Ghost-written Storyline

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.49.50 PM
“Creative Commons Ghostwriter” by SlimVirgin is licensed under CC BY 3.0

[Note: This post is based on “Counterscript,” an article by Walter Brueggemann in The Christian Century (November 29, 2005). It also appears online.]

There is a ghost-written story line (an underlying script, if you will) that each of us carries within ourselves. This story-line helps us understand who we are, what gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and provides us with a sense of security. We inhale the story line from our parents, our teachers, church, and the communities within which we grew up. We are aware of many of the elements of the story line; other parts are outside of our awareness. The tricky thing is that we have multiple story lines that are often in conflict with one another. The church is a battleground between a cultural story line and a spiritual story line.

The cultural story line is what John Dominic Crossan calls the normalcy of civilization – that is, it has been the way empires, through the ages, have engaged mind control over their citizens. For us, the consummerist story line reads something like this:

  • There is a therapeutic cure for every malady – take the right pill, buy the right product, follow the right regimen and you will be healthy, beautiful, sexy, and popular.

  • We can solve any problem we set our minds to. We have the technology, experiences, and resources to make your life easier and happier – all you need to do is possess one more gadget or device that will solve a problem you never even knew you had.

  • We are at our best when we realize that the world has all the resources to satisfy our wants and needs. And, after all, our wants and needs are more important than theirs. Buy… Use (or don’t use)… Discard….

  • You will be protected by multiple layers of First Responders and people in uniform. We will make sure that your therapeutic technological consumerism is protected at all costs. Any threat (internal or external) will be considered un-American and a threat to national security.

This cultural story line is reiterated and legitimized by advertising, the media, government officials at all levels, lobbyists and corporation influence in decision-making, and by the visible presence of heavily-armed police and military forces.

As Brueggeman suggests, this story line, “with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection.” This cultural story line has failed to keep us happy and secure.

There is an alternate story line present in the Bible (and, in some fashion or other, in all the major religions of the world). We call that story line “the Kingdom of God” or, as I prefer to call it the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. This story line is more like the storyboarding process developed by Walt Disney Productions in the 1930 – a list of images or illustrations that pre-visualize the final story line. It is a cobbled-together collection of symbols and messages that call us to a life of peaceful, non-violent resistance that undermines and invalidtes the cultural story line by offering justice based on human needs and affections.

The church – that means “US” – has been entrusted with this alternate story line about a God who is so enamored with human life that we talk about Jesus as God enfleshed… God as part of everyday life… God as the inner push for community (not isolation or superiority), peace (not violence or privilege), love (not fear or hatred).

 

 

Sketching At-ONE-ment

Sketchbook -- AtonementThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.
   Part   1 — God
   Part   2 — Bible
   Part   3 — Yeshua
   Part   4 — Crucifixion
   Part   5 — Resurrection
   Part   6 — Ascension
   Part   7 — Faith
   Part   8 — Salvation
   Part   9 — Trinity 
   Part 10 — Belonging

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching At-ONE-ment

I recently finished reading “Paying the Piper” in J. Philip Newell’s Christ of the Celts. In this chapter Newell attacks the thorny issue of the relationship between the cross and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. I deeply appreciate Newell’s exposition of the poetry of Celtic spirituality; agree with his assessment of the bankrupt nature of substitutionary atonement; but was disappointed that he didn’t discuss the relationship of the cross to a positive understanding of atonement.

Christianity’s understanding of atonement (what makes us right with God) has depended upon the doctrine of original sin which stretches back to Augustine in the 5th century of the common era. Our conception in the womb presents us as primally flawed – separated from God. (The flaw is transmitted through sexual intercourse.) Therefore, we are in need of someone to “fix” us (that is, to restore the connection between us and God). Enter Jesus! He is protected from the flaw, born of a virgin (with a later addition of immaculate conception). His crucifixion is the “price” that must be paid to satisfy God’s need for justice. Once God is satisfied, the connection is e-established.

If this is my only option for connection with God, I wonder why I would even want to be connected with that God! That picture of atonement presents a vengeful God, less interested in me than in His(?) own need for justice through violence. It also presents me as a lemming who is going to march off a cliff into the ocean – the only question is whether I will fall into a stormy ocean or calm seas. No thanks!

