Sunday, September 26, 2010

Little Dragon update

Reminder: I use the initials "LD" for "Little Dragon" to refer to my students when one of them does something funny. This is because one of my students has a friend whose name is actually Dragon, which is awesome. So I stole his name so I could tell stories about my students while maintaining anonymity and hilarity. Also, special thanks to my friend Shane Swinnea for the great drawing of Little Dragon!

A couple of weeks ago, LD was really nervous about asking a girl to the school dance. His mom and her mom had spoken together and had decided that their two children liked each other, and, believe it or not, they were right! Of course LD and his girl are in 5th grade, so their moms probably still have a fairly accurate pulse on their children's feelings.

Apparently the girl said yes, because last Saturday LD sang me a song he wrote. Here are some samples of the lyrics:

"You are the other side of my soul." - also the title of the song.

"When I see you, the word 'cosmic' is written on my eyes." - heavy!

And perhaps the most interesting line of the song - "I need to keep working to make room for the other side of my soul."

And what was really great was how unselfconscious he was. He just laid his soul right out there (or at least the half that he is still in charge of). I was proud of him for being vulnerable, honest and confident. A tough combination to achieve!

In other news, another Little Dragon - a sweet second grade girl, tipped me a dollar in our lesson the other day. She said, "This is for you, for being a good teacher." It was so sweet, but man, it is tough to accept a dollar from a little girl. That's a lot of money to her. I refused, but she insisted. Then I said I would take it, but only if she would hold it for me. She agreed. Then I showed her how to make a mushroom out of George Washinton's head. He liked that and showed her mom, so I thought I was going to escape without having to take a little girl's money.

Then, as I was walking out to my car, I heard the door slam and a high-pitched voice calling, "You forgot this!!!". LD was running towards me waving the dollar bill in the air. I accepted it and thanked her. It is important to honor true generosity when you see it.

And dollar.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Alternative Views of Christ's Mission

On a couple of previous posts, two commenters offered their views on what the death of Christ means in Christian theology. Their ideas are an alternative to penal substitutionary theory. They said I could repost their comments in the context of this post, so I appreciate them contributing their points of view! I have really enjoyed reading them and thinking about them.

John pointed out some problems with penal theory by referencing the first book in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. The character Aslan the lion is meant to represent Christ. He is the son of the Emperor Across the Sea (who does not directly enter the stories). The Witch represents evil, or perhaps even the devil.

"The penal substitution is so well described in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It makes sense because the Witch WANTS Aslan's blood. She WANTS him dead. She is evil. Aslan lets her kill him so that Edmond may live. She is happy as she wants Aslan's blood. That all makes sense to me. However, in the sacrifice of Jesus my upbringing taught me that God was wanting Jesus to die on the cross. Essentially, God wanted Jesus's blood. That is really confusing. God and the Witch are playing the same role. I understand it better when the Witch is involved, not when God is involved. Plus, people always seem to state that two wrongs don't make a right. Well, does one wrong? Did killing Jesus really make things right? Or, was it a tragedy that he died for trying to get the people around him to open their minds to new ideas about who God is and what it means to have a close relationship with Him?"

John is quite right that in Lewis' version of events, Aslan is sacrificed to pay the Witch, not the Emperor Across the Sea. In penal theory, God is the one whose justice demands appeasement. Here is John's idea of the mission of Christ:

"My best interpretation of it is simply to say that, with the assumption that Jesus is God and that Jesus rose from the dead after being murdered, then He showed the ultimate level of forgiveness and mercy to all those around Him by still being forgiving and merciful even after being murdered viciously. So, i can understand the Christian thought process of following Christs example by loving, forgiving, and showing mercy to the same level He did on the day He rose from the dead and continued His path of love rather than revenge (so the opposite of retributive justice, right?). Anyway, that explanation only works with the assumption that Christ and God are one."

nuclear.kelly's vision of the atonement of Christ runs like this:

