Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Atonement of God: A Review

Growing up, I always wondered if there might be more to God the Father than we were taught in church. Was he the ogre in the sky they often painted him to be, the one that kept tabs on your sins and delighted in punishment?

It was natural to wonder why his Son Jesus turned out so opposite. Christ didn’t seem that vengeful. He was the turn-the-other-cheek, forgive-your-enemies, bless-those-that-curse-you type of guy. 

Capricious may be the best word to describe how I perceived his Father: the God who’d fly off the handle and wipe out cities in a single breath. The One who opened up the earth and swallowed people whole. Turned Lot’s wife into a block of salt for looking back…

Flooded the world in one fell swoop… Had a bloodthirsty appetite and demanded sacrifices… Hated Esau and loved Jacob - even though Jacob was a con artist who lied to his father and cheated his brother… Had mercy on some and zapped others… Hid his face because no one could see him and live…

The Quest for Truth

Why did God demand blood sacrifices? It just seemed so... so pagan, like something those other gods would demand to appease their wrath. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd holding the lamb, was supposed to be God revealed in the flesh, so why was he so unlike his Father?

After numerous readings of the sacred text in several translations, and after seeking answers here and there from so-called experts, I was none the wiser. Until a couple of weeks ago when I received a book in the mail that made sense of it all.  

Four Atonement Theories

The book was titled, The Atonement of God: Building Your Theology on a Crucivision of God. The author, J.D. Myers, grabbed my attention from the get-go with his exegesis of the four most common views of the atonement: 

  The Penal Substitution (the most widely held theory in modern Western Christianity – the one I was taught since childhood – although it hasn’t been the predominant view throughout church history...

  The Moral Influence (also called the Exemplary Love theory)…

  The Ransom theory (based on the idea that sin creates a debt which must be paid)…

  The Christus Victor theory (the non-violent view), which the author clearly espouses.

Why God Hates Sin

This non-violent theology seems the antithesis of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, where the preacher’s imagery of God’s wrath burning hot was meant to instill fear and angst in the hearts of people. Edwards was the model preacher for our denomination when I was growing up, so I’ve heard a thousand such sermons – though delivered with less literary prowess than Edwards’ classic.  

Myers, on the other hand, depicts God more as a loving parent than a wrathful deity with the might (and resolve) to cast the sinner into the fiery pit. As a mom, what resonated most with me was the analogy he used of a mother warning her child not to touch the hot stove… 

And when the child defies the command and touches the stove anyway, she gets burned of course. In which case the mother would naturally feel anguish, not because the child disobeyed her command as much as because her babygirl was hurt.  Myers asserts that God feels more anguish than anger over our disobedience. The pain of sin is punishment in and of itself, according to the author.

Why did Jesus Have to Die?

This is the central theme of the book. Did Jesus die to placate the wrath of God and obtain forgiveness for us? Was it because He needed blood to pay the debt for sin? Or did Jesus bleed and die to defeat sin, death, and the devil?  Who was behind the crucifixion? God, man, or Satan?

The author knew when he wrote this book that those steeped in the Penal Substitution view would probably wrestle with his radical departure from the standard belief. Though I’m not one to swallow everything I read, I did find the book well worth my while, as it addressed the same questions that many others like me no doubt have asked. Any thinker should at least have wondered why Jesus had to die.

If I were to critique the soundness of Myers’ theology based on my own understanding of overall scripture, I’d say that he generally errs on the side of mercy – if that is possible. I honestly don’t know how lenient God is toward sin, any more than I know how angry He is over individual and national waywardness. What I do know is that the author has tackled one controversial topic.

 I commend Myers for defending the merciful and compassionate nature of God, and tend to agree that we mere mortals are too quick to project our internal anger onto Him - which the author believes to be the case during violent episodes throughout scripture. Not that he denies the inerrancy thereof, but he contends that mankind is more likely the culprit for violence and destruction than God.  

For more information on J.D. Myers and his books, visit his site.

