Salvation Aims Too Low: Christian Insights from a Multimedia World

What do LGBT Pride Day, the lectionary for Proper 7, and the New Media Consortium have in common? Probably more than just one thing, but at least this much: Salvation aims too low.

Of course “salvation” enjoys a rich and multilayered history. I have in mind here how so many U.S. Christian churches have obsessed over who is “in” and who is “out” – who, in other words, is saved?

To me, the Gospel answer to that question is resoundingly clear: everyone. By hook or by crook, God will ensure that no one – not a single one – is lost. (If you have trouble with that claim, I recommend reflecting on the gospel parables of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12-14, the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10, and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:45-46, among many others.)

I know there are multiple ways to read the meaning of “salvation” in Christian history. I draw on many of them for my own spiritual practice, my reading, writing, and teaching. I’m grateful for them all. But I truly believe that the divine salvation train is bigger than any of us can imagine. It’s bound for glory and everyone has a ticket.

So let’s stop worrying about that. In my experience, letting go of my anxiety about my personal and individual salvation has enabled me to focus on what matters just as much and often more: changing the world.

Everyone has a ticket for that train bound for glory. Period. Now, what do we do about the “station” and everything around that train?

All of this came to mind just recently when I attended a wonderful conference on educational technologies. No, it wasn’t just for “techno-geeks” (otherwise, I wouldn’t have attended). It was much broader than that, including some inspiring visions for what in the world “education” even means.

So here are the “dots” I want to connect moving forward. I don’t how to connect them yet in much detail. But I’ll post ongoing reflections on all of this:

  • LGBT Pride Month: So when did an annual occasion for insisting on common human dignity and civil rights become a moment for advertising vodka? Been to a “gay pride parade” recently? You’d think queer people are the poster children for Abercrombie and Fitch. The commodification of social justice is certainly not new to LGBT people (just ask any African-American, Asian-American, or Latino/a person about that!). But if “salvation” means I can buy a cocktail, acquire a cool wardrobe, or buy fancy gadgets with rainbow emblems then I’d say “salvation” is aiming far too low.
  • Lectionary Proper 7: This is obscure to most people but urgent for most preachers who follow the Revised Common Lectionary in their churches. The biblical texts for this Sunday, June 24, offer a familiar story (David slays Goliath) and a familiar miracle (Jesus calms a storm). But I’m particularly struck by the reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (6:1-13). To the Christians in Corinth at least, Paul had an urgent message: stop waiting for salvation; salvation is now. Right now.
  • The New Media Consortium: That sounds geeky. And it is. But that’s not all it is. I enjoyed being on a steep learning curve at the consortium’s annual summer conference last week. There I was spurred to reflect not on education (a static, pre-packaged product) but instead on learning (a dynamic, iterative process) and of course I couldn’t help but think about Christianity and salvation. Amazing speakers prompted me to consider that imparting information belonged to a bygone century and I was confronted at every turn with thinking about learning as a “social construction of knowledge” (faith) relying on a collaborative effort for “creative innovation” (social justice ministries), and still more on “open networks of divergent opinions” (church).

So how do I connect all these dots? Here’s one way: Get rid of products. We’re overloaded and bloated these days, not just with information but with a gazillion products. Do we really need spirituality, let alone salvation, added to that list? No more religious products. It’s time for religious and spiritual process.

(And yes, theology geeks out there, that’s not a new idea. But it’s high time we retrieved that ancient insight for today.)

The Apostle Paul wrote passionately to the Corinthians about his own “open heart,” a heart with no restrictions on affection. And he urged the Corinthians to “open your hearts wide also.”

That message sounds no less relevant today than it did nearly 2,000 years ago. For those uncertain about including LGBT people in all aspects of our civil and religious life, consider erring on the side of an “open heart,” with affections unrestricted. For educational institutions still rooted in a traditional university system – detached, isolated, exclusionary, and with protected domains – consider the “open heart” of social media networks, with free affiliations, collaborative problem-solving, and networked innovations for the benefit of all.

No, I didn’t drink the techno-Kool-Aid. I’m not naïve about the challenges LGBT people face nor the real tendency toward commodification in social networks. But I am hopeful. I’m hopeful about the prospects for LGBT people on nearly every front; and I’m hopeful about institutional Christianity, which has morphed and adapted continually for centuries; and I’m hopeful about theological learning in seminaries, where amazingly creative and thoughtful people can seize the moment and change the world.

Change the world? That sounds like “salvation” – the kind a whole lot of us would gladly seek.

Author: The Rev. Dr. Jay

I'm an Episcopal priest, parish pastor, and Christian theologian as well as a writer, teacher, and occasionally, a poet. I'm committed to the transforming energy of the Christian gospel and its potential to change the world -- even today. Now that's peculiar, thank God!

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