Hi, my name is Joshua. Most people I know call me Josh. I’m from rural east-central Alabama…right on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Just a ways off from the banks of the Chattahoochee River. I used to be fundamentalist, of the independent Baptist variety, but not always. Another detail about me that’s pertinent to my story is that I have cystic fibrosis(hereafter referred to as CF.) You can find me on Twitter to learn more, or just Google it, whichever you’re more comfortable with. Go ahead and open up another tab on your browser and read up a little, I’ll wait.
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If you’ve grown up in a Christian environment, at some point you have likely heard this story or a variation of it: a man finds himself in a position where he must choose to save his son or an oncoming train headed for certain destruction. The takeaway from this tale is of course the great love of God the Father, in that He didn’t spare even His own Son in our rescue. A story like this, like a metaphor, can be said to only be useful as far as its intention (I don’t know if anyone would say Jesus has wool because He’s called the Lamb, for instance) and that’s fine as far as it goes. Even so, something about it has always bothered me, as long as I can remember. I’d like to explore this here, as I believe it is missing something important, and it is perhaps indicative of a larger gap in understanding. A story like this can be told in any way we want it to, and the fact that it is usually missing this element tells me something.
The story is all about the father’s heartrending choice between his son’s life and the lives of those on the train. As I’ve always heard it told though, it is missing any voice of the son in his own fate. The son’s only agency is to be the tear-jerking emotional appeal for the audience – his place could be swapped out for a sack of money sliding off a cliff as the train approaches the wrecked tracks, and the story still works, albeit with less potential for waterworks. His will, his desires, his thoughts are a non-issue. This is problematic, not only because it’s not even an accurate reflection of the larger narrative it is pointing towards, but because it subtly reinforces, I believe, a dangerously incomplete picture of sacrifice which marginalizes agency and consent. I can’t say any folks telling this story must not have an understanding of consent or agency, but again, the fact that it’s usually missing this element is perhaps telling of a profound gap in knowledge many Christian communities.
Continue reading Of Trains, Sacrifice, and Agency