The Skeptic Wrestles with Human Sacrifice

There’s a worship song we sing at church that I change one word in. I doubt anyone notices, but I say one word different when I sing that song. I will tell you in a bit what word I change.

Growing up in church, I was always taught that Jesus died for my sins, for the sins of everyone. Specifically, I was taught that God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that God could forgive us, that God needed the sacrifice of Jesus in order to forgive us. And I accepted this as “the good news” until very recently.

Here’s the thing. I still believe that Jesus died for our sins. It’s the details of that belief that have changed. I no longer buy the “God could not forgive us without a perfect human sacrifice.” Isn’t this the same God that told Israel, through the prophet Micah, that he was fed up with their sacrifices and rituals and wanted them to act justly and do good and walk humbly with their God. Didn’t the ritual of human sacrifice usually get applied to the “pagan” nations the Israelites were supposed to be different from? So God went from fed up with the emptiness of sacrifice and hating the entire concept of human sacrifice to requiring his own son be murdered before he could forgive us?

Apologists, stand down. I do not want to argue that theology. I know the arguments already. I have argued the arguments and truly believed them in the past. I just realized one day that the God I believe in, the God I have experienced through the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus is not this human-sacrifice-demanding God. God loved us and made is in the holy image of relationship. We are the ones who tear ourselves away from that relationship. We are the ones who refuse to forgive.

We refuse to forgive ourselves.

We refuse to forgive others.

We refuse to forgive God.

Sin, to me, is this refusal to forgive, this refusal to see outside of our own selves, our own needs, the way we think things should work. This is especially true of the church, where Jesus is supposed to be the model for living, but instead we look a whole lot like the people shouting “crucify.”

How many men and women marched with Nazi flags in Charlottesville yesterday and went to church this morning?

That is sin.

I believe God did send his Son to us. I believe he sent Jesus to show us another way, the way of love and humility, of mercy and compassion, of integrity and abundant life.

But God created humanity and knew the evil in our hearts. He knew when he sent Jesus that we would kill him.

He knew.

It was our sin that killed Jesus. The sin of humanity: arrogance, closed-mindedness, cold-heartedness. Sin put Jesus on a cross.

You see, I don’t believe God demanded a human sacrifice before he would forgive us. I believe we demanded a human sacrifice before we would believe he forgave us. Because we see God through the lens of our own sin, our own nature. And we don’t want to forgive those who hurt us. We want them to pay for what they did, so of course we’d expect God to demand we pay for what we have done.

God knew this. Jesus knew this.

So we were given what we asked for.

Thousands of years ago, Israel demanded a king. God told them they did not need a king. They had God. A king was just going to cause them problems. But they insisted, and God appointed Saul king of Israel.

God gave the people what the people wanted, what they believed they needed.

We are the ones who needed a human sacrifice, a grand gesture, a miracle, a sign… And so God gave us what we believed we needed. Jesus came and showed us another way to live and submitted himself to our sin, took it on himself and let us mangle his body.

Today, we mangle his message.

We teach people that they are worthless, horrible, not worthy. We teach them God had to have a blood sacrifice in order to love us again, and that just doesn’t fly with me.

God created us and said that we were good. God already loved us. God always loved us. We are the ones who ran away. We are the ones who could not forgive.

The line I change is about Jesus dying on the cross. It says that “the wrath of God was satisfied.” When I sing this song, I sing, “the wrath of man was satisfied.”

Guest Post: Planes

My friend, Amanda, is living quite the adventure lately. She and her husband have moved to an island and he is in medical school. She is finishing a graduate degree. It’s all sorts of fun and crazy and hard. She just started a blog (Middle of Somewhere), and I told her I’d love to share one of her posts with my readers. So, without further ado, Amanda…


Hi Ya’ll,

I had every intention of writing to ya’ll last week, but that week was a doozy, to be sure. I flew from the Caribbean to MS on Tuesday, and arrived home Wednesday morning! What should have been a 10 hour day, turned into a 34 hour day ( I have an elephant sized hatred for Atlanta; sorry ya’ll).

