I remember the days when salvation from eternal separation from God sat at the center of my faith journey…barely. Maybe it is somewhat like remembering kindergarten. I can remember the faithful drawing my teacher made of me in my striped dress that hung on the wall. I can remember the tiny toilets with the black seats that were close to the floor for little legs. I can remember Mr. Keeney, our music teacher, doing the Luau dance, and our silly taunt whenever we knew he would be coming to our pod for music class: “Mr. Keeney in a bikini!” All the rest is a total blur.
Being saved from hell has as much to do with my faith now as kindergarten does with my Master’s of Divinity. Sure, I had to go through one to get to the other, but salvation from eternal damnation was just a phase or stepping stone. You could say that learning your ABC’s is foundational, but the days of memorizing The Four Spiritual Laws were not for me. If anything, I can remember having a small yellow copy in my hands–for the purpose of proselytizing on some mission trip–and thinking, “You have got to be kidding me.” I never used the booklet. Never shared my faith with someone to try and convert them to Christianity. Never really bought that the only way to win God’s favor was to declare Jesus your Savior.
I do, however, remember the passion I felt that if I was going to be a Christian, I wanted my actions to reflect my words. I hated hypocrisy, and that distaste began my undoing. I could not stand seeing people who were good and kind and loving and Jesus-following (as in my dear friend Kirk) decried as “an abomination” from the pulpit due to their sexual orientation. This was hypocritical to me because at its root it insisted that there were special kinds of sinners who did not deserve God’s love. And the insidious message at the root of the root was there are “good sinners” and “evil sinners” and how you get into the “good sinners who deserve God’s love” club is to be white, heterosexual, upper middle class, never asking for a hand-out (or up), married with children (although you were, of course, both virgins when you got married), never divorced or widowed, in the home you bought, tasteful, modest, back-stabbing, judgmental, pro-life, young earth creationists.
Oh…and God was always masculine: Father, Lord, or Him. Capital “H” him.
Remembering the days of church this way is not like kindergarten. I do not feel nauseous when I think of Mr. Keeney in his bikini, but I do having a terrible feeling in my gut when I think of the faith of my childhood. The church of my childhood is foreign to me now. His language. His mannerisms. His beliefs. His wars. His dividing lines. His passions. His fears. His righteousness. I am other to Him now, just as He is to me.
The truth is that I always thought transformation was more important than salvation. I always bought into three deep principles of the faith of my childhood: 1) I should be able to bring any of my friends to church (non-white, gay, broke, needy, single, divorced, so-not-a-virgin, in-between jobs, squatting at a friend’s house, outrageous, slutty, genuine, free spirited, open minded, pro-choice, science respecting, liberal); 2) Knowing God’s love is not enough…I have to live out of this love towards all of God’s people and creation; and 3) To feel utterly and unconditionally loved by God will mean that every single action of my life will be changed, for this love will call out to me again and again and over again. It will call me to change, and it will call me to destroy the walls I put up around myself and between you and I.
I love how Kenneth Caraway put it, “There is no box made by God nor us but that the sides can be flattened out and the top blown off to make a dance floor on which to celebrate life.”
The “Good News” I was taught as a child had but two choices–right (saved) or wrong (unsaved). The truth of my spiritual walk now could be called “The Gospel of the Third Way: Transformation.” My faith is about broken down boxes transformed into dance floors. My faith is about Love–a love that is feminine, nurturing, all embracing and healing–who longs for her children and never rejects her children when they cry out to her. When we do not cry out to her, she waits for us–even for a lifetime. My faith is about the power of this Love to never abandon any of us, even when we are in the pit of the hell of our own human making. Here, in the “root of the root of the tree called life”* she transforms our mourning into dancing and saves us from being stuck in the broken patterns, griefs and heartbreaks that would keep us from deep authentic living in the gift of our now.
I do not need hell or damnation…life can offer too much of that to us on its own. I only need the hope that comes from knowing God loves me so much She will never leave me where I am, but instead will lovingly offer an infinite symphony of possibility. This possibility is what helps me create meaning with God out of the tiny and grand moments of my life. The hope of transformation helps me to get up again and over again when I get the life knocked out of me. They do not teach us in kindergarden that life is all change, but once we understand this, and can lean into it, the deepest kind of salvation appears–freedom from pushing against the tides of our lives. With this freedom we–and others–have room to move from the simple “right/wrong” into the vast unknown that is always full of God’s unwavering love, help and healing.