created between the “holy” and “profane” have manipulated the dominant theological opinions held by so much of Western Christianity which proclaim that everything of human origin is by nature evil and wholly cut off from God. This kind of theology professes that you, in your current earthly state, cannot be good enough in God’s eyes no matter what you do. Which is precisely why you need other, better, men to talk to God on your behalf and you may just luck into Heaven after all.

I resent and resist that kind of theology. I believe that we are all capable of meeting God and being met by God and we do not have to have a specialized degree, or title, or collar, or building in order to do so. We can employ sacraments and engage in sacred spaces wherever we feel the Spirit, no matter how mundane or “profane” a space we happen to be in, because God is both transcendent and incarnate, not in spite of our natural circumstances. God dwells amongst us at all times, not in some remote and far off place apart from our messy existence. I feel that is the big-picture message that God was trying to communicate via the Incarnation – that God can and God will come down to our level in every facet and form we can imagine. That there is not, actually anything inherently obscene about merely being human, but that there is, in fact, something sacred that can be drawn out from our human experiences.

I mean, how can you believe that God was willing and eager to take on human flesh; live amongst us AS us; live and love the diseased of mind & body; undergo brutal violence and shameful death, and yet would somehow NOT treasure these fleshy vessels we each carry with us? How could our fragile beauty not be held as something precious & valuable by the one who experienced it firsthand? Surely our God who continues to live with us now could not regard this earth as anything less than sacred. Surely every inch of light and darkness is imbued with that Holy Spirit.

We wouldn’t bother to remember Christ’s own physical incarnation each week through communion if there wasn’t something holy about being in human skin. I believe that we are born wearing all the qualifications we need in order to be in communion with that same God simply by virtue of inhabiting these earthly bodies. I see no need for any intermediary between myself and my God. I have no use for divisions between secular and sacred. Neither did God when taking on human form nor as the Holy Spirit dwelling amongst us all now. The Incarnation was an eternal communion between Spirit and humanity that continues even now. One Body, One Blood, One Spirit. Amen.

+ Katie +

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A Bloodless Revolution

atonement-lg

True forgiveness does not require payment.
Forgiving a debt is to void –
To void is to not hold a ransom.
Atonement is not a blood-stained piggy bank;
It’s not even an action.

The vapid vapors of smoke machines choke my lungs,
they sting my eyes
as they settle into soft & vulnerable membranes.
This is not the Holy Spirit that I came for
to settle in my soul,
gentle as rolling mist.

I do not wish to be washed by broken bodies
of innocent lambs;
To be made to feel guilt for uncommitted sins.
I do not wish to be told that I am worthless
while shining eyes never leave my checkbook.

My body is a temple which does not burn.
The sacred dwells within as surely as platelets.
This truth is what they cannot see:
Christ imbued in all,
Wafers and wine reminders of his humanity.

We are to take this our daily bread,
take Him in and take Him out,
To live our lives amidst the glorious,
the grit,
the grime,
His being the example.

Amen.

+ Katie +

On the Alternative Atonement

St. Francis by Seth Fitts

St. Francis by Seth Fitts

Atonement.

No, I’m not about to discuss that terribly sad movie with the memorable library scene. Rather, I’m going to address the issues I have surrounding the traditional beliefs surrounding atonement and put forward an alternative.

The traditional theology surrounding the atonement, where Jesus Christ was sacrificed as payment for humanity’s sins, has never set well with me. Growing up outside of Christianity this was always a major barrier for me as I started to look into the religion as a teenager. How could a God of love and forgiveness need and want the death of his son to make up for his own creation’s shortcomings? If there was something inherently wrong with humanity, why did God make us that way in the first place knowing that we would be lacking something in order to fully receive some form of salvation? That seemed illogical and cruel. Further, if you were to hold the Trinitarian viewpoint (believing that Jesus was the physical incarnation of God) that would present an even stranger and more upsetting notion that not only God deemed it necessary to murder his own child, but that God was actually suicidal to boot. (Frankly, I find trying to apply any logic to the Trinitarian concept of God gives me a headache, but I digress.)

The more I learned about Christianity (and indeed the more I continue to learn about my faith) the concept of blood sacrifice was not one which spoke to my head or my heart in my understanding of what kind of deity God is. In fact, the entire theological concept of Jesus’ death being required as a blood sacrifice on the world’s behalf doesn’t even really jive with what’s in the Bible. God was decidedly anti-human sacrifice at the conclusion of the story of Abraham and Isaac. Nowhere in the New Testament is human sacrifice demanded, encouraged, or condoned, by God or Jesus. Jesus was, in fact, very outspoken against violence of any kind. When confronted with violence that was considered necessary and required by ancient law he rebuked those demands and instead showed mercy. Why would a God who made a point of showing love, mercy, and grace to all in existence actually mandate the torture and murder of his own son? The writers of the Gospel were coming from the same Jewish background as Jesus and were, therefore, approaching the crucifixion within a framework where sacrifice and quid pro quo in their relationship with the Almighty were regular occurrences. While early believers may have had a limited scope of experience in order to understand what happened with Christ’s death and what it meant, we are not so limited.

