Forgiveness Without Blood

As I walked by the Episcopal Church I noticed the blood red door.

The Red Church Door represents the Blood of Jesus. Those who enter the church enter through the Blood of Jesus. Forgiveness and Redemption are made available to sinners through the Blood of Jesus.

One thing Christianity gets right is that humans desperately need forgiveness.

It only takes a flicker of consciousness to become aware of our weakness and failure. The good left undone and the destructive and self-destructive done. The indulgence, the lies, and the squandered. The weakness. The inability. The maddening cycles.

And possibly in an attempt to prevent their recurrence, our brain frequently replays this “cringe-worthy” blooper reel keeping them fresh in our psyche. Many of us can identify with the Apostle Paul:

“For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”  Romans 7: 22-24

Unfortunately, Paul and Pauline Christianity embrace a binary, false dichotomy. We are trapped in a body of sin and the only solution is the violent, bloody death of Jesus on our behalf.

Two terrible beliefs emerge from this: The first terrible belief is that our sin (weakness, addiction, whatever word you want to use….) is foreign to us like a cancer and must be excised and cut out. In reality we all have a shadow side and it must be accepted and listened to and understood in order to reorder our souls and put things in their proper place. We are not possessed by demons or the devil, we are possessed by our pain and fear. It is only by facing our feelings and our interior landscape that we find our true selves and a better way to live. The second terrible belief is that forgiveness comes through death. Blood must be shed. In the Chronicles of Narnia it was the Deep Magic that required that Aslan be murdered for the treachery of Edmund. Who is this God that requires shredded, bloody flesh to satisfy His Wrath before there is forgiveness? Is that even forgiveness? It sounds like a bloody, pagan transaction, not forgiveness. Would I require that my 2 year old daughter somehow balance the moral scales before forgiving her for drawing on her clothes with markers even though we had warned her many times not to do this? Can forgiveness be founded in violence, blood, and murder? Should we sing songs thanking God for torturing and murdering Jesus and Jesus bleeding profusely?

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Humans seem to carry a residual pagan belief that God must be appeased through killing to protect ourselves from God’s anger, whims, and indifference. This week CNN reported:

“Archaeologists in Peru have uncovered the remains of around 250 children sacrificed by the pre-Columbian Chimú civilization. The remains are of children aged 4-12 years old…Archeologists say the children were sacrificed to the Chimú gods in an attempt to end natural disasters linked with the El Niño phenomenon.”

I need forgiveness. But not the kind of transactional forgiveness offered by the Chimu gods or the violent, vengeful, full of wrath God the Apostle Paul and much of the Bible describes.

If there is a God who offers forgiveness I do not believe this God requires that you walk through a Blood Red Door to find God’s forgiveness, love, and presence. I actually do not believe there is a door. We simply need to wake up.

 

Reconstruction Practice: Meditation and the Racing Mind

I had not meditated for weeks so I decided to sit down and do a 15 minute session.

Sitting down and meditating after weeks of not practicing is kind of like sitting down and going through weeks and weeks of bills and facing what you owe and what is past due. It is like pulling open your underwear drawer and finding it empty and having to face the Mt. Everest of Laundry that you have been pretending not to see.

I sat in my chair at my desk, put in my ear buds, set my meditation timer for 15 minutes, took a couple mindful deep breaths and “BANG!”. My mind was off and running.

How should I arrange my classroom? Where should I put the alphabet? I really need to put together a new alphabet for my phonics curriculum. The old one is very faded. The colors don’t match the room. They are too big so when I put them on the wall the kids can’t reach the top rows. But it will take so long to create those and laminate those. Maybe I can get one more year out of…..”

Then I came back to the present moment. Took a couple deep breaths. I am a teacher and I start back next Monday, but will start to go in this week to organize and plan. My mind kept returning to that overwhelming list of things I need to do for school. I was able to gain some separation and witness the racing of my mind. I remembered I am not my thoughts. I observed that my mind was very stressed about being ready for the beginning of school. As I recognized my mind’s stress about school my mind was able to calm down for a few moments.

“What should I have for lunch? Why don’t I have an eating plan? How bad does my health need to get before I will do something? I have been thinking about this for years yet I still don’t do it! What is wrong with…”

Then I gained some separation as my mind continued to race. I observed that my mind was very worried about my health and my lack of consistency and planning regarding my eating. My mind went on and on. Fearful. Hyper. Ranting. But as I listened to what my mind had to say and acknowledged it my mind started to calm down and put down the microphone.

