Everyday Lucky.

Forgive me some self indulgence, but there’s nothing like spending a few days sick in bed to make you grateful for all the wonderful things that surround you. I get sick very very seldom, and getting hit by a nasty bug last week (Dr- you can’t go to work for a week. Me- Oh my GOD they are going to be crabby with me!. Dr- No they won’t. People find shingles repulsive. They’re not going to want to be around you) made me realise just how much I rely on my good health and my ability to do all the things for all the people, all the time.

But now I’m up and have makeup on for the first time since Saturday I’m just feeling full of love and gratitude (kind of like a drunk guy with all the ‘I love you man’s) and want to take a moment to reflect on all the things that are amazing about my life. This year has been tough with Jasper’s surgery and all, but as we have always said, since the day he was born, it could be so much worse. 

Now there’s none of that #soblessed crap here. Many of these things stem from the pure chance that I was born in a developed country. I’m so happy to be an Australian, with all the freedom that offers. Living in Australia provides medical care and education and welfare for those who need it and so many other things that we take for granted but other countries only aspire too. And of course, the opportunity to vote in two months in an attempt to elect a government that truly cares about the needy and vulnerable in society is a right that we should never over look.

I have an amazing husband. Who is good with money. And who is patient. And who is a great father. And doesn’t criticise whatever plan I’ve just come up with…

Children who are just the most amazing little people I’ve ever met, and who I wake up excited to see every morning (which usually happens immediately as often there is one sleeping nose to nose with me).

A job I adore. Teaching has to be one of the best careers anyone could choose. I’m constantly glad that the ‘oh god, I guess I’d better be a teacher’ decision 20 years ago panned out so well. And the fact that my hours mean that I have a chance to volunteer in the community too- many people just cant do that because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Beautiful and supportive extended family. I’m so lucky to have a sister who is my best friend, parents who are still alive and I see most days and even a 95 year old grandmother.

I live in a beautiful part of the world, in a cosy and creative home. I mean, look at what I wake up to every morning…

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Enough money to feel and clothe my children. Enough to give to others in need. Enough to mean that for most of the time, I don’t have to spend time thinking about how to make ends meet. So many in the world do not get this luxury.

Good health. Pretty much all of the time. This is something that none of us should take for granted. I should probably eat less sugar but…nah.

Great friends. Who make me smile and who make me think. And who are fucking hilarious.

A place in my life where I’m really happy. Some people ‘find themselves’ earlier than others, but some people never do, so I’m calling early 40s not a bad time to go ‘I’m happy with who I am’. There is of course room for improvement, but this doesn’t come from a desperate need to ‘find myself’. Spiritually, and in so many other ways, I’ve found my place, and now I can just focus on the fact that  all you need is love (well and food and shelter and an equitable welfare system and clean air…)

There are things that I dislike about the world, of course. Injustice, hatred, just a lack of love and acceptance. But I’ll try and have an impact where I can and trust that other people will do the same. That’s all any of us can do.

I think it’s good to reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for. For most of us I suspect, this list is a lot longer than our gripes. What else would go on your list?

 

 

How to Trivialise Jesus

If you listen to some schools of thought, atonement is pretty much the be all and end all of Christianity.  Take  Christian rock music, for instance. It’s about the blood. Here’s an actual line from a song;

“His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse upon him”

But as I’ve said before, I can’t see any way that blood atonement makes sense, and unlike several other issues, this conviction is getting stronger and more clearly formulated the more I think about it.

I know that I might seem like someone who just looks for problems and issues to make a fuss about, but believe it or not I would like to just accept modern mainstream protestant doctrine and happily join the club. I’m absolutely not someone who likes to argue for the sake of it; blending in with a group of like minded people is a lovely idea (in fact the closest I’ve every come to this is probably when I was on the committee for the Tasmanian skeptics and we all pretty much thought all of society was delusional. Ah, good times…) But everyone seems to really love substitutional atonement right now, and it wasn’t until I began to become enmeshed in the faith that I  realised that there were any other options.

It all comes back to whether Jesus really meant what he said, and if he did, what this means to our ordinary every day life. If what Jesus said in the Beatitudes is worthwhile and important and something that we should focus on, then there is a problem. So many of the words of Jesus are deeply contradictory to the idea of blood atonement. If God really needed to resort to violence to achieve his aims then what Jesus said about forfeiting violence is nonsensical. If even God can’t cope without resorting to violence, or chooses violence as the best option, then what hope is there for the rest of the world, and how it deals with its problems?