I had never slept in the airport until Tuesday night. And let me tell you, I’d be ok if I never had to do that again. There’s no sleeping in an airport, I don’t care what they say. It’s cold, and the benches are harder and more uncomfortable than the seats in the planes. I’m still recuperating!  It’s never such an adventure when Will is with me. I like it that way. Smooth sailing.

Don’t we all like it that way? Smooth sailing? When plans and days and moments go just as we had expected and anticipated,  and nothing crazy happens to interfere with what we think our plans should be? Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, those intentional, extremely thought out plans are never as fun and fruitful as the times when the plans go awry.

I learned a lot about myself on my 34 hour journey home last week. I learned that I was, yet again, stronger and more independent than I thought. I needed that reminder. Island life has spoiled me…. Will is always there to protect me, to lift me up, and to encourage me.

The Lord reaffirmed, yet again, that He is always with me. He’s always holding me in His more than capable arms. I’m never alone. We are NEVER alone. The Lord promises to always be with us. Holy Spirit is in our souls. No matter where we are; curled up on a hard airport bench watching Outlander, a comfy and cozy couch with a down feathered blanket, or driving down a deserted road late at night, the Lord’s presence is right there with us. Loving on us, protecting us, guiding us, lighting the way in which we should go.

Perhaps the Lord orchestrated it just so, that I’d be curled up under two airport blankets, because I didn’t think I’d need my own blanket and left it at home, won’t be making that mistake again. Perhaps he made it so that I’d ache so much for Will’s warmth and comfort that I’d remember the Lord’s warmth and comfort is more than enough.

Maybe, just maybe, we need a detour every now and then to remind us who we are. Who our Father is, and how much He loves us and aches over us. I have to tell ya’ll, I’d never felt more lonely than I did in that ATL airport over night. I didn’t meet a single soul to converse with, to vent with about the crazy journey. It was just me and my Lord. I told him how much I disliked my situation, how much I wanted to be in my own bed in my cozy sheets and warm quilt. He told me all is well and I’d be there soon enough, and to release my frustration and be enveloped in His peace and comfort.

I went straight to sleep…. for a 20 minute power nap. Funny how those things happen, huh? When we let go of our plans and frustrations and anxieties. He is sufficient, and yet we rarely remember that when we plan and go about the routine of the days.

I’m sitting in my parents’ home, on the comfy, cozy couch with a blanket, and I know that I’ll forget this lesson and will need another reminder. But until then, I’ll pray that I won’t need another ridiculous reminder such as a 30 something hour journey in planes and airports to remind me.

Till next time!

Letting Go: The End of Deconstruction

Here’s the thing about deconstruction: eventually, you are finished.

At the end of my deconstruction, I panicked. There was very little left for me to hold onto, and I was terrified of letting go. The idea of deconstruction became my armor, my answer, my reason for not moving forward.

I was hanging there, swinging from a vine of every question I’d ever asked and every doubt I’d ever entertained.

I knew the next step was reconstruction. That was always the goal, right? Take it all apart so I could put it back together… better? I wanted to pull all of the stuff out of the closet so I could determine what was useful and what was junk. I needed to hold each belief in my hands and decide whether to discard the concept or add it to the stack of building materials.

It felt like a never-ending process. It lasted years and years. I was already years into the journey before I acknowledged I was on the journey at all. And then I was at the end, swinging from that vine, terrified of letting go.

What if I fell onto hard concrete and broke every bone in my spiritual body? What if there was nothing left of me… no way to begin rebuilding?

My fingers were slipping.

I had to make a choice.

I chose to let go.

I fell, but I didn’t hit concrete. I didn’t break my bones. Instead, someone caught me. A group of someones, actually.

