Avoiding Exclusion

The church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the least of the brothers and sisters, and even to the enemy. Jesus was not just a theological genius; he was also a psychological and sociological genius. Therefore, when any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God.

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but also the fullness of Jesus himself.

— Richard Rohr, Yes, And…, p. 186.

Photo: Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Ireland, July 2001

Savior

It was not just the rich young man who asked Jesus how to be saved. All sorts of people in the gospels got saved before Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus healed, they experienced salvus, God’s salvation. They followed him. Lives were changed, transformed. Disciples did give up riches and goods that they might inherit eternal life. Tax collectors abandoned their jobs and surrendered their social standing to eat with him. Children, slaves, soldiers, peasants, fishermen, farmers, prisoners, the sick, the blind, the lame — when they encountered Jesus, they found salvation, the wholeness, the healing, the oneness with God that had only been the stuff of longing. Every miracle, every act of hospitality, all the bread broken and wine served, everything that Jesus did saved people long before Rome arrested and murdered him.

It was all this loving and healing and saving that got him in trouble with authorities. He was not killed so his death would save people; he was killed because he was already saving them. He threatened a world based in fear, one held in the grip of Roman imperialism, by proving that a community could gather in love, set a table of plenty, and live in peace with a compassionate God. Jesus did at-one-ment long before being nailed to a cross. At-one-ment was the reason the authorities did away with him. No empire can stand if the people it oppresses figure out that reconciliation, love, liberation, and oneness hold more power than the sword. So Rome lynched Jesus: tortured him and hung him on a tree. That is the raw truth under all those sophisticated atonement theories.

Jesus was born a savior, and he saved during his lifetime. “Fear not!” “Peace on earth!” He did not wait around for thirty-three years and suddenly become a savior in an act of ruthless, bloody execution. Indeed, the death was senseless, stupid, shameful, evil. It meant little other than silence without the next act — resurrection — God’s final word that even the most brutal of empires cannot destroy salvus. This is no quid pro quo. Rather, Easter proclaims that God overcoes all oppression and injustice, even the murder of an innocent one. At-one-ment means just that. Through Jesus, all will be renewed, made whole, brought back into oneness, reunited with God. Salvation is not a transaction to get to heaven after death; rather it is an experience of love and beauty and of paradise here and now. No single metaphor, not even one of Paul’s, can truly describe this. We need a prism of stories to begin to understand the cross and a lifetime to experience it.

— Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus, p. 96-98.

Photo: Dunluce Castle, Ireland, July 2001

Cosmic Hope

Christ Crucified is all the hidden, private, tragic pain of history made public and given over to God. Christ Resurrected is all suffering received, loved, and transformed by an all-caring God. How else could we have any kind of cosmic hope? How else would we not die of sadness for what humanity has done to itself and what we have done to one another?

The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves. The resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us in return.

— Richard Rohr, Yes, And…, p. 76

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 12, 2022

God With Us

Again and again you see how Jesus opts for what is small, hidden, and poor, and accordingly declines to wield influence. His many miracles always serve to express his profound compassion with suffering humanity; never are they attempts to call attention to himself. As a rule, he even forbids those he has cured to talk to others about it. And as Jesus’ life continues to unfold, he becomes increasingly aware that he has been called to fulfill his vocation in suffering and death. In all of this, it becomes plain to us that God has willed to show his love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen, You Are Beloved, p. 93

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 26, 2021

Not If, But When

As I have often said, salvation is not a question of if, but when. Once you see with God’s eyes, you will see all things and enjoy all things in proper and full perspective. Some put this off till the moment of death or even afterward (“purgatory” was our strange word for this). Salvation, for me, is simply to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), which Paul describes as “making the world, life and death, the present and the future — all your servants — because you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:23).

Everything finally belongs, and you are a part of it.

This knowing and this enjoying are a good description for salvation.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 225

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 22, 2020

The Big Thing

I would insist that the foundation of Jesus’s social program is what I will call non-idolatry, or the withdrawing of your enthrallment from all kingdoms except the Kingdom of God. This is a much better agenda than feeling you have to attack things directly, or defeat other nation-states, the banking system, the military-industrial complex, or even the religious system. Nonattachment (freedom from full or final loyalties to man-made domination systems) is the best way I know of protecting people from religious zealotry or any kind of antagonistic thinking or behavior. There is nothing to be against, but just keep concentrating on the Big Thing you are for! (Think Francis of Assissi and Mother Teresa.) Paul’s notion of sin comes amazingly close to our present understanding of addiction. And he thus wanted to free us from our enthrallments with what he considered “mere rubbish” (Philippians 3:8), which is not worthy of our loyalty. “If only I can have Christ and be given a place in him!” Can you hear Paul’s corporate understanding in phrases like that?