As Richard Rohr writes (always with the Rohr!), blood atonement basically means that Jesus was plan B; and was only necessary when we screwed up.

Come on. Jesus as plan B? I’ve only been a Christian for about 5 minutes but that disturbs me on some level. Seriously, Jesus isn’t plan B.

“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God”*

The death of Jesus didn’t change the course of reality, and it wasn’t an ‘ultimate sacrifice’, necessary to gain God’s love. I think that anything that doesn’t directly point to Jesus’ teachings as a fundamental part of his time on earth is misleading; reducing it all down to a tearing of the veil and then a reverberation of guilt and duty that is supposed to stay with us and motivate us. That just trivialises it all.

Substitutional Atonement trivialises Jesus’ life. It sounds counter intuitive, but, to me, it does. It renders his life almost meaningless; he was useful for about three days. Why even bother with all the great speeches and empire-wrecking ideals? He could have done a few miracles the week before Passover and grabbed a donkey and have been done with it. His years long ministry was pointless, if all he was going to be was a blood sacrifice.

From this, though, it doesn’t follow that I have a purely materialistic understanding of the death of Jesus. I don’t believe that he was merely a great teacher. I’m far closer to evangelical when it comes to some things than  you would expect.

If there’s an evangelical left, I’d quite like  although not, of course, the blood bit. And I don’t pray out loud so that would disqualify me, I expect.

(As an aside, I was discussing churches with a friend of mine (who I like to call my ‘spiritual mentor’, although I don’t quite know how he feels about it, but he seems wise and is willing to talk to me so he got the job) , wondering if the church that I had found myself in was ultimately the right one for me. He pointed out that every denomination and every individual church will have different strengths, and given that I had deliberately chosen a church that was strong on social justice and inclusion, then that what was right for me at that time. I hadn’t really thought that different churches cater to different needs, but it does make sense.)

So, anyway, what I’m getting at here is the idea that even though the huge ‘blood of the lamb’ palaver seems very dramatic, it actually cheapens Jesus. It takes away from all the other things that he did, and said, and reduces him to what some call ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’, but to my mind is ‘Just a Sacrifice’.

I expect others may not agree with this, of course, and there may be a fundamental element that I’m not understanding. That occasionally happens…

 

 

 

*Richard Rohr; “Scripture as Spirituality”

All the opinions, all the time.

People roll their eyes when the ‘Christian voice’ is heard in the media on morality, or family issues, or what ever is dominating the news cycle on that particular day. The media loves to portray certain viewpoints and have no problem making sweeping generalizations; but of course groups like the Australian Christian Lobby don’t do their brothers and sisters any favours by claiming to speak for all of us. But people do love to have their bias confirmed, and I guess that does it for them. Apparently Christians are a homogeneous group and there is little to no dissent about big, or little issues.

Oh please.

There are some things that I think I have a particular perspective on, given my move from atheism to Christianity. I don’t think that this perspective is the be all and end all of course, given that certain other qualifiers have to be attached to anything that I claim to have an insight into (introverted, a bit pessimistic, intuitively cynical, a little mocking on occasion).

But I can say that I have noticed a real difference in the way that people treat me regarding my opinions about things these days. And by ‘things’, I mean the ones that they expect ‘Christians’ to have a particularly strong viewpoint on (abortion, euthanasia, pornography, Llama farming practices). There are a few steps involved here.

They assume that I am going to have an opinion, or take a stand. (This is something you would feel strongly about, surely?)

And then they assume (again) that they know what my opinion about that would be. (You would be against that, right?)

NO I DON’T AND NO, I WOULDN’T.

There are a couple of issues here. Firstly, I don’t feel the need to have an opinion about everything. It’s not that I don’t care about, for example, abortion or euthanasia, but I genuinely don’t have an opinion. I can see that they are nuanced and complex areas and it’s not an area I feel equipped to delve into. Do I have feelings about the issue? Sure. But I have feelings on lots of things that are just ridiculous and emotional and are better off left unexplored (I frequently want to pull my kids out of school and teach them at home, for example. This would be a shockingly bad move for many many reasons).

