Violence and Nonviolence

How quickly Christians forget Holy Week!

“They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.” (Matthew 21:46).

They
Feared
The
Crowds.

Do you remember Jesus’ words to the Temple Police?

“Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like a thief? Day after day, I sat in the temple teaching, but you didn’t arrest me.” (Matthew 26:55)

So this is for Christians who moralize about violent protest, who invoke Jesus in order to shame freedom fighters:

It wasn’t fear of nonviolence that kept the Temple Police from arresting Jesus for a whole week.

The only reason they nabbed our man was that, after several days of “disturbing the peace,” he went out of the city to wait for them, where no one would be hurt in a violent uprising, and gave himself up. And they still came out to arrest him with swords and clubs, dressed in riot gear!

So while Jesus deplored the use of violence, he definitely used the authorities’ fear of mob violence to his ever-loving advantage. If he hadn’t, they would have killed him ON PALM SUNDAY.

Nonviolence only has the potential to change things if violence is a possible option. That’s why we call it “non-violence” instead of “helplessness.” Earthly power understands nothing but violent power.

We also have to distinguish between “violence,” which is directed toward human bodies, and “property destruction.” Jesus apparently had no problem flipping tables and destroying merchants’ property in the Temple. He considered property destruction and trade disruption more acceptable that the economic exploitation of the poor. Have no doubt that the Roman authorities would be sympathetic to the statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Had they not “feared the crowds,” they would have killed him on the spot.

As he’s being led to his death, Jesus warns the women of Jerusalem about what will happen in a violent uprising: “If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

Jesus was the green way—he was the nonviolent path. And they were still killing him. No, Jesus did not “condone violence.” He recognized its inability to directly cause change. But never for a minute pretend that he didn’t recognize its strategic value in his own ministry in his last week. And in his final warning you need to hear, not a blanket condemnation of violent uprising, but his pessimism about earthly power—about US—ever understanding what it is losing when it rejects the green way.

His pessimism is directed toward those with power, and he speaks this heartbreaking truth to oppressed women and their children—the most vulnerable. Will we who reject kneeling at ball games and the simple assertion that “Black Lives Matter” understand violent protest? Probably not. We crucify prophets EITHER WAY.

If you’re going to moralize about the value of nonviolent protest, please understand what role you are playing in the Holy Week drama. You are not the oppressed women Jesus is speaking to. Do you support the Romans? The Temple Police? Do you even understand when a green way is being offered to you?

Because unless you are fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable, you sure as hell ain’t on the side of Jesus.

Today is only Pentecost. Have we already forgotten Holy Week?

Be Specific! (Dismantling White Supremacy)

White colleagues:

Dismantling white supremacy requires more than soul-searching. We also need to talk about policy. Specifically these three:

1) Criminal justice reform: end the disastrous, racially-motivated, failed war on drugs. Treat addiction like a public health problem. Reduce the number of people in prison and on probation.
2) End voter suppression, especially the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated persons; but also gerrymandering, voter ID, and other forms of suppression.
3) Make reparations. I am partial to Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” policy, but would certainly go for others. The goal here is to reduce inequality, and does not necessarily require proving enslaved, displaced, or other oppressed ancestry.

These three represent the community organizing principle of bodies, ballots, and bucks. White supremacy is manifest in the way violence is inflicted on bodies, political power is drained, and economic power is reduced.

There is certainly personal, relational, spiritual work that needs to be done by people with whiteness, and that gets hashed out on social media a lot. Most of it can be distilled into people shouting “TRY HARDER!” which may feel good to say but is ultimately unspecific and demotivating. But these are concrete *policy* issues that we need to talk about and support to dismantle white supremacy. Some are actual bills in front of your state legislature this year.

Why these particular three?
A) There are *only* three because three is easy to remember when you talk to your white friends and family.
B) There is already bipartisan support and momentum for some of them (specific bills for the first two).
C) They affect the material conditions of people’s lives, and disproportionately affect black folks. But they *also* affect a lot of white folks.
D) Victory can be leveraged for more power in the future,
E) You might even convince your racist friends and family to support them.
F) I’ve placed them in what I believe is an ascending order of difficulty, but YMMV.
G) There could certainly be others and I will gladly accept correction by either black folks or experts on policy.

White allies need to get well-versed in policy. I don’t actually care* if someone agrees with me about the sources and abstract mental models of what racism is. Don’t bother trying to get them to admit or recognize privilege, because a) it only makes them defensive and b) those things don’t necessarily affect the material conditions of people’s lives.

You can’t convince crazy Uncle Roy that he suffers from white privilege, so ask him instead if it makes sense to pay $30K a year to keep people in prison instead of paying $3K a year on a drug recovery program. Ask him if he thinks it’s good that “The Land of the Free” incarcerates more people than any nation on earth. Appeal to his values.

These are topics we know white people will budge on if framed the right way.

Root out implicit bias, do the internal work, deal with white fragility, yes, sure, absolutely. But when we talk about white folks talking to white folks, we need to avoid the rhetorical conversion fallacy: I don’t actually need to get people to *agree* with me. And it may be easier to get traction with some folks talking about policy rather than feelings and attitudes.

