Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Tao of Salvation

I had an interesting experience the other day, hanging out online at a blog-related forum populated mostly by evangelicals, recovering and otherwise.

The blog’s author had posited that useful conversations were possible within the context of faith between conservative/fundamentalist Christians and LGBT people who identify as Christian. Perhaps we could agree to disagree, he suggested, or find ways to just get on with feeding the hungry and caring for the afflicted --- that sort of thing --- together.

My suggestion was, it all depends on where the conversation begins. If it begins, “but you are not a Christian,” then there’s no point in going farther. If it begins, “you are not behaving like a Christian,” then there is some potential.


Naturally the conversation among posters turned to exactly what Jesus said about this and that, including the contention that his principal concerns were summed up in what sometimes are called the great commandments: Love God, love your neighbor and (by implication) just get on with living out those things and get over much of the rest.

Then responses by “Marvel” to one of my posts kind of summed up the barriers to those useful conversations we’d been talking about earlier.

“This post and many others proves that what you folks are calling ‘Christianity’ really isn't Christian at all,” she wrote. “You like the teachings of Jesus because you believe that Jesus' message was about love and acceptance of everyone. But the doctrinal stuff about repentance, sin, the wrath of God, etc., you'd like at the bottom of the sea.”

And then a little later: “Well I obviously don't have final say as to who's in and who's out. The scripture defines that. Read 1st John, or Galatians, or First Peter, and you'll see that the apostles made it their business to ensure that there were clear lines as to who was in and who was out.”

So, thank you Marvel for proving a point --- that what we call Christianity in many instances really isn’t. That guy Jesus was just too radical, too loving, too subversive. So Paul and others rushed in to do damage control and the church has been at it ever since.

What we really have is Paulianity, Bibleanity, Baptistianity, Catholicianity, Episcopalianity --- and so on. Just not Christianity.


This conversation continued, sort of, during Bible study Tuesday morning --- and, yes, Episcopalians do study the Bible sometimes. Although our curriculum, which focuses on Bible readings for the upcoming Sunday, doesn’t offer “correct” answers, just the opportunity to explore.

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson will be from Matthew 31, that pesky parable about judgment where Jesus talks about how the sheep (those who are on the correct path) will be divided from the goats (those who aren’t). The correct path involves feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty a drink, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned --- that sort of thing.

The part that turns the world upside down here is that the sheep, who have just been doing those things without thought of gain, are amazed to discover that they’re on the right path. The goats, who have been working hard to find the correct path but neglecting the basics, are amazed to discover that they’ve missed the boat entirely.

That led us to the Tao of salvation, territory few Bible study sessions venture into, but we’re Episcopalian, remember. Tao (or Dao), which can be translated from the Chinese as the Way, is the foundation of an extremely complex and varied Eastern philosophy. But one Taoist concept involves the need to lose in order to gain, and the idea that gaining quite often leads to loss. The world turned upside down again.

It’s also interesting that Jesus referred to himself as the “way” sometimes, as in “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and also zeroed in on loss and gain --- “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”; “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”; “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

That led to the idea that the road to salvation, something Christians seem to worry a good deal about, may involve the need to lose in order to gain.

In other words, forget about the concept of salvation and centuries of doctrine related to it, just lose it, stop fussing about who is in and who is out --- and get on with walking the walk. Then have a little faith, for heaven’s sake.


Elzan said...

I think you would like Rachel Held Evans blog. Jacob's wife heard Rachel at ACU in September. And in her archives on Sept.13 there is a discussion with Justin Lee who is a gay Christian.
We enjoy your blog. Did Dianne tell you we have one of those quilts?

Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Elzan --- Yes, Dianne told me about the quilt and I passed the name of the club, Sunshine, on to Vickie Randall, who has one, too, but didn't know its source.

I DO like Rachel Held Evans' blog (which actually was where "Marvel" and I exchanged a few polite words) --- thanks for thinking of it. And Richard Beck's "Experimental Theology," too. He teaches at ACU.