Category Archives: Cross talk

Online Stations of the Cross

This year, former FCCB intern Meredith Jackson, PSR student Emily Labrecque, my husband Jason and I decided to do something a little different for Good Friday. We’ve put together an online Stations of the Cross, as a way for people to engage in the day from their home or work. The Stations are designed to let you journey through 14 stations through music, video, art, poetry, and prayer. You can do it all in one sitting, or return to it throughout the day. Check it out, and let us know what you think, and feel free to pass it along!


Criminal Justice and a Broken Theology of the Cross

This article by Benjamin Corey looks at the legacy of how punitive atonement theologies are reflected in our justice system. He makes some positive claims about what Jesus dying on the cross is doing, which you may or may not agree with and which makes for great discussion as well.

But I think his reflection on our justice system is simple and powerful. Whether or not it is a legacy of one theology of atonement that arose out of Feudal Europe or not, a strong contingent of popular theology today holds that If there is offense, then someone needs to be punished. A recent Pew poll on American support of the death penalty still showed white Christians across the board as supporting the death penalty substantially more than the broader American adult population (and the racial differences in support of capital punishment are worth another discussion unto itself).

Granted, punishment as a form of “making things right” has been around for much of human history. But we can see instances of choosing a different path, such as in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa. In that case, those offenders, those who committed heinous crimes and murders, heard the stories of how those left behind, the survivors, were affected. And the offended against heard the stories of their offenders. Across the board, offenders and survivors were humanized in each others’ eyes.

In a culture where violence and punishment make up justice, how can we be agents of reconciliation? How can we keep another’s humanity, his or her joys and struggles,  at the forefront before anything else?

Volunteering as Tribute and Atonement

What story does this sound like:

Out of chaos, a covenantal society coalesces between a greater power and a lesser one. When the lesser one refuses to render due honor and obedience to the greater – in actions considered in rebellion of that covenant – they bring upon themselves the wrath of the greater power, a wrath that can only be satisfied by precious sacrifice, which balances the scales once more. The climax of the story comes when one representing those to be punished volunteers to take on the wrath of the greater power. That volunteer upsets the balance of power, subverting it.

The pattern of violence that balances the scales, that atones, for disobedience or wrath seems repeated over and over. The premise in The Hunger Games series follows this pattern seen in some parts of the Christian tradition around Jesus’ death pretty closely.

One of my favorite podcasts/blogs is Homebrewed Christianity. Two Claremont School of Theology PhD’s/pastors who spin passionate theology while sipping a new beer they brewed. This podcast linked below was one of the first shows I heard, and it feels classic–especially for Lent, when that “Jesus died for our sins” bit becomes more stark, especially as we get towards Good Friday. The hosts talk with two authors who critique traditional concepts of atoning and sacrifice, including in The Hunger Games, and explore how these frameworks get re-inscribed and reflected in our culture.

Listen to the podcast here while you get ready in the morning or something. It’s awesome.


Nadia Bolz-Weber on Hope and Vapid Optimism

If you haven’t heard of her, read most everything you can by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a Lutheran church in Denver. From my perspective, she just gets the Gospel in all its grittiness and grace so well. I love this sermon of hers. It articulates a lot of the way that I experience and struggle with hope.

Gather Series Kick-off, and, Why Hope is So Powerful but I Kind of Hate It.


Photo Courtesy of Matt Erickson.

This Sunday at First Church, we opened our first Sunday of Lent and kicked off our Lent theme “Saved by Hope”.  I’m curious and excited to see how this unfolds in our church, and I’m also pretty challenged by this theme. And my hang-up, turns out, is on “hope.”

Hope…is a concept I value (how’s that for non-commital?). I think it’s an important aspect of how we are called to relate to the world as Christians. I can say a lot of nice things about it, preach on it, but it is tough for me on some very visceral levels. I’m fairly cynical, and some talk of hope triggers some self-comparison in me. When I hear people talk about it in such glowing and happy terms enough, I feel like I must be doing it wrong, because I feel more cynical than I’d like to often admit. And I kind of feel like a professional-Christian fail. Hope sounds like a nice concept to me, but it’s hard for me to connect with in any real way. I actually wind up feeling kind of resentful, because I feel like some defect I have is exposed—I’m not as full of hope as I get the message (probably my own internalizing) that I should be.

Working as a hospital chaplain didn’t really help with feeling like I can comfortably relate to hope. I heard so many family members tell each other, hoping in darkness, that their loved one would be okay. Would come through this stroke, this infection, and would be returned to them as fulfillment of their hope if they just kept holding out hope. And more often than not, that loved one did not. I found nothing to say in these situations besides to sit with them and hold the agonizing silence with compassion. I wasn’t sure where hope was. In some of the more typical discourse I hear about it, it doesn’t seem to work itself out the way I might expect. These experiences made me wonder if hope is something we can easily perceive or experience, or if it arcs beyond our perception. That’s the way I have to hope for hope—it’s often beyond what I can understand.

I’ve preached on hope and tried to wrestle with it, and I think the most I can say about it is that it’s so unpredictable, so hard to anticipate or control, that it’s hard to pin down. I guess hope feels to me like something hard to talk about because it is kind of incorporeal. I don’t think you can know what it is until it happens. It comes out of nowhere. If any of you follow Hyperbole and a Half, (if not, read all of the older comics and enjoy your laugh-cry) It’s Allie’s little shriveled piece of corn. And maybe that surprise, that hope working itself out beyond how we can get it, is good news.

This Lent, in Thursday Gather, I invite all of us to wrestle with these theological pieces that come up in Lent. We discuss how we relate to these concepts, how we’ve experienced them, and how/if we can discover some blessing in them. Each week will be broken down by a word: “saved”  “hope”  “atonement” and the final two that I don’t think you can talk about one without the other: “cross” and “resurrection”. These can be pretty tough for some of us, especially those who identify as progressive Christian, to relate to or engage with. But I believe there is some beauty and grace in these too that goes down deep. I can’t wait to hear what comes up.

This will be supplemented with blog posts some very smart folks have written about these topics I’ll post on this page. I encourage you to read them before Gather each week. The conversation won’t specifically be around one post, but they will provide some awesome questions and concepts. Check back here regularly.

All of these can tie together or stand alone, so come to all or drop in as you can. Looking forward to seeing you and hearing these conversations!