Celtic spirituality is more poetic than doctrinal. It understands life from a different perspective – that is, life is sacred. We don’t need to be re-connected with God; instead we are challenged to live into the natural connections that are already there. Human life is sacred (within the compass of God’s care). Animal life is sacred (within the compass of God’s care). Nature is sacred (within the compass of God’s care). Do we sin? Of course we do. While sin describes our acting beyond the bonds of sacredness, it is not a description of our essential being. Even less is it a description of God’s essential being.

I want to replace the theological question of atonement (“How can God restore us to holiness?”) with another theological question – Wherein shall we abide? Shall we abide with that inner insistence that perseveres in the name of God? Or will we settle for our ego’s shadowy projections which press our own power and prestige?

“Empire” is a theological description of the collective impact of relationship gone awry, of maintaining privilege through power. It can be used to describe governments, cultures, religions, tribes, families, etc. For me, the crucifixion of Yeshua is evidence of empire’s need to stamp out insurrection. But where does God fit into the picture? Why does Yeshua cry out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

The truth of the cross is that empire’s reliance on privilege through power cannot eradicate the sacredness of life. Even death does not overcome that sacredness. The influence of Yeshua’s living into the sacredness continued (continues) through his followers. While we call that “resurrection,” it is simply the dogged resolve to resist any temptation to be less than who we truly are. Will we abide in compassion, peace, and tender justice – moving along the path toward a wholeness that embraces self, others, and the creation? Or will we populate those dreams and delusions that move us toward either a self-centered superiority or a self-denying inferiority? God has planted and cultivated the seed; God can’t do the growing for us!

Catherine Keller writes: “If we can embrace this insight – that the very desire which drives us beyond ourselves in earthly relations of attraction and of justice is that which drives us in and beyond speech, and that in this eros we are iterating the love that always exceeds us – no paternalism of the distant and dysfunctional transcendence can long remain erect…” (Cloud of the Impossible, page 75). Atonement is not a waiting for something external (God’s rescue) to happen. Instead, it is embracing the divine eros (the yearning) that resides within and yet “always exceeds us.”

 

Sketching Belonging

 Sketchbook -- BelongingThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
   Part 7 — Faith
   Part 8 — Salvation
   Part 9 — Trinity 

Sketching Belonging

What started as a band of roving disciples, continued as a movement within Judaism, and then morphed into the Christian church. The early church started as a gathering of house churches but was dramatically changed by the Constantinian establishment and the development of the cathedral. The Christian church continued to evolve through a variety of schisms and splits – East and West; Catholic and Protestant; development of state churches; proliferation of denominations. Each of the changes in institutional structure was accompanied by a new understanding of what it means to belong.

As Protestant denominations, previously known as mainline churches, have been losing significant numbers of their members; as the numbers of those who declare themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious” grow dramatically; as long-term commitment and affiliation decreases in favor in our culture; belonging has taken on a multiplicity of shapes and forms:

1. Belonging as membership in a community. For some that membership is inherited (born of a Jewish mother); for others, chosen (membership in a denominational congregation).

2. Belonging as a commitment to either a system of belief (evangelical) or a way of life (Amish).

3. Belonging as protest (or dissent) vis-à-vis the culture (wiccan) or vis-à-vis the church (spiritual but not religious)

While each of those belongings can decay into an enfeebled and spiritless practice, they have remained as the normative expressions of religious belonging. There are however other expressions of religious belonging that are more problematic – for example, civil religion, bibliolatry , tribalism, and churchism (our church, our expression of religion is the only valid one)

I am more interested in an alternate form of belonging – namely, belonging to a radical, insistent call which often leads to insurrection. I believe that Yeshua embraced and inhabited such a call, binding together those responding to the same call in a basileia theou (a commonwealth shaped by the influence of the divine mystery). Responding to that call put Yeshua and his followers at odds with both Rome and the Temple.

Culturally, we are defined by our associations, our attachments, our belongings – Where did you go to high school or college? What is your religious background? Where do you work and what do you do there? Are you a Republican, Democrat, or Independent? How many Facebook friends do you have?