I bounced first, the Liturgists podcast community and some Internet-based friendships slowing my descent, and then…

My own real-life church community caught me. They caught me and held on, because they are not the normal pretend-we’ve-got-it-all-together, here’s-the-church-and-here’s-the-steeple, kind of group.

Some of them are in the deconstruction process themselves. Some have already rebuilt. Some have never admitted to a doubt in their life, and some just naturally balance faith and doubt without falling apart how I did. Regardless, when I let go of everything I ever believed, I found myself cradled in this community.

What do they have in common?

They love Jesus. They love their neighbor.

I’m their neighbor.

I’m finished deconstructing. It’s time to rebuild, and I’m standing here on an ancient foundation.

Relationship.

Community.

God.

God is relationship. God is community. God is the mystery of Trinity, the metaphor of incarnation, the Spirit of creativity…

God is so many things, and my need to stuff God into a church-box is finally gone. Whatever I build on this foundation will be open to the world that originated in the heart and mind of a God bigger than any of us can ever dream.

My walls will always be made of doors.

Leaving my Blanket Behind

My mom is a strong Christian woman who embodies the fruits of the Spirit in ways I can only dream of. She’s amazing. So I know, when she became pregnant with me (probably even before) she was praying for me. And I know she prayed long and hard over my multiplying cells and lengthening limbs, even as I rolled and kicked and made her miserable from the inside.

As she prayed, threads were woven all around me. The more she prayed, the thicker the yarn that spooled from Heaven and wrapped me in protection. I arrived in this world cocooned in my mother’s faith.

Church, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Bible… these were the words of my life from the very beginning. So thick was this knitted blanket of faith that the atheist/agnosticism of my father could not penetrate it. I balanced the intellectual curiosity he instilled within me only on the outside of my faith cocoon.

And then, one day, I pulled a loose string.

One. Loose. String.

I don’t regret pulling that string. As the buffer between my world and myself lessened, I became more connected to the Divine in nature, in others, in everything. I gained a new sense of compassion and passion for those who did not have mothers who prayed them into this world, for those who are lacking so many things that always seemed a given to me.

Eventually, however, I ran out of loose string to pull. All I have left now are threads spooling away from me. They are pretty, their rainbow colors flying behind me like ribbons.

But my skin is now exposed. I have never felt this much of the world on my soul at one time.

I question everything.

Nothing is sacred anymore. All is up for discussion and confusion and wondering.

I am making this all sound very beautiful, and most days, it is very beautiful. I am learning a new way of walking in faith, walking in faith without using it as a wall to separate me from other people, people not bundled in the same blanket as me.

However, my old beliefs have turned on me. The things I used to say and sing and believe unquestioningly are like small daggers. They are like sandpaper on my newly exposed skin.

They hurt.

And I live in the South. I live in the Bible Belt. My husband is a pastor and I work in a church preschool. But every scripture verse is dagger-ended and every child’s Bible story is a landmine.

Too many people around me wrap themselves up tight in a blanket that is covered in thorns. The thorns are on the outside though. They can’t feel them, but when they walk near me, speaking Christianese, assuming things about me based on my husband’s career, using their faith blanket to justify the oppression of those they are supposed to love and sacrifice all for… The thorns stab my flesh and I come home bloody.

I cried on the closet floor, last week. I told my husband, “I am just so tired. Everything hurts. I feel like I am walking around with my skin peeled off.”

But it isn’t my skin I peeled away. It is the thickness of blind faith. And I need to learn to live this way, because I think Jesus lived this way.

He never truly turned people away. He drew them to him, prayed for and healed them, taught them and sought them… He did not bundle up in faith like a buffer between Him and the world.

I do believe we have a Comforter, but I don’t think it’s a blanket. I think it is the piece of God that lives in us, that guides and keeps us, that helps us funnel all the hurt into compassion.

It is the peace of God that lives in us.

But living with peace inside my soul is different from blocking everything from outside of my soul.

So, it seems, I am learning to live again.

