Is the primary meaning of crucifixion exhausted as an historical event? Or, does crucifixion engage us existentially? What might it mean to”lose everything including God?”
[Image: “Creative Commons choose your crucifixion” by Samuel Landete is licensed under CC BY 2.0]
Peter Rollins (Insurrection, 2011) briefly sketches the process by which he died to the ‘closed system’ that had been structured for him by his family – removing all his possessions from his room (renunciation); stopped attending his computer course (giving up on his projected future); and telling his parents that he was no longer part of the family (hating your family).
In the sacrifice for religion, Christ loses everything for God, while in the sacrifice of religion Christ loses everything including God. (Rollins, p. 27)
35 years ago, my wife suffered a significant brain trauma. Although I didn’t know tat the time, that was the occasion in which I chose to sacrifice everything for God. The unheard inside insistence was a call to action — invest your life in health and wholeness for Sue, Russ and Cheryl, myself, and the church. It was within this latter portion that I invested the ensuing years. It meant moving from trying to be creative in ministry to being spiritually grounded in person and in ministry. Serving as a pastor was the training grounds and the practice field; serving as regional church administrator was the proving grounds.
The crucifixion that meant sacrificing of everything including God was a very different journey. It began during a week of continuing education at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey. The first foundation stone was my acquaintance with Wayne which quickly morphed into a friendship and continually grew and matured as we came to understand ourselves as fellow journeyers and soul brothers. The other foundation stone from that week was the experience of walking (in reverse order) an old, abandoned ‘stations of the cross’ on the monastery grounds. At the end, there was a nagging nudge that I had just ‘undone’ the crucifixion and would need to ‘re-do’ it in my own manner. Little did I realize at that time that these two foundation stones were inexorably linked together and that the benediction on the stations walk was also a blessing on this crucifixion journey with my new friend — “whoever enters through here will be saved.”
Crucifixion Journey I was concluded on 4 January 2015. After three months of declining health, Sue succumbed to the ravages of a wildly aggressive brain tumor on 17 December 2014. A little less that three weeks later, I was able with deep joy to celebrate the gift of Sue’s life and faith. This journey transformed me down to the roots of my being. Because of it, I was made a new person.
Crucifixion Journey II followed a different path however. In the first Journey I was focused on preservation within a dwindling decline — that is, seeking to preserve as much wholeness as possible in a situation that admitted only to partiality. In the second Journey, however, wholeness and integrity were open possibilities, only limited by what could and must be given up. D.Min. studies pointed at new ways to do ministry. My new-found friendship with Wayne was the fruitful breeding ground for personal growth and transformation as we lived out our learnings and put in place systems that brought transformation to our ministry settings
During this time of aliveness, however, something was not right. Inside there was an aching that would not let me go. It became an agonizing, throbbing, grief — a haunting realization that the “God stuff” I had been preaching and teaching just didn’t fit with reality. Try as hard as I might, I just couldn’t translate old theological concepts into meaningful ones for today’s world of understanding. I read John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, John Hick, Gordon Kauffman, and so many others. While soaking up these progressive theologians with great delight, I continued to feel that they didn’t quite go far enough in “giving up on God.” Insistence was insisting; call was calling; nudges were nudging; nagging continued without ceasing. I knew that something more (or was it ‘less’) needed to be done, but I didn’t know what. Enter philosopher-theologian John Caputo, . Here was the language system and the theological concepts that began to make sense. And most definitely even more significant was the continuing conversations with Wayne.
The only way the presence of God was going to be preserved was to let God die. For me this was the beginning of the 13th Station of the Cross. The mystical experience (the two-fold entrance into Crucifixion Journey II at St. Meinrad’s) had now entered into a part of my being. It had previously been too easy to see the crucifixion as a biblical event that had ‘meaning’ for us. Now the crucifixion is an experiential event that undoes my meaning and leaves me dependent upon the choices I make in response to the insistence, call, nudges, and nagging that I hear. Like Christ on the Cross, I am “left naked, alone, dying.” And that’s enough!