Friday, March 23, 2007

Repentance

Over in the comments at Father Jake's, John F. and I got into a very interesting discussion where I explained why I had come to believe that homosexual activity (at least between faithful, committed partners) is not a sin. Here's what I said:

But what really changed my mind was this:

While he was hanging on the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive us for the unforgiveable.

There were no conditions there about "But only if they get down on their knees and beg you and amend their wicked, wicked ways!" Jesus asked for unrequested forgiveness for the worst sin ever committed. He returned love for hate.

If that is the case, then what do you think Jesus would do about love? If he was willing to offer unmerited forgiveness for the murder of God Incarnate, do you REALLY think he is going to send people to eternal damnation for daring to love one another and trying to demonstrate that love and commitment with the blessing of the community of faith?

If you do believe that, there is an unbridgable divide between us. A God who will send people to Hell for loving one another is not worthy of worship in my book---that God is a monster.

My God is the one who looked down from the piece of wood to which he was nailed---broken, bleeding, wracked with pain---and granted un-asked-for absolution and unmerited forgiveness. My God is the one who loves--wastefully, recklessly, completely. My God is not a black leather book---my God is Jesus Christ,who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit *IS* worthy of worship, now and forever.
And then John came back and asked me a very good question:
What of the necessity of repentence? I have heard you proclaim your orthodoxy. The idea that we can obtain salvation without repentence troubles me and seems very unorthodox....How does repentence fit into your self proclaimed orthodoxy?
I started writing and writing---and decided I wouldn't inflict my cogitations on the denizens at Jake's place, but move them here. So this is my response to John...

John--I guess I would have to say that it isn't my idea. Unless you think God refused Jesus' plea from the cross?

What do you think was going on at Calvary? What do you make of Jesus' call for absolution without repentance?

As for as the role of repentance in our own lives---*I* certainly feel the need to repent and ask forgiveness.

I confess that I've never sat down and worked out a theological position on that issue, so take this for the off-the-cuff reaction to your wonderful question that it is.

I suspect the desire for/need for repentance has to do with humanity's innate need (one I believe is God-given) for relationship. When harm has been done, and a breach in relationship has occurred, many of us feel the need to repair that breach. Ruptured relationships often cause agonizing pain, and we learn that the best way to alleviate that pain is by acknowledging our own fault in the situation and apologizing.

I think we are called to repentance because WE need it---not because God does. It reminds us that we are not God, and---in our limited human way---it allows us to "get out of our own way" and reestablish the relationship with God that is broken by our self-centered turning away from God (which is what most sins are, I think).

Repentance turns our focus back to God--enabling us to fulfill the commandment to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

I believe that God desperately wants a relationship with us. That is probably the most heterodox aspect of my “personal” theology, quite frankly—but I can't understand the Incarnation without reference to that idea.

Our sin--our focus on ourselves, rather than on God-- is what gets in the way of that relationship. Repentance is a way of acknowledging that our relationship is impeded somehow---and of reopening on our end the floodgates of grace.

You see, I believe that God is always trying to shower grace on us. Repentance just allows us to experience that eternal “baptism,” if you will, of God’s love for us. Enables us to put away our umbrellas and experience the joy, like little kids splashing in the puddles of a summer downpour. (Did you ever do that? Do you remember how wonderful it felt?)

I believe that God hates sin because it interferes in His longing to be in relationship with us. It is forever a distraction, and it kills what COULD be the unalloyed joy of union between God and humanity---and replaces it with cheap, unfulfilling substitutes that can never make us truly happy.

So…there’s my theology of repentance…written on a paper napkin. Repentance is for our benefit. God has already forgiven before we even ask, because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. If this were not the case, what was the Incarnation for?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Do the Right Thing

I went to see a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar last Saturday afternoon. It is one of my favorite musicals—which is saying something, since I’m the Musical Queen.

I love the score, and I love the way it presents Jesus as so very human—a necessary corrective, I think, to our Docetist tendencies to believe, deep in our hearts, that Jesus was God in a man-suit. His anguished scenes with the lepers and in the Garden of Gethsemane always move me to tears.

But last Saturday, something completely different caught my attention.

Pilate wore a purple toga.

Now this may have been purely a coincidence—an accident of costuming. Maybe Hancock’s had a sale on purple silk, and it fit the production budget.

