More unresolved mysteries

Since we’re pondering the unsolved mysteries of life, I thought I’d add two more to the melting pot for consideration.
As a woman, the perennial question to which I have never received a satisfactory answer is this: What is it that other woman find to do in public toilets that is so much fun and takes them so long? It’s not like they’re even doing their hair and make-up because in order to do that, one needs to exit the little cubicle and go to the open area where the sinks and mirrors are. (Not that I’m an expert on hair and makeup, but I’m usually the one waiting to wash my hands behind the person applying eye-liner).

The second is this: What is it that other people find to do in cash-point cubicles? The other day I went to the ATM and there were three people in front of me. “Oh good” thinks I, “won’t have to wait too long, gives me plenty of time to buy a bus ticket…” The three of them took over twenty minutes. I took about thirty seconds, including fifteen seconds checking the cubicle to see if there was a hidden button to turn the thing into a flight-simulator. In fact the whole exercise of extracting money and buying a bus ticket only took four minutes. Which was lucky because that was all the time I had left after queuing for the cash-point.

Geed up and encouraged by my vagabonding episode in Buenos Aires the other week, I’m plotting an even madder trip to the northerly province of Salta, involving sixteen hours on two buses, leaving tomorrow night, to a little place called Pichanal. In Pichanal is a school, where they have been working on a model of inclusive education for the last couple of years, and I am going to meet with the director. Today I spent some time looking for information on accommodation in Pichanal. After trawling 200 hits on the web, I narrowed it down to two potentially useful websites. One had a section entitled “Hotels in Pichanal”. It said (in Spanish) “We are very sorry, but at this moment, no hotel, room to rent, inn, hostel, or motel has been added to our website. If you would like to suggest one, please click on the link below…” Good-oh. The other site had the words “Pichanal” and “hotel” in fairly close proximity to each other, but since the rest of the site was in an Eastern European language, possibly Polish, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was saying about either. Here’s hoping it’ll be alright on the night….

This week’s heresy

Time for a new heresy. I think it’s a good thing to air our heresies, and I also think that we don’t do it enough. I suspect that the reason why we don’t do it enough is for fear of what the dear brethren might think of us. Such fear is a bad thing, since it denies us the opportunity to deal with our questions in daylight. Unfortunately, fear frequently turns out to be justified, since judgment and un-grace are heaped upon those perceived to be “not quite as saved / sound / sorted” as the self-appointed judges: “If grace is so amazing, why don’t Christians show more of it?” (Yancy, 1997).

At the moment in the Christian community, in the UK (don’t know if it’s happening in other places?) there is a brouhaha occurring on the subject of “substitutionary atonement”. As would be expected, the community has responded with its usual level of maturity, and is thus polarized between the red corner and the blue corner, having opted for war over dialogue. “Horsey” novelist Dick Francis once said:
“Entrenched belief is never altered by the facts” (Francis:”Hot Money”).

Without wishing to wade onto the battlefield, to which I could add very little anyway, an over-simplistic understanding of substitutionary atonement might go something like this. God is judge, and he judges us according to his standard, which happens to be perfection. Not surprisingly we all fall short of the mark, since we are characterised by imperfection, otherwise known as sin, and all sin matters. So all are deserving of punishment. However, God is love as well as judge, and having found us worthy of punishment, he also provides the solution. In the person of his son, Jesus Christ, he came to earth as a man and willingly took our punishment upon himself (hence “substitutionary”) and bore our sin’s condemnation in his own body on the cross. Thus judgment and love are inseparable in the act of the crucifixion.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. This is important for thinking about substitutionary atonement. If we think about the analogy of a judge for a minute. A judge finds a person guilty and orders them to pay a fine. If the judge, instead of fining the guilty party, imposed the fine upon a random person who happened to be sitting in the courtroom, then that would be blatantly unjust and could not be interpreted as loving in any sense. However, if the judge fined the guilty party, but then undertook to pay the fine him/herself, then that could be interpreted as an act of love. Hence Jesus being fully God could choose to pay the “fine” himself on behalf of humanity, even though he owed nothing.

Now up to this point, I might not be the greatest theologian, and my understanding may be limited and simplistic, but, for my own purposes at least, I’m doing OK so far. Here’s where it goes wrong and the question kicks in. What is going on with that cross? At this point the judge analogy blows apart. The judge imposes a fine, and decides to pay same him/herself. S/he rises, crosses the courtroom, and to the bewilderment of all, and the gratitude of the defendant, hands the corresponding sum to the prosecution. Bows, applause, Daily Mail has a field day, all live happily ever after.

However, this analogy can only work if the judge and the plaintiff are separate entities. If the two were one and the same, then no money would actually change hands since the same person would both impose the fine and write it off. If the judge felt like it, they might take the money out of their wallet, hold it up to the court, and put it back in again to show the extent of the price paid, and forgiveness received. But this would be a symbolic demonstration, and not a necessary facet of the forgiveness itself.

Yet here we have God in the person of Jesus, both plaintiff and judge, succumbing to torture and execution, apparently in order to appease himself. How on heaven or earth does that work?