Though atonement theology has always been something I have disagreed with and didn’t believe in, I was concerned with voicing this belief as I had always understood that blood atonement was considered a central tenet, if not THE central tenet, of Christianity. In my experience, I have found that it is not an uncommon opinion or belief that without Jesus having died for our sins, there was really no point in being a Christian at all. The intertwining of original sin with Jesus serving as humanity’s scapegoat to save us from our own inherent evil nature are beliefs which have become so imbued within mainline Christianity that it’s hard to believe that there exists a faith without them.

I wondered: Could I still really be a Christian and not believe in this atonement theology?

Actually, yes.

This past week I was introduced to the “alternative orthodoxy” of St. Francis as presented by Fr. Richard Rohr. This “alternative” orthodoxy is one which falls in line with other orthodox Christian beliefs & doctrines, but rather than the emphasis being on the “stain” of Original Sin and Jesus’ death serving as payment for that, Franciscan orthodoxy postulates that God’s creation is inherently good. A radical notion eh? St. Francis believed that it is through us and through the world (God’s Creation*) that God expresses his love (Franciscans actually call creation “the mirror of God”). Franciscan theology does not separate God from creation into categories of holy and profane, good and bad, but rather sees the presence of God in every aspect of life: in the dirt, in trees, in the sparrow & the wolf, in suffering & the sick. Since God was the center of an interconnected world, to Francis all of life was kin to him, which he expressed in sentiments used for his environment such as Brother Sun and Sister Moon. To Francis, God’s Kingdom was not an abstract & otherworldly place, it was here in this tangible and tactile reality now.

Since there is nothing profane about God’s creation, humankind does not need someone to suffer and die on their behalf in order to receive the love and grace of God. God loves us in spite of ourselves, with no strings attached, with no caveats, with no exceptions. As I heard it phrased from Richard Rohr quoting another theologian:

Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about humanity, he came to change humanity’s mind about God.

Christ saved us by being the living example of God’s love in this world and showing us how to live our lives serving as instruments of that peace in this kingdom – not through grisly torture and execution.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a personal theological issue suddenly settled by your favorite saint. I must admit that despite feeling that this “little poor man” was responsible for leading me to Christianity in the first place, and identifying him as my patron saint because of that, I’ve been lazy in researching much in his own personal theology above the “lite” version we’re all familiar with. How remiss my soul has been in not finding this information sooner. How delighted my soul now feels in finding affirmation and reassurance of God’s love in this “alternative” orthodoxy.

“My soul in an excess of wonder cried out: ‘This world is pregnant with God!’ Wherefore I understood how small is the whole of creation- that is, what is on this side and what is beyond the sea, the abyss, the sea itself, and everything else- but the power of God fills it all to overflowing.”
– Angela of Foligno

+ K +

Anticipating Advent

jesusmaryandlambround

This is the first week in Advent, a time in the church calendar marked by a time expectantly awaiting the birth of the Christ child, anticipating the light to re-enter the world. Now, I know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th and that the date was chosen to coincide with already existing pagan winter festivals that also celebrate light during the dark half of the year. I know that Christmas and all of its festivities and symbols (candles, lights, wreaths, trees, presents, etc.) all derive from much older pagan customs. I have no problem with that and completely embrace and accept the pagan roots of Christianity; there’s no point in denying the facts. However, even though the celebration of Jesus’ birth is one that’s completely symbolic at this time of year, there is still a story and a message carried in those symbols that touches our lives today.

Christ’s coming into this world brought with it light, hope, and love. He served as our direct line to God, delivering the Divine’s desires and blessings directly to the people.Born of a woman and delivered to Earth, Christ represented the union between spirit and flesh, the Word and the world contained within one body. The very Word and essence of God was to inhabit our planet and experience it through the eyes of humanity. The spiritual and physical, human and Divine, a man who both embraced the profane and celebrated what was to come. He passed no judgement on the sick, the scarred, the mentally ill, divorced, poor, or otherwise unclean. He did not shun the dirty and the broken. Those who had set themselves apart from the unwashed masses of their fellow man, those who were convinced of their own moral superiority, the ones who “knew better” than to cast in their lot with the likes of Jesus and his companions, those were the ones whose lives were met with judgement and correction.

Christ saw divinity and love in all of humanity, because he recognized that he too was having a human experience. Here was God’s own son, one who was truly holier than thou, who was unwilling to separate himself from those dismissed by polite society. Jesus was the missionary of God’s own heart, a minister of Divine unending love and Grace blindly bestowed on all, regardless of the rules and judgements erected by men. He came and let us know that God is bigger, and brighter, and better than the Law. Christ’s birth and life demonstrated that God can and will be found amongst us, even in the most unlikely of places, if we but look with eyes that see. You cannot say, “Here is God”, and, “There is God”, when divinity lives in all. You cannot say that God isn’t to be found amongst us, in the things of this Earth, when God has already dwelt on this Earth before – fingers, toes, tears, blood and all.

While Christ’s earthly body may have died, He did not truly leave us. As we enter this time of expectant joy, lighting our candles in the dark, once again watching for His arrival, let us be reminded that we don’t actually have to stand by for very long before finding his presence living amongst us once again. All we have to do is close our eyes, open our hearts, and realize that the the love of God in Christ is within us and around us at every moment of our lives. No waiting required.

+ K +