April 21, 2004
The to-don't list

Ben Kepple, a reporter I knew in passing when he lived in L.A., recently put up a list of things he never needs to do. Since I don't do those personality quizzes I figure I've earned the right to follow a frivolous Internet meme once in a while, so here's mine:

Wear low-rise pants. We do not, as it happens, live in a society that admires the fertility signaled by capacious female hips. Therefore, most women look terrible in low-rise pants, including me. Equally annoying, they kill off the main reason women took to wearing pants to begin with: freedom of movement.

See The Passion. I don't knock the fact that many people have found this film profoundly moving. But it's one of those movies, like The Godfather and Pulp Fiction, where people's very terms of praise only serve to convince me it's not my kind of thing. I have some moral support in this from Telford, who explained, "The only reason for me to see it would be as an illustration of an atonement theology I don't really believe in, and that doesn't seem worth sitting through it for." My sentiments exactly.

Illegal drugs. I'm an extreme rarity among Californians of my generation in that I've never done them, not even marijuana. I don't feel like I've missed anything, and the older my peers get, the less they seem to think I've missed anything either.

Eat another cheap dessert. At Bible study last night we ate from a layered sheet cake from Costco somebody had donated. This is the sort of thing that would have been a huge treat when I was a kid, but this time I tasted it and thought, "It's bland, it's too sugary, the frosting is too thick, and if I'm going to eat something bad for me I'd much rather be eating a good sacher torte." Another studier remarked that the cake was "unusual" because it had strawberry filling, which affirmed my suspicion that Lutherans have the most boring palates on earth.

Sunbathe. I'm a dermatologist's daughter. 'Nuf said.

Posted by Camassia at April 21, 2004 09:06 AM | TrackBack

I agree with all except for the sunbathing and the Passion. Regarding the latter, most people wouldn't go out of their way for me in the most miniscule fashion imaginable, so to see someone suffer & die for me I found quite life-affirming.

Posted by: TSO on April 21, 2004 09:27 AM

I think the difference between me and most Passion fans is that I don't really gauge God's love for me by how much he suffered for me, but by how much he accomplished for me. Suffering is, unfortunately, all too common, but opening the gates of heaven is harder for me to believe in because it's so far outside my experience. Maybe a movie about Acts, or even Revelation (and I don't mean Left Behind) would speak to my issues more.

Posted by: Camassia on April 21, 2004 10:07 AM

I can understand a person not wanting to see The Passion of the Christ, as it is a painful experience. But I have a hard time understanding the basis of a Christianity that avoids the concept of atonement. And God's plan for that atonement was worked out as a crucifixion that by its nature entailed a great deal of suffering. I don't see how one can get around such passages as this, from Romans, that typify the gospel message:
"...3:23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 3:24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; 3:25 whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood,..."
This *is* what Christ has done for you, is it not?

Posted by: Rob on April 22, 2004 10:38 AM

Well, whenever this subject comes up I think of a scene from a movie trailer I saw a long time ago. It was about this woman who was being stalked, and the guy stalking her says something like, "You know a guy is really devoted to you when he breaks his finger for you!" And, as she looks on in horror, he breaks one of his fingers and says, with a pained expression, "That's love!"

It sticks in my mind because it's a great illustration of how suffering for another person is not, in itself, a good thing. It's a good thing only if it achieves a particular good end for that person. So I'm not avoiding the idea of atonement, but I like to think of it as the means by which God gets us to heaven rather than heaven being a kind of lucky after-effect of the atonement. Maybe it's partly because, before I started studying this stuff, Christians kept conveying the death to me but not the purpose. Seeing Jesus on the cross then kind of made me feel like the woman watching the guy break his finger, you know?

Posted by: Camassia on April 22, 2004 09:15 PM

It would be a strange kind of Christian who was focused on the death of Christ, rather than the purpose of his death. I am pretty sure that John 3:16 is the most often quoted verse of the Christian bible:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

The whole Passion is here encapsulated in the little word "gave." But we must not forget that which was given.

Posted by: Rob on April 23, 2004 04:55 AM

Lutherans may not know desserts, but they do know beer.

Posted by: davie d on April 23, 2004 08:26 AM

Great idea for a post.

The broken finger story made me cringe, but I'd point out that wasn't love. It was disordered desire (theological language) or psychotic or whatever (psychological language). It was manipulation in order to guilt someone into loving them. That's not a good understanding of the Cross, though a lot of people talk about the Cross that way.

This might be a total feminist heresy or whatever, but I'll throw it out there. The suffering Jesus underwent was like the suffering and pain of a mother in labor. In fact, in our eucharistic liturgy, the minister says:

By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection
you gave birth to your church,
delivered us from slavery to sin and death,
and made with us a new covenant
by water and the Spirit.