I received this book free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network, and was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Springtime People

When my friend Nancy, an award-winning poet, died a few years ago, her family found the following unpublished poem stuffed in her Holy Bible.

Let us feel you on our pulses
and in our breathing
and convince us in our very bodies
that we live and die
in the hollow of your hand.
Release now these mute longings
hidden in our hearts
to join the early morning bird song
singing green beginnings
and multicolored hopes
for you are shaking us and
shaping us into
a springtime people
with Easter in our eyes.  

~ Nancy Frost Rouse 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Do you believe you can do this?

Was the mantra throughout the Little Boy movie: a powerful story of the love between a father and son set in WW II.  A riveting film about mountain-moving faith that will warm your heart and drive the dark of doubt away.

It was a marvelous day…

From the moment I stood at the concession stand to buy my ticket, when the young man behind the counter asked, “Can I get you some refreshments…” to his gift of kindness.

Me: I can’t afford popcorn here, it’s highway robbery.

Young Man: I’ll give it to you then.  And he filled a large bag to the rim.

I leaned over and peered at his name tag. Julian.

Me: Thank you, Julian. God bless you for this. How can I repay your kindness?

Julian: You can pray for me and my family. My brother is being deployed to Iraq soon.
He didn’t go into detail, but I assume he is going to help train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS.

It was a marvelous day from the moment I entered the theater to the time I exited, filled with mountain-moving faith. Filled with wonder at the power of belief. Little Boy made me want to conquer the world with love. Julian made me want to pray for his brother and his family every day.

 I believe Julian’s brother will come home safe and sound, just as Little Boy believed his dad would return.  I believe that mustard seed faith can move mountains - and I have a number of mountains I want to move.

Sometimes BIG miracles have little beginnings.

What about you?  What mountains do you want moved?

Do you believe you can do this?  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No Fast Food Lane for Soul

“Hurry ruins saints as well as artists.”  ~ Thomas Merton

Real art cannot merely reflect the outer world; it must depict some part of the artist’s inner world, otherwise the work lacks depth or heart impact. 

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and the inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”  ~ Edward Hopper

Heart of the Artist

Say you’re having guests over to your home for dinner – not just any guests – special guests. Would you dream of driving through Mickey D’s takeout for happy meals?

You’d sit down and take the time to plan and prepare a proper feast and serve your very best. So writers, think of your readers as special guests who are entering the heart of your inner world.

As Karen Blixen, author of Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny puts it: 
“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist:
Give me a chance to do my best. “ 

Speaking of Babette’s Feast, while the work is classified as a short story or novella, there is no shortage of meaning to be found in Blixen’s masterpiece: a powerful and poignant tale about sacrifice, communion, repentance, epiphany, and transformation.

I’ve heard it said that the protagonist, Babette Hersant, is an archetype of Christ, for she so readily sacrifices all that she has for those she is serving, and feeds not only their bodies, but their souls (as all artists/writers must do).

Discovery of Meaning

Not that Blixen, or any writer, consciously sets out to weave in layers of meaning, but if the work comes from a deeper place within, and isn’t just manufactured in the cerebral realm, it will likely contain multiple layers of meaning.

Take, for instance, Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” from his story collection, Different Seasons. Within that one story runs concurrent themes: light overcomes darkness; perseverance against all odds; loyalty and friendship; bold defiance of evil…

Finding beauty in the midst of hell; hope springs eternal (which is the subtitle), and the list could go on. Therein lies the difference between mediocrity and art. If the work nourishes the reader’s soul, it has served its purpose.

And if you are to serve your purpose as artist (or saint), take your time. Let the work have space to incubate and fully develop, as a child matures in the womb. As a garden produces ripe fruit in its time.

Having begun with the words of Merton, I’ll end there too. “People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular – and too lazy to think of anything better.”

What lies within you?

What are your top three most inspiring stories or films, the ones that held the most transformative power for you? Take a moment to ponder why these stories moved you.