One goal of meditation for me is to achieve a quiet state inside. There are times when that happens and it is very sweet. Another important goal is to become aware. First I must find my center….my conscious self. I experience my consciousness as being located in my cerebellum. At the back, bottom of my head.  I experience what might be called my ‘ego’, that constantly chattering, every vigilant, constantly evaluating and assessing part of my internal self, as being located in the cerebrum. Behind my forehead and in the middle top of my head. (I am referencing a side view of the brain to map out these locations). My emotions generally emanate from my heart, the center of my chest, although some emotions seem to come from the stomach area. Intense emotions like fear or anger seem to travel and expand and have the ability to hijack my thinking process if I am not mindful. Intense fear or anger can fill my entire body.

Michael Singer, in his book The Surrender Experiment, gifted me with the understanding that I am not my thoughts and feelings. I am the witness to my thoughts and feelings. Meditation helps me find my place as the witness and gain space to allow for observation of my thoughts and feelings and helps me to respond compassionately to myself and to thoughtfully act (or not act) on the thoughts and feelings.

The racing thoughts and the volatile feelings are not the problem. Allowing them to hijack your consciousness is when they become a problem. Some people call the racing mind the “Monkey Mind”. I don’t care for this pejorative term. Our thoughts and feelings are a vital function of our brain and being.  They simply need to be guided to their proper place within me. In meditation I find my center. My conscious self. When I take the seat of my soul I can now witness myself, become aware, respond to myself with compassionate wisdom, and then act with compassionate wisdom in the world around me.

Deconstructing Jesus: Jesus the Racist, Sexist, Jerk

Jesus can be a real racist, sexist jerk.

Remember when Jesus was a racist and a sexist in Matthew Chapter 15? Let me allow Matthew to tell you the story:

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region…”

Let me stop you there, Matthew. The first thing the author points out is that the woman is a Canaanite woman. She’s not Jewish. We will see Jesus “other” her. Canaanites are out. Jews are in.

OK. Continue Matthew…

“…came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But (Jesus) did not answer her at all.”

What parent cannot relate to this woman pleading for healing for her child? But Jesus gives her the silent treatment. It is interesting that the writer added the phrase “at all”. The writer is making it clear that Jesus’ completely ignored her. Not even a flinch, a grimace, or a dismissive fake smile to acknowledge her presence, much less compassion for the woman’s pain and desperation. The woman and her daughter are Canaanites.

Do the disciples plead with Jesus on behalf of the desperate woman and her tormented daughter?

“And (Jesus) disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

Jesus’ disciples share Jesus’ contempt for the Canaanite woman.

Jesus responds to the intercessions of the disciples on behalf of the woman and her daughter.

“(Jesus) answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus declares that he was sent by God only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Not for the lost sheep of Canaan. Jesus has a ‘race-based’ ministry.

The woman continues to plead and beg:

“But she came and knelt before (Jesus), saying, “Lord, help me.” 

Is Jesus moved by this woman on her knees pleading for the life of her child?

“(Jesus) answered, “It is not fair to to take the children’s food and throw it to the dog’s.”

Wow! So many things wrong with Jesus’ response. First, how would Jesus healing this woman’s daughter take anything away from anyone else? Does Jesus’ only have a limited amount of healing power? Second, Jesus says that the house of Israel are his children and the Canaanites are dogs. Jesus distinguishes between people based solely on their race. Explicit racism. Third, Jesus has no empathy or compassion for the woman and her daughter. Annoyed Jesus dismisses the woman and her daughter with contempt.

I have to wonder at this point if there is some sexism in play. When a Roman centurion pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant Jesus’ immediate response in Matthew 8:7 was, “I will come and cure him.” But the Canaanite woman does not get that response.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

For the sake of her daughter the woman was willing to play Jesus’ game and accommodate his misogyny and racism.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” 

Wouldn’t it have been reasonable and much more compassionate for Jesus to respond to the Canaanite woman’s first humble request? Why is Jesus only moved by an extraordinary and clever expression of faith? Why isn’t a desperate  mother and a dying daughter enough to move Jesus to action?

Those who defend Jesus’ behavior often contend Jesus was “testing” the woman. Isn’t having a tormented daughter on the brink of death a big enough test for any person? What kind of jerk needs to “test” a grieving and terrified mother!

In my opinion, the writer of Matthew was trying to demonstrate how righteous and compassionate Jesus was. Matthew was writing to a largely racist, sexist audience. Jesus was so righteous and compassionate he would even heal the DAUGHTER of a WOMAN who was a CANAANITE!

And, in fact, Jesus may have been rising above, to a degree, the racism and sexism of his culture. Maybe there is something commendable in that. But there isn’t anything Divine about that.

Is Jesus a racist, sexist, jerk? At times. Yes.

And Jesus is also very much a human being of his time and place in history.