Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hold Lightly

The best advice I’ve received in a good while came from a friend who said, “hold lightly your own agenda.”
I’m trying to follow that advice these days while serving as pastor-in-residence at Camp Hanover. As happens often at such places, the enthusiasm of young staff outpaces their experience and that’s nowhere more evident than in worship that they lead.
It tends to focus on pretty orthodox ideas about Jesus – especially when it comes to understanding the cross. The primary – perhaps the exclusive – way of explaining it reflects the fundamentalist embrace of substitutionary atonement, e.g., Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.
That theology leads into some places I simply cannot go. A God of love whose entire story in Hebrew scripture is that of leading the faithful away from barbaric forms of sacrificial worship would not traffic in such an exchange. Moreover, the orthodox atonement theology addresses itself to a problem that is not, from what I can see, the major problem that young people bring to camp.
Their problem is not some sense of sinfulness; rather it is one of meaninglessness. That doesn’t have to manifest itself in some mid-20th century existentialist angst. More likely it’s the experience of not knowing what to do with the one life we’ve been given.
The synoptic gospels don’t traffic in atonement theology and neither is that the principle concern of the Johanine community. They are far more concerned with discipleship – with following Jesus to the cross. In some sense, following the common play on the word, the gospels are more concerned with being at one with Jesus than they are with being atoned through him.
Nevertheless, all of that is my own baggage, my own agenda. When I leave myself open to being led by young people who are at a different theological place than I am, I find myself deeply enriched by their leading. When I hold lightly my own agenda I find myself building relationships that open up space for the deeper conversations necessary for bringing into the light some different perspectives on the gospels that are more attuned to – or, perhaps, at one with – the concerns that real people bring to this real place.
And then I am blessed along the way.

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