Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Signs, Symbols and Smells

So, we're midway through Lent, and I'm sitting at my desk at work drinking a Diet Coke...hmmm. Well, that discipline isn't working out as well as planned...! As for the other things I was hoping for...well i seem to be right on track.

I read a book recently called Proverbs of Ashes. It was the book i was moved to pick up while at a bookstore that reminded me of Lent. It was a painful read in a lot of ways. The book confronts the notions of violence as it relates to God, the cross and Lent. Two women share their life experiences and reflect on how they fit into the church (universal), theology and christology. Some of it was heady, but most of it was pretty raw. You could feel their pain and alienation in the words on the pages. I had to put it down a few times so as not to become overwhelmed by it all. It confirmed for me though, that my childhood belief that Jesus died for my sins is ...well...a childhood belief, and not one I currently hold. I cannot love a God who would require his own son to die for my salvation. This idea just doesn't make any sense to me anymore. Part of me is liberated by releasing my old beliefs and part of me is unnerved by it.

This symbol of my childhood - that Jesus had to die for me - was one I held on to tightly. Perhaps it was the idea that I was important enough for such a sacrifice. Or maybe it was that I needed something to hold onto. I think at least part of it was that I indeed felt dirty and sinful in some ways, and so a theology that affirmed that made some sense to me. Regardless I clung to that idea, and was in some ways molded by it. Letting it go has taken me some time.

I have this thing about smells. I relate my life and events to smells oftentimes. In the same way some people relate a song to an event, I more often relate smells to big events. For example, if you took me into my childhood church blindfolded, I could identify it by its smell. Same thing goes for my dad. He has a smell to him. (Not in a bad way) In the same way, I have certain smells branded into my memory in not such a good way. The smell of mud reminds me of a traumatic moment in my life, and to this day a strong whiff of mud turns my stomach over. Recently, while thinking, praying, meditating (not sure how to define it)...the smell of mud overwhelmed me. I wasn't sure how to react. It caught me by surprise.

With it though, came a new clarity. That oft repeated phrase from not be afraid. And I recalled that the reason that Jesus had to be the ransom for my sin as a child and young adult was because of my own fear. I was afraid of a vengeful god, and felt that if perhaps Jesus did my time for me, it would be ok. I just knew I was a big sinner, and hopefully god would accept me if Jesus came first. My own fear of hell on earth, hell in the after life was enough to motivate me to cry out to Jesus to forgive me. Even when I wasn't sure what I had done wrong. I think I was also afraid of what it would mean to be in relationship with rather than subordinate to. I was speaking with a new friend recently and he was questioning why people are not more inclined to seek out God or a holy place that represents God. My answer, which sprung to my lips before I could think it through was that people are fearful. I am fearful. If you choose to live in relationship to God, life changes. You cannot stop the trajectory. If you surrender to it, the rug seems to be pulled out from under you. Not in a punitive way, but in a new and beautiful way. It doesn't mean there isn't still pain at moments. But it does mean you have to make choices that make sense to you in the moment as opposed to continuing to stumble along through life as if you don't know any better. It means you have to value yourself as a creation of God, holy and beloved from the start, as opposed to a fallen sinner who has no worth and carries the age old sin of Adam (or Eve) around until Jesus's blood cleanses us. It means risking a life of passion and love as opposed to a life that appears to be safe and good enough.

The sign is clear to me now. Clearer than perhaps ever before. I choose relationship. I choose understanding, compassion, and ultimately joy. The choice is not easy. It's not a cop out. But it is one without fear, without apologies.

20 days if I could just give up Diet Coke.

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