Friday, December 10, 2010

Dirty Theology

I have found myself more and more focused on recentering my theological musings and slightly disciplined pursuit of spiritual renewal fed by the waters of the reality of Jesus' ministry as presented in the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. My reflections have certainly found a focus in Terry Eagleton's reflections on the God Debate. Yet, he offers little that is new to my own understanding; he just reinforces, in many ways, what I have come to believe is the central, scandalous point of calling Jesus the Incarnate Son of God. Just as the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary of the Temple was torn at the moment of Jesus' death (according to St. Matthew's Gospel account), this symbol of the division between God and the rest of the world, between our own notions of the sacred and profane, between what is holy and what is unholy had already been tattered by Jesus' ministry. When Jesus mutters, "It is accomplished," from the cross, it is because the final straggling bits of the division between God and humanity no longer hold.

Encountering far too many people invested in a view of the Christian religion as propping up an already outmoded, and always changing bourgeois mentality, including its intrusive moralizing and too-small god who is just a big mean Daddy has allowed me the chance to think more thoroughly through what the Incarnation means. Nowhere is it more clearly or succinctly stated than in this Esquire (!!) article by Shane Claiborne.
God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David... at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: "The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you." And we wonder what got him killed?
We lose sight of the really radical picture of who God is if we take our eyes of this part of the Gospel. We are so busy, institutionally speaking and humanly speaking, setting up rules and high bars for people that we forget Jesus sat around with the morally depraved and socially outcast, even entering a graveyard to assist a young man afflicted with demons (few acts would have been more scandalous then entering a place of the dead that way, presuming to do God's work among the dead).

The Gospel message isn't, "Change first, then I'll love you and give you a big house in the heavenly suburbs." The Gospel message is, "I love you because you are, because I made you, and all I want for you is to live as I created you, not as you have been determined by others. Now go and tell other people about this same love."

The Gospel is a message of hope because it is all about who we are, how we are to live, right here and now. It is about living in the prodigal love of God, sharing that same love with all with whom we come in to contact, and asking them to see themselves, each other, the whole world, as beautiful and worthy of love just because it all exists. Precisely for that reason, we should be working to make the world a more human place to live, a more just and righteous and peaceful place to live. I don't mean "politics", by the way. Such a way of viewing the work of building the Kingdom of God misses the point. Politics is about power, and the way we are to follow, the way of Jesus, is known as the "Via Dolorosa", the way of pain. The forces that St. Paul called powers and principalities, those who control the status quo and enforce it because it favors them will snuff out any serious attempt to question it, let alone overturn it. So, we should be prepared for all sorts of serious obstacles and objections.

It is also, however, not just a way of pain, but also a way of joy. Seeing in all those we meet, the accountant and the heroin addict, the President and the prostitute, the anorexic model and gluttonous gambler something worth celebrating, worth preserving because they are children of God is joyous. We no longer sit in judgment upon the lives of others, but can celebrate the reality of their being because it is a sharing in the same celebration God has in their being.

So, I say, more and dirtier theology, please. Only in this way can we come to a more fruitful understanding of who God is, as God was present in Jesus to reconcile the world.

Virtual Tin Cup

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