It was the summer of 1978, when twenty-somethings like myself, we couldn’t get enough of the Bee Gees and their Disco tunes. We were Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive all week long, working toward Saturday Night Fever, when we Should Be Dancing, dancing the night away. I had just moved up to Jasper, Alberta, determined to make enough money during that summer, so that I could continue my backing excursions in Europe. I had three jobs, but back in the day, the grocery store, and the Legion Hall, where I worked as a cashier and a waitress, they closed on Sundays. Oh, how I miss those Sunday closings! That left my chamber-maiding at a local lodge where the housekeeper was always kind enough to keep my Sunday mornings free so that I could go to church, while hung-over colleagues struggled to clean up.
Working, dancing, and church, a blessed trinity designed to secure passage back into my travels abroad. Living accommodations were not a priority. I rented a small room in a basement apartment, which I shared young couple who worked in the same grocery store as I did. They were an unusual couple in that we shared the uncommon habit of going to church. There weren’t many of us who made the effort. But Anna and Steve were always at it. Church that is. I was lucky to get myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, while they seemed to be in church almost daily, sometimes several times a day.
Anna and Steve were Pentecostals who were convinced that my slack Lutheran ways simply weren’t serious enough to earn me a coveted spot in the Heaven of their dreams. First of all, I hadn’t been born again, and then there was the dancing, and as for my serving beer to the crowd at the Legion, well, my roommates were concerned. They were concerned for my mortal soul. They thought I was in danger of being tormented in the bowels of Hell for all eternity. Try as I might, I could never convince either of them that I was saved by grace.
At every opportunity that our busy schedules allowed us, Anna and Steve did their level best to save me from my wicked ways. After spending far too long cornered by Steve, who preached a gospel of not very good news, I was desperate to silence him, so, I reluctantly agreed to attend a Tuesday night youth service. I was suspicious of the kind of “youth” I would meet on a Tuesday at a Pentecostal church, I convinced a fellow chambermaid to come along with me, so that if we had to, I’d have company as I hitch-hiked my way back to Jasper. You see the Pentecostal church was located down in the neighboring town of Hinton, about an hour’s drive away. Well, we never did manage to escape. Especially not when the Pastor insisted that there were sinners in need of prayer and headed over to the two of us and gathered us all in a prayer, a like no prayer, I’d ever been part of. I found out later that dozens, I mean dozens of young people were “slain in the Spirit,” that is, struck down onto the floor, writhing and shaking, hootin and a hollering. My friend and I were doing our level best not to laugh, we were too young to be sensitive, and to this day I find it difficult to keep a straight face in the presence of that particular kind of spirited movement. Disco dancing is one thing, but being slain in the SPIRIT, well let’s just say, There’s a reason I’m a Lutheran pastor. Lutheran “good order” can and does ensure that such ecstatic behavior never happens in worship. In the face of the pastor’s shouts, I stood as still as I could muster. When he placed his hand on my forehead, I stiffened my entire being, because there was no way I was going down.
Steve and Anna were very quiet on the ride home. Nothing was said until dinner the next day, by which time Steve and Anna had been back to church twice. Steve carefully explained to me that I was in mortal danger. Their pastor had warned them that my countenance was putting us all in danger. At the time, I didn’t know what the word countenance meant. I assumed that it had something to do with counting myself out of their way of worshipping. Turns out I was close. Apparently, my body language suggested that I was filled not with the SPIRIT but with Satan himself.
Once again, I struggled to keep a straight face. You might say my countenance betrayed me, because it wasn’t long before I took my body and its language out of the apartment to the nearest bar, where among friends, I began to look for a new place to live.
Later, at work, Anna sat down with me in the lunchroom to explain that their pastor had explained to them that he suspected that I didn’t believe that God sent Jesus to die for my sins. Apparently, some Lutherans are in this Pentecostal pastor’s opinion, a bit losey-goosey when it comes to atonement theories. I had to confess right then and there, in my twentieth year of life, I struggled to believe that any GOD who sent His only Child to die, on a cross, is worth getting up on a Sunday morning for.
Anna explained that unless, I was prepared to be born again, under the tutelage of her pastor, I would need to find someplace else to live. My youth and inexperience allowed the more ornery side of my nature to come to the fore. I was prepared to move out on my terms, but not on some jumped up pastor’s terms. What followed was a long, useless argument about the theories of atonement.
Neither Anna nor I knew we were engaged in a long pointless argument which had been going on since round about the fourth century. Neither of us had heard the word atonement before. We just knew what we knew. Anna knew that Jesus was sent by God as a sacrifice for human sin, to pay the price for our evil ways. I just knew that if God really did come up with such a barbaric bargain, then God must be in league with the Devil himself.