I am learning and hurting and sometimes the result is not pretty. Sometimes I lash out, because I can’t take another pin prick, cannot hug another cacti-argument. Instead, I need to hideout in a blanket-fort with a book and my crayons, be a child again…

heal.

It hurts, but I do believe, deep down, the hurt is worth it.

You are worth it… being connected to all of you is worth leaving my blanket behind.

Go Back to the Last Place You had It and Look There

I’ve been listening to an audio book from Anne Lamott, her newest. It plays while I drive my kids around and while I commute to work or school. I love her voice, like an old friend calling shotgun to talk about the good the bad and the ugly of everyday.

Yesterday, she was talking about finding lost things. She said something along the lines of, “When you lose something, you go back to the last place you had it and look there.”

This is obvious mom advice, right? If you can’t find your shoes, try to remember where you were last time you took them off. Where were you when you last had your keys or your phone or your wallet…

or your faith.

That is what I asked myself, driving down 305 to drop my son off at youth choir. I kept asking myself as I drove back after he was safely deposited at the church.

Back in Tupelo? Did I just not bring my faith to Olive Branch when we moved? No, that didn’t seem right. I was struggling with deconstruction in Tupelo, though maybe in more subtle ways. In Brandon then, that far back? That was ten years ago.

I know I have felt God’s presence, felt at peace, in the last ten years.

So… when? Where?

I moved on to running media for worship at The Well, correcting sermon slides and greeting visitors and sipping a Coke for the caffeine infusion needed to stay alert. All the while, the back of my brain was spinning, searching… where did I last see my faith, my peace, my certainty that God, whatever God is, was with me?

Then the band started playing and the words that filled the room were, “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.”

I closed my eyes. I went back to where that song took root in me, to Jamie singing those words, no guitar or piano or drums needed. Just her voice rising in an empty church, an old church, a church that has looked over the valley for 600 years.

That is where I saw it last.

That is where I last felt at peace.

In Honduras.

My eyes filled with tears, because I can’t go back anytime soon, and when I do go back it won’t be for as long as last summer. This time last year, I was plotting how to pack for my summer in under 50 pounds. Whole weeks stretched before me, weeks without any of the worry that plagues me here in the States.

Last summer, I did not worry about money or my health or health insurance bills. I did not worry about grades and scholarships and computers.

Last summer, I sat in an ancient church and listened to Jamie’s voice seeping into clay walls that had held the prayers of centuries. I stood on mountain tops, literally and spiritually. I laughed with children in broken languages. I sipped coffee while the birds of paradise were in bloom.

And all was well, and all was well, and all manner of things would be well.

How do I find Honduras in my heart without getting on an airplane?

That is the question I begin my summer with this year. How do I find Honduras in this life even while going to 8 AM classes and learning algebra and working at a daycare and trying to rewrite a manuscript in verse?

How do I find Honduras in my heart?

We Call it Disease

When your body turns on itself, we call it disease. We call it cancer. We call it bad.

We look for cures and treatments.

We try to fix it.

I have been reading a lot of Richard Rohr and also taking a couple of biology courses. This has combined inside my brain, the contemplation and the atoms swishing around like water in a jetted bathtub.

Rohr says that, if there is truly a God that made all in its image, then we should be able to see that image in everything, from the smallest particles to the largest. Since I believe in a trinitarian God, a God that is relationship, not a God that is independent and individual, then what I would expect to see in creation is the same.

Particles that connect to form bigger things… atoms… molecules… This makes sense. Keep getting bigger and you will see organs made of tissues and body systems made of organs. You will see ecosystems that require plants and animals, insects, and sunshine and water and air. Everything in our world needs other things to live. Everything cycles, life to death to life to death.

Get bigger.

Look outside of earth and you will find other planets, stars, moons, orbiting and gravitating and being a part of a bigger whole. Solar systems, black holes, comets… space.

Everything is connected.

People are cells in the body of the world.

