The following is a reflection from ESR student Christie Walkuski on the 2013 ESR Willson Lectures:
I wonder if some of my classmates are getting sick of me talking about the crucifixion. It seems a morbid subject after awhile. But I find I can’t get away from it this first semester of seminary. It is under every rock I turn. My meditations have challenged me to think about what I do when I am struggling or suffering, when I feel nailed to the spot, so to say. In moments of deep grief, shame, alienation, rage--can I accept where I am and still love in the face of it? What does that kind of love look like?
During ESR’s Willson Lectures, Peter Rollins spoke to these kinds of questions I have been wrestling with, and helped to deepen my understanding of what exactly it means to take up my own cross. The horror of the crucifixion, Rollins says, is the horror or truth of the absence of God. The horror of the crucifixion is the horror or truth of the absence of God. If we fail to recognize the shame and humiliation, the crushing loss of all hope and faith, the absolute alienation that Jesus experienced when he cried out against God on the cross, then we fail to see the significance of the crucifixion event. Our faith becomes domesticated, as Rollins says, and we close ourselves off to the radical transformation that is possible when we embrace the brokenness inherent in the cross and in our human experience.
The truth is, most times I don’t really care for that kind of transformation. No, thank you. I prefer to stay comfortable, and I have a tendency to stay in deep denial. Because it is a lot of work to be in the truth, to be awake, to be willing to face my own shame and alienation. Especially in the midst of great turbulence, change, or grief, I easily slip away into my fantasies, and desires, and illusions of grandeur. I start chasing things: affection, validation, comfort, hope, a God that will make me feel better. One of the most powerful parts of the message Rollins brought and that spoke to me so directly is the reminder that anything that I hold on to or chase that takes me away from my own brokenness--including my own notions of God or church--essentially takes me away from the love of God.
The paradox of our faith, and for me one of the beautiful mysteries of the unity of God, is that when we, in our own shame and hopelessness, stand in the horrifying absence of God, we enter into the very heart of God. Rollins talks about it in a simple and beautiful way--when we open ourselves up to our own brokenness and doubt, he says, we also open ourselves up to profound love and joy. And we can’t help being transformed in the process.
I like to think of this “resurrection faith” as a spirituality of showing up. We show up to do the spiritual work of being honest about where we are emotionally and spiritually, to lean into all the broken and dirty places of doubt, anger, guilt, disappointment and suffering, and we are willing to engage, question, weep, bleed, argue, be vulnerable, and laugh anyway. Of course, we do not seek suffering. This is not about some kind of narcissistic martyrdom. But we can’t escape it. A truth of human existence is that there is suffering. We all face profound loss and grief, from the minute we are born. How do we want to be with that truth? To the extent that we come to terms with the cruciform nature of life, and embrace it, is the extent that we meet God. I am coming to understand that it is not whether I choose to love during the difficult times in life, it is that simply being willing to be in the broken places is love itself. It is most definitely a Christ-like love. Is this not the beautiful significance of the crucifixion? Ziggy Marley wrote a song, “Love is my religion”. I’m on board. Let’s throw out religion for this kind of love.
The prospect of committing to living into a radical resurrection faith in community with others is both uncomfortable and attractive to me. It requires honesty, humility and a willingness to be vulnerable. It doesn’t mean I will agree with, or like everyone. And it doesn’t mean that everyone will like me. My question is, can we love anyway? I believe showing up and doing our own spiritual work creates the community of grace that Rollins talked about, where there is a spirit of acceptance of one another, because we recognize that we are all broken. More than tolerance and acceptance, I think doing this kind of spiritual work relates to Martin Luther King’s vision of the beloved community, where racism and other ‘isms’ don’t prevail because as a community we hold each other accountable, we live in the “transformative trauma of the cross”, in Rollins-speak. It is a transformation that moves us to not react violently to ‘the other’, to our enemies, perceived or real, but to engage creatively and passionately towards reconciliation and peace, however messy and difficult the process. We question and confront each other. We challenge each others' ideas about identity, about God, about faith. And I believe we also get moments of grace, and are able to laugh at ourselves along the way, and be witnesses to each others' joys as well as pain. This is life that is authentic, courageous, and rich.
Some folks in our community have been challenging Rollins on what they say are degrading images of women in his books and talks. I appreciate Jodi Jones’s questions in her blog post that ask, what do we do when “someone is a little racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or elitist? What about when they are blatantly racist, sexist, etc.?” This kind of questioning is exactly one of the ways in which a community that is living a radical faith of transformation holds each other accountable. So I hope we continue the dialogue that Jodi started. Some are also dismissing Rollins saying he isn’t saying anything new and that he is a tad bit self-promoting. I think only Peter Rollins knows to what extent the latter part is true. Meeting him face to face and looking him in the eye surely complicated any of my own judgements to that effect. I liked him. He didn’t strike me as someone who is all about himself, who doesn’t walk the talk that comes out of his mouth. Part of me thinks, “so what if he is a little sexist? So what if he is a little self-promoting?” Aren’t we all struggling with our own ‘isms’?