On Redemption

We've gone back and forth on whether or not to have a separate section to address this issue, but redemption is the driving force of life and this website so in the end, we felt it a subject deserving its own space.

The stories, movies, and songs that inspire and not simply commiserate with our human condition, seem to share the common chord of redemption. Perhaps we should define redemption but an illustration is always more interesting:

In the movie Cinderella Man, Russell Crowe plays Jim Braddock, A boxer who through injury, bad breaks and the Great Depression finds himself in literally a life and death struggle to keep his family from submerging so far below the poverty line they cease to exist as a family. They stoop so low, so eye-level to the gutter, that Jim Braddock sells all he owns, his pride, and begs enough money to keep his electricity on and his family together.

Having reached the bottom, which is the neighborhood where redemption lives, a friend—his old manager—offers him a fight and a stepladder out of misery. He enters the ring as a changed man. He is reborn with purpose and motivation, able to break free from the gravity of failure. He fights his way to the heavyweight championship, and is vindicated before the entire country—Jim Braddock is ressurrected.

Or maybe a better image is the scene in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins (Andy Dufresne) emerges from the sewage pipe allowing the rain of freedom to wash over and cleanse him. And redemption, of course, is never more powerful than when Morgan Freeman narrates it.

We could in fact list hundreds of movies with the same theme, for as I said, it is a pervasive theme bordering on myth or Jungian type. It is the story we always hear and never tire of hearing it. It is the cry of the human heart: redemption is π in the human equation.

Spiritual Redemption

While a prominent theme in and of itself, spiritual redemption does not tug at our hearts and emotions the way temporal redemption does but that owes itself more to the illusion created by movies then it does to reality.

What I mean by that is rather simple. When any Jim Braddock story ends, the camera stops filming after redemption has occurred: a gratifying moment of vindication before the credits roll. Which is nice…as far as it goes. But in the real world, redemption is always short lived: life continues on after the last scene wraps. The love that brought redemption grows cold, bitter, or maybe just stagnant until it’s just two octogenarians staring without conversation over black coffee at 7:00 am in McDonalds. Or maybe one of the partners dies early, leaving the other, two decades of loneliness in a nursing home. Relationships, bodies, success, all grow gangrenous over time. All vehicles of temporal redemption are themselves subject to decay.

As a writer, like many in the profession, I am subject to bouts of depression. The Nobel prize winning poet Stan Johnstone, the son of the great poet Robert Johnstone, at the age of 14 sent his estranged father a poem he had written. The father’s response was “My God you’re a poet, welcome to hell.” Well, whatever the cause, I wrestle in darkness.

In my late teens, during one of my extended funerals I turned to tobacco. Thank God for tobacco, or whatever the hell they lace it with, because it brought relief. Tobacco is the working-mans antidepressant. Some years later a Doctor’s exam revealed I had a pre-cancerous growth, which led to the realization that the tobacco equation does not balance: the joy of smoking is not equivalent to the agony of quitting, nor the agony you cause those around you when you’re quitting.

The point being, the very means of temporary deliverance, contained within itself the terminal seeds of cancer, and so it is with all temporal means of redemption: a job, money, success, relationships: they tug us out of one tire-rut only to drag us in to the other, for the camera of life is always rolling. Always rolling.


It is the shortened life span of such redemption that leads most to their need for ultimate, or spiritual redemption.

I just rented the movie Aeon Flux, because for the exception of Kill Bill, the new film genre of “babe as killing machine” has all but passed me by. Here was the plot: people are cloned after they die, so they never really die—death is a commercial break between reruns. The movie has a happy ending as a cure is found and the practice of perpetual cloning is brought to an end. People can once again return to the “hope” of death, not having to contend with the wearisome aspects of continued existence. This “hope” Charlize Theron says, is that after we’re gone, another generation will figure out a way to live better than we did.

I volunteer sometimes at the hospital near my house, counseling with the elderly and dying. I’m not sure what philosophy student wrote the screenplay for Aeon Flux but I can assure you the prospect of non-existence is not a comforting thought to those on their deathbed. It is only comforting in the abstract and if there is one thing a deathbed is not, it’s abstract.

And it is for this reason as well, that most people ultimately seek out spiritual redemption. But where does one go for spiritual redemption? Usually to religion, in some form, or if you’re really wealthy like Cher or Madonna you can create your own.

But what one finds in religion is not redemption but the possibility or path to redemption. Certain activities are required, and if you choose an eastern version certain life times are required. But that which we seek is elusive: have we done enough? What’s the criteria or cut off point—1,234 good deeds? Will a pilgrimage be required?

The result is that religion infuses us with guilt—there must be some commandment we’re in the process of breaking— which is only assuaged by judging other, for if someone is morally beneath us, we must be closer to the top, closer to redemption.

It’s like we are one side of a canyon and God is on the other and we are constantly building bridges to get to the other side, only to find whatever bridge we have chosen—philosophy, religion, social justice— cannot possibly span the enormous distance.


But then, into the universe entered grace. A subject to which Bono recently directed his attention in an interview:

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

…I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

…I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled… It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

In Christ, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Which is as close to a definition for grace as we’re likely to find. Our part of Redemption is a decision to humble ourself and accept his hand out of the mire.

I’m not sure there is any one way to do that. If your Catholic or Episcopalian I think it should happen at Confirmation, but no one really cares about redemption at age 13. Like a marriage, there are a zillion ways to say your vows. I eloped so I wouldn’t really know. I simply said “I do” to a Justice of the Peace and that was it. Come to think of it, I think that’s about what I said to God. As a freshman in college, lying in my bed at some haunted time of night I said, “I do” to Christ, and asked him to come into my life. “Jesus, I need you, please come into my life and forgive my sins. My life is yours, please help me” A simple prayer, followed by my redemption. I have never been the same since Christ came into my life. If redemption is what you really seek, then simply express that to God in your own words—or use mine.

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