Archive for category Cross
While I walked through Holy Week, considering the cross and Christ’s sacrifice, I was also reading The Hunger Games. With the recent cinematic splash of the movie version, I figured I better get up to speed and dove into the first book (I’m hooked so I’m reading through the whole trilogy).
As I finished it in the early days of Holy Week, I was struck by how current all the basic theological concepts of the cross of Christ remain. It’s not unusual to hear critiques of the theology surrounding the cross, how concepts like sacrifice, propitiation, atonement are relics in our guilt-free culture. And while there’s not a prayer to be heard or a single reference to any deity, The Hunger Games provides a disturbingly relevant exploration of this rich Christian theology.
The Hunger Games pictures a dystopian North American future where a privileged class (the Capitol) oppresses and subjugates “the districts” after a rebellion. As President Snow reminds, “It was decreed that each year, the 12 districts of Panem should offer up a tribute of one young man and woman between the ages of 12 and 18 to be trained in the art of survival and to be prepared to fight to the death.” Children are offered up to the empire and this whole spectacle of violence is broadcast for the entertainment of the Capitol citizens while all the districts are forced to watch in horror.
Author Suzanne Collins picks up antecedent threads of human history (the “bread and circuses” of ancient Rome), literary works (the Greek myth Theseus, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery) and current culture (The Truman Show and most reality TV), weaving it all into a narrative rich with theological themes. All the tributes in The Hunger Games are scapegoats, atoning for the sins of a past rebellion. Within the brutality of the games, we see the obvious juxtaposition of those living for self-preservation or self-amusement and those sacrificing themselves for others. Katniss Everdeen volunteers for her sister who’s name is first chosen in the reaping. She substitutes herself, laying down her life in her sister’s place. Another character, Peeta, suffers sacrificially, absorbing an attack to protect Katniss.
It’s a compelling read showing our easy default towards scapegoating violence no matter how sophisticated we become; its a prophetic critique of our society, amusing ourselves with violence at the cost of others, our propensity to live sated lives at the expense of impoverished people around the world; and it’s a disturbingly relevant echo of the need for divine atonement, our desperate need for a sacrificial love to undo evil, end violence and change the world.
It was surprisingly helpful Holy Week preparation to freshly appreciate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, God’s common grace given to better savour his saving grace.
Saturday’s Globe and Mail carried a feature article on the apparently changing notion of motherhood in society, the movement to shuck the haloed image of a sainted mother and finally accept the “good-enough mom.” But for all the optimism about sharing the parenting load and shedding the psychological burden of perfect parenting, I was left wondering: what then might equip a Mom to make the necessary sacrifices for raising children?
Let’s be honest – being a mom or dad is always a sacrificial act. The “motherhood trap” will always be experienced by people trying to make the needed sacrifices of parenthood but without the needed resources. And when that happens, parenthood shifts to being about you – your worth, reputation and identity now get wrapped up in your child. All those sacrifices better be worth something – a successful child, a popular, well-adjusted child or at least offspring daily grateful for all the sacrifices made!
The gospel tells us this is completely messed up. No doubt, traditional religions have made an idol of the family, nearly deifying motherhood. Christianity, in its truest, gospel sense (and not the focus on the family version) provides another way.
And here’s a lovely irony – the best way to understand how the gospel frees a mother from this unbearable burden of the perfect white-picket fence ideal (newly minted in the modern mother who happily juggles home and career) is by catching a hint of the role of singles in the Christian community.
Theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas writes in his book A Community of Character that singles were a very important and legitimate part of the early Christian community, exceptional for the times. He notes that singles were legitimated because Christians understood that we now lived between the times, between the beginning of God’s reign and its full completion at the end of time. A single person, therefore, knew God had come in Jesus and looked forward to God coming again soon, and so could make a faith-filled, theologically informed choice to remain single. Hauerwas writes that “the ‘sacrifice’ made by singles was not [just in] ‘giving up sex’ but in giving up heirs. There could be no more radical act than that! This was a clear expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family but by the [kingdom of God and the] church …” (p. 190).
