What’s the Going Exchange Rate for a Dying God?

There is this idea that Jesus’ death bought something: that he was a unique currency, only ever redeemable once.

There is a part of me that recently wanted to throw this idea away far away from me.  And in some ways, I had good reasons.  There are some questionable ethical things happening, if this is how it worked.  It seemed rather suspicious than American, Evangelical Christianity would become rather obsessed with a financial-economic view of what Jesus was doing.

Today, I am holding this idea outward, with an open hand.   Perhaps it will stay.  Perhaps not.  I see some language in the bible that suggests it.  I see some value at it.  I can be a bit fickle.  Perhaps I will be ready to throw it away, again, tomorrow.

But the thing that got me thinking about all this was a podcast I was listening to this morning.  Michael Gungor, one of my heroes, started talking about transactional relationships with God.  I assumed what he said next was going to relate to Jesus’ death.

But he went a whole different direction.  He was talking about the deals we make with God.   ‘God please do this for me.’  ‘God, if you do x, I will do y’, ‘God I need…’  Gungor goes on to suggest that the alternative foundation for connecting with God is embodied in Mother Theresa’s often-quoted description of her prayer life: she states that she listens to God listening to her.  (Forgive the vast oversimplification of Mother Theresa’s words; it is worth looking up.)

I am thinking that maybe there is a connection between seeing Jesus’ death as transactional and seeing our relationship with him as transactional.  On a broader level, I know that some of my own relationships with other people have been ones where we abided in a love for each other, like Mother Theresa.  Others have been built around mutual exchanges and need.

Most, of course, are somewhere between these two extremes.  But the older I get, the more sure I am: I would rather engage in loving than exchanging stuff.





Thirteen Ways More

after Stevens


The three naked men hung up there.

And though some wailed and wept and rended their garments,

mostly the people below trudged on with their lives.


I am of three minds.

Like a God.

That is three and one and three and one and also, by the way, three.


This is the betrayal in the garden of Eden.

As viewed from behind the curtains.


A child was born.

A young man died.

This is a thing that happened exactly once.



I can not moan

that some other-force

does not know my finite desparations

and my petty miseries.


It is not in the overcoming,

But in the rising up.

Death once did have a sting.

But he took it.

If he had not died.

If that Friday had in fact been good.

Then Easter would have been only eggs and chocolate.


The words were the easy part.

Why couldn’t it have only been the easy part?

Your yoke is light and easy.

Except that it is not.

The words were the easy part.


There was a man on an episode of The Twilight Zone.

He lived through nuclear eschaton, stood before his long- loved library.

And then tripped and smashed his glasses forever.

Let me read and pray and think over all the things that the cross means.

And then, let me kneel in silence beneath.


You were not a tall or handsome man.

And yet you glowed like the stars and stretched into the heavens.

You, Jacob’s Ladder.


At the sight of that cross.

Empty and yet filled.

Joy is a cross beam,

Sorrow stands a vertical.


He stumbled out of space-time.

And became greater by lesser.

I held the nail that pierced him.

These are the things I took

the sweaty rags that covered his body

rolling dice beneath the cross.


The kingdom of heaven among us.

Already here, always been here.  Not yet.


It was none of these things and all of these things.

It was his love for us.

And our love for him.

The cross sat beautifully

on a hill shaped like a skull.

How I came to Christ, Part II: Jesus invades my life

I posted a while ago about my life before I became a Christian. If you’re interested, it’s here:

Today I’m going to write about that night that I became a Christian. It’s a little bit like those rock groups that get labelled “overnight success stories” when in fact they’ve been working below the public’s radar for years: my conversion experience was both quite dramatic and sudden and also a long time in coming.
When I left off in that last post, my wife was in the hospital. She was quite literally fighting for her life. My support network had gradually eroded. People I’d counted on for years were suddently not there. I had two very young kids that I was suddenly soley responsible for.
A sermon came to mind. Lonnie, the pastor, had preached on the story of Gomer. He’d shared the biblical principal that sometimes God ruthlessly cuts away at our support network and all the things we’re leaning on if these things stand in the way of our coming to Him.
In those circumstances, after having really wrestled with some stuff, it was hard not to apply that to myself.

