CONVERSATION #1 – Transformation Over Transaction
“What if all this time it wasn’t a matter of denying Christ with one question in front of a shooting squad to save your life. But instead it was a series of questions over the course of your life in which you deny Christ to save your power, your comfort and your pride?”
Cam: When I first read that statement I was blown away. It’s such a paradigm shift from the thought process I grew up with. I came back to it throughout the day and eventually shared it because I felt it challenged our viewpoints and helped us move forward thoughtfully.
Jarring hypothetical situations can be easier to deal with than actual day-to-day decisions that define who we are. We feel self-assured that we wouldn’t deny Christ, even when faced with a firing squad in the jungle (seems there’s always a jungle), but then our daily actions don’t bear the fruit of a transformational inward journey.
Jenn: Growing up, the handful of times I would visit a youth group with a friend there seemed to always be a dramatic story or scenario that was delivered at the end, something to challenge the audience to examine the seriousness of their faith. I remember one particular story of a missionary family, again, in a jungle, that were faced with a decision. Overtaken by local militants a father and son were held at gun point, the father was commanded to deny Christ or his son would be shot in front of him. Laying on the ground face to face at gun point the father says, “I love you son,” as they are both shot. That story was the first thing I thought of when I read the tweet Cam shared.
I’m easily motivated, but my motivation is not easily sustained. A powerful movie, a moving story, an epic testimony and I’m all in. So this tweet took me back to those years when these scenarios had me enthralled, along with a sense that I would never measure up faith wise.
Cam: There are several problems with these types of hypothetical scenarios. The first is that they are almost always based on fear, and if Yoda taught us anything, it’s that fear leads to anger, hate, and ultimately suffering. When we build our entire ideology on a foundation of fear or shame, it’s difficult to move beyond that. To quote Thomas Merton, “Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.”
The second problem is that it makes religion largely transactional instead of transformative. If I score myself high enough on these unlikely situations, then I get to go to Heaven. There is no transformation here, only the assurance of not-Hell. There are great people with this mentality, but when religion is transactional we tend to use it to reinforce our biases instead of challenging ourselves to confront them.
The tweet suggests we overlook the day to day decisions that require thoughtfulness and compassion. It’s exactly the opposite of missing the forest for the trees. We can get so hyper-focused on this unearned self-assuredness that we tend to blind ourselves to a lot of what seemed to matter to Jesus — namely loving God and loving neighbor.
Jenn: “There is no transformation here, only the assurance of not-Hell.” I wonder how many of us had our first encounter with salvation on the basis of avoiding hell. I also wonder what implications this has on our spiritual walk.
I did have a question for Cam while discussing his post: What would you say to someone that references Matthew 10:32-33 in connection to the first portion of the tweet?
Matthew 10:32-33 reads, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Cam: I think it is very easy to get into proof-text battles, but ultimately, grand hypothetical gestures just end up muddying the water. We get so caught up in how we wish we would act that we end up losing sight of the minutiae of living. I do think it’s important to point out that according to the New Testament Peter managed to deny knowing Jesus three times and was still eligible to be St. Peter, so maybe there is some hypothetical leeway (I, Jenn, thought Cam misspelled something here, nope, went to dictionary.com.) in the hypothetical firing squad game.
Examining how we see the world and augmenting our lenses so that we are able to see things more objectively is part of the work of religion. According to Matthew, it was one of the key points of Jesus’ ministry: ”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” (Matthew 3:2) I’ve read that the Greek word translated as “repent” is metanoia, which more accurately means “to change one’s mind.” It’s a call for transformation.
Instead of focusing on these fear-based hypotheticals, what if we focused more on the everyday decisions that affect us and others? What if it’s about overcoming our ego and our fear of losing control and power? What if it is about seeing and respecting the imago Dei — the image of God — in all of those around us, and not just seeing Jesus as our get-out-of-hell free card? Religion can and should be transformative, but only if we let it and put in the work of changing how we see and interact in the world.
As I was thinking about this post I happened to read this and was surprised by how applicable it was to the discussion:
“We worshipped Jesus instead of following him. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward God. This shift made us into a religion of belonging instead of a religion of transformation.” – Richard Rohr, The Naked Now.
Jenn: Questions for all of us: What portions of your understanding of God have been more transactional than transformative? If God desires transformation over transaction, if it’s less about saying the right thing and more about a life lived in tiny moments of loving ourselves and others, how does 2021 need to look different for you? What if the firing squad of daily choices give you real moments to represent your faith?