Following the radical, insistent call is just as touchy and risky today as it was for Yeshua’s first followers, because those who respond to the call will likely find themselves acting in ways that contravene the norms and regulations (laws) of both church and society. Insurrection is resistance from the inside. Insurrection calls into question the norms and practices of church, state, and society. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood his call to include participating in an assassination plot against Hitler; Gandhi defied the British Raj with his 240 mile salt march; Oscar Romero was assassinated for his outspokenness against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture in El Salvador.

The basic issue for Western Christians today: Is your faithfulness shaped primarily by membership in a community of faith, by participation in a system of beliefs, or by a dissent from them? Or has your life been invaded by an insistence, a calling that has taken up residence within you? Can you abide with that which abides within you, summoning you to resist imperialism in all its forms? Do you find yourself at odds with state sponsored violence and marginalizing of groups of people? Are you frustrated with institutional religion’s failure to provide a dynamic and creative engagement with the world? Do you long for a world at peace, a compassionate society, and merciful justice for all? When you hear insistence calling, will you discern your appropriate response and persevere in action!

The dilemma is that belonging to such a radical, insistent call will likely alienate you from much of what you had preciously considered your communities of belonging. Will you stand with those associations and attachments that define who you are culturally or will you abide with that inner insistence that calls you to become more fully, more completely, more wholly, what you already are, though now only partially and incompletely? Where will you abide?

Sketching Trinity

Sketchbook -- TrinityThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
 
  Part 7 — Faith
 
  Part 8 — Salvation

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Trinity

One of the most complex and confusing theological doctrines is the Trinity. It is complex because it attempts to fuse and explain how three different experiences of mystery are, essentially, one reality. It is confusing because it is based on a particular historical shaping of a discussion about the nature of God. In truth, the doctrine of the Trinity is designed to explain how Yeshua is related to and connected with God.

To attempt to explicate Trinity in today’s theological climate is to shadow box with the absurd. Trinity concerns itself with the nature of divine being – three “persons,” three states of being, but one underlying reality. Process theology and Continental Philosophy have changed the discussion away from the metaphysical ontology of God’s essential nature to a more phenomenological understanding of God as process and/or event.

Some of the great philosophical / theological questions of the past have been: “Who is God?” and “What is the nature of God’s being?” and “How can I prove God’s existence?” and “How is Yeshua God?” Those, however, are not today’s questions. Moreover, the answers provided to those and similar questions haven’t proven to be very helpful.

John Caputo asks a very different question – one which posits the critical philosophical / theological premise that the essence of God is irrelevant. Instead of “Who is God?” Caputo asks “What happens in the name of God?” His conclusion is that insistence happens? There is within us the capacity and the tendency to experience an insistence, an allure, a call. Caputo doesn’t attempt to identify the source of that insistence; he just acknowledges that it is there as an unheard inner voice waiting to be heard (discerned).

Traditionally, that inner manifestation of divine presence is called Spirit or Holy Spirit. The mystics called it Mystery. Rudolph Otto called it the (Holy) Other. Martin Buber called it Thou. From a Jungian perspective it is the collective unconscious of humankind. Caputo calls it the event.

In the Christian church the corporate nature of that insistence is understood as coming from Yeshua as the call to a Way of life shaped by compassion, peace, and tender justice. Yeshua’s call is to a life of discipleship and mission lived out of a commonwealth / community that is identified as basilea theou – that is, the sphere of divine influence.

So there are multiple way to understand that which happens in the name of God. And those ways are not necessarily limited to three. Given the concern for the environment, Mother Nature might be another voice heard within the insistence. Cultural context (ever changing, ever evolving) is another voice that insists. And there are many more. Oh, Yes! One other phenomenon in this equation – the individual in community, those insisted upon, those “called out” (ekklesia). The voice of insistence requires a receiver – one that listens, discerns, and then acts! Insistence heard, discerned, and acted upon is what happens in the name of God. Indeed, that is the only way that the divine mystery becomes activated in the world.

My conclusion: give up trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity and use that time and energy to attend to the insistence. You, others, the world, and even God will be the better for it.

Sketching Salvation

Sketchbook -- SalvationThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
 
  Part 7 — Faith

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Salvation

I don’t understand why Christians are so overly focused on salvation. Can it really be true the the most important goal of life is to get beyond life? Can 13.9 billion years of the universe’s unfolding count for nothing other than an opportunity for true believers to get out of this earthly existence into a heavenly after-life someplace else, wherever that might be?