Then, choose just one of these (your # 1), and explain why it stirred or awakened you. Whatever you see there is only a mirror of what is already within you, waiting to be unveiled in some shape or form. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Harvest Moon

 I’m participating in the Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt held by Positive Writer

As I was pondering this contest, I was overwhelmed with the number of things I could say on the subject. A mountain of thoughts surfaced, obscuring clarity.  And so I waited until some clear shape rose above the peaks. Finally the full moon emerged.

Like the moon, I went through at least four phases as a writer, each one with elements of doubt.

The New Moon

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since 3rd grade, when I copied an entire book verbatim, turned it in to my teacher and said, “Look what I wrote!” Her response: “You wrote this?”

And I was like, can’t you tell that’s my handwriting? You ought to recognize it by now as many times as you’ve made me write, “I must not talk in school.”

Back then I yearned to say something, but didn’t have anything of my own to say. I had little or no light to reflect, like the new moon.

The Waxing Moon

But over time more light emerges.  The lunar sliver begins to reveal itself.  This is the phase where I began to develop my own thoughts little by little, and so I spent a good bit of time licking stamps and sending my work out into the universe.  With every rejection, doubt increased. But with every acceptance, doubt diminished.   

One day I received an invitation to speak at an upcoming conference called Women Writers: Making the Difference, sponsored by the NC Literary and Historical Association.  I was a sliver of crescent among a sky of full moons shining in all their glory.

 Maya Angelou, keynoter, owned the auditorium when she stood to speak.  A hush fell over the place as she captured us with her story. She was a bright harvest moon.

It was a defining moment for me, seeing that glow and recognizing something of myself in her.  Realizing that we writers, if true to our call, will overcome our doubts and surmount our obstacles, somehow or another.

First Quarter

During first quarter, ½ of the moon is visible for half the evening, then goes down, leaving the sky dark.

After my literary writing stint, I teamed up with my musician husband and went into the songwriting business. We wrote, recorded, hit the road, and performed our music wherever doors were open.

One September we were called to minister at Aqueduct Conference Center with the Ragamuffin himself, Brennan Manning. That’s when I heard the clear call to go within and find what compelled me to write. 

“Then one day, just like that” (to quote Forest Gump), I told our agent I needed a break.  I needed space. I needed solitude and quiet. That’s when he and his wife left the house (almost in a huff), never to return. And my songwriting career came to a grinding halt. Just like that. 

The Waxing Gibbous (contemplative phase)  

I never doubted the call to write. Whoever sits down and writes is a writer, good, bad, or ugly. Poor or rich. Unknown, little known, or well known.  But the writers who truly have something to say are those who have heeded Rilke’s advice:  

  “You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now…There is only one single way. Go into yourself… and see what compels you to write.”

It’s one thing to have something to say. It’s quite another to have to say something. It was in the contemplative phase – which became more than a phase; it became a lifestyle – that I began overcoming writerly doubts in earnest because I was finally asking myself the important questions:

“What is it that you must write? What were you called to write? What were you born to write?”

The Full Moon

Writer’s doubt faded like a pair of old jeans when I stopped comparing myself with writers who’d “made it…”  Because what did true success mean anyway?  I had to redefine what success meant and what it didn’t mean.  It didn’t mean that I should write for the market. It didn’t mean that I should emulate the voices of others who’d made it. It didn’t mean I’d ever make a fortune.  

What it did mean is that I told my particular truth, just as those I admired most had done.  And though I never compared myself with Maya Angelou or Brennan Manning or Frank McCourt, I came to realize from reading their words that we’ve all stumbled in the dark and fallen flat on our faces.

They were successful only because their themes were universal, even if their stories were unique. They never told me the moon was shining, but I could clearly see “the glint of light on broken glass” - in the context of broken vessels.      
We’re all familiar with pain and rejection, disappointment and despair, and sometimes abject poverty.  We’ve all suffered and bled and died a thousand little deaths. And lived to tell about it.  So that others could feel and share in our grief and joy, could laugh and cry with us and feel less alone in this world.   

