Dead animals & the theology of salvation

I’m at a camp in central PA taking a class in the Brethren in Christ pastor-credentialing process.  I opted to stay in the $15/a night cabin instead of the $45/a night hotel-style room at the conference center in order to save some money.  (I’m a back-packer who loves the outdoors, so I figured I could get my class-work and studying done wherever.)

Upon entering my cabin, I noticed a strange smell.  It was pretty bad, but I thought that maybe all the cabins smelled that way.  I opened the windows, set up my stuff, took a nap, and resolved to buy a nice scented candle to help deal with my situation.  Later on the way to the store, my friend Ben and I ran into the camp director, and Ben insisted on asking him to check out the smell, ignoring all my protests that I was fine.  Sure enough, there was large dead animal rotting under the cabin.  The camp director insisted on upgrading me to the penthouse suite of anywhere I’ve ever retreated.   Now I’m in a beautiful, cozy, modern place with more amenities than I have at home.

tomb picAllow me to draw a parallel to the spiritual life.   Some of us are so committed to toughing it out in our struggle that that we’re more likely to live with the dead animal than ask for help.  Our way of taking care of ourselves is decaying and smelly but we’re not sure it could change and we don’t want to bother anyone.  We don’t trust God to take care of us because we don’t think God cares that much or has power to change things.  Or God is busy taking care of other people who have bigger problems.

Talk about it.  I’m not saying that Jesus offers a luxurious life that is free of struggle.  But there could be some relief and beauty and rest for you that you have not imagined.  Christus Victor is calling together a people that are free by his Spirit to move beyond the seemingly insatiable desires for money, power, achievement, safety, adventure, food, clothes, drugs, sex, family, relationships, or WHATEVER, and live in the abundance of his love.  I think this is what Jesus means when he says “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened….because my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   God does care; your particular struggle is real and Jesus might surprise you.  I invite you to find Him in our Circle of Hope.

Too sick to pray

Willie Nelson wrote a song called Too Sick to Pray that describes how a lot of my friends are feeling right now.  Depression, anxiety, injuries and illness, addiction, jobs and bosses, families or the lack of them, are difficult.  When you can’t even walk on the sidewalks because they are so icy and the winter storms keep coming, life can feel even harder.  My friends are wise enough to know there is a spiritual element to our struggle, too.  The living God is inviting us to make a vital connection, and sometimes we can’t get there.

solar systemMy cell group discovered a secret again last week: that the gravity of God’s love can hold us together beyond our individual abilities to stay in any particular orbit.  We imagined floating in outer space, individually feeling at times like we’re drifting off into darkness and nothingness, and then realizing that we’re actually in a path with others, gently and invisibly held in orbit around the sustaining light of Christ.  We talked openly about our struggles then, and imagined how we could even imitate God in the midst of the darkness.   Here are three ideas:

1. Acknowledge entropy.  The world is adept at entropy: the gradual decline into disorder, deterioration, degeneration, degradation, decomposition, & collapse.  I’m not going for the full thermodynamic definition here, but a lot of good relationships and ideas and projects and organizations and governments end up this way: in decline and separation.  Lent is a good time to notice the fear and laziness that makes us entropy-prone. 

2. Be carried by the faith of others when you can’t see your own.  When it’s healthy, the body of Christ works a lot like a healthy physical body. When one part is sick, the other parts carry it and help bring it to healing.  We bear one another’s burdens. We suffer together and become whole.  Just showing up to a meeting can help us sense the safety and encouragement of the body we are a part of, even when we are disconnected.  We get gently surrounded by the love of God and reminded of who we really are: beloved of God and significant to others.

3.  Keep talking.  One of our convictions as a Circle of Hope is that dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity.  Verbalizing our struggles brings them into the light.  Opening up gives us a chance to know and support one another.  This is how we grow and expand.  Communication in love creates gravity and mutuality that can overcome entropy.

In Christ, we get into an orbit that holds things together in love.  We get into something lasting, and become the presence of the future.  The power of the Spirit is greater than the powers of entropy.   Together we generate gravity that is strong enough to include our sin-sick selves, and others.   Even in our struggle we can reflect the love of God and shine.