You don’t even have to believe in God, the Christian version or any other version, to see the connectedness in our universe, in ourselves.

We are cells.

And when cells malfunction… when they turn on one another…

We call it disease. We call it cancer. We call it bad.

We look for cures and treatments.

We try to fix it.

Sometimes we try to fix it with poison, radiation, more pain and more sickness.

We go to war.

Sometimes it seems to work, though it leaves the body ravaged in other ways.

What scientists want to do is find a true cure, to find an answer. What triggers a cell to go rogue and how do we un-trigger it? Better, how do we keep it from being triggered in the first place?

How do we avoid war by never turning on one another to begin with?

How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?

We are all cells in this body, and we have got to stop killing one another.

I Used to Dance

I used to dance.

I wasn’t that great at ballet or jazz or even modern… the three styles we learned in middle school classes. The only reason I took dance on into high school was because I didn’t know what to replace it with. The theater class was full, and I’d already been in dance so at least it was a known quantity.

I don’t remember how long we were in that freshman class before the teacher told us to split into groups and choreograph our own routines. I do remember that my only friend in the class was Tina and she picked our music, “No Diggity” by Blackstreet. Off to the gym we went, playing this hip-hop song and working out moves. At that point, it was probably me just doing whatever moves Tina told me to do. Aside from my 5th grade obsession with En Vogue, I was surrounded by bluegrass and country western music. The little bit of R&B I knew was pitiful.

So, there we were, doing our thing on one side of the gym, when we heard another group talking about us. They’d paused their own routine to watch ours. The gist of their comments can be summed up like this: “Those white girls can dance.”

It turns out my body was not made for ballet and jazz, but it did know a thing or two about rhythm. Dance became my confidence currency. My friend, Catherine, started calling me “Black White Girl” when she saw me dance backstage after a theater performance one night. I’d quit taking the school classes, but I hadn’t stopped moving.

I went from standing on the sidelines at parties to diving into the thick of things, my body pressed against another body. Boy, girl, didn’t matter. The point was to dance, to feel the music in my muscles, to know that my body knew what it was doing.

Until that moment, that acknowledgment from the outside that something about my physicality was right, I had been at odds with my body.

Too skinny.
Too pale.
Too freckled.
Too flat-chested.
Too oily.
Too weak.

There was always something wrong with me.

All of that changed when I let myself dance.

I stopped dancing when I got married. I had good reasons. By that point, the dancing I did was out at nightclubs, my body pressed against the body of some man I didn’t know. I never gave out my number. I didn’t drink or talk or flirt. I rarely got their names. I just went to dance, to feel the power that existed inside my limbs. But, if we’re being honest, it was vertical sex with clothes on. The choreographed routines had long slipped away. What used to be about connecting to my body turned into a connection to someone else’s body, allowing how they moved with me to boost up my flagging confidence.

I did go to a club once after I got married. I had two kids by that point, but I was visiting a friend in Virginia, my kids states away. We decided to go out dancing at a club called Corned Beef.

They played techno music.

I stood there, baffled by the speakers. What was that stuff? How was I supposed to move to it? And who with? I no longer needed other bodies to tell me what mine could do. My body had twice created new life. My body could rock it.

My friend and I danced together for a bit, but the music was a disappointment and we soon gave up and headed home.

I still dance in my kitchen when no one is looking.

When I started back to school last month, a full twenty years since that first dance routine to “No Diggity” in the gym at Lower Richland High School, I was nervous. My confidence was a mess.

So I made a playlist. 90s R&B blasted from my speakers in the week leading up to my first class. I dance in the driver’s seat. My kids laugh or roll their eyes, and that’s okay.

Because it works. I feel those rhythms inside my skin and I remember how I used to move, and I know I can do that again. Maybe I am not heading off to a hip-hop class, but I am heading off to class, and if my body can remember how to dance, so can my mind.

Who knows, maybe one of these days, I WILL head off to a hip-hop class.