People find that hard to understand. You don’t have to have a dog in every fight, seriously. You don’t have to have an opinions on every single bloody thing and from what I can tell, others find it especially hard to get their head around this when you’re a Christian.

Sometimes, I just don’t care.

Sometimes, it’s so big and complex and I don’t want the responsibility of making a decisions.

Sometimes, I just don’t feel the need to share my thoughts with others.

I think that it is assumed by many that the Bible is a concise little rule book that has a clear and easily referenced solution to every quandary that will crop up during life.

Well, it doesn’t. Except it does, I suppose. There’s ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘. So we have to love God, and others, deeply and passionately. Does this mean dictating what they can do with their life? Does this mean making decisions on behalf of them? What does Loving Others actually involve?

We need to look at the world through a framework of Jesus’ love. But that can go in many different directions. I personally don’t see how, within that framework, there can be a lot of disagreement on how to treat asylum seekers, but that’s because it’s one issue that I do have all the opinions on. And we are all going to be different in which battle we choose to fight.

But we also need to remember that loving others also means treading carefully with our opinions.

Peacing Out.

 

So at the moment, what seems to be incredibly therapeutic for me is reading about Francis of Assisi and listening to Dylan. Apparently I’m a 17 year old boy, but what ever works, hey? So it would be remiss of me not to share this song, which is more of a metaphor than a straight out love song. Of course, though, because it’s Dylan.

And given that TWO PEOPLE during the last month have read and enjoyed books that I have mentioned here on the blog, I kind of feel like a finger-on-the-pulse popular culture guru who sets trends all over the place, so it’s essentially a public service for me to share things I love.

You’re welcome.

 

The Unprotected Life.

I’ve had a week of being scared. And of trying to convince people that I’m not scared. My son, Jasper, who was born with club feet and has had multiple surgeries, seems to be getting worse. In that he is in a lot of pain and has trouble walking. So we are taking him to see his specialist in Melbourne next week to see what’s going on. And when I googled his condition and deterioration and further treatments, I discovered that sometimes it ends in double amputation.

And then yesterday he had some strange, enormous pains, and fainted twice in ten minutes, so we ended up in the emergency department. And the doctor told me that they needed to x-ray his chest to make sure that it was nothing ‘sinister’, as they had no idea what was going on. So I, who does tend to catastrophise, admittedly, spent an hour thinking that he had some kind of bone cancer. He doesn’t, it’s probably some weird muscle spasm but they’re not really sure. He also just seems to be someone who faints. In fact, that’s why he is now deaf. He was knocked unconscious 3 years ago and sustained damage that has caused moderate, but permanent, deafness.

But I don’t feel like I can take these fears and worries to people because then I’ll have to deal with their feelings and concerns. Why is it that when we need to share with people, we end up having to look after them? Or is that just me? It’s easier not to tell people things when you know that they’re going to fall apart in front of you, and then you have to be coping for an extra person, as well as for yourself and your children… Being guarded means you don’t have to hold your own feelings up for examination by other people.

I haven’t been reading during the last week; watching The Office all night is just easier. But I picked up a novel this afternoon that I bought some time ago called Chasing Francis; A Pilgrim’s Tale, and started to skim. I’ll go back and concentrate and underline and take notes when my mind is more settled. But it talks about how we need to tell our stories, with all their ‘shadows and fog, so people can understand their own…trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life’.

It talks about living a life (Franciscanism specifically, but lets expand it, hey?) thats ‘dangerously open, revealing all that we genuinely are, and receiving all the pain and sorrow the world will give back in return’.

Aquinas described two kinds of souls- the magna animi and the pusilla animi. The first is open, allowing space for the world to enter and find Jesus. The latter is the defended heart. Guarded, suspicious and closed, viewing everything as a potential threat and an enemy waiting to attack.

Maybe sharing our brokenness and our fears with people is the only way that we can authentically connect. In our world of #soblessed status updates, have we have lost the real connection of exposing our souls to others for fear of judgement, or for fear of being known too much.

I’m almost 100% convinced that my catch phrase of ‘everything’s fine, thanks’, is not going to be altered by these musings, but it’s something to think about…

 

What if we listened to stories?