Also, people don’t actually tend to change from the inside out. They don’t have a conversion experience and then change behavior. They change from the outside in. (I’m a preacher, and I’m VERY skeptical of the power of internal conversion.)

So talk about concrete things: 1) criminal justice reform, 2) ending voter suppression, and 3) reparations. Those are way more important than getting Uncle Roy to stop saying “All Lives Matter.”

*(Okay, I DO care about how white people understand racism, and I WANT them to do the spiritual work, but I also know not to throw pearls before swine. I need to think about the intended outcome of a conversation when we enter it, and if it’s to make people agree with me, I’ve probably already lost.**)

**(Once you abandon the conversion fallacy, you are more free both to listen and to speak. Creating disruption and discomfort are also legit rhetorical goals. You do not have to “win.”)

That is all.

White Fog

CN: Racial Terrorism

Say their names.” Yes, world, say their names. Rage against the injustice. Celebrate who they were. And mourn all the gardens they will never tend, the phone calls with parents they will never make, the paintings they will never paint, the runs they will never take in the gorgeous spring air, the babies they will never cuddle. It’s so important to lift them up, and to give THEM attention, instead of their killers, to recognize that they had a life that was more than the label “victim,” that one of the cruelest parts of racial terror is the way it steals the individuality of these individuals.

But let me talk to my white friends a minute:

While our black neighbors relive this never-ending monotonous generational trauma which is, by definition, a kind of hell, we need to say some different names among ourselves.

Because Gregory and Travis McMichael believed—and still believe—they can get away with it. Because George Zimmerman did. Because Amber Guyger did. Because Daniel Pantaleo did.

George Zimmerman chased and picked a fight with a teenager who went out his door to buy Skittles. When George Zimmerman started losing the fight that George Zimmerman instigated, he used his gun, because the law told him he could. He killed a teenager. A boy. My son’s age. We need to say the murderer’s name: George Zimmerman. He’s still among us. Free.

So I put Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael and George Zimmerman together. I put their names in the list with Amber Guyger, who may or may not have been cognizant when she killed her neighbor. So Travis and Gregory and George and Amber. I put their names in the list with Daniel Pantaleo, who choked a man to death while he begged for his life on a New York sidewalk. Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael and George Zimmerman and Amber Guyger and Daniel Pantaleo.

I started trying to make a list of killers, of dream-destroyers, of people who robbed the world of gardeners and painters and teachers and children and siblings and parents.  I started making a list of people who think of themselves as moral, upstanding individuals, who killed because the law said they could, who said “oops” afterwards and got forgiveness, or something deceptively like it, because it’s perfectly understandable to white people when a white person kills a black person out of fear.

But when I got to the unknown killers who killed Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, I realized there are so many killers whose names we will never know, because there is no video. And would video be enough, even if we had it? We don’t know the names of the gloaters and mockers and normal white people in the black-and-white photographs of public lynchings from decades past. Time and intentional forgetfulness have erased their names.

Our white history teaches that there are two ways to get away with lynching: hide your motivation, or hide your identity. You can even hide in public if you hide in a crowd, like in the lynching photographs. It’s what Gregory and Travis are hoping to do: hide in the crowd. They believe a white crowd will protect them. They may still be right.

Sometimes we allow newspaper headlines to hide identities with passive voice: “Suspected burglar slain,” as though someone didn’t hold the gun and pull the trigger, as though the suspicions were just floating through the air and not in some particular brain in some particular white man’s head, as though it’s nobody’s fault that the implicit bias in his head resulted in pressure on his finger, pressure which was transferred to a trigger.

Sometimes we allow legislators to hide the motivations of vigilantes with the laws they write. “Stand your ground” is one such example, because all you need to commit a lynching murder is 1) a gun and 2) fear. They have even written laws to excuse vigilante motorists for killing protesters with their cars. (While the law did not protect James Alex Fields, he was enabled by these legislators when he mowed down Heather Heyer. She was white. I hate to think that if she had not been, he would have had a greater chance of going free.)

Occasionally someone will be brought to something approximating justice, like Dylan Roof, but those names are the “bad apples” among the white crowd that allow us to make the fine distinction between murderers and vigilantes, between the those who wear hoods and those of whom it is said there are “good people on both sides.” The main difference between murderers and vigilantes is that the latter are convinced, when they put their hands on a gun, they can take for themselves the righteous authority to kill another human being, and that they will be excused by a white crowd.

I am sick of white murderers pretending they are Batman, that they can vanish in smoke, blending into a white fog of misunderstood intentions, of headlines that erase their identity, of well-meaning we-don’t-know-what-was-in-his-heart-and-we-are-all-sinners-so-we-should-forgive Christianese. I am sick of them being able to hide behind the well-crafted language of legislators, of racist stand-your-ground laws, of anti-protest laws, written by the same hands that gerrymander voting districts.

I am tired, as a white man, of having to see myself in these damned lynching photographs, because so many of my white neighbors want to hide behind our shared whiteness. The word “damned” seems tame and cliché, because these photographs really do seem like snapshots of hell, a moment of gleeful