Of course, after Augustine promulgated the doctrine of original sin, the operant rhetoric has suggested that each person must appeal to God and God Savior for salvation. Salvation has become a gift for those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Theological favor-trading and arrogance rears its ugly head. Is there no alternative, no option to this universal us / them game – “We win; You lose!”?

Paul Tillich (The Eternal Now, page 113) wrote:

Perhaps it is still possible for the words salvation, saved, and saviour to be saved themselves. They are profound in their original meaning, but this has been covered by the dust of the centuries and emaciation by mechanical repetition.”

The root of “salvation” is healing or wholeness. Salvation is not about escaping life; instead, it is fully investing in life. It is about life lived to its fullest – and that fulness includes self, others, and the creation. John Biersdorf speaks of the healing of purpose (in hils book by that same name) as “the mystery of Jesus’ call to his disciples.” (page 21) Salvation, as the healing of purpose, is “the process by which we hear the name for our vocation, our purpose, and decide to realize it in action.” (page 190) It is attending to the insistence and carrying out a faithful response. Salvation, like faith, is not a destination; it is a journey. And it is not a journey alone. To be whole, to be saved, is to be connected. It is to be in community, in solidarity with the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. It is to be engaged in the struggle for justice (that is, the healing of purpose for public communities) and care for the creation (the healing of nature’s purpose; restoring wholeness to the earth).

In accord with traditional theology, it is correct to presume that such healing of purpose is dependent upon a divine energy, an inner divine energy. As Yeshua said on more than one occasion, “Your faith has made you whole.” The resources for healing (physical healing and a healing of purpose are already present within each of us, within others, and within creation. Those resources have to be accessed and energized.

Sketching Faith

Shetchbook -- FaithThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Faith

The modern church has suffered the trauma of faith reconstituted as a system of rationalistic beliefs. “Do you believe?” or its antithesis “Here’s what you are to believe!” frames much of the homiletical venture of the modern church. But it is difficult to transform head knowledge (belief) into heart-felt trust (faithfulness).

The word “orthodox” is often used to describe sound / right judgment about theological matters. In truth, “orthodox” simply refers to approved “beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct.” Sometimes, however, sound judgment necessitates our standing over against the approved belief system. Disagree with that which is approved by the religious superstructure and you risk being accused of heresy, being shunned or excommunicated.

There is a role for beliefs, and a very human need for boundaries. But beliefs are secondary or tertiary. What is primary is faithfulness, which Herman Waetjen (in his commentary on Romans 1:17) describes as “trust into trust.” Beliefs formed under duress (“there is no salvation if you do not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”) or from fear (“the Muslims / immigrants / homosexuals / … are threatening to steal our freedom ad our religion”) are built upon a shadowy replacement for trust that easily erupts into violence.

Catherine Keller (Cloud of the Impossible), page 38) puts it this way:

The traditional formulae of faith may reassure, but the traditions themselves are desperate for reassurance, twisting in cycles of lost hope and junk faith. The know-it-alls of religion only provide more fodder for … a vast know-nothingness, systematically produced as ignorance of its own ignorance.”

Faith as right beliefs is a ticket to a specific heavenly destination. Only by getting your ticket punched by the priestly conductor are you assured that you are on the right train. Woe betide those who have boarded the wrong train. It is a one way ticket, non-refundable but capable of being annulled for “conduct unbecoming.”

Faith as radical trust is a quest. It is a journey into the desert, “not the sterility of nonlife, but the biblical wild place of exodus, contemplative retreat, and messianic coming.” (Keller, page 45) It is an adventure which experiments with finding life at its fullest, its deepest, its most brilliant colors, its most profound meanings. Faith as trust is connecting with your own best (whole) self, being in relationship and solidarity with the best (whole) self of others, and caring for the best (whole) self of the creation. To do so is to become God’s best (whole) self in the midst of life.

Faith as trust does not result from the accumulation of information and knowledge; it does, however, often possess great wisdom. It arises from attending to an inner awareness that insists / invites / calls us into a wholeness that is characterized by compassion, peace, and tender justice. Trust is the ingredient that allows us to pursue that call without a schematic drawing, a Venn diagram, or a master plan. Because trust is an exploratory venture, we can acknowledge shortcomings and failures (in self and others) without belittling or abandoning the quest.

