Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed or At the Cross?


Do you prefer “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” or “At the Cross,” which is the same song with a much happier chorus added to Isaac Watts’ s stark original:

Alas, and did my saviour bleed

And did my sovereign die?

Did he devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done 

He groaned upon that tree?

Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

Saying or singing those verses out loud really makes you stop and examine yourself.

Am I living up to this great love that was and is being shown to me? Am I sharing that “love beyond degree” with others, regardless of whether I think they deserve it?

This questioning and turmoil isn’t necessarily fun, and it isn’t the stuff of a properly cheerful church social.

And so a later writer, Ralph Hudson, added a refrain that ties everything up in a neat triuphalist bow, so you can smile and move on, putting all those sharp introspective edges right out of your mind.

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light

And the burden of my heart rolled away

It was there by faith I received my sight

And now I am happy all the day

There is a time and a place for triumph: Easter, less than 2 weeks ago, was a perfect time to celebrate.

We’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection victory over the darkness without and within us, the powers and principalities, the adversary, the corrupting power structures of this world and beyond.

Our triumph doesn’t come from candy coating everything that reminds us of that darkness, everything that pushes us to question just how much we’re still wallowing in it. 

If you’re really “happy all the day” in this world, you’re probably not paying attention. 

Moana and the Temptation of Good Advice 

One of my favorite things about that song (and about Moana in general) is that the temptation she has to overcome to save her people and fulfill her destiny is good advice.

I mean,  what advice could be better than “you can find happiness right whet you are?” 

Don’t most of us get into trouble when we forget that? Isn’t that a great corrective to our consumerism, our fear of missing out, our endless anxious status- seeking? 

And it was good advice for everyone on the island except Moana. She had a vocation,  a literal divine calling,  and to fulfill out,  she had to walk away.

Sometimes we have to do that, to turn away from good advice in order to do what’s most important. 

But most of the time I should be listening to the good advice around me. 

The Good Samaritan and GSM (LGBT+)

Let me state by saying that I do not believe that we can truly love somebody while considering that person to be fundamentally broken, flawed, bent, abominable, while comparing that person’s very existence to something like adultery or demanding that the person be celibate because of their very nature.

In short, you cannot love somebody while declaring their nature to be evil and classifying any love or intimacy they may feel as an evil on the level of infidelity or thievery or perversion.

In short, you cannot love someone who is a gender or sexual minority in the way that Jesus calls his people to love unless you accept that person as they are, and accept that person’s love and relationships.

I have seen the damage that this approach has gone, especially to people who were raised in the church. The damage that is done to a child by being told again and again that they are fundamentally broken, that any romantic relationship that they may have feel is a simple abomination – that the image is incalculable, and can and does lead to suicide again and again.

Time and again, Jesus said that we must judge a tree by its fruit. Suicide, pain, alienation, and depression are not good fruit. They are a bitter, bloody harvest that we bear responsibility for.

Any doctrine that leads to death of children and teens cannot be of God.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m condemning Christians who try to love people while maintaining their sincerely held moral objections, because that is often a step on the path. I know I had to get there before I could get here. But I don’t want to give the impression that I think that this is anywhere to end up. This is a baby step. This is milk, and we Christians are called upon to grow up, eat adult food, and put aside childish things.

Rachel Held Evans gave a good illustration of this by pointing out that in Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan, it was not the Samaritan who needed help, who needed somebody to be God’s hands to him. Instead, the Samaritan, who was a member of a group that good observing Jews of the time would consider heretical and immoral, this Samaritan was the one who acted as a good neighbor to the injured man, who was in this context Jewish. It was the outsider, the one who was looked down upon, who was the hands of God to the man after the priest and the Levites passed by and did nothing.

This is a revolutionary concept, but I wanted to publicly put my name on this belief because I don’t want there to be any confusion among anyone who may have read anything else I’ve written as to where I stand. As believers, we don’t need to welcome anyone in just so we can change them. We don’t even need to welcome them just so that we can love them and be Jesus to them. We need to recognize that they may be the hands of God to us, that we may learn from them, grow because of them, or be rescued through them.

 

All Things Right and Good

You’re going to reach a point (We all do)

Where you must decide whether you will be right or good.

I know, Jesus never found Himself in such a spot

But he was God made flesh. You and I are not.

And when I reach that point, I want to say:

“I don’t know if this is right.

I don’t know how it fits in with systematic theology

With moral law, with moral codes

But I know how to be good.”

I’ve learned the hard way that right, like rights,

Can be abused, can be abusive:

  • Right and wrong (who decides?)
  • Legal and illegal (who makes the laws?)
  • Winning the argument
  • Contempt for the loser
  • Insiders and outsiders
  • orthodox and heretics
  • Moral panics
  • “They deserve it.”
  • “They would do the same to us.”

These are tools of domination. These are acts of violence

They’re labels and weapons the powerful use to maintain their supremacy

Be it white or male or hetero/cis.

It’s all the same. Power. Money. Control.

The rich men who wield it

The rough men who enforce it

The abuse and domination of women

And the blood of dark-skinned people

And anyone different in religion, sexuality, or creed

The enslavement of millions in for-profit prisons

And the torture of the few with neither trial nor hope

We can be right.

We can be in control.

We can hold the moral high ground

Or we can be good.

Or we can love as Jesus loved.

But we cannot serve both God and mammon.

Where Ayn Rand Went Right (Prophets and Bullies)

We must call evil “evil.”

We must have the courage to speak up.
We must not give evil the sanction of our silence.

Now, I’m no Objectivist. I’ve talked about where Atlas Shrugged went off the rails.

And unlike former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, I don’t think Objectivism is compatible with Christianity. But if Balaam could learn from a donkey, surely we can be humble enough to learn from a mid-century social darwinist.

But the truth is, it is far too easy to let things slide, either to keep the peace, or because we don’t want to damage our favored candidate’s chances, or because we just don’t want to make a fuss.

But evil grows best in silence and darkness.

I truly believe that we must start within ourselves, with the beams in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3).  Otherwise, we become hypocrites, whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27). And we must temper our boldness with compassion and empathy, lest we become cruel ourselves.

This means we must have the courage to call out the people in power, not pick on minorities and the marginalized just because they’re easy targets. THAT is the difference between the prophet and the bully. And THAT is the difference we must never forget.

But we must take hold of the courage to speak up. We must call out actions, plans, policies, and institutions. Even if they are popular. Even if they are done “to protect American lives.” Even if we voted for the guy doing them. Especially if we voted for the guy doing them.

We must speak out … even as we remember that the people committing these terrible acts are beloved children of the same God that made and loves us.