After work, I convinced the housekeeper at the lodged where I worked, to rent me a room for a couple of nights at a reduced rate and I headed over to the apartment to pack up my things. When I arrived, the place was empty, and I thought I was going to make a clean get-away. Then I discovered the card placed in the center of my bed. When I opened it, I found several passages of scripture written out in Anna’s immaculate style. Among the passages was the text which is assigned for this very Sunday from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Anna had copied it from the “Good News for Modern Man” paraphrase of New Testament. This particular interpretation is a poor translation, but it was very popular way back in the day. Above the passage, Anna had written, “The Gospel in a Nutshell”
Paul’s words were interpreted from the King James version of the bible to read like this:
“And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it – unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)
Anna carefully underlined in red the phrase: “Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures”
This piece of Scripture was followed by a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans, all of which was underlined in red:
“God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
Below these passages, Anna wrote: “Repent and believe! CHRIST was sent to die for you!”
I remember flying out of there in a hot rage. Not because I had been driven out of my home. But because I had been forced to grapple with something I could not at the time reconcile with the person of Jesus whom I loved. God at that moment was transformed into a violent, murderer, willing to put my beloved Jesus to a torturous death. My childlike faith died that day. Thanks be to all that is HOLY!
If I could, I would comfort the young woman I was by reassuring her that whatever the MYSTERY which we call “God” is, it is not a vengeful murderer whose thirst for a blood sacrifice, compelled Him and I do mean him, to come up with a plan which required violence, torture, and a slow, painful death.
I can only hope that each of you, have endured such moments in your life. Moments when as Paul would say, “we put away childish things.” Moments in which the Christian short-hand explanation of Jesus’ death has died in you. For the death of what it took me years to learn about, the death of atonement theories has given birth to the resurrection of DIVINITY, a DIVINITY liberated from ancient projections onto the DIVINE of the myth of redemptive violence.
Even our ancient Greek forebearers, they understood that if horses had gods those gods would be horses. So, it should not surprise us that our ancestors in the faith, projected onto the DIVINITY the kind of personality which resonates in a culture where violence is seen as the answer to chaos. The apostle Paul, both a Jew and a Roman citizen, would have known from the perspective of both the conquer and the conquered the Roman motto, vini, vedi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered. For Paul, like Jesus, lived as a Jew in Palestine under the oppression of Roman Empire, which insisted that peace could only be established and maintained through violence. It does not surprise me that Paul may have framed Jesus’ death in the context of both Paul’s own Jewish sacrificial theologies and Rome’s violent philosophies. It does sadden me that succeeding generations have projected their own violent proclivities onto the DEITY and offered up various atonement theories which rely on the DEITY embracing our primitive reliance upon violence. For if we are clever enough see that violence begats violence, why, oh why does the GOD of our design seem incapable of coming up with a better way of winning us over. It is long past time for the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, to repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia made up of two Greek words: “meta” which means, “beyond” and “noos” which means “mind.” Metanoia is an invitation to move beyond your current way of thinking. Metanoia is an invitation to think new thoughts.
Surely, today, when troops are again amassing in Europe and the world can’t seem to sake itself loose from the myth of redemptive violence, surely today, it is time for us to move beyond thinking of DIVINITY as the ultimate purveyor of violence and Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. Today, when science confirms that humans did not rise out of the Earth fully formed, but are continuing to evolve, surely today we can metanoia, think beyond the primitive, childish notions of original sin, and begin to see humanity as an incomplete, ever- evolving species which runs the very real risk of extinction if we don’t move beyond the myth of redemptive violence. We have been distracted by violence into compliance with systems which threaten our existence as a species, as we loot our planet of its life-giving resources so that we might increase our abilities to perpetrate violence on grander and grander scales.
In a world driven mad with bloodlust, we peddle as pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the kind of violence which can efficiently torture and kill distant populations at the push of a button. Evolving beyond the myth that violence can solve our problems, or bring us peace, is vital. Jesus knew this. Jesus taught this. Jesus lived for this. Christianity’s morbid preoccupation with Jesus’ violent death will not usher in the Kin-dom of DIVINITY which Jesus lived for.
It is in Jesus’ life, not his death that we will find salvation. Salvation is not about saving us for life after death. Salvation is about making us whole, ONE with one another and ONE with the ONE who is as Jesus taught with his very life is the LOVE we call GOD. Jesus insisted with all that he is, that justice and not violence is the only way to establish and maintain peace. Justice is what LOVE looks like in the world. Our continued evolution relies upon our ability to metanoia, to move beyond primitive ways of thinking. It is time for us to be LOVE in the world. And while we are at it, it is long past time for us to project LOVE onto the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY. For we are ONE with an evolving DEITY.
Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and may live it abundantly!” LIFE and not death. LOVE and not violence. Let us be LOVE in our lives here and now so that peace can break out again, and again, and again.