But I think not. Purple is the color of royalty, and Pilate was, for all intents and purposes, the “king” of Judea. Herod was the titular Jewish king in Galilee, but Pilate was the “go-to guy”—the one with the real power.

Pilate’s toga caught my attention because the Color Purple has occupied too much of my emotional and theological energy lately. It is the color that bishops—the princes of the church—wear, and there are a number of bishops in my church who are behaving in less-than-princely ways.

Unless, of course, you admire Machiavelli’s Prince and think he’s a suitable role model for the church.

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Pilate was probably a ruthless man. I doubt you got appointed as Top Dog in a troubled place like Palestine if the Romans thought you were a soft touch.

But there is something about the depiction of him in the Gospels—and in Jesus Christ Superstar—that touches me. The picture I get of Pilate is of a man caught up in events beyond his control—much like Judas, in fact.

In the Gospels, Pilate’s wife sends the following message to her husband:

“Have nothing to do with that innocent man (i.e., Jesus), for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

But in the play, it is Pilate himself who has the dream of Jesus:

I dreamed I met a Galilean

A most amazing man.

He had that look you very rarely find:

The haunting, hunted kind.

I asked him to say what had happened,

How it all began.

I asked again, he never said a word.

As if he hadn't heard.

And next, the room was full of wild and angry men.

They seemed to hate this man.

They fell on him, and then

Disappeared again.

Then I saw thousands of millions

Crying for this man.

And then I heard them mentioning my name,

And leaving me the blame.

Pilate encounters Jesus twice—first he sends him to Herod, hoping to pawn off the responsibility for this troublesome prophet. And Herod is presented as royalty---at least as Head Drag Queen, complete with doo-wop girls.

(One wonders whom Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had in mind when they wrote the libretto…)

But Jesus will not walk across Herod’s swimming pool, so Herod packs him back to Pilate—who is faced with the agonizing decision of whether to free a man he knows to be innocent, or execute him to satisfy the howling mob. He knows that Jesus is suffering unjustly. Knows that the calls to kill Jesus are wrong and evil.

But Pilate also recognizes the risk to his power from the screaming crowd. They threaten to report him to Caesar—a show of loyalty to authority that had, as he remarked, been “noticeably lacking” up until that moment.

To try and pacify them, he orders Jesus flogged. Maybe they will be satisfied with a little blood, he seems to tell himself…

This part of the show is always excruciating for me. I have resolutely refused to watch Mel Gibson’s pornographic gore-fest, The Passion of the Christ, because I find it more spiritually edifying to focus on Jesus’ injunctions to love and care for one another than on the blood and the pain.

Call me spiritually immature if you will, but I know my limits. This scene is the closest I can ever bring myself to dwelling on the physical agony Jesus endured.

Pilate himself counts out the 39 lashes. His voice is breaking by the end.

It is odd what the sight of blood will do to people. It can make you ill and faint---but it can also fascinate you. Worse still, it can make you lust to see more of it.

The crowd in Jerusalem fell into Group #3.

And Pilate, frightened by their fervor, and unable to get a word out of Jesus, folds. He calls for a basin of water and symbolically washes his hands of the whole affair, declaring

Don't let me stop your great self-destruction.

Die if you want to, you misguided martyr.

I wash my hands of your demolition.

Die if you want to you innocent puppet!

Ultimately, Pilate sells God out to maintain his own power and to keep the peace at home.

As I watched him convince himself that he had done all he could to save an innocent man, Pilate’s parallel with the bishops in my church hit me with a powerful force.

And this is where I feel compelled to ask: “+Rowan Williams, +Katharine Jefferts Schori, Windsor Bishops…does this scene make you squirm?”

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If you aren’t an Episcopalian, my question (and the names of those to whom it is addressed) probably won’t mean much to you. I’ll try to sum up the underlying situation as succinctly as I can:

My church is being asked to sacrifice our gay and lesbian members to keep the peace in the worldwide Anglican church, of which The Episcopal Church (TEC) is a member.

If you are interested in the particulars, just check out the list of blogs over there in the sidebar. You will find more information than you ever wanted to know about Christians Behaving Badly. I have been deeply invested in the debates and arguments for three years now, and I’m simply too tired and disheartened to go through the whole damned business in print right now.