Posted by: Jennifer on April 23, 2004 11:28 AM

One of the scenes in The Passion of the Christ that struck me the most is one that emphasizes the purpose of the suffering:

After falling to the ground under the weight of the cross and meeting with his mother Mary in a wordless gaze of compassion, Jesus struggles to his feet with renewed strength and determination, straining to lift the cross once again to his shoulder, saying, "See, mother, I make all things new."

This is a reference to the new heaven and the new earth of Revelation 21:5-6 "The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold I make all things new.' ... I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water."

This scene juxtaposed the human effort and intense suffering of Jesus with His loving desire and limitless power to renew all of creation, in the context of the support and prayers of his mother.

The New Adam meeting the New Eve, and straining to usher in the New Creation - a Creation which begins in His own person and will restore to perfection the beauty and freedom of every willing human heart - accomplished through an act of loving obedience according to the plan of the Father.

Posted by: Fr. Terry Donahue on April 24, 2004 07:56 PM

There are two things that keep me away from Mel Gibson's Passion (aside from my dislike for him!):

First, the intensity of the violence, as that has been reported to me, would pollute my soul. There is enough violence that confronts me without my intentionally adding to it. It's a kind of quantum-thing for me: I fear that there is a kind of critical mass of violence that we take in which puts us over the edge.

Second, and of greater theological import for me, is the connection that is too frequently drawn between the violence that Christ suffered -- which I think we Christians must never forget or "prettify" -- and the need for God to have his honor restored through vengeance wreaked on an innocent victim. The Anselmian doctrine of the Atonement is neither helpful nor healthy, it seems to me (despite the good things that can be said about Anselm's intentions). It's sort of insulting to God to suggest a kind of blood lust on his part. Consequently, I don't want to encourage with my dollars the presentation of such a theological perspective. (A friend tells me that I am unfair to the movie, but when I asked more questions, he ended up sounding these very themes, so go figure.)

I think we would do well to learn more about the Orthodox perspective which sees more of the victory of God over sin, death, and the powers than of the cosmic bookkeeper stuff.

Dwight P.

Posted by: Dwight P. on April 28, 2004 07:45 AM

You have to go back further than Anselm to find the origins of the atonement doctrine. It is, for one very major thing, the most direct theological link between the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures. For a thorough and lucid scriptural delineation of that, check out the Letter to the Hebrews. Regardless of the fact that virtually nobody still attributes the letter to the hand of St. Paul, it is clearly of his "school" and has been maintained in the canon.

Posted by: Rob on April 28, 2004 10:44 AM

Rob, I think the important distinction here is between the general idea of atonement and Anselm's (and later Calvin's) particular understanding of it. If you didn't see it when Kizmet first plugged it here, I'd recommend Federica Mathewes-Green's explanation:

Graphic meditation on Christís suffering doesnít appear before the medieval era, approximately the 14th century. Before that the presentation is more in accord with the way Christ appears in the Gospel of John. In iconography, He reigns serene from the Cross, a victorious conqueror who has rescued us from Death...
Picture the landscape when Anselm tackled his work. Scriptures talk about Christís death being a ransom or redemption, and up till then this had been chiefly understood as a ransom from the Devil... Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century) protested that the question of "Who received the payment?" should not be pressed hard. No matter what debt the Devil was owed it could not possibly have included God himself. On the other hand, the Father could not have been the recipient of the ransom, since he was not the one holding us captive...
Anselm took aim at the exaggerated versions of the ransom theory, but didnít agree to leave the greater portion to silence. He theorized that the payment was made to God the Father. In Anselmís formulation, our sins were like an offense against the honor of a mighty ruler. The ruler is not free to simply forgive the transgression; restitution must be made. (This is a crucial new element in the story; earlier Christians believed that God the Father did, in fact, freely forgive us, like the father of the Prodigal Son.)

It is that particular understanding of the atonement -- it takes a great punishment to satisfy God, and so the greater the punishment the greater the satisfaction -- that I don't like, and I gather Dwight doesn't like either. To see it otherwise doesn't mean you don't think an atonement happened, or that it wasn't painful. But the emphasis is quite different.

Posted by: Camassia on April 28, 2004 06:03 PM

I have no strong argument with your position. I am only pointing out that the suffering of Christ was not, at least to the early Church, *incidental* to the mission of Christ, as attested by verses such as this from Hebrews:

5:7 He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, 5:8 though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. 5:9 Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation,...

Note the "by the things which he suffered. Having been made perfect..."

Posted by: Rob on April 29, 2004 04:54 AM
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