Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Pause in Lent #3

When I was thirteen, my recently born again brother sat me down and told me he was worried about my mother. Yes, she was a very nice person and yes, she'd gone to church her entire life, but she wasn't saved. You see, Episcopalians think all you have to do is be baptized as an infant and you're good. And that's why Episcopalians, including my mother, were going to hell.

I'd been going to youth group with my brother, and he must have assumed I was saved and heaven-bound, a perfect compatriot in the battle for my mother's soul. It's true, I'd tried to get saved. I'd said the right words, but I didn't feel any different. I'd expected to feel kind of glowy and special, but I just felt like me.

So I wasn't saved, and my mother wasn't saved, and all the sudden it seemed to me that any God who would send my Jesus-loving but un-born again mother to hell was not a god I cared to do business with.

I didn't voluntarily set foot in church again for another twenty years.

Today I was at church, listening to a very good sermon when the minister said something about Jesus dying for my sins, and you know what? My knee still jerked. I had the thought: we need a new vocabulary for talking about the cross, because I know I'm not the only person who has had dealings with toxic Christianity and can't hear certain words and phrases without wanting to flee. In fact, I know a whole boatload of folks who experienced toxic Christianity--judgmental, wounding,"You're a child of God, but something is very wrong with you" Christianity--as children and young adults and never came back. I don't blame them.

I'll be honest with you: I'm still working out what happened on the cross. I have never understood the economics of the sacrificial lamb. Why would God need to torture one human being (and his son, at that!) to save another? This is not to say I don't think Christ's death on the cross isn't significant; I'm just still working out its meaning, which I suspect I may find located in the resurrection.

(My born again brother is now, by the way, an Episcopalian.)

The opposite of toxic Christianity is healing Christianity. Healing Christianity doesn't say, let's find the sinners and make sure they're saved. It says, let's go be love in this world. Let's go be the hands of Christ. It feeds people and gives them water and lets them know we are all broken and God will make us whole in time. Which is very good news indeed.

You know what words and phrases don't me cringe when I hear them in church? Reconciliation. Restoration. Love. Justice. Mercy. The kingdom of God. The peace of Christ. May it be with you. And also with you.

11 comments:

Pom Pom said...

I watched Saving Mr. Banks last night and wept with P.L. Travers when Walt Disney whispered to her that her father was redeemed in the film, Mary Poppins. Redemption. What a comforting miracle.

GretchenJoanna said...

I was at a Bible study with my husband tonight that made me remember that I still have not got straight what is the proper understanding of this topic, and I resolved to research it when I came home. But before I got home I forgot and started reading your blog :-) and then I remembered again! I always think Fr. Stephen Freeman is helpful on theological topics, as he once was in a church that preached the wrath of God and associated ideas, and now he is not. This is the first thing I came upon, and I haven't even read it yet, but maybe it will help us both.
May the peace of Christ also be with you.

GretchenJoanna said...

Did I forget the link?
http://orthodoxruminations.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/therapeutic-substitutionary-atonement-a-guest-post-from-father-stephen-freeman/

Floss said...

It really says something scary about human nature that we can take the Gospel and turn it into a toxic 'you're out, I'm in' message. Your own experiences and thoughts have been very helpful to me, processing my own experiences. Thank you.

@gaz112 said...

Spot on - the "turn or burn" approach only puts people off. We need people to see Jesus in and through us.

Angela said...

And 'grace' ....amazing grace....I cannot hear that word often enough.

I watched "I walk the Line" again yesterday [Johnny Cash biopic] and there was a brilliant bit where he wants to do a gig in the prison and his agent tries to dissuade him and says 'Your fans are good Christian folk, they don't want you to go and play to murderers and rapists and criminals' and JC replies 'then they're not Christians!'
Whilst I am not sure about labelling 'the saved' and 'the lost' [the whole sheep/goats decision is God's] I know that The Original JC was happy to eat with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.
Great post Frances - Lenten blessings xx

Fiona said...

Great post, I would like to add the word "grace" to your list at the end, as I dont think we hear enough about God's grace to us.

wayside wanderer said...

As I sit here pondering your post so many different things come to mind that I could say and then this song, which I love very much, came to mind:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me.

Tracy said...

I just spent a whole day on Saturday delving into our identity in Christ. The senior pastor in our church is an incredibly gifted communicator. One thing that really resonated with most of us was around grace and Jesus as our sacrifice.

Because of that perfect sacrifice God no longer looks at us and condemns us for our sins - He just looks at the sacrifice and determines it to be acceptable. We are therefore deemed acceptable before God because all that's all He chooses to see. That thought completely undoes me...God CHOOSES to only look at that perfect sacrifice rather than the sin it covers underneath.

If not for Jesus becoming that sacrifice we would all still be going through a regular process of looking for an animal someone would be required to decide if it was good enough before killing it. And that wouldn't be permanent. So glad I live this side of the cross!

Does that make it 'fair' that Jesus had to give up His life for me? Absolutely not!! That's so not fair. I think that's how we know that God's love is so enormous we can't outdo it.

Nancy McCarroll said...

I set this aside, thinking about what you wrote about your teenage Chistianity experiences.

But now I am back.
to say And Also With You. Peace.

The dB family said...

I can't put words to my thoughts right now. So well said and thought provoking. And also with you, my friend!

Blessings!
Deborah