The important issue for me is what those in purple will choose to do in the coming days and months. They have an opportunity to be prophetic—to claim the blessing of our baptisms for all members of the church and to proclaim the love of God for all those who earnestly seek to know Him.

Pilate had that opportunity to Do the Right Thing. We could argue until the cows come home about whether that would have upset the Divine Plan for the Incarnation (I don’t believe it would have, for the record)—but Pilate could have saved Jesus.

He chose not to.

I am not sanguine that the bishops will do the right thing with regard to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters either. People in power like to hold on to it—and the bishops have been threatened with losing their coveted invitations to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s table if they don’t bow to the demands of those who believe that all homosexual activity is an abomination to God.

I am not sanguine because the power in this drama does not lie with the group over whom we argue. Gays and lesbians make up a fraction of the clergy and parishioners of TEC. They have no power to compel the bishops to do the right thing. They have no power at all, except the power of their faith and their witness to the rest of us.

Like Jesus.

Christians believe that Jesus was the Incarnated Word of God—which means he surely had the power to compel, but chose not to use it. His love for, and connection to, his Father in heaven were the things that drew people to him.

Jesus said “By their fruit, you shall know them.” His “fruit,” if you will, was his willingness to be obedient to God—not to the Law, which condemned him for healing on the Sabbath and eating with sinners. His fruit was to model love and forgiveness, and to show us that God’s first care is for the poor and the outcast.

Even as he was dying, his last acts were to welcome the thief into paradise and to ask God to forgive the unforgivable—to forgive those who had murdered him in cold-blooded hatred.

Jesus was always clear that, in a conflict between the law and love, the latter would win out.

Bishops…are you listening?

Will you sacrifice those who, despite the shameful treatment they have received from their fellow Christians, have remained in the fold? Will you give them over to those wearers of purple who would use them as stepping stones to power?

Will you allow the Law—that small handful of Bible verses that are ambiguous in their meanings—to be used as weapons against the faithful? Will you ignore the weight of the Gospel—the message that God loves and welcomes those who seek Him—to keep the peace with those who will not be satisfied by this alone?

Will you call for the basin of water and wash your hands of my brothers and sisters so that you can take tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury?

And if you do, will your dreams, like Pilate’s, be haunted?

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Word About Blogger...

I am in the process of switching from the old version of Blogger to the "new & improved" version.

Why is it that "new & improved" usually means "totally screwed up and will require hours of your time to fix it"?

I am having to restore all my links, so if you were listed and you aren't now, don't be offended!

The issue that concerns me most, however, is related to your comments. Under the older version of Blogger, comments were forwarded from Blogger.com, and my spam filter recognized them and let them through.

Now, however, they are being sent directly from your e-mail address to mine--which means you are getting a challenge note from my ISP. I apologize for this.

I initially chose Comment Moderation because I didn't want the few people who knew my real name and commented here to let it slip by accident. I've decided that it no longer matters, so I'm disabling the Moderator function.

So have at it. But be nice---remember I am Wormwood's doxy. He has offered to loan me his trident if you get unruly.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Things left undone...

My Lenten discipline is not going well.

Your kind words and encouragement have mattered a great deal to me, so I wanted to give a brief update on the status of my Lenten musings. I promised to write at a time when work got really hectic. Since my professional writing is what keeps a roof over my kids' heads and food in their bellies, I hope Jesus doesn't mind that I've put him on the back burner.

But the truth is that *I* mind.

My Lenten observance very often falls prey to the exigencies of the day. It has been years since I felt as if I truly met my Lenten obligations. Last year, I was descending into madness--I barely even remember anything about Lent 2006. I had hoped to do better this year.

When I told one of my closest friends that I had taken on something for Lent (rather than giving something up), he practically screamed at me: "Doxy! Are you crazy?!?!? Renegotiate!!!"

I won't renegotiate, but I am working on something. I'm trying to finish a piece on Pilate. I hope to have it up by the weekend.

I am not an ambitious person, by and large---but that is not true when it comes to my spiritual journey. I want to do great things for God--want to open my life to His love, mercy, and grace, and then pour it out to others. I want to redeem all my mistakes and the pain I've caused people I love by showing that I can be faithful to a promise--even one so small as my Lenten discipline. I want---dare I say it?---to be holy.

This is bound to end in disappointment. For me, for others, for God.

Thank heavens I didn't give up chocolate or wine this year...