Saturday, July 27, 2013

Prayer is and God is and....



A reflection on the readings for Proper 12C: Hosea 1:2-10; Luke 11:1-13



Mechtild of Magdeburg, who lived in the thirteenth century, was the first German woman to write poetry and spiritual texts in Middle-High-German instead of Latin. Little is known about her except that she must have been of noble descent. Her adult life was spent with a group of unmarried women who lived together caring for the poor and the sick. Mechthild lived first in Magedeburg and then at a convent in Helfta.

Here is one of her poems:

How God speaks to the Soul

And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together
There love is perfected


God speaking into the souls of human beings and in and through us is at the heart of our readings this morning. These earthy, bodily focused readings point us beyond ourselves to God who is ever faithful and always present.

In the Hosea reading God’s relationship to humanity plays out in the metaphorical relationship between Hosea and Gomer. Hosea, as God, is the ever faithful lover of Gomer. Gomer represents us, the often unfaithful partner of God.

If you listen carefully to the text you will notice Gomer’s mute passivity in this reading. We know nothing about who she was or how she interpreted this experience. This silence offers us a clue that this text is really referring to God’s experience of human beings and NOT our experience of God, nor even our experience of our own lives. [i]

Hosea reminds us that in the early Judeo-Christian tradition, God is passionately committed to Israel. God has delivered Israel, taken sides, given Israel a good and bounteous land, invested heavily in this people. Nonetheless the Israelites wander between God and the pagan religions of their day. Therefore they are rather offensively labeled as adulterous, prostitutes, and harlots. [ii] A people unfaithful to a God who is endlessly committed.

The infidelity of Gomer to Hosea, of humanity to God, may encourage us to look carefully at how we are living our lives. Where might we be unfaithful to the God who loves us and will never let us go?[iii]
Mystics, like Mechthild understand that God is relentless. Dorothy Soelle, a theologian and poet who lived through Nazi Germany, taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and lived her life as a peace activist in the 1960’s, writes on this same concept regarding God who is deeply wedded to humanity.
This idea resonates as well through our reading from Luke. Here the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. 

Each instruction Jesus gives the disciples invites them to enter into a relationship with God.[iv]
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray and for what to pray. Prayer was an integral part of his life. Luke’s Gospel points out that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (5:16) and at other times “he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” [v]

(6:12; also 9:18). Jesus prayed before he chose his apostles (6:13–16) and when he fed the five thousand (9:16); he prayed the night before he died (22:39–44) and from the cross itself (23:34, 46). Prayer was a constant part of his life. [vi]

Mechthild’s poem that I shared at the beginning of this homily has three parts. Here is part two, which echoes Jesus’ teaching of prayer:

HOW THE SOUL SPEAKS TO God

Lord, you are my lover,
My longing,
My flowing stream,
My sun,
And I am your reflection.

As Jesus taught the disciples so our prayers can be similar: we can call on God to be God. We can implore God to work through us to bring justice and peace to our world. We can pray for basic needs such as food, forgiveness, and fidelity. The petitions in the prayer we call The Lords’ Prayer, name what is essential for life. But prayer is more than asking God to give us something. Prayer is how we invite God into our lives and nurture and sustain our relationship with God. 

Ultimately it may be most useful to understand that prayer is its own end and not so much a means to achieve or acquire anything else.  Mechthild’s third part of the poem says this well:

HOW GOD ANSWERS THE SOUL

It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself.
It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.

God’s love never ends; rather God’s love is endlessly faithful. Through a practice of prayer, in whatever form prayer takes in us, with words or in silence, through music or art or nature, we can live faithfully in God as God lives in and through us.  For God is love itself.




[i] Feasting on the Word
[ii] Feasting on the Word
[iii] ibid
[iv] ibid
[v] ibid
[vi] ibid

Thursday, July 25, 2013

God Un-superflous...