He continues, noting that in the early church both singleness and marriage witness to important facets of life in God’s Kingdom. “If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to effect lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s understanding that the struggle will be long and arduous. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope . . . that God has not abandoned this world.” (p. 191).
On Mothers Day, and for the rest of the year, give extended attention to this brilliant gospel wisdom. Our future, identity and worth are not guaranteed by a family or how well our children turn out, but by God and his action in this world. Since our future and identity are already guaranteed by what God has done in Jesus and is doing to this world, choosing to have and raise children is an intentional act of faith in a loving God who is intent on renewing all things. If this were not so, bringing children into an otherwise harsh and meaningless existence would be the height of cruelty.
The gospel’s beautiful and freeing Mother’s Day message is that children are not the hope of a parent, not trophies augmenting a picture perfect family – contra the dominant cultural parenting motif which leads to overbearing helicopter parents and tiger moms, trying to gain some vicarious achievement and acclaim through their kids. This means that it’s ok if your kid didn’t listen to Bach in the womb, started reading late, doesn’t like soccer, has few friends, is socially awkward and physically uncoordinated, missed getting into that elite school (that kindergarten which would’ve set your kid on the path to Harvard), blew the job interview, married poorly, and generally doesn’t measure up to someone else’s (or your own overly inflated) expectations. Those would all be hard for a parent but not devastating because how your child turns out is not a reflection of your worth or identity (that’s already sealed up in what Jesus has vicariously done for us on the cross).
Instead, children are emblems of faith in the God who selflessly gives himself to a broken and rebellious world, to a broken and rebellious you. And letting that conviction settle deep into your heart gives the needed resources to a Mom or Dad to selflessly and sacrificially serve their children, freeing them from the impossible demands on themselves to be the perfect parent and impossible expectations on their children.
So Mom, I’m probably not the kid you dreamed I might be, was never the obedient and helpful kid you needed me to be. But today I have become a grateful kid – for your faith that brought me into this world and for your continued sacrifice that daily brought me life.
I’ve been looking forward to Lent for a while now, as if it couldn’t get here quick enough. Not because of its austere nature – a lot of people mistake the repentant spirit of Lent for general gloom and masochistic grovelling. I have no wish to be a part of that. My longing for Lent is filled with a deep hope in the power of the gospel, aware of the unhealth in my own heart and aching to better know the love of God revealed in the cross.
One of the things Christians commonly do during Lent is to give up something to identify, in some small way, with the Passion of Jesus. The whole idea behind fasting is that we get attached to good things in this life, things which can easily and quickly become ultimate concerns, holding our hearts primary affections and loyalty. A fast takes that good thing away, allowing your heart to reattach itself to its proper object of affection – God.
A few weeks ago I decided to give up blogging and social media for the season of Lent (not such a smart thing when your publisher decides to go with a Facebook campaign during this exact same time period – but they’ve been great about it). So why? It’s not because social media is such an evil; I’m not trying to wean myself off of this ill that we need to scrub out of our lives.
My dirty little secret is that my ego really, really likes the strokes these media give me. When people comment on a post, when they “like” a comment or thought, when a blog post generates a lot of hits, something inside of me goes “ahhh.” I’ve allowed this good thing of social media to function as an idol. I’ve let it take a nasty twist, making “friends into audiences and us into performers.” (Jesse Rice, The Church of Facebook). When you are thinking too long about a status update or begin to check out the site statistics on your blog one too many times in a day, you know something is off. My need for attention (a good thing we’re made to know) is attached to something that will never deliver the freight for what my heart hopes. Ergo, my social media fast.
I now get forty days to look to the cross, taking a long gaze at what it reveals to me, surveying it, taking measure of the height, width and depth of God’s love for me and you, andlearning to know that it is enough. I’m finding that the gospel alone dispatches the hope, identity and love which satisfies what my ego and heart are screaming out for. As I said, I can’t wait for Lent to be here. By the time you read this, it will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of these forty days, and I’ll be focused on this strange and wonderful centre of the Christian faith.
So I’ll see you in forty days or so. You can touch base with my via email or give me a call to talk. But let me leave you with a prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer:
“Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us … ”