The addict, or sinner, does not actually enjoy the world as much as he or she is enslaved to it, in Paul’s understanding. Jesus had come to offer us a true alternative social order here and not just a “way to heaven” later.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 197-198

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 13, 2021

Infinite Grace for All

As long as you operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance — or what he would call the “Kingdom of God.” The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. Our word for this undeserved abundance is “grace”: “Give and there will be gifts for you: full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, and poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model.

No Gospel will ever be worthy of being called “Good News” unless it is indeed a win-win worldview, and “good news for all the people” (Luke 2:10) — without exception. The right to decide who is in, and who is out, is not one that our little minds and hearts can even imagine. Jesus’s major theme of the Reign of God is saying, “Only God can do such infinite imagining, so trust the Divine Mind.”

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 184-185

Photo: Frozen lake, South Riding, Virginia, March 12, 2015

Outdoing Sin With Love

The church was meant to be an alternative society in the grip of an altogether different story line. Restorative justice is used in new Zealand as the primary juvenile justice model, and the Catholic bishops of New Zealand have put out very good statements on it. We see this alternative model of justice acted out in scripture — famously in Jesus’s story of the Return of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11ff.), but almost always in the prophets (if we can first endure their tirades). God’s justice makes things right at their very core, and divine love does not achieve its ends by mere punishment or retribution.

Consider Habbakuk, whose short book develops with vivid messages of judgment only to pivot at the very end to his “Great Nevertheless!” For three chapters, Habbakuk reams out the Jewish people, then at the close has God say in effect, “But I will love you even more until you come back to me!” We see the same in Ezekiel’s story of the dry bones (Chapter 16) and in Jeremiah’s key notion of the “new covenant” (Chapter 31:31ff.). God always outdoes the Israelites’ sin by loving them even more! This is God’s restorative justice.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 184

Photo: Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland, July 11, 2003

Casting Out Fear

I lived this story for years. I preached it. I fully bought into this narrative of an angry God needing to be placated. I understand the reason it works and the crushing effect it has on us when we embrace it, and I know how disorienting it is to be compelled to cling to a loving Creator while simultaneously being taught to be terrified of what that Creator wants to do to you if you don’t cling correctly. It hasn’t happened in an instant, and I can’t quite say how I got here, but I am simply living in a different story now. I still have God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit — but I don’t have fear anymore the way I used to. That isn’t to say that I don’t have “the fear of the Lord” that the Bible speaks of, that awe and wonder that recognizes my smallness and God’s indescribable scale and beauty. In fact, my view of God is as expansive and reverent and breathtaking as it’s ever been. It just isn’t defined by the rigid Christian narrative of my childhood that says I am an enemy of God at birth.

If God is God, then God is intimately aware of the path you’re on. God sees your striving, your desire to know, your efforts to love better, and so even when these things take you from tradition or orthodoxy or surety, there can be peace there and trust that God is present. Looking at the long, meandering road you’ve been on, how can you possibly define some precise pass-fail in all of that? If you feel the table of your hospitality expanding, if you feel the container you had for God being shattered, if you yourself are being drawn to something deeper than the religion of your past, that is the pull of God. It is the extravagant, barrier-breaking, tradition-transcending heart of Jesus that is demanding to be yielded to. To the gatekeepers and the finger pointers, this surrender to God will look like rebellion. They will demand guilt for the conclusions you’ve come to and repentance from the path you’re on. you will need to be steadfast and rest in the love that casts out all fear. They will snicker and condemn and dismiss. They will name this heresy. They will call this a mutiny. To you, it is a progression.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 166-167

Photo: Sunrise, South Riding, Virginia, March 16, 2015

Restorative Justice

Such bad theology has its roots in organizing a worldview around the retributive notion of justice, as we discussed earlier, distinguishing it from restorative justice (a fancy term for healing). Jesus neither practiced nor taught retribution, but that is what imperial theology prefers — clear winners and clear losers. Top-down worldviews can’t resist the tidy dualisms of an in-and-out, us-and-them worldview. But Jesus roundly rejects such notions in both his parables and his teachings — for example, when he says, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40), and that “God causes his sun to rise on bad as well as good, and causes it to rain on honest and dishonest men alike” (Matthew 5:45), and when he makes outsiders and outliers the heroes of most of his stories.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 182

Photo: Citadelle de Bitche, France, March 2000