"Mainly, I see Jesus as "activist," if you will. Sage, prophet, commentator, charismatic leader. Social and political turmoil was high during the Roman occupation of the Palestinian coast. Without going in to much detail, I think that Jesus' life, as touched by and in tune with God, stands as a demonstration of what every person's life can be, and his death (reasonably inevitable though it was) became the proof that we must be willing to sacrifice everything for what is right (don't confuse this with sacrificing everything for what we think God wants!). Most of us would be willing to sacrifice most of what we have for a few people; Jesus was willing to sacrifice everything he had for all people (even those who hated him), because it was the only "righteous" conclusion to his life to that point (to run away from death would have made him simply another fleeting character in a history book, full of a sense of fairness but unwilling to fulfill what was necessary to plumb the depths of unfairness). In that sense, the atonement doesn't have anything to do with judgement or sin or debt, but is instead a beacon of what is attainable at the limits of human nature. Atonement is being willing to lose everything for nothing; the natural outcome of utter sacrifice."

Both John and nuclear.kelly's view are really meaningful to me and could lead to a lot of great discussion!

The version I will offer here is still one of substitutionary atonement. It maintains that Christ still takes the place of sinners in a sense. But it removes the "penal" part, which is the idea that Christ's sacrifice was to appease God.

Christ submitted himself to death at the hands of sinners. He showed us the wages of our sin by taking them on himself, for sinfulness responds to love in violent ways. Contemplating the death of Christ at the hands of men, who represent the imperfections we all have, convicts our hearts. This leads us to turn from the destructive ways of sin. Therefore Christ has substituted himself for us, showing and bearing the consequences of our sin and convicting our hearts in order to lead us to the more beneficial path of right action. And of course, this right action, leads us to "at-one-ment" with God.

Christ dies for our sins, because of our sinfulness. But not because God needed to be appeased, but rather because there is a natural, metaphysical suffering that comes about when we do not know love.

This interpretation is one along the lines of Ghandi's hunger strikes. By taking this physical burden on himself to protest potential combat between Muslims and Hindus, he convicted the hearts of both sides and, at least for a while, led them to avoid conflict. His was a substitutionary atonement.

If you are one that thinks about Christian theology, what is your view?

Justice part three

I accidentally posted a blog that I was working on (Justice part four). Sorry about that if you saw it! I will edit it and have it up for real in a few days. Oops. But here is part three:

I am going theological with this post, so what out! Hopefully the meaning will translate even if you are not particularly religious.

Remember the Penal Substitution idea of some brands of Christianity? It says that because mankind has sinned against God, we deserve punishment, and Christ bore that punishment (for some at least) on the cross. God could not merely forgive, but rather He required an appeasement, a punishment, which was carried out on the innocent but willing person of Jesus.

First of all, it is questionable as to whether punishing an innocent person in a guilty person's place would really satisfy any version justice, retributive or utilitarian. Exploring this idea is not my intention here, but Ken Pulliam has written extensively on this subject, analyzing the views of many, many historical theologians, over on his blog located here.

The bigger problem with Penal Substitutionary Theory, and with the conservative Christian idea of God, is that it makes justice fundamental to His character and love secondary. Love, through Christ, is only what creates a possible escape from the foundational, unavoidable reality of God’s justice. Love becomes the servant of justice.

And in this context - what IS justice? In the traditional "retributive justice" view of Scripture, it is an "evening out" of things. An eye for an eye.

So in conservative Christianity, the foundational aspect of God’s character is that he requires revenge.

Surely revenge is an outdated idea and one unworthy of God.

But here is a different idea. I think (or hope) that love is foundational to reality. And love is identifying ourselves with others. This is the metaphysical good of the universe. According to this idea, justice as revenge does not serve much purpose. Instead, justice becomes a tool to bring about greater Love. And what exactly is this tool? It is action with a focus on bringing about correction, safety and deterrence.

Justice is now the servant of love!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Design Arguments

Design arguments for God do not interest me too much. When someone says, "God must exist because how else do we explain life? Natural processes could not have created it on their own." I tend to hear "God created a naturalistic system that failed to accomplish its highest goal without subsequent tweaking."

Arguments for or against God are more interesting when they explore the idea that God is necessary for ALL things, not just one thing here or there.