When I was in seminary I was “invited” by one of my theology professors to partake in a tutorial. The purpose of this tutorial was to teach me how to write as an academic. I was not the only student given this opportunity -  several other, older, women students were also invited to tutorials. I agreed and was assigned to work with a kind, brilliant, slightly younger male student. He taught me the essential components of academic writing comprised primarily of never using the word “I” and always writing in a formal, technical manner that made no reference to personal experience. After a few sessions I grasped the gist of this genre of writing and proceeded with my seminary career, earning mostly A’s and a few B’s. Nonetheless, writing in that formal academic style has never been my forte. I am a person grounded in the experiential. I process life through my feelings, my body, my instincts, and my learned knowledge. I need to engage all my sensibilities to assess life and faith. First and foremost I experience God’s presence in my being and thus I cannot articulate faith, religion, God, or Jesus exclusively through an academic, intellectual, head oriented, lens. I must speak of God through my experiences. I have wrestled with the idea that this must mean that I am not very intelligent nor learned. I have reconciled that, regardless, this is how I approach faith, church, religion, God, Jesus, and life. I have been engaged in theological dialogue my entire life but it is always grounded in and through my being.

I have also been engaged in environmental concerns for much of my life. My mother taught me to be attentive to simple things – don’t litter, recycle everything possible, and make every effort to minimize the pollution I contribute to the world. In my own way I have worked at these and taught my children similarly. I have grown in my awareness of environmental concerns such as economic justice and issues around how coffee, tea, and chocolate are grown, harvested, roasted, and sold. I use Fair Trade products as much as I can afford and have access too. I preach and teach on our need to learn about how we Americans impact the rest of the world. Our (often) lack of awareness of how what we wear, eat, and drink, impacts others for worse through factories that engage in overworked and underpaid laborers, some of whom are mere children.

Thus I have been pleased to read the writings of Dorothee Soelle as posted by Jane Redmont for her summer course, Soelle Summer. We are reading collections of Soelle’s writing published in two books, “Essential Writings” edited by Dianne Oliver and “Against the Wind.”  In addition Jane offers supplemental reading on a blog designed for this course. Here is one comment Jane posted for the readings assigned for July 17/18:


 “Ecofeminism is, as the name indicates, a meeting of feminism and ecology, and is the name for both a theoretical analysis and a (very loosely knit) social movement. Its premise is that the (mis)treatment of women and our (mis)treatment of the environment are related and that the solutions to this situation also involve both ecological action (and analysis) and feminist action (and analysis) and that these need to be integrated with each other. It is worldwide movement (though again, very loosely knit and with a lot of internal variety --so Soelle's ecofeminist perspective is just one tiny corner of the ecofeminist phenomenon) and in some cases has a connection to religion, broadly speaking. “


Although I have been actively engaged in feminist thinking and theology and environmental justice, and know the word ecofeminist, I have not embraced that term as one that describes me. But now I think that perhaps I should.

Here are some quotes from Soelle on the question of language for God from her essay  Living Language - pages 193-196 in Essential Writings:


“.... If we speak subjectively instead of trying to objectivize, we speak differently. If we do not silence the “I” and its experiences, if we do not learn to avoid the "I" word in a scholarly paper, we learn to express ourselves differently and at the same time to do a different kind of theology. ...The suppression of the feminine part of the soul - that is, the more subordination of everything that smells like woman - has done more damage to theologian's language than anything in the secular world. It is not what comes from the outside that is dangerous, or what is realistic or enlightened or otherwise tends to make God superfluous, but rather the destruction that men have brought on themselves by cutting women out (of theological perspectives) and cutting out the woman in themselves. This mutilation of men plays a substantial role in the world of theology.

What took place was a process of purification and at the same time of impoverishment, when an emphatic, comprehensive, conscious, and integrative language was gradually and increasingly silenced. What a difference between theological books and the gospel! What a terrible discrepancy in their very different language!...So called scientific theology is normally an unconscious speech - that is it is unaware of emotion, insensible to human experience, expressing a kind of ghostly neutralism without interests and without invitation, with no desire to be effectual.