What about you? Who helped you overcome your writer doubts?  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Forgive or Die

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. ~ Nelson Mandela

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. ~ Anne Lamott

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~ Lewis B. Smedes

In the bible it says you have to forgive seventy times seven. I want you to know, I’m keeping a chart.  ~Hillary Rodham Clinton 

Okay, so you get the picture. Forgiveness. That’s what I’m talking about.  Because unforgiveness is a burden too big to bear.  Ask Corrie Ten Boom.  Ask Coretta Scott King, who said that hate injures the hater more than the hated. 

Sue Monk Kidd stated, “People in general would rather die than forgive. It’s THAT hard. If God said in plain language, ‘I’m giving you a choice: forgive or die,’ a lot of people would go ahead and order their coffin.”

How it’s done   

Deanne told me a story about her estranged father, how he’d never paid her any mind, never remembered her birthday, never gave her Christmas gifts or the time of day.     
“I decided that I’d have to be the one who reached out to him, and if he never reciprocated, so be it. I began sending him cards on his birthday and calling during the holidays, and just checking in every so often. I’m okay with the one-sided relationship because at least I know I’ve done my part.”

She told me her story exactly when I needed to hear it most.  When someone I deeply loved had wounded me so much that I was losing sleep.  And so I took her lead and began reaching out to that person. Then I wrote the whole painful story as fiction. That’s what you do when you have to “tell the truth but tell it slant.” 

Your turn

Now I want to hear from you.  Tell me about your experience with forgiveness – or the lack thereof should that be the case.  Throw off the albatross and move on. Release it on paper now. That’s how the healing begins. 

It doesn’t have to be major league drama. Nothing is too petty. Maybe you remember when your sister chopped off your favorite doll’s beautiful hair. Or your brother swiped your pack of Juicy Fruit gum and chewed every last stick.

Or maybe it IS high drama.  Maybe your wicked stepmother stole your inheritance from you and left you penniless and homeless. Maybe your neighbor hated your barking border collie, so he turned him out of the pen while you were gone to the store one day and Falstaff has never been seen again. 

And don’t forget to forgive yourself for that stupid thing you did.   If only you hadn’t taken the shotgun and blown the skylight to smithereens when your husband didn’t get around to repairing the leak…

If only you hadn’t told your dear friend that her new job as a census worker wasn’t exactly the most respected position in the world…

Write your story in any POV you like, as prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction. It matters not.  Go!  

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Lonely Place Apart

“My real writing is the stuff I do that takes my deepest energy, that requires me to slide into that space where everything else falls away.  I picture the space where I do my real writing as a quiet forest glen where there is sound but nothing I need to attend to, nothing that calls forth my intervention. It is serene, secluded, and I am alone there.”  ~ Andrea Cumbo

From what I’m hearing, other writers are struggling to juggle their blogging with their ‘real’ writing. Unknown Jim says his writing has been misplaced and it’s time for things to change.

His aim is to focus on fiction instead of spending so much time on social networking. He says, “It’s time to write what you REALLY want to write about…It might mean blogging less to just blog better…or writing an ebook, poem, or short story…”   

Or memoirs and magazine articles, which I must return to front burners and bring to full steam once again. This is why I’m taking a blogging sabbatical for the next several weeks - although I do hope to drop by and visit my friends on occasion. 

In an earlier post, The Music Within, I quoted Brian Doyle’s reasons for writing. These words bear repeating here, mainly to remind myself of why I write.

“Because like all human beings I have an innate drive to leave something shapely and permanent behind me, some marker or passage through the woods…I’d like to leave several books behind me so that someday my children will open and read them and think maybe the old man had a fastball for awhile there.” 

In Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind, Paul Dorset says that 97% of writers don’t finish their book. I’m in the 3% who have finished one, but little good that did since I placed it in a closet and forgot about it long ago. But that’s not the one demanding my attention right now anyway. It’s the memoirs I want my children to read. 

What about you?  How are you expending your writing energy, and do you also feel the need to redirect your focus? Is blogging your chief venue, or do you have other WIP that need attention like some of us?  

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