Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Over at his blog Preludium, Mark Harris has a very thougthful post, The Global Warming of Fear and Hate: Anti-Semitism, Homophobia and Xenophobia.

A central point of that post is that in difficult times folks often look for someone to blame and, in the history of the West, the someone is quite often the Jews. I find Mark's post echoing some thoughts that I have had the past few days about the economic mess in this country. From some quarters we are hearing warnings about "class warfare," as if anyone commenting about the widening income gap in the USA was inciting a riot. From others we hear strong words of condemnation for Wall Street villains, as if the rest of us had no responsibility for the maintaining of our over-consuming culture.

Criticism, including self-criticism, is called for, but not condemnation, including self-condemnation. One of the joys of living in grace is that we are free to look honestly at our own sins and the sins of others. We have been - are being - forgiven and transformed, and do not stand condemned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Message About the Cross

Seemingly by accident one afternoon during my sabbatical, I came across a book by one of my favorite theologians, Douglas John Hall, now Professor Emeritus of McGill University. Years ago I had read Lighten Our Darkness: Toward an Indigenous Theology of the Cross. The book that I found is The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. As I thumbed through the book, an italicized passage caught my eye:

The theology of the cross, which may be stimulatetd (as we have seen) by a certain kind of anthropoligical understanding, is nevertheless first of all a statement about God, and what it says about God is not that God thinks humankind so wretched that it deserves death and hell, but that God thinks humankind and the whole creation so good, so beautiful, so precious on its intention and its potentiality, that its actualization, its fulfillment, its redemption is worth dying for.

Having set as one of my sabbatical projects studying Atonement theology, finding Hall's book and this particular passage seemed not accidental , but providential. I had long thought that in much of what I heard in sermons or read in books there was an underlying assumption that God's basic attitude towards humankind was wrath and anger and not love.

However we describe the atonement, whichever theologian we prefer, whether Alselm of Canterbury or Gustav Aulen or James Alison, if we miss the point that Hall makes we are missing the boat. It is all about God's love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


When Peter rebuked Jesus for saying "that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" he was expressing a very common understanding of the Messiah, one that he had learned. Unlearning things like that is often the work of a lifetime. All of us have ideas about life that we have learned, and some of these ideas need to be unlearned.

In writing about the call of Abraham in the Letter to the Romans, Paul characterizes Abraham's body as being "as good as dead." How often do we think of the older members of our communities as being no longer capable of contributing anything of value? Is that an idea about older people that we need to unlearn?

It seems that it took Peter a long time to unlearn his ideas about the Messiah, but he needed the shock of Jesus' rebuke - "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." - to jumpstart the unlearning. Perhaps Lent can be a time when I let God jumpstart the unlearning that I need to do in my life.