(and in my words I summarize: If we speak only what is in our heads, intellectual, and not also of what is in our hearts, emotional and lived experience, then our language remains flat....)

Feminist theology in its methodology calls on other abilities besides abstraction and synopsis. Its interest is not in creating new dogmas but in narration, in telling. Narrative theology is a methodic expression of this new consciousness, namely that we understand certain things more clearly, in more dimensions, more really; we get them under our skin when we tell them instead of reducing them, so to speak, to concepts.”


I am quite taken by the idea that how I approach writing, faith, religion, and God, is grounded in a methodology that I can use to further shape and inform what I write and say. I appreciate that others, Soelle included, are giving voice to the importance of speaking from lived experience, rather than only validating the academic, scientific language that, in my mind, diminishes the reality of a living God. I don’t think that writing from personal experience (narrative theology) is solely a female trait, but clearly it is not the academic standard. Academic, scientific language is soaked in patriarchal tradition, which by nature of its tradition is devoid of the feminine voice.

As a woman who has birthed babies into the world, who is daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, and priest, I engage the world through my body, my experiences. As a young child I somehow “Knew” God through my interior life, through prayer. No doubt my prayers were often the naive bedtime prayers of young child. But they were also prayers that “knew” with certainty that God was right there beside me. It was this knowledge that led me away from a Church that held too narrow a view of God, one that pushed out and denied what I “knew” of God inside my being. It was this same knowledge that led me back to Christianity and to Church, but in a new way.

It was finding a Christian home and church that encouraged me to think, question, and experience God in all the dimensions of my life, that has kept me in Christianity. It has been in living through the challenges of life and processing these challenges through the lens of Christianity that further developed my faith in an expansive God that has empowered me to know God in mutuality. This stands in sharp contrast to the teachings of Christianity that convey a narrow, small, judgmental God who, with pen in hand tracks every infraction of every human being. 

 I have come to know more deeply what it really means to love God, love self, and love others.  And I am challenged every day to do this expansively and compassionately. Some people are not easily loved. Having spent eleven days in Salt Lake City, the place of my birth, I am reminded again of the culture that first formed me. I was keenly aware of the pervasive nature of narrow dogmas of God and how a dominant culture can impact the entire environment. Commercials on television for example, for a local college, which had only white men describing their experiences of attending it, and the benefits their lives had accrued as a result. No women, no people of color.  I was keenly aware that even those who reject that kind of dominant culture may not have a language to articulate their dismay in its narrowness. They lack language to describe their own doubt and are denied opportunities to express experiences of God/self/others that do not fit neatly into the paradigm presented of who God is. Just take a walk through the visitor’s center at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City where a long mural conveys the story of faith according to the teachings of the Mormon Church. Lacking language and the opportunity to know a more expansive expression of God, faith is dismissed, invalidated, and people are left voiceless, unable to articulate what they are really experiencing in life.

Being voiceless and de-voiced by the world around me is one of my experiences of life. Listening deeply, paying attention, taking notice, and learning to use my voice have been life-long objectives and challenges. Learning to do all of this as a woman of faith and a leader in the Church has increased the challenge.  I’m grateful for women like Soelle, and others, who have paved the way for me, and others like me, who yearn to express ourselves and claim our real, lived, experience of God, of faith, of life.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Today is a day of love

Today I will go to the mountain top with half a dozen remnants of my family. My father and his sister, my mother's brother and his daughter (my cousin), my mother's sister, my brother and his life partner and me.

The mountain is home to a cemetery where generations of my family are buried.





We have been planning this day for several months. The day in which these remnants of a family will celebrate the life of my younger brother who died in April. This is the last picture taken of my brother (in the middle with me on one side and our youngest brother on the other).





