Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Nearly Jargon-Free Easter Reflection Against "Substitutionary Atonement"

Easter isn't easy for someone who doesn't believe in what theologians call "substitutionary atonement." Most Easter-related festivities ("Holy Week") tend to focus on this concept. To cut to the chase and through the jargon, I neither think Jesus died for my sins nor do think Jesus had to die an untimely death.

To continue with simplicity: I disagree with the parts of the Bible that support substitutionary atonement (emphasis on "parts of the Bible," because the Bible does not portray one unifying worldview--"biblical theology" is a myth). I think a God who requires death before forgiveness is a sadistic God. How many times in the Bible does God forgive sins without death (or, for that matter, without a profession of faith)? Consider the story of Jonah for merely one example. Yes, I know my "Romans Road"; Paul says "for the wages of sin is death." Jesus's death does not prevent me from physical death, and if I am going to believe in a God, I am going to believe in one powerful and loving enough that this God is not bound by some wild notion that every sin is reasonably punishable by death.

Although my Easter experiences are continually bombarded with the inculcation of this oppressive belief, I still love the significance of this holiday. Jesus's death is still holy: he was a martyr for his countercultural "Judaism" that, at times, threatened the oppressive Roman regime and its opulence that was constructed on the backs of the poor. (I place "Judaism" in scare quotes, because Jesus's nationality and ethnicity were so wrapped up in his experience of his religion that they were inseparable and not really contained but how we understand Judaism, religion, or faith today. But neither does Judaism, faith, religion, or Israelite-ness really do it justice. However, I do want to emphasize the continuity between Jesus and modern-day Judaism.) That sort of practice and dedication is just  as admirable, as the crucifixion is heinous. The cross reminds me of the evils of capitalism, cultural tyranny and the price of true justice.

Ah, but the price of true (social) justice is also its reward. Jesus died, but then there is the symbol of resurrection. Jesus lives on through those who follow his example. He is not dead, but alive in all movements for good. It would have been better if Jesus had died a natural death, but his untimely death will not be left in vain.

Substitutionary atonement was one way the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus could understand the death of Jesus. It is not the only way. One can also see Jesus's death as an injustice, and his resurrection as a call to be the resurrection: to continue social justice at all costs. And for that reason, I celebrate Easter and say with may others across the world, regardless of what they mean by the litany:

He is risen.
He is risen, indeed.

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Attempt at a Wedding Ceremony with Less Privilege

Weddings reek of privilege. They are filled with sexist images and they are, for now, a heterosexual privilege. It was important for my partner and I to have a ceremony that toned down the privilege a bit. Finding one wasn't easy, so I wrote one. Since we are both steeped in Christian imagery, our ceremony still uses a lot of God and biblical references.  I have shared it below.


Trevar: Love comes from God. Everyone who truly loves is a child of God. Let us honor God in this ceremony of love.

Dear Friends, we have come together to share love and joy. God gives human love. Through that love, two persons come to know each other with mutual care and companionship. God gives joy. Through that joy, they may share their new life with others as Jesus shared new wine at the wedding in Cana. With your love and prayers, we are drinking that new wine today.

In this welcome and invocation, Sherry and I want to share a sorrow hidden within our love. Although love is a thing to celebrate, many adults are prohibited from such celebrations. Two consenting adults who love and commit to each other should be allowed to join themselves and their families in such a happy celebration as this. 

Love comes from God. Everyone who truly loves is a child of God. Sherry now lights a candle that burns with our love not only for each other, but also for our desire for justice, for equality, and for love itself.

And now, as we pray, I am going to read a prayer a friend wrote for this occasion.

Loving God

Thank you for the love that you have created between Sherry and Trevar. As we look on this love, we see your hand in its intricate design, its deep formation. We look at them loving each other  and we experience the kind of divine wonder we feel when we behold natural beauty: a sunset  over the mountains, the expanse of the ocean, a new song by the neighborhood mockingbird. We  are brought to our knees by the magnificence of it, and we are grateful.  In seeing how Sherry and Trevar love each other, we are reminded of your complete love for us.  The way you give to us abundantly, joyfully. The way you laugh when we laugh and cry when we  cry. The way you indulge our need for second chances, and third ones. You love us in our  brokenness. You love us in our foolishness. You love us like crazy.  We praise you God, that Sherry and Trevar, by loving each other like you love us, have called us  back into your embrace. We feel at home here. We feel at peace. We feel loved. May the home that Sherry and Trevar build together always be one that radiates the peace and  love that they feel in this moment. May their marriage surprise them with fresh joy and  encourage them with lasting hope. And may their love, so vibrant now, grow ever more so day by love-filled day. God in your mercy, Hear my prayer. Amen.

Declaration of Intent 

Rev. Ingram: Before all present, I ask you to affirm your willingness to enter this covenant of marriage and to share all the joys and sorrows of this new relationship, whatever the future may hold.

Trevar, will you enter into the covenant of marriage with my daughter, and will you love her faithfully as long as you both shall live?

Trevar: I will

Sherry, will you enter into the covenant of marriage with Trevar, and will you love him faithfully as long as you both shall live?

