I am reading Christ of the Celts by J. Philip Newell. Here are a few quotes: “Christ leads us not away from matter but more deeply into the stuff of the universe and the stuff of daily life and relationship. And he discloses to us that the deepest note in the universe is love and the longing for union……The cross reveals that we approach our true selves as we give ourselves away to one another in love.”

On doctrine of  original sin: “a belief that has dominated the landscape of Western Christian thought and practice since the 4th century. It teaches that what is deepest in us is opposed to God rather than of God. It means that we are essentially ignorant rather than bearers of light, that we are essentially ugly rather than rooted in divine beauty, that we are essentially selfish rather than made in the image of love–the list goes on and on. It is a doctrine that dis-empowers us. It feeds our forgetfulness of the sacred tune at the heart of our being…The consequences, both individually and collectively, have been disastrous. It would distance Christ from what is at the core of our being. ….It has distanced Christ from the heart of the human soul. And it continues to undermine the way we relate, or choose not to relate, to the people and wisdoms of other cultures and communities.”

…especially the suggestions that Christ’s death is a type of payment for sin. Who exactly is required payment? Is there some cosmic legal system at work, more complicated even than our earthly judicatures, that somehow needs to be satisfied?

“Philip, the Celtic, tradition is very interesting, but it isn’t Christian, is it?” When I drew breath, enough to try to respond generously, I found myself wondering, How could she possibly say this? One has only to look at the ancient art forms of Celtic spirituality to detect a deep devotion to Christ and to the cross. Similarly, one has only to read, even cursorily, the prayers and poems of this tradition to note that Christ and the cross are inextricably present. So what did she mean?…..(to her): “This doesn’t sound familiar.” And she is right. This does not sound familiar. And one of the things we do not hear in Celtic spirituality is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, a dogma that has dominated the landscape of Western Christian thought and practice…..God offers God payment.”

“Part of the new birthing of Christ today is to ask what obstacles block the birth canal and …….  And if we are discovering, as I believe we are, that there is much in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement that is opposed to our deepest experiences of forgiveness-—-namely that forgiveness by its very nature is absolutely free-–then we need to find new language to speak about the way in which Christ leads us into the experience of forgiveness at the hear of life and into the practice of forgiveness in our lives and relationships, both as individuals and as nations. And part of what we are invited to do in dialogue within the Christian household on this matter is to look for the positive roots of belief even amid the gnarled and distorted branches of old imperial doctrine.”

Today, I read on FB that Anne Rice, a writer, could no longer call herself a “Christian.” She still follows Christ’s ways, but not according to present day Christians and how they treat others. That Christ said to be his disciple was to love your neighbor as yourself. Anne Rice (a writer) did not see evidence of this in Christianity today. Her gay son is not be treated as sacred by fellow Christians. She mourns for her dead husband and mourns for the man who did her editing, who also was gay and died of AIDS and saw the hatred piled onto him by Christians. No wonder she has left the Catholic Church a second time. But she says she follows Christ, not Christians.

I have been on a Christian journey. I was raised in the U. Methodist Church since babyhood, been in 7  United Methodist Christian churches nationwide: I have seen  many of  the same things among even so called “Christian” members of my family, such as exclusiveness, not wanting to support one another in love, reconciliation, understanding when there is disagreement. Formulas for what a Christian is or it not are adhered to as if there is some magical group of beliefs and theology that make one “saved.”  I believe I was born saved, and God has always loved me, and it was up to me to discover that God loved me when those around me loved me and showed me God’s love in the ways that they cared for me.  I must say that often I feel I am a Christian in spite of the Church–or body of believers, because too often I do not feel God’s accepting love from fellow Christians in formalized Christian settings. I keep going to the formal Church because I am called to be in relationship with other Christians and learn to love, reconcile, suffer together for the sake of Christ. I always get growth and insight when I go to the formal church settings and Bible studies, but not without some suffering, I must say.  For instance,  I feel uncomfortable with the US flag in our present sanctuary–a display of nation-state nationalism, when I believe God is God of the whole world (and universe), not just the USA. What would a newcomer U. Methodist Christian or anyone for that matter  from another part of the world think about this display of flag in our sanctuary? My husband and I have both brought up this uncomfortableness about the US flag in the sanctuary.   This flag was not in any of the other  U. Methodist sanctuaries over the past 40 years that I recall. I wonder who decided to drag the idol into the sanctuary? I call it an idol when it’s put in a church sanctuary.  The flag belongs at state-nation settings.  I keep praying that it will be permanently taken out of our place of worship. There are many warnings about idols in the Bible.  Did this flag arrive in this sanctuary after 9-11? I just do not recall even when it was a permanent part of our sanctuary at our local U. Methodist church?