My brother was not a person of faith. So crafting a memorial service to honor his life and embrace my family - some of whom are practicing Mormon, most of whom are either agnostic or people who have left the Mormon Church but not found another expression of faith - required much intentionality on my part. I hope the service is worshipful for us, I hope it honors my brother's life well enough. I hope we (or rather, at least I, can get through it).





My family is complicated. Whose isn't? I suspect however that my family is more complicated than most. Spending a week in Salt Lake with my aunt (my dad's sister) has afforded me the opportunity to remember...She and I have talked for many hours over dinner and a glass of wine. We have talked about suicide in the family, how we have hurt one another, the illnesses of my mother and how her version of reality - a version that always demonized others in order to spare her any more pain, the remnants of childhood abuse were too great for her to ever accept any additional accountability for her actions - every thing was always the fault of someone else. And in response she consistently cut people out of her life. Me included. Oh my, the pain and hurt feelings. My aunt and I have talked through decades of this. I think she and I see it with clarity and understand better that much was done that never should have been. I think much was said and done that never reflected my true inner feelings.

Today at the cemetery where generations of my family are buried I will hold this hurt and hope that much of it can be let go of. We will celebrate my brother's life, he who lived a very broken life "off the grid." But he who loved life and always had a great sense of humor. That is one thing, my family knows how to laugh. We just forget that sometimes it's better to laugh stuff off than sling the arrow. I think we are all getting better at that however. I think not having my mother in the middle helps.

My mother will be there, though, as we celebrate my brother's life. Her ashes are interred on the mountain in the plot with her father. My brother will be in the next plot over, with our grandmother. These people, my grandparents who couldn't get along, my mother who often hated (and for good reason) her parents, an aunt who died of suicide, and my brother...all buried in the same six by twelve foot area. Somewhere else my great grandparents are buried and many other family members as well. So, in a sense my mother will be there.

I like to think that now, in the realm of the after life, when all divisions cease, that my family will look upon us today and bless this occasion. Reconciliation is a process.

All of my life I have been a person of prayer. I have prayed to God for strength, to know and trust in God's presence, to not feel alone even when I was terribly alone, and to live a life that reveals God's love and grace in and through me. I do believe that God lives in mutuality, invites us to become God's partners in life, in living healthy lives.

Today my family and I take one more step toward living into that which God created us to be, a family who loves one another, celebrates life, and is there through thick and thin. Today is one more step toward healing old wounds. Today is a day of love.

I think my brother would be very pleased.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More on Prayer and Poetry as essential to life itself

Last night I posted my summary of Soelle's argument on the impact of the "enlightenment" on prayer, religion, poetry, and our ability to describe our lived experiences through language that articulates mystery and leaves room for unanswered questions. The enlightenment era emphasized a logical, reasonable answer to every question. Now in our post-modern world we are returning to the notion that somethings will remain a mystery. We are once again taken by the language of the mystics and appreciate some wiggle room with the unknown. There are indeed questions we will never have the answer too this side of life. Why do some people die of suicide, for example, is one question I have been wrestling with. Why? Mother's I know who have lost children to death by suicide spend the rest of their lives asking this question, "Did you not know I loved you more than life itself?" and "How could you leave me with this hole in my life and a pain so deep I will never be whole again?" Without language to articulate our deepest pain, our greatest sorrow, and the reality that life leaves us breathless and full of questions, we suffocate. Not every aspect of life has a logical, reasonable trajectory of cause and effect and an answer that is truth.

Prayer and poetry offer us language into the known that articulates our deepest questions. Prayer and poetry reveal the soul. Here we reveal a deeper truth than logic or reason can ever describe.

