On Crucifixion

Peter Rollins (Insurrection)  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).

When I review my history of detachment from the ‘closed system’ into which I was born, it somehow doesn’t seem, even at this time, like crucifixion.  Of course, even a silent rebellion is a rebellion. No one can expect to develop wholeness and integrated self without a rebellion – noisy or silent.

In the sacrifice for religion, Christ loses everything for God, while in the sacrifice of religion Christ loses everything including God.  (Rollins, p. 27)

 It is now clear that my wife Sue’s trauma (over 35 years ago) was the occasion in which I chose to sacrifice everything for God. That is what was being insisted within / upon me. The unheard inside call was a call to action — invest your life in health and wholeness for her, our children, 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. A new pastoral call was the training grounds and the practice field; subsequent service as a regional denominational executive were 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 about two years after Sue’s trauma. The first foundation stone was becoming acquainted with Wayne (an acquaintance 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 new crucifixion journey with Wayne — “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 than 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. Hours spent in the car with Wayne (as we drove to and from D.Min. classes and colleague groups) were fruitful breeding grounds for personal growth and transformation. I was Wayne’s ‘second-in-command’ as we lived out our learnings and put in place systems that brought transformation to the presbytery.  The congregation I served, which had been a bee hive of dissention and disappointment, started to come alive.

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 Spong, Crossan, Borg, Hick, Kaufman, 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 that 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!

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