I know there is evil in the world and it is not of God. Evil comes from our separation from God’s love, our isolation from one another, our lack of feeding and caring for one another and caring and nurturing God’s creation (which is the earth and the whole universe–all of us, all together).   It has made me question, “What does it mean to be a Christian in 2010?”  I have to say that seeing a DVD series called, Living the Questions, a few years ago, saved me from completely going overboard from the Christian ship after experiencing such a cold shoulder from fellow Christians when I wanted to have discussed for example, “was Mary really a virgin and does that really matter in the whole scheme of what  God-Jesus was trying to convey to us?”  Is it true that Jesus was ransom for our evil ways, and what sort of God would kill his own son?  Or did we humans kill Jesus, because we just did not get what he was saying in his parables, in his cleansing of the temple, in his talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.  What of the ways of the Roman Empire that oppressed, starved, tortured any group that was not Roman that caused a need for a Savior, a salvation, an Immanuel–God among us?  What was it like in Jesus’ day, to be a poor Jew living under Roman occupation? Did Jesus become Divine when John the Baptist baptized him, or was he always Divine. What of the divinity in each one of us?  Why would God kill God?  The trinity is Father/Son/Holy Spirit or God and then of course raised Him again–out of evil came good.  Christians lived in nonviolence for 300 years after Jesus death and resurrection.  What did Constantine co-opting of Christianity with his Empire do to Christianity in the 4th century?  What is this paradox, this mystery all about, and why has the Jesus story survived for 2,000 years? Is it a repeat story from other faith traditions?   What does this story have in common with other faith groups in the world?  Is God, God over the world?  Is God inclusive or exclusive?  But what about all the people born into other religions around the world and God’s love for them when they have never even heard of Jesus? Are they damned to Hell? And what is Hell anyway? Or do we make our own hells here on earth and leave behind hells on earth by not doing loving actions such as social-economic justice or caring for the earth in ways that sustain life?

When my husband and I showed this Living the Questions DVD at our local parish after taking the class in a church of a different denomination (Church of Christ) and DVD series across town , we got a backlash of sorts that really surprised us.  Part of the  U. Methodist Sunday school class we were joining with during a summer only, whose leaders had ok’d seeing the DVD upfront (they continued to be o.k. with it, but had underestimated their class’s attitudes) went all surely and angry on us.  The makers of the DVD were called “liberals,” whatever that meant?  I did not see it as “liberal” but as liberating those of us who have been told to follow specific doctrine and never question why it formed that way and by whom and for what purpose?   I do not believe Jesus’ parables and life examples portray what I have been hearing so often in formalized worship services and learning classes for these past forty eight years (I accepted Jesus as my Savior at age 8 years old in my first U. Methodist Church).    Jesus showed a lot about bringing about God’s ways here on earth through caring for the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the alien and through social-economic justice, nonviolence, forgiveness, reconciliation, seeing God in each person.  What are our churches today doing to live what Jesus taught us?  Why is there so much emphasis in so very many churches on getting to heaven. I read a statement once that said, “They are so heavenly bound that they are not much earthly good.”

What was so threatening about this LTQ series, I wondered?  Well, it  is similar to what J. Philip Newell was experiencing from some Christians in the U.S when he was visiting from Scotland and discussing, “Christ of the Celts.”   One lady said to him after he gave a talk, “Phillip , the Celtic tradition is very interesting, but it isn’t Christian, is it?”  He said, “When I drew breath, enough to respond generously, I found myself wondering. How could she possibly say this?  One has only to look at the ancient art forms of Celtic spirituality to detect a deep devotion to Christ and to the cross.” (p.79) or another J. Philip Newell’s example was: “There are two assumptions behind this doctrine of substitutionary atonement dogma: 1) God requires payment, like a piper that can be paid to change his tune, from judgment to forgiveness; 2) We are so sinful that we cannot make a worthy payment. So a substitute is made, which God himself provides: Christ, the perfect sacrifice……..on forgiveness–by its very nature is absolutely free–then we need to find new language to speak about the way in which Christ leads us into the experience of forgiveness at the heart of life and into the practice of forgiveness in our lives and relationships, both as individuals and as nations…. I once led a retreat for chaplains of the British Armed Forces in Germany returning from service in Iraq.  I waited until my final talk on the last day to introduce questions about the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  A few hours later, when we had come out of silence and sere gathered at the bar for a drink, one of the chaplains stormed up to me and said, “When you criticized the doctrine of substitionary atonement that way, I nearly got up and punched you in the face.” What followed could not be described as an edifying conversation…..I had difficulty sleeping that night……he too had had a sleepless night. The conversation that followed was very different from the  previous evening.  We were now listening to one another.  And one of the things I heard from him was that he had had a profound spiritual experience of forgiveness and that he had experienced the forgiveness of God as a pure gift.  What the language of substitutionary atonement said to him, however was that although forgiveness is free, it is not cheap. I agree. Forgiveness is the most costly of gifts because it involves the sacrifice of the heart. When we forgive another, we offer our heart to the person.  So it can cost us everything. It was this that my chaplain brother saw in the cross of Christ, the heart of God.”

I have written enough today to think, pray, and ponder. It is in the high 90s and humid again today. I just took out a big glass of iced water to a lady who helps with our gardening. I asked it she would like the water, and would like to maybe come early in the morning when it is not so hot tomorrow?  There are heat warnings all this week. She is very slender and that will help her stay cooler, but she needs to protect her health.  She said her brain went useless yesterday while driving home, and at the end of last week after she had worked other places.  I asked her to please care for herself.   She said, “Thank you for the iced water, and yes she would leave “early.”  She left after about 40 minutes in this heat. I go play indoor tennis at 6 PM for an hour and half and hope they have it cool enough at our indoor courts this evening.  They used to play outside but are playing inside tonight.  I think it’s a good choice, considering the weather. We get exercise, socialize, laugh.

I am signing off from this writing now!

One thought

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