Every two weeks I spend time with a Japanese hating anti-Semite.

On purpose.

We drink coffee (she puts milk in hers only because the doctor says it’s good for her bones although I tell her that her bones have done OK for 94 years, and the damage is already done), we read the paper and she gives my boys too much chocolate.

I know which topics not to get her started on. What’s the point? She’s an old lady living in a run down house who won’t be with us for much longer. My opinions aren’t going to change her. I don’t define her by our differences but by what we have in common. I know her stories, I know what she wishes that she was and what she was never able to be.

But there aren’t that many occasions during the week when I choose to spend time with someone with views that are so different to my own. I find it difficult to love people who don’t agree with me on the ‘big issues’. OK you’re not going to see me yelling at them or waving placards or being abusive but I can do some hard core seething and my righteous indignation (even if totally invisible to anyone not inside my brain) can be absolutely withering.

Even if I’m not actively arguing with people though, creating a mental ‘us’ and ‘them’ can still be very damaging both on a soul and real-world level. As I yell at my children when they’re bickering or unforgiving or just generally not agreeing with each other, ‘THIS IS HOW WARS START, YOU KNOW THAT?!’.

We see the people that we love with different eyes. We may be sad at their opinions or their views but we either understand why they hold them (in my Nan’s case, a very poor upbringing, little education, the loss of loved ones and the stress of all the men in her life away fighting in WW2) or we realise that there is more to them than the things that we don’t agree on.

We know their stories.

Is that the solution to all the name calling and hatred and just general awfulness that gets us down even on the brightest and shiniest of days? If we could just listen to the stories of those who we disagree with then how different would the world be. This is what has happened to me in my life. This is how I have suffered. These were my dreams.

I don’t even think that this is a way to get people ‘on our side’. I don’t think that knowing someone better should segue into a clever way to evangelise for our cause. I just think that it’s harder to hate or make blanket statements about someone when we really know where they’re coming from. When we know that they were bullied as children or that they had an abortion and regret it or that they got trapped into a minimum wage job and just couldn’t find a way out.

We can’t change other people. We just can’t. The best we can do is try to understand them, and love them where they’re at. And pray that other people can do the same for us.

A slightly ranty atonement post.

This post is one of those ones where I’m basically clarifying my stance on certain issues for my own elucidation. For me it’s important that I can clearly articulate my own take on certain key issues. I know that many people are fine with things just being all mysterious but I need to get things relatively clear in my own head from time to time.

It’s no secret that the whole idea of substitutionary atonement makes me very cranky and I find it completely incompatible with every thing I know to be true about a loving God.

When I was an atheist, the idea of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins was a prime example of the delusional thinking of Christians. As an almost- Christian the idea of substitutionary atonement was still a huge issue for me. But gradually I came to realise that substitutionary atonement wasn’t an absolute belief within the faith. There was also the moral influence theory of atonement- the belief that positive moral change is the ultimate goal of Christianity.

In fact, this theory is one of the oldest views of atonement and was the dominant one during the second and third centuriesThis is a pretty important point, hey? If the people who lived closest to the actual time of Jesus had firm beliefs regarding what his life was about, then it certainly bears a closer examination.

Jesus’ life was so fundamentally about social justice, yet his whole death was ultimately about our sins and a blood sacrifice to a vengeful god? (insert scornful swearword here). What a way to devalue everything that he stood for and everything that he tried to achieve. The Gospels are chock full of directives to us about how to live a righteous life, yet when it comes down to it we don’t have to actually do any of those things at all? He died just to absolve us of sins and that’s the message we should take away from his life?

Rubbish.

Although I shouldn’t dismiss the whole sin thing quite so off handedly. Absolutely we need saving, but it’s more about saving us from our acceptance of oppressive systems, from our complacency and from the fact that we seldom do nearly as much as we could to bring about real change, confronting injustice and taking on the responsibility of bringing about God’s Kingdom here and now. If we do sin, then we sin by ignoring the clear teachings of Jesus.

Look, God didn’t need his wrath assuaged to be replaced by mercy after Jesus’ execution on the cross. What kind of a vengeful prick does that make God? You don’t punish your other children by killing one of them to make yourself feel better.