Sherry: I will.

Addressing congregation:

Dear friends gathered today, do you pledge your support and encouragement to the covenant commitment that Sherry and Trevar are making together? If so, please say, "We do."

Congregation: We do.

Exchange of Vows

With everyone's intentions declared, I invite Sherry and Trevar to exchange their written vows.

Trevar: My dearest Sherry Rose, you know I don't like to make things simple, and these vows are no different. I am leery of making promises, because I make mistakes, and I am inconsistent. But there so much I want to promise you. So much I want to promise you, but so many things that could happen that could change me, or change you, or change us. I cannot promise consistency in myself or in our relationship, but I can promise you that I love you. And, 'I love you' is a vow in and of itself: a vow to try, to work to make things work despite our mistakes and struggles, to experiment on new things when life needs to change, to live as if I am not an independent person, but partaking in interdependence with you. I vow to try, Sherry Roselyn Ingram. I vow to try to honor the name that we will share as we share our lives together. I love you, and that's a promise.

Sherry: Trevar, who would have known that on this day exactly seven years ago, when you walked into my office to interview for a job, that we would be standing here, committing our lives to each other? I remember you being the quiet guy who overwhelmed me with his intellect. I recall you saying that you were intimidated by me because I was your supervisor's supervisor. I am so glad that we moved past that and capitalized on moments to get to know each other. I guess you can say that we've gotten some practice in being married, as we played a married couple during two murder-mystery dinners. We foreshadowed that we would live in Chicago by singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" during a Residence Life talent show. From our hike in Birmingham at the waterfall, which is when I started falling for you, during the time that I was physically sick while visiting you (and you took great care of me), to our road trip and Caribbean cruise, through our long-distance relationship, and our individual moves to Chicago, it delights me that it's you who has been a part of my life, and I promise from this day forward, that you will never walk alone. You are my everything. You make me feel loved, wanted, secure, heard, adored, beautiful, and cared for, not only with your words, but in your actions. I love your passion for social justice causes, equality, your nonjudgmental attitude, your ability to see the good in everyone, your humor, how comfortable I am around you, and the things you say when you say nothing at all. I've grown to love Futurama, and I promise to watch episodes with you for days to come. In turn, I hope you don't become too mad at President Fitzgerald Grant and stop watching Scandal with me. Although it embarrasses me sometimes, I love that you are not ashamed to proclaim your love for me with your public gestures. It shows me how much you really care. Thanks for putting up with my Type A personality and my perfectionist ways, especially during the wedding planning process. In our hearts, we already feel married and today marks the day when we become official partners for life. I promise that in good times, I'm going to celebrate with you. In sad times, I'm going to cry with you. And in uncertain times, I'm going to hold you. I give you my heart. My heart will be your shelter, and my arms will be your home. Loving someone is a choice, and in front of family and friends, I am declaring that I am choosing to love you, unconditionally, today and always. I love you.

Exchange of Rings

To seal the vows just exchanged, you shall now exchange rings. 

Trevar, please place the ring on your beloved's finger and repeat after me: "Let this ring around your finger be as my love around your heart."

Sherry, please place the ring on your beloved's finger and repeat after me: "Let this ring around your finger be as my love around your heart."

Hand Fasting

Trevar, take Sherry's right hand into your right hand. You have blessed each other and everyone here today with the blessings you have received. Your love overflows into the display of love that we enjoy in this ceremony and the food and fun of the reception tomorrow. May your commitments to each other stand forever, and may your love continually overflow and bless those around you. 

Sherry, take Trevar's left hand into your left hand. May your hands with the rings upon them continually work together to show love unto others. And may your left hands together not even know what your right hands are doing, as Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount.

Wrap the tie around the joined hands.

With the seals of love upon your hands, we emphasize this union in the fasting of your hands, which represents how firmly fixed you two are to each other. As your hands are joined, so are your whole beings. Let the bind never be cut asunder.

The knot is not tied by any human material, but by your public vows of love in this place. You hold in your own hands the making or breaking of this union. Your union will not always be easy, so keep the knot between your hearts faster than the tie that now binds your hands.


As the final symbol of your union, you two will now join in remembering how Jesus personified sacrifice and unity in his life and death.

As you eat of this bread, think not only of Jesus's body, broken for all, but also of the bread left over when Jesus fed the multitude. Like Jesus, if you two give yourselves to each other and together give yourselves to those around you, there will always and miraculously be more and more to give.

As you drink of this chalice give to Trevar by his grandfather, think of how Jesus wanted his followers to be one as he was one with God. As you drink of the cup, you not only strive for unity with God and with each other, but with unity of all who have been, are, and will be invited to drink of this cup. Be one as Jesus and God are one, as all humanity is one, and as two adults who love each other should be one.

Pronouncement of Marriage

It is with great pleasure that I pronounce before God and everyone here today that you are now married: woman and husband, man and wife. Please place a final seal upon your union with a kiss.

The kiss.

Behold, give thanks, and, please, remain in your seats, as my daughter and son-in-law, Trevar and Sherry Simmons, recess through the aisle.