Jane Redmont on the blog that posts our "assignments" and reading material for the retreat/course on Dorothee Soelle, posted this:

Simone Weil described prayer as the highest state of attentiveness; to illustrate this immersion and concentration, she refers to solving a problem in mathematics that demands our undivided attention. A poem should demand and create no less attentiveness. There is a kind of speaking that places us into relation with the ground of the depth of being, and without this attentiveness we are capable neither of beauty nor of truth. Poetry that is also prayer does away with the prejudicial notion that prayer is something private, not to be made public. Real attentiveness, which Hölderlin calls "Innigkeit" (depth of intimacy) has no time for that sort of opinion. Everything inward seeks outwardness. When people pray together they give themselves permission again to desire, hope, or dream; they find again the lost language of sharing with one another what they feel. Poetry and prayer are attempts, so to speak, where the separation of public and private, outward and inward become unnecessary and cease to matter.

In response to the question posed to the group in the Soelle course/retreat, "Is prayer the highest state of attentiveness" I concur that it is so. Prayer in all it's forms, silent or with words, written, spoken, thought, felt, as poetry or prose or the screams we exhale in our cars, expresses our highest state of attentiveness to our inner reality.

We do not always have a clear conscious awareness of this inner state. Sometimes it has a hold on us and all the world we see and know is framed by our inner state. The awareness is revealing itself to us and often in hind sight we see it clearly for what it was. Sometimes we can access that inner state perhaps through glimpses gleamed as we write or draw or meditate or talk. I process what is going on in my inner life by meditating, doing yoga, walking, talking, and writing. Sometimes I have an inkling that something is emerging within and I need to enable it to reveal itself to me. This process is creative. Each of us has our own creative process that brings forth that which exists in our higher state of attentiveness. Being attentive is always a logical act. It is a birth process wherein our inner most pieces of our selves, that place where God is speaking through us, where the WORD is alive and birthing with us, labors for breath and life.

Another poem by Mary Oliver to emphasize my point:

I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING
~ Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t pursuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I t hought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Of Prayer and Poetry as Necessary to Life....

Last week's readings from Dorothee Soelle are among the most interesting and compelling I have read thus far in this summer course/retreat, "Soelle Summer" facilitated by Jane Redmont. Soelle writes with great clarity and conviction on the subject of lost language and the subsequent reality of lost experiences. The primary cause for lost language and the inability to articulate life experience is the impact of scientific methodology and the language of the enlightenment. The certainty of this method leads to a progression of thought that lacks narrative, denies the importance of lived experience, making data primary. Soelle writes:

Regarding the "Professionalization of Theology" - Scientific thought and language are taking over and becoming our "theology" - the impact of this, according to Soelle, is a loss of language for prayer and narrative (telling stories/myth). As a society we are losing the language needed to articulate our life experiences - especially complicated experiences such as guilt, suffering and sin. (Soelle's understanding of this reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "Speaking of Sin", which I have read several times. Taylor says much the same thing and feels strongly that losing this language will be to the detriment of humanity for we run the risk of denying some important experiences that make life meaningful). (from Essential Writings, page 171).

Soelle goes on to say:

The impact of the Enlightenment era is a belief that there is a logical progression and irreversible development from "myth" to Logos (logos as progressive consciousness). Progressive Consciousness (Logos) reduces myth to an idea. Soelle asks, "Is it true that in time myth, through religion, dies in the Logos?

There are good reasons to deny the idea of progressive secularization (aka the effect of the Enlightenment on religious thought). Inspite of enlightenment religious thought has not become superfulous, has not become insignificant to human decisions.

We come nearer the truth of religious consciouness when we regard it as sharing simultaneously all three forms of religious expression: telling a story - myth, confession, and theology - idea building.

Theology is dependent upon narrative, story telling, retelling myth and articulating experiences. Male appropriation of the world deprives a full expression of the whole story - women's experiences and voices are left out the full narraitve, theology has become one-sided - and in the process has diminished the mythic-narrative (ie the scientific model of describing the world is male and diminished the mythic-narrative experiential dimension of the world).

Prayer and narrative are essential to theology. A new synthesis of myth, religion, and reflection is arising today wherever theology has a liberating character. (page 173).