Jesus advocated moral change. He spoke of the world that is to come; the world that we could bring about if people took his message seriously. His teachings and examples push us onward to try and live out his message. People, and then societies, can move towards this, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

For acting in the greater good, dismissing his own safety, and preaching a radical message of societal transformation, Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire (well, it was actually sedition) in an appalling and shameful way. The resurrection shows us that even death cannot separate us from God’s love.  That whatever you face and however you are challenged while striving for justice in the world is insignificant when it all comes down to it. Even if the worst happens to us, God will still be there to love us and lift us up.

One of God’s chief commandments is not to kill. While God didn’t ‘need’ Jesus to die, it served to demonstrate what was supposed to be the last example of religiously condoned violence. The end of the sacrificial system; the end of redemptive violence. Jesus’s death is part of a much wider picture and frame work than the penal substitution theory would have it. Jesus isn’t reduced to to sacrificed lamb. That darn Sermon on the Mount actually meant something after all.

While I’m not going to proof text and play Bible passage tennis to support my argument, there is absolutely a firm biblical foundation for this view. Many New Testament passages allude to a final judgement that concerns moral conduct. The Gospels are essentially chock full of how to be a moral person. Much of what Jesus said concerns this. Yes, Paul did talk about the fact that salvation is by faith and the fact that ‘works of the law’ are not what we would be striving for but if it’s a preach-off between Jesus and Paul, then I know which side I’ll be on. (As a side-note, Hebrews, the book in which much of the blood sacrifice talk can be seen, may not have been written by Paul at all which detracts from it’s importance if it is true).

Next up, universal salvation! It’s just party time here at the moment, isn’t it?

Lenten Aspirations and Really Deep Faith.

I found this list today, recommending several books that would be good for reading and reflection during Lent (well it advocates reading and discussing them but reading and engaging in a robust inner dialogue is just as good, right?).

I love Lent. It’s all about preparation and possibilities and refining. My previous Lenten practise of Veganism is now my normal, so I’ll have to branch out a bit this year. Maybe fasting? I did a three day fast last year and things got a bit profound, actually, in the ‘Whooa, I’m not blogging about this’ kind of way.

I particularly like the look of Sabbath as Resistance; Saying No the the Culture of Now. But the reviews on Amazon seem to indicate that I’ll be stirred to resist multi-tasking and consumerism and I’m not sure whether I want to be challenged in that way right now. Which I know is the whole point but I would like my comfort zone stretched on my own terms, thank you very much (yes, yes. I know).

A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience and The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith look interesting too, although they seem to be of the ‘faith is hard, embrace your doubts, it’s fine, questioning is good’ variety, which I’m a bit ambivalent about to be honest because doubt and I are fine. We’re good. I don’t need to be patted and told it’s OK, because doubt is one of my things.

Which brings me to this quote that I saw yesterday from Flannery O’Conner;
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

I wonder how much faith actually costs most people? I wonder if you are not being challenged and stretched then you’re not doing it properly? And I don’t mean ‘cost’ such as people giggling uncomfortably when they discover that you’re a Christian, or assuming that you’re slightly dim. I mean really going deep. Like this.

The Triumph of Evil

Yesterday was International Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the day that Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops and a day to reflect on those murdered in Europe during the dark days of the twentieth century.

My commemoration of important days such as these usually takes the form of a teaching opportunity, talking to my own children about the events that took place. Sadly, I had to draw parallels between what we see around the world today, and the events leading up to the murder of 6 million people in Europe.

The anti-Semitism that is still apparent.

The inhumane way that Australia treats its asylum seekers.

The ridiculous hate-mongering regarding Halal food in Australia at the moment which in turn is demonising Muslims and fostering hate in the community.

I told my boys that the actions of some don’t reflect the beliefs of many. That radical muslims no more reflect the ideas of the muslims that live in our town any more than the Westbro Baptists reflect my beliefs.

That when people are scared, when they feel threatened and when the don’t understand something, they lash out and feel powerful by disenfranchising other.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing*.

That standing by when others act unjustly, and by ignoring issues because they are too confronting is one of the things that helped the Holocaust gain momentum. The vast majority of people in Germany during the 30s and 40s were not explicitly evil. They were unquestioning, they were comfortable and they were deliberately blind.

May we pray for the wisdom not to fall into that trap.

*An interesting discussion on the origins of this quote can be found here