Susan began with the question, “What is the Good news?” Counselors turned to one another and discussed this for a few minutes before reporting back. Some of the answers: God loves us; Christ died for our sins and was resurrected so that we might know eternal life and so that we can take part in God’s love; and that the universe trends towards goodness. James Brown, St. Sebastian’s director, asserted that the good news is encapsulated in the Shouting Prayer.
“The way you think about the good news may not be what the person next to you thinks is the good news, just as there many ways to understanding the good news of God in Christ, “ said Susan. “It’s a longstanding theological principal that whatever we say about God will at some point fail us, because God is bigger and stranger than our thoughts about God." Susan wrote on butcher paper the names of six, non-exhaustive approaches Christians take to understand and relate the good news in their lives and gave a brief overview each approach.
They were (please excuse the following simplifications):
- Incarnation – God became human, lived a human life, died a human death, and defeated death, so that we might become divine. Because of this, we know that all human life is holy, all bodies are sacred, and God can bring good out of evil and joy out of sadness. And, we know that God has felt human suffering, and is with us in our struggles. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14
- Moral Influence – In Jesus, we learn how to love each other best. Jesus’ life and death calls us to live, love, and serve the way he did. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
- Atonement – Sin separates us from God. Jesus’ death was the sacrifice that purifies us and allows us back into right relationship with God. This theology uses the language and imagery of ritual sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple to understand why Jesus had to die. St. Irenaeus, St. Anselm, and others developed this theology starting in the late 2nd Century.
- Liberation – Because suffering happens in our world on a societal scale, God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed. God intervenes in history through humans’ work for justice to liberate people from oppressive structures and to create the flourishing of life for all God’s people. Jesus’ ministry with outsiders, the oppressed, and women. The Magnificat and the book of Exodus, are key biblical touchstones for this theology.
- God's Power to Rescue – Many people who have suffered from terrible circumstances in their own lives – for example, addiction, abuse, cycles of poverty and violence, etc – use language about salvation to describe the good news of Jesus.
- Abundant Life – Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is "among us," breaking in, surprising, and expanding our community, present and future – a joyful thing worth pursuing at the expense of all else. Jesus’ life shows us that we are free to live and love others, and that we are free from the conventions and rules that bind us. He reclaimed religion from a system that had become overly dependent on rules, and showed us that in God it is always about living with compassion.
The approaches bearing the most green x’s were moral influence and abundant life. One counselor offered that he’d ticked moral influence because it was the most tactile and practical approach, and that the golden rule transcends all cultures and religions. Another offered that abundant life best delivered the good news because it was most closely aligned with the business of camp: to do the best to realize the Kingdom in the short time a camp has together.
Some counselors spoke about their fear and anxiety in response to oversimplified visions of atonement theology presented to them earlier in life. Susan spoke of her experience at other church camps and youth programs that were emotionally and spiritually manipulative and made her fear for the eternal salvation of many people she loved dearly. One counselor recounted being told that without a “plan of salvation” some family members and friends of other religious persuasions would “go to hell.” Another counselor offered that he believes atonement theology places too great an emphasis on individual behaviors but ignores the larger structural sins like racism, sexism, and systemic poverty. However, several counselors noted the importance of atonement theology in their sense of freedom and belovedness in God – that we have been separated by sin but can tack back towards God was in fact good news to them.
More pictures of the discussion are posted below.
While there was controversy over some and general agreement about others, no approach was without a red x, and none without a green x, a fitting parallel to the “wide tent” of the Episcopal Church.
Bringing chaplain’s time to a close, Susan emphasized, “All of these theological stances are Christian, and they are all contained in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and, thus, rooted in our Episcopal faith. Wherever you all are in your faith journey, no matter which approach fills you with hope and which approach makes you uncomfortable, you are safe at Shrine Mont.”
“You will find yourself surprised by the way you journey through these approaches,” continued Susan. “You are going to change and grow, as are the campers you serve. It is not our job to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ the campers that come to us, but to trust that God is already present and working in their lives and create a safe space to engage the questions of faith. Campers will know that they can participate, be respected, and be loved.” And that is the good news.