Vampire Christians.

This year has been a season of finding ways to understand forgiveness.  The dissolution of my marriage was final last month, the month previous to that my mother died, ending the possibility of a reconciliation after an estrangement stretching back to my sophomore year of high school.  Some friendships have been severely tested, my own understanding of ordination and my career, including ordination, always on the edge of dashing away into a world where I don’t have to be angry with church people or institutions or myself for failing them.  Forgiveness… moving forward into a future with hope, knowing that putting pieces together and healing the world is an act of courage and sometimes bold naivete.  One foot in front of the other, perhaps, with blinders on.

VAMPIREIn the midst of this, a few weeks ago, I attended a gathering of emergent church people, a talk given by Doug Pagitt.  Something he said has stuck with me.  He said that there is a breed of people a friend of his calls “vampire Christians.”  They’re the ones who seem to want Jesus for his blood and not much else.  Now, my first reaction to this statement was, “Oh, yeah… them.” As though I’m not at all related, that I don’t have something I’m primarily interested in Jesus for, too.  I can get pretty far saying this (insert appropriate liberal snideness), since after all I’ve got a pretty solid argument against atonement theories that focus on Jesus’ death without caring too much about either his incredible living or the transformational resurrection.  I can talk my way around that crucifixion till your head spins.  Theological.  Political.  Cultural.  Whatever fancy-pants avoiding-the-issue sorts of arguments you want, I got’em.

The problem is, at heart, I’ve got to deal with the fact that really, I’m in the same boat as a vampire Christian.  Hell, I’m holding the same paddle.  Because what I really want from Jesus, what I have needed, in fact, is forgiveness.  What I’m saying is, they may want Jesus for his blood, those vampire Christians, but this year I pretty much have been wanting him for his empty tomb and not much else.  The great Jesus-do-over.  Which is wrong, too.

Now, I haven’t been asking for the kind of forgive-and-forget toxic silliness that we so carefully teach children.  No.  The kind of forgiveness I’ve been looking for is filled with consequence, and learning, and a sense of deep peace and hope that despite what’s been broken or damaged or hurt, I can’t fix it because after all that’s above my pay grade, there’s only one power in the world strong enough to mend what’s not right here.  The kind of forgiveness that has God stroking my face and telling me it’s not really okay, but that’s not the point because lessons are learned and the world is different because of them and in fact it’s going to be better, fuller, more significantly joyous because it’s about dimension, not simplicity and God’s working despite my impression that it’s up to me.  Which is great, I’m sure.  I’ve done some serious thinking about this, lots of praying, too much crying, and I think this is an okay kind of forgiveness to desperately want.  ButI’m not saying forgiveness isn’t a wonderful thing to want.

I’m not even saying that seeking it and growing it in the world isn’t a noble venture.  I’m saying, it’s not the whole picture.  I recently heard someone say that if you boiled down the three Abrahamic religions into one word, Judaism = family, Islam = prayer, and Christianity = forgiveness.  I don’t think any Jew, Muslim, or Christian would be totally happy with that assessment, no matter how wonderful those three things are.  ‘Cause we can’t just want Jesus (or God, for that matter) for one thing, especially when that one thing is just for ourselves.  It’s either the whole picture or we’re just vampire Christians, there for the part that makes us feel good and fed and ironically limiting ourselves from growing because of it.  We’ve got to be willing to say, yes… Jesus’ life, the fact of him, says something about us and the world, about me and how I live.  Yes, Jesus’ death does, too, on a cross, at the hands of religious authorities and the government, because of the brokenheartedness inherent in this humanity.  Yes, the resurrection is central to how I am because I believe that somehow, through some mystery, God’s managed to overcome death with love and transformed the most horrible horrors into the possibility of hope.  All three, together, are the story.  Maybe I can get out of this by saying that, for me, they’re all about forgiveness.  They’re certainly all about redemption.  And that might be enough.

How are you a vampire Christian?

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