And there was this night. It’s so over-the-top dramatic that I’m embarassed to admit it: There was this tremendous thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning lit up the room. Cracks of thunder rolled through the house.
I sat there, in the living room. It was much more like wrestling with God than praying. It was such a visceral, physical experience… even though I was just sitting there.
I had another thought from the sermons at the church we’d been attending. The series was about the idea that we offer should offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. A central image to that series was that the challenge of being a living sacrifice is that we have this tendency to keep crawling off the altar.
I’m not usually a visual person, but that night, I could see it so clearly in my mind. In truth it’d probably been modeled more off of cheesy horror films than an actual biblical altar, but I saw it there, in my mind’s eye.
The altar/sacrifice thing, I could get.
The Gomer ruthless thing, I could get.
But the cross… which clearly was at the center of all this… it just didn’t work. I couldn’t make it make sense. I new even more clearly that if I could just find some way to make it make sense, then Jesus would have me: heart and soul. I knew that this was the last obstacle.
But it was quite an obstacle.
What did Adam’s mistake in the garden have to do with me? What did Jesus’ death have to do with my own sin? How was there justice in this? Why did God need to do it? Couldn’t he do everything he wanted? Wasn’t there a less horrible way?

I remembered something that I’d read a long time ago. It was from a book by Madeline L’Engle. L’Engle was one of those authors who created a disconnect between. She was a Christian but she was reasonable, intellectual, and loving. There were a few people like this. Some I knew personally. Others I only knew of through their art. But it seemed like they were on to something, Christianity did something to them, it changed them for the better.

At any rate, Madeline, through her characters, says that God can handle our worries and doubts and fears and anger. We should turn this stuff over to Him, and he will accept it.
So that altar was still there in my mind. And I turned over my rage and fear and sorrow and guilt over to God. It was there, in front of me. It looked like intestines or excrement. Not a very pretty picture.
God took it up though. He took it from me. The first thing I felt was relief, a sense of being healed, a sense of being lightened.
The second thing I felt was disapointment in myself, bordering on shame. God gave me everything. He created the universe. He created sunsets and hot tubs and laughter. And what had I given him in return?
A large pile of excrement.
And he’d taken it.

But I realized something: the best I could do wouldn’t be much better. If I could visualize the best of myself, if I could take it of me and offer it to God, it wouldn’t be a bonus for God, it wouldn’t be extra credit. The very best of me was exactly what I owed God.
I was crystal clear in that moment that I’d fallen short of my potential. Every day of my life I could have done more, I could have done better.
God had given me this shining, holy, potential. I had corrupted it through my own errors (sin) I had fallen short of it through my own laziness, short-sightedness, and selfishness.

The very best I could offer God was just an echo of what God had given me. I could never have a balanced relationship with God.
And these thoughts they didn’t come all at once, but my mind was racing. They came quickly, one after the other. They weren’t exactly in words, but the following is something like a translation into words of what I experienced:
I started thinking about my kids. If they borrowed a dollar from me, I think I’d want them to pay it back. Not because I need a dollar. But because it’s not good to be indebted, to be out of balance. But it would be silly for me to loan him another dollar to pay back the first. If I wanted my son to be in a right relationship with me, I’d have to create a way for this debt to be cancelled that didn’t involve me giving it to him.
It’s that way with God, too. There is a debt in our relationship. Even if I gave him back everything he gave me, this does not cover the debt I owe through falling short.
Suddenly it didn’t matter about Adam. Working out the issue of original sin was irrelevant. In some important way I realized that I am Adam everytime I fall short of God’s dreams for me. I eat of the tree every time I sin.
It occured to me that the way to restore this relationship was a contradiction: Only God has enough “wealth” to pay it back, only He possesses things he wasn’t given… and yet it couldn’t be God, any more than I could loan my son a dollar to pay back the first one.

Both God and not-God. Is there a better definition of Jesus?
And then it fell into place. I invited Jesus inside. The invasion began.
More later.