Trust encourages each of us to say and unsay our beliefs – to test them against the wisdom of science and theology; to measure them in relationship with one’s own experience and the experiences of others; and, when they harden into absolutes and lose their symbolic value, to abandon them in favor of beliefs that are more permeable and infused with radical trust in the fulness of life.

 

Sketching Ascension

Sketchbook -- AscensionThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Ascension

While the Crucifixion is an historical event in the life of Yeshua and the Resurrection is a description of the process through which the early church developed a strong sense of connection with Yeshua after his death, the Ascension is not an event in history. Instead it is a theological metaphor developed (invented) by the early church.

Ascension in the Early Church

Given the cosmology of the 1st century – Heaven above, Earth in the middle, Hell below – the Ascension was necessary to get the resurrected Christ into the heavenly habitation where God resided. That meant going up. The ascension of Christ was the only way he could get to where God was. We must remember that Mark and Luke-Acts were written decades after Yeshua’s death. They represent (along with Matthew and John) alternate attempts to make sense of the early church’s continuing experience of Christ in their midst. They are not eye-witness accounts of historical facts. They are interpretations of memories and stories and new experiences.

Given the cosmology of the 21st century – a 13.9 billion year old universe, expanding in all directions – “up” and “down” are relative terms. The direction arrows for describing our encounter with divine mystery are “in” and “out.” Joining with our ancient Celtic sisters and brothers, we listen for the heartbeat of God within ourselves, in others, and in the creation. So, does this mean abandoning the Ascension? Surely, not!

Reading Ascension Today

Walter Wink (Just Jesus, pages 159-161) suggests that the Ascension represents a radical shift (mutation) in the DNA of the collective unconscious – that is, Ascension is “an archetypal image, capable of galvanizing unlived life and mobilizing untapped resistance to the institutions and structures that squeeze the life out of people. … As the image of the truly Human One, Jesus became an exemplar of our own utmost possibilities for living.”

The Ascension represents a fusion of God and Yeshua. If we want to know about God, we now look to Yeshua. Resurrection means living life to the full, our lives mirroring Yeshua’s. Ascension means that our lives that mirror Yeshua are imprinted with the divine mystery. Yeshua called God “Abba” – a term of endearment and intimacy. Ascension is a metaphoric way of giving each of us access to the endearment and intimacy of Abba.

 

Sketching Resurrection

Sketchbook -- ResurrectionThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion

These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Resurrection

A fundamental question for the church has been: Is the Resurrection of Yeshua an historical event or a process in the history of the embryonic Christian community? To hold that Yeshua’s resurrection is an event is to posit the external God of strong theology a God who intervenes in human history. The majority of Christians seem to hold that the physical bodily resurrection of Yeshua (historical event) is an essential belief of the Christian faith. I don’t find that position to be very convincing.

Yeshua’s Resurrection as Process

It seems more likely to me – more faithful, actually – to understand resurrection as the process by which the influence (spirit) of Yeshua continued in the life of the early Christian community. During his lifetime, Yeshua’s followers depended upon him. After his death, they found themselves still connected with him – what Cathrine Keller (after Édouard Glissard) calls the “consciousness of Relation.” His thoughts were now their thoughts; and theirs, his. His mission was now their mission; and theirs, his. His faithfulness was now theirs; and theirs, his. I think this “consciousness of Relation” is what Paul means when he writes, “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) This “consciousness of Relation” did not show itself fully developed on “the third day” after Yeshua’s crucifixion. It emerged gradually in the latter two thirds of the first century of the modern era. In truth, it continues to emerge today.

Resurrection and Us

Christian theology, when wedded to a heavenly afterlife, needs a general resurrection to ensure that the faithful will be restored after their deaths in order that they might enjoy the after-life. That, of course, is one of the certainties and securities that are lost in the Crucifixion.

If we are to be crucified like Christ, then we will need to be raised like Christ. This does not mean a physical bodily resurrection after physical death. Instead it expects a dynamic, creative relationship with him. Resurrection, for us, means a radical participation in Christ’s mission to transform the world through compassion, peace, and justice. Peter Rollins (Insurrection, page 112) puts it this way:

[W]e must read Resurrection in its full radicality as the state of being in which one is able to embrace the cold embrace of the Cross. If the Crucifixion marks the moment of darkness, then the Resurrection is the very act of living fully into this darkness and saying ‘Yes’ to it.”