There is a theology without poetry that through various mechanisms seals itself against the renewal of language. Sentences that are "theopoetic" (envisioning God poetically) are dismissed as "merely literary" and distinguished from the supposedly theological... The most important wall that unpoetic theology has erected against renewal and change is the enslavement of theology to science, in which attempts to crack the ice of the soul are themselves subject to the freezing process. pg 174 - Here Soelle crafts an argument against scientific thought and methodology as it impacts our understanding of faith, God, religion, even as she also acknowledges that there are some benefits to critical reasoning (scientific thought).

"Obviously critical reason has a place in theology and performs a necessary function against superstition and biblicalism. But those who command only the language of science remain ignorant in essential relationships. ...It's greater weakness is that it isolates us from myth, religion, and poetry and suffocates our mythic, religious, poetic nature..." by limiting our language to describe our relationships and lived experiences. (page 174).


Soelle writes: "Mere rational language is not enough. It is too small for our needs. It explains but does not satisfy. It "enlightens" - even if seldom - but does not warm. It defines, sets limits, criticisizes, makes possible distinctions, but the most important works, namely communication, is not attempted in this language....At best the language of the enlightenment forbides making an ideology of God...but the language of the enlightenment does say what it means to love God above all else (from page 175 but edited using my words)....

And then she offers this definition of myth as "the story of the invasion of divine energies into human reality, necessary for expressing the future or even a hope for the world...."

Religious language can teach us to identify our feelings, to know ourselves and make ourselves known. There is a shallowness free of religion that is also directed against poetry. Language itself, which is full of remembrance, opposes that shallowness. (pages 175-176).

Ultimately Soelle is arguing for the use of poetic language and prayer as a means to stay connected to our lived experiences of life and our relationships. She rightly (in my experience) states that as a whole society and theologians have diminished the importance of poetic language by claiming it is "feminine" and therefore of less value than the scientific language of "fact" and "truth." But as Soelle, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Mary Oliver remind me, poetic language harbors a truth deeper than fact, a reality that transcends the superficial and points us the heart of life itself. Here is a great example of poetry as prayer speaking deeply into the reality of life.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 08, 2013

Who Is. Jesus....



I remember the first time I really heard the Passion of Jesus and the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Up to that point I am certain I only knew that part of the story as the Gospel of Luke tells it, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And, as the Fourth Gospel says, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ “ I was so familiar with the unsuffering Jesus that I had no idea how to understand the Jesus who cried out in despair. I was a grown woman, hearing this for the first time. Since that day I have wrestled with what it means to think of Jesus as a human being that suffered, that loved, that cried, prayed, hoped, and died.

In Jane Redmont’s summer course/retreat Soelle Summer, we are reflecting this week on Jesus/Christ as Soelle understood him. We are also pondering: “Who is Jesus for me? And, how and why do I have this understanding of Jesus/Christ?”

Throughout my life I have struggled with the “person” of Jesus. Part of this struggle is grounded in my childhood religious experience in the Mormon Church. I distinctly remember learning about Jesus, especially his birth and Christmas and his resurrection. I have no memory of any kind of teaching on the crucifixion. I do remember a lot of teaching on the resurrection – because, as I remember, that is what we as Mormons were to aspire too. This life was a means by which, if we were really good enough, we would live in heaven with God and live on forever in the resurrection. God was keeping score of everything I thought, said, and did. Only Jesus was perfect, but we were to aspire to be like Jesus.

I also struggle with the idea and person of Jesus because Jesus has been abducted by certain Christians and turned into something he was not. Soelle writes: “How is someone who lived two thousand years ago supposed to be the decisive occurrence for everyone? We do not need another conqueror, judge or hero. A redeemer is not needed if the word means some overpowering person transplants me out of the miserable position in which I find myself into a good, unscathed other world without my cooperation. A redeemer is not needed if the word means some overpowering person transplants me out of the miserable position in which I find myself into a good, unscathed other world without my cooperation.” (Essential Writings pages 149-151) Similarly I struggle with the idea that Jesus is the only way to the Father/God. I am challenged by atonement theology in which God needed Jesus to die a horrible, brutal death in order to atone for the horrible behavior of human beings. I have a difficult time with language that defines human beings as inherently sinful, even though I am not naïve and I know we all sin. And by sin I mean we all break God’s heart because we reject God and what God desires; we all live with broken relationships with God, self, and others.

