Saturday, September 19, 2009

[atonement theology] still working it out

I've internalized a lot of CWM's discomfort with atonement theology (how much I have internalized so much of CWM's theology was made particularly clear to me at the RMN Convocation this year), and various (non-CWM) friends (plus my mother) have pushed back about this, so I've been thinking a lot about it, trying to figure out better what exactly it is that I believe.

I think it is True that Christ allowed Christself to be executed, that Christ shed blood and tears, that Christ was willing to suffer all this for the disciples who didn't understand and for all humanity. I think this willing sacrifice is really powerful. What I'm really uncomfortable with is the idea (which I think is perpetuated in a lot of the ways that the story is told) that God REQUIRED this sacrifice in order to reconcile Creation to Godself. What does it say that the spilling of innocent blood is necessary to bridge that gap between Creator and Creation?


I recently came across a blogpost titled "Vampires & crosses." An excerpt:
Vampire stories tell us, for example, than any of us can have great power if only we are willing to prey on others. Feed off the blood of others and great power will be yours. This is demonstrably true. It's how the pyramids were built. And Standard Oil.

The stories also tell us that there's a downside to this predatory choice. You become a creature of the night, unable to stand in the light of day.

And crosses will confound you.

Some mistakenly think that this is because the cross is a holy symbol, imbued with religious power. But this is wrong. The symbol, like the thing itself, is powerless. And that's the point. That is why vampires can't tolerate it.

Most vampires don't believe in the cross, but that hardly matters. It's the idea of the thing that gives them fits. The cross confronts vampires with their opposite -- with the rejection of power and its single-minded pursuit. It suggests that no one is to be treated as prey -- not even an enemy. The idea of the cross, in other words, suggests that vampires have it wrong, that they have it backwards, in fact, and that those others they regard as prey are actually, somehow, winning.

This notion is incomprehensible for vampires. The one thing they're certain of, the thing that drives them and tells them who they are and how the world works and that they've got it all figured out is that the key to immortality is in choosing to be the predator rather than the prey. The idea that this might be wrong is so befuddling, so contradictory to everything they have chosen to be that it forces them to recoil. They can't get past it.
This is somewhat reminiscent of part of a post I saw on the "when love comes to town" blog about what happened after the September 11th attacks:
  • And that is precisely what [Renee] Girrard describes in his work regarding scapegoats: pinning all of our hatred and fear on the scapegoat always unifies a society - but only for a season - and then more violence is needed to bind people together. Further, societies rarely consider the consequences of scapegoating - history is never told from the perspective of our victims - so we rarely feel remorse or act in repentance.
  • Which is why the story and reality of Jesus is unique: for the first time, Girrard suggests, history is told from the perspective of the innocent scapegoat. For the first time we can see the horrible consequences of our violence. Indeed, what makes the passion of Christ so important in NOT the horrible violence a la Mel Gibson. That, sadly, is all to ordinary. No, what makes the passion life changing is the awareness that Christ died to expose this horrible sin and invite us - with God's grace - to stop it.
[Pedantic me would like to point out that blogpost to the contrary, the correct spelling is René Girard.]


After Convo, I've been paying more attention to Communion liturgies, and below is an email I wrote to Laura Ruth (hyperlinks not in original) after Rest and Bread this week:
I really like using the traditional Words of Institution (or a close approximation thereto), and it sometimes makes me uncomfortable when we rewrite them so wholesale at CWM (though it feels organic and appropriate to CWM, so even when it does bother me, it bothers me less than it would in other contexts). But I want more. If all we say is, "This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins," then I'm left saying, "So God requires innocent blood in order to forgive? And what is this new covenant anyway?"

I went to Sunday morning service at Somerville Community Baptist this past Sunday, and in their Communion liturgy they used the phrase, "Proclaim Christ's death until He comes again," and in thinking about it today, I thought, "But Jesus says "Remember ME," not "I'm going to die soon, and you should remember THAT." " (Okay, okay, when I actually Googled "Words of Institution," it's all "do this in remembrance of me," which sounds very much like a memorial... which just doesn't sit right with me, since WE ARE A RESURRECTION PEOPLE *cough* I have perhaps internalized Tiffany's Easter sermon ... anyway, the relevant chapter in Mark Allan Powell's book Loving Jesus has given me a lot to think about re: the idea of expectantly waiting for Christ's return, but I still incline more toward a focus on "Christ is with us now" than "Christ will come again" -- when we sing "Christ has died, Christ is ris'n..." that's CWM's alternative for the third phrase.)

In my various churches, I hear a lot of talk about coming to the Table to be nourished -- both spiritually and physically. I've never actually experienced this at Communion, because it's a bite of bread and a sip of juice/wine (not an actual meal) and the story doesn't tell me how it is that I am spiritually nourished/fed (or reconciled) through this experience -- I who grew up very low church Protestant where God is ALWAYS accessible to you. And I'm not asking for Communion to become a meaningful powerful experience for me. I have a Bible full of texts to wrestle with, and I live in a world full of grace and full of pain. (Earlier today I came across a quotation I'd forgotten -- "If the world was merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. That makes it hard to plan the day." –E.B. White) I have so so much.

But I so want church to be accessible to and meaningful for people, and I think, "What stories are we telling people? What stories are we embodying? How are we helping people to touch the face of God?" (Did I ever tell you that my best friend's pastor once said, "we go to church every week because we touch the face of God"?)

And so I think, What if after we recited the words from the Bible (the Words of Institution), we said, "And Jesus said: Whenever you do this, remember me. And so we do remember. We remember Jesus' ministry of sitting down at table and sharing a meal with the outcasts and the religious elite. We remember Jesus' body being broken by the authorities, and we remember the tomb being broken open. We remember the suffering and the resurrection. And in this meal, the fruits of the earth broken open for us, we remember and we are nourished for the journey that lies ahead."

Um, I'm not sure when I turned into someone who actually writes liturgy?

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