We recently got back from Austin. I have a grandmother and an aunt that live that that the boys hadn’t seen in a while so I, with the help of my parents who are becoming professional babysitters in their retirement, schlepped the boys, including a giant oxygen concentrator, a gargantuan CPAP machine on a stand that we now affectionately call ‘Wall-E’, a high chair, and a trombone, down to the capital of Texas.
We stopped at Inner Space Caverns which is a commercial cave just north of Austin. Because the Baby weighs as much as a ton of bricks, I was really hoping that the cave had nice flat sidewalks and a Starbucks so we could push him in the stroller but no dice. I ended up putting him in a baby carrier on my back.
His attention span being what it is, he got bored back there pretty quickly. When our tour made its’ first stop, he kept arching backward to look at the lights and people behind us upside down. It was as if he was trying to do a back tuck with a double axle and stick the landing. For a while, one of my parents walked slightly behind us pressing on his head so that he wouldn’t slip from the baby carrier and be dashed on a stalactite.
He soon moved on to batting my ponytail back and forth. This was great! He can bat my ponytail all day long. But he quickly remembered that a ponytail is attached to hair and hair is attached to a head so he would grab a fistful of my auburn locks and yank as hard as he can. While most the time, when you carry him, he literally does his best approximation of a dead body, when he sees something he wants, his hands have an enormous grip strength. Once he latches on to an object he fancies- your hair, a plate of tacos, the dog- he doesn’t want to let go. When he does this, we have to use a hold that my dad and I learned in our jujitsu class, where you bend the person’s hand towards their wrist until they release. Then, and only then, will you be released from the vice-like-grip of an otherwise floppy toddler.
So, now he was arching and pulling, and I was alternating between leaning forward to counterbalance the arch and trying not to shriek from the pain of my strong, yet flaccid, toddler trying to snatch me bald.
At one point, I turned my head to look at him and he caught my profile. Wanting to see my whole face, he hooked his tiny, strong baby fingers in my left eye socket and yanked. You have not known pain until the miniature digits of your child have tried to dislodge your head from your neck using the hole in your skull meant for your eye. His raptor claw fingernails left a scratch as I freed my eye socket from his death grip and it hurt for a good 10 minutes afterward.
I can’t fault him for that one though.
He just wanted to see my whole face.
I recently heard that the Greek word ‘sozo’, which is usually translated ‘saved’, can also mean whole. That’s had me deep thinking for a while.
The vision of salvation that I grew up with is so narrow- be “saved” from God’s wrath when you die and have assurance of salvation from that wrath when you’re here now (but if you sin, God will still be mad at you). Its narrowness certainly contributed to my deconstruction because once I started to understand racism, I realized that my personal salvation theology had no answer to systemic injustices. What does God have to say about oppression on a large scale? The typical, “have a personal relationship with your Lord Jesus Christ” doesn’t address that.
Strangely, I’ve never really gotten the “heaven or hell” discussion. I just have never really thought that we can really know what happens when we die so I don’t worry about it too much. Even when my faith was its strongest, salvation for me has always been more about the here and now- having God’s mercy, grace, and assistance today. Now, the flip side of that is that I believed if you weren’t a true Jesus follower that you were going to be deeply dissatisfied with life. Certainly that’s true for some people (ahem, including Christians), but even if you had said that you were a Muslim who was satisfied with their life, I would have thought that you were either lying or deceived. Only my very narrow definition of being a Jesus follower would get you into heaven on earth.
So, mired in certainty, like evangelicals are wont to do, I thought that I knew what salvation was. Salvation, let’s say, is this grand vision, a bigger plan that involves saving more than just me but involves responsibility for my neighbor, breaking systems of oppression, redeeming the whole Earth. I had a very narrow view of salvation. I didn’t know that my scope was limited. Much like my son trying to see my whole face by yanking my eye socket, I was frantically clawing at the face of salvation, trying to make it move and twist in a way that it wasn’t meant to.
God has bigger and better plans for us than avoiding hell and putting us on a behavior management plan. God wants us to flourish and what I’m discovering is that this isn’t some namby-pamby flourishing where we sit in a garden, singing acoustic Beatles songs, and we get to do what we want. God’s definition of ‘whole’ is quite different from the world’s definition of ‘whole’.
I’m rereading Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and he talks about the story of the rich young ruler who has followed all the laws and asks Jesus what he still has to do to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus answers that he has to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor. The young man goes away sad because he is unwilling to compromise. Jesus knew that this young man, who for all intents and purposes appeared to be an upstanding, ‘whole’ person, was gripped by love of money. The cost of salvation, the cost of being whole, was steep.
Whole means we love our enemies.
Whole means we prioritize things according to the topsy turvy priorities of the kingdom of God (i.e. love > money, pride, power)
Whole means we put our neighbors before ourselves.
Whole means we do not let fear win.
Whole means the concern with ‘sin’ isn’t because it makes God angry, but because it keeps us from being ‘whole’.
Whole means we get to reclaim human sexuality from ideas that have tainted and twisted it into something it wasn’t meant to be.
Wholeness goes beyond the individual level. How can we redeem systems that keep people from being whole? How can we redeem creation (including the Earth) to make it whole?
The theology of wholeness expands salvation to mean more than just not going to hell. It looks at people, systems, creation holistically.
I remember once hearing a sermon on the idea of justification, sanctification, and glorification. Basically, it’s salvation in the past, present, and future. The idea was:
- You have been saved.
- You are being saved.
- You will be saved.
I was comforted by that because, as a perfectionist, I often felt like a steaming pile of shit because I’m human and I sin. So thinking about salvation helped comfort me in my narrow definition of what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
It’s the same with this idea of wholeness. Even this morning, I’m thinking to myself, Well, I basically fell off my no-social-media-during-the-day-for-Lent wagon immediately and I’ve eaten 7 cookies this morning when I promised myself that I would only eat 3. I’ve been awake for 9 minutes. I’m not WHOLE. I’m barely a half.
Depending on the day, one or more of these statements will help me not despair.
- You have been made whole.
- You are being made whole.
- You will be whole.
For my social justice friends,
- The world has been made whole.
- The world is being made whole.
- The world will be whole.