I don’t actually need an answer, or not this week anyway, which is fortunate since I don’t imagine I’m going to find one. What I am asking for is a space to think about it, and for any contributions that anyone wants to add to the soup. I suspect that this “God became a man” thing is too important to be tied up in crazy theories or boxing rings, and that we need to find other ways of living with it, and ultimately with Him:
“I am one of those who think it good that the church has never formally defined ‘the atonement’, partly because I firmly believe that when Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal” (Wright, NT: “The Cross and the Caricatures”, 2007)

Human Biology

Human biology classes begin at an early age in the childrens’ home.
Isaias, aged two, is prodding my abdomen saying “baby… baby… baby?”
“That’s right”, I tell him; “There’s a baby in my tummy”.
Next thing, he’s trying to stick his head under my jumper to look for it.

Facundo, aged six asks “If it’s in your tummy, how is it going to be able to come out?”

How indeed…

Snow and sociology

Bank holidays can be kind of tedious around here. When it’s cold, everywhere’s shut and public transport goes into skeleton mode. When it’s warm, half of the population crowd into the one park in Cordoba, and the other half of the population sit in their cars and queue to leave the city at crawling pace. We’re rapidly coming to the conclusion that we would be better off working on bank holidays, and having a day out when everyone else is back in the office.
Today it is snowing in Cordoba, which is quite unusual. Heating technology here involves lighting the oven. It does sort of work; by lighting the oven and closing the doors, we can wear fewer layers (four) in the kitchen than in the rest of the house (six plus woolly hat). But we are finding ourselves imagining what it might be like if the windows fitted properly and the house heated itself up at the flick of a little switch. Our carbon footprints have never been so virtuous.

From my unscientific observations, I have identified the important difference between Cordoba and Buenos Aires (other than the fact that Buenos Aires is thirteen times bigger than Cordoba, and not snowing). It is this: In Cordoba, when a pregnant woman gets on the bus, an earnest, slightly geeky looking male adolescent about four rows back will automatically offer up his seat. In Buenos Aires, when a pregnant woman gets on the bus, no-one moves a muscle, until a middle aged woman, who also happens to be a standing passenger says in a loud voice “can someone give the pregnant lady a seat”, whereupon another middle aged woman about half-way down the bus will stand up with a “sorry love, hadn’t noticed you”. In my “six months gone” state, I have experienced these little scenarios many times in the last few weeks. I’m sure a sociologist somewhere will have a theory. Meantime, I am happy on two counts: one that chivalry is still alive and well, albeit expressed in different forms; and two that it will have stopped snowing by the time young Bean is born.

Vagabonding in the crazy city

A last minute invitation, an even later decision to accept it, and I spent this week vagabonding round Buenos Aires, living out of a rucksack and sleeping in a different bed every night. Reminded me of my wasted youth. To be honest, I had a ball, catching up with good friends, meeting new people, visiting projects, hopping on and off buses and trains, and criss-crossing the crazy city.
The main purpose of going was a two day conference, being organised by a friend, to present the United Nations Disability Convention which Argentina has signed, and to start the process towards ratification. Day one was “in house” for advocates, self-advocates and NGOs. For my purposes, this was well worth while; the sessions were interesting, the discussion animated, and I met some useful people to follow up afterwards. Day two was much more high-powered. Most of the people from the first day attended, but the presentations from the front consisted of a succession of panels made up of politicians, senators, deputies, and judges discussing the implications of the convention in broader terms. The main thing that I learnt on day two is that I need an urgent crash course in Argentinean politics since I had no idea who most of the up-front people were, or what they had done to obtain their job descriptions. The final session of the day was a series of testimonies by disabled people which, after the parade of dignitaries, was very refreshing to come back to earth and hear some normal people talking about their real lives in understandable terminology.

Making the most of the trip to the big bad city, I went to see our good friends Ramon and Fran in Rafael Castillo, stayed the night with them, and popped in briefly to say hello in the home where I used to work. I went to Lanus to see another friend, Lucrecia, who has just realised her ambition to set up a day-project for people with learning disabilities. This was inaugurated three months ago, so I was able to visit the brand new functioning project. I went to Palermo to see my “sister” Cristina, where we stayed up half the night drinking tea and talking. The next day I took a series of buses to La Plata, where I enjoyed catching up with some Latin Link colleagues, followed by visiting the CobeƱas family who as well as being wonderful people, are involved in some real “sleeves rolled up” life-changing self-advocacy work; I just wish I lived 700 kms closer. I stayed the night with them in La Plata, and the next morning embarked on another succession of trains, buses and automobiles to San Miguel where I visited a sheltered workshop, impressive for the professional setup of their factory; and also a day-project for people with higher support needs. Finally I met with Professor Adelma, who is an inspirational lady, involved in the disability movement in Argentina for forty pioneering years, and still characterised by her energy and vision to bring about social change.

Now I’m back in Cordoba and vaguely attempting to make sense of the many random scribblings on little scraps of paper, which after a night on a moving bus is proving too much for my tired brain. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….