Thus, I have never been fond of salvation language nor of the idea, as expressed by many Christians, that Jesus saves us. Saves us from what? An angry God who keeps track of every infraction just waiting to punish us? A God who insisted that one person had to suffer and die in order that all humanity might be restored to a right relationship with this angry vengeful score keeping God? Jesus, who if we don’t believe in him, will send us into a horrible reality for all time to come?

In fact I grew so uncomfortable with that idea that, for a time, I left Christianity. I considered myself to be a de-churched person – someone who once went to church but decided not to go any more. I stayed away from church for sixteen years. Eventually I found my way back, and when I did I found Christ.

I am much more comfortable with Christ language. Christ is for me the ongoing expression of God’s love, made manifest in Jesus, but alive in the world before Jesus and after. Christ is the Word made flesh in Jesus. As Soelle writes: “These caricatures of being saved through Christ surely cannot be what is intended.” Christ points us to our true selves by pointing us toward God. Christ saves us from the notion that our lives have no inherent meaning or purpose. For me this means that Christ reminds us over and over that we were created by God, made good to do good, and just to be sure we get that reality, Jesus – the Christ – God’s love incarnate, reveals this to us. Like Soelle, I can embrace the idea that the goal of the Christian religion is not the idolizing of Christ, not Christolatry. Rather the goal of Christianity is that we are all “in Christ,” as the mystical expression goes, that we might have a part in the life of Christ.  Having a part in the life of Christ means to me that we have a part in how God’s love is poured out into the world throughout all time. As Christians we know God’s love in and through the person of Jesus, which gives Christians a particular lens for what it means to be God’s love in the world. No doubt that other faith traditions can also be expressions of God’s love. Christ is a particular way of life and understanding what it means to live a life of faith and share God’s love. Loving as God loves, loving as Christ reveals to us means we live with a wide, expansive sense of compassion, hospitality, and generosity toward all people.

I have come to understand that Jesus as the Christ does in fact save us. As practicing Christians, Jesus the Christ saves us from living lives that have no purpose or meaning. Jesus saves us from living lives that focus only on ourselves and our own pleasure, happiness, or despair. In the Gospel of Matthew (22:37-40) when Jesus summarizes all the commandments into one, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus saves us from self-absorption and points us toward a healthy sense of self and love of others.

Over the years as I have grown as a priest and preacher I have come to know Jesus in deeper way. I no longer need to use only Christ language. In fact, lately I have noticed that I often speak of Jesus with comfort and familiarity. I have come to know Jesus as the one who truly is with me, with us, in our suffering and our joy, in our despair and our hope, as the object of my preaching and focus of my life.

The day I realized, after a long hiatus away from church, that I needed to return, remains an epiphany in my mind. I was in the middle of meditating using a Buddhist chant. I had practiced Buddhist meditation and chanting for about two years at that time. In the process of the chanting I had begun to think about what I was really yearning for. The chanting and meditation clearly wasn’t it, or at least wasn’t enough. I remember thinking, “I observe Christmas by going to church and celebrating the birth of Jesus and I go to church on Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. These two holidays have powerful  meaning to me in my life, despite my rejection of Christianity. Oh, crap! If I celebrate Christmas and Easter, the birth and resurrection of Jesus, then I must be a Christian!”

And then I had another thought, “I guess I better figure out how to do that.” Little did I know then that I would end up in the Episcopal Church, I hadn’t even heard of the Episcopal Church. And never did it cross my mind that I would become a priest in the Episcopal Church. But, then, as I said, I’ve come to believe that Jesus does in fact save us. Saves us from ourselves.

I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism itself, of being terrified, as I was fully immersed three ti...