This is not an escape from life but, rather, a full embrace of it – trusting into trust. It is the movement toward wholeness as a person, toward solidarity with others, and toward tending the creation. In Micah’s words it is being just, kind, and humble as you fully embrace the divine mystery of life.

Sketching Crucifixion

Sketchbook -- CrucifixionThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Crucifixion

Traditional Christian thought posits three historical events to culminate Yeshua’s earthly mission – the Crucifixion (Yeshua’s death), the Resurrection (his rising from the tomb to return to life), and the Ascension (Yeshua’s departing his earthly mission to rise into the heavens to spend eternity in God’s habitation). Focusing on the historicity of these events has narrowed the focus of both Christian theology and practice. While I may want to dispute that Resurrection and Ascension were factual historical events, I will deal with them in subsequent sketches; here I look at Crucifixion.

While agreeing that Yeshua died on a cross because his mission threatened the entrenched systems of Rome and the Temple, Crucifixion has a much deeper, symbolic sense for Yeshua and for us. After all, “[Yeshua] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’.” While this statement is a product of the 1st century church, rather than the actual words of Yeshua, it points beyond the historical fact of Yeshua’s death on the cross – suggesting that there is a symbolic death that each of his followers (like Yeshua himself) must endure.

Yeshua’s symbolic crucifixion

In his delightful little book Insurrection, Peter Rollins writes. “In the sacrifice for religion, Christ loses everything for God, while in the sacrifice of religion, Christ loses everything including God.” (p. 27) The first half of this statement is a description of the crucifixion as historical event – Christ sacrificing everything for God. That was his mission. The second half of the statement, however, takes us into new territory. This is the deeper, symbolic meaning of Yeshua’s crucifixion. But what does Rollins mean that “Christ loses everything including God?”

Christian preachers and theologians have interpreted Yeshua’s plaintive cry from the cross (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34) as something other than an abiding sense of forsakenness. One interpretation (that I used to favor) suggested that while Yeshua was quoting the first part of Psalm 22, he intended the entire Psalm, which ends with a message of hope. What if Yeshua’s cry meant exactly what the words actually say.

Rollins ramps up the concern, even more – “it is only when we see the Crucifixion as the moment when God loses everything that we begin to glimpse the true theological significance of the event.” (p. 21) The crucifixion was a turning point in the history of theology. Humankind had progressed from animism to polytheism to tribal (competitive) monotheism. A radical shift began with Yeshua’s mission – namely, from God ‘out there’ into God ‘in here.’ On the cross, as part of the agony of his dying, Yeshua experienced God’s absence. Having so integrated Abba into his being, he could no longer expect an omnipotent God ‘out there’ to rescue him. At that moment, the radical shift occurred. God, now stripped of omnipotence and omniscience, no longer had a separate being-ness. Without power, without separateness, without control God loses everything on the cross. We belittle the crucifixion if we ignore Yeshua’s radical doubt and sense of divine forsakenness.

Our Crucifixion

Take up your cross and follow me” is not an invitation to a Sunday morning worship service. It is an insistent call to “trust into trust” – that is, to pursue faith beyond the cul de sac of certainty and assured meaning.

To follow in the Way of Yeshua, to follow Christ, does not mean the simple intellectual affirmation that he died on a cross a couple of millennia ago. It means facing the absurdity of life without the certainty of rescue by God. It means knowing that the doubting is real and true. It means being disconnected from the security of the religious practices and theological systems we have constructed to assure ourselves. Being crucified with Christ “is a moment of radical loss in which all that grounds us dissolves away … [and] we experience the loss of all that once gave us comfort and meaning.” (Rollins, p. 39) It is at this point that radical faith is possible.

With all the props removed, then we are ready to enter into the radical trust that exhibited Yeshua’s life and death. This radical faith is not a belief system, not hope in a future life, not membership in the right religion or the right church. Instead it is a deeply rooted trust in life itself, with all its quirks, inconsistencies, and paradoxes. Only then are we ready to share in his resurrection into newness of life. Losing the protective canopy of God opens us to radical faith – a faith beyond solid belief systems, a faith beyond the niceties of personal piety; a faith in life itself, trusting in the interconnectedness of all life (and, yes, even God). When God doesn’t have to protect and save us; that divine energy is available to join with us as we seek to engage self, others, and nature in a movement toward wholeness.

Sketching Yeshua

Sketchbook -- YeshuaThis is part three of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Yeshua

I choose to use his Aramaic name – Yeshua – instead of Jesus. Jesus carries too much baggage. For some, JEE – SSUUSS!, carries too much emotional freight. Yeshua becomes a miracle wonder-worker who is ready to solve any and every problem. For others, Jesus gets immediately conflated into JesusChrist – “Christ” must be breathlessly affixed anytime Jesus is mentioned. JesusChrist becomes his proper name or Christ is seen as Jesus’ last name.

It is clear that the Christian scriptures use “Jesus” to refer to the historic person and “Christ” to refer to the experience of the continuing presence of Jesus’ spirit after his death. Catherine Keller teaches her students to add a ruach pause between Jesus and Christ. (Ruach is the Hebrew term for breath / wind / Spirit.) The term“Yeshua” comes without that baggage. I can speak of Yeshua without having to add any qualifying term (Messiah or Christ).

But, why would I want to detach the qualifier from Yeshua? Do I not believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” (Matthew 16:16, CEB)

First things first – I choose not to use the title “Messiah / Christ” because Yeshua himself did not. Instead, the Gospel authors indicated that Yeshua chose to define himself and his mission with the term “ho huios tou anthropou,” literally translated as “the son of the man.” The best translation of this term is probably “Humanity’s Child” or (with Walter Wink) “the Human One.”

Yeshua’s experience in the wilderness was a time of discernment – that is, sorting through the images of Messiah that were present in Israel during his day and rejecting them as possibilities for the fulfilling of his calling. “Messiah” conjured up what Yeshua discerned to be inappropriate understandings of God’s call – political savior (“rule all the nations of the world”), wonder worker (“jump off the temple parapet”), expedient problem solver (“turn stones to bread”). Instead, he was called to gather together a community (the basilea theou – literally, God’s reign) which was a Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, an insurrectional symbol in the face of both the Roman empire and the Jewish temple religion. Yeshua, Humanity’s Child, was offering the world a new understanding of what it means to be human – defined by individual wholeness and community solidarity rather than a structured order maintained by the political, social, and religious elite. It is not surprising then that Yeshua’s calling the poor and marginalized members of society into a socialized, politicized, and theological community of equals so disrupted the elite that they conspired in his death.

While eliminating a charismatic leader often sabotages and disempowers a once dynamic movement, the death of Yeshua only achieved the intended result for a very short time. Before long the dispirited band of Yeshua’s followers, now scattering, began to experience something rather remarkable. Yeshua seemed to be present to them, not only in memory but as an almost palpable spirit. Yeshua’s absence was no longer a detriment, a sign of defeat. Now his absence was a gracious gift – that which he lived and taught (some times called the Way of Yeshua) was still an option which they could exercise. And, when they chose to follow in that Way, it was as if Yeshua’s spirit buoyed them up, supported them, and continued to teach them.

It was this continued sense of presence that was named the risen (resurrected) Christ. When they (and we) looked back at Yeshua’s teachings, they remembered that he had taught them that God (and the basilea theou) was always with them, in their midst, within them. Just as healing came from within (“your faith has made you whole”), so also the healing of the soul (salvation) came from within. Yeshua transformed the long awaited Messiah into an inner dynamic of faithfulness (what Herman Waetjen calls “trust into trust”) which I choose to call the messianic process which is available to all.

So, do I believe that Yeshua is “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” All I can say is that I, like the embryonic Christian community after Yeshua’s death, experience a presence in my life that calls me into the Way of Yeshua – into a life of compassion, peace, and justice. It keeps me on the journey toward deep community with those who (like me) are moving into and through the Way, toward personal wholeness (peace), solidarity with others (compassion), and care for the creation (justice). That Way often puts me at odds with political systems and leaders, antipathetic with social norms, and distressed with theological positions and practices of the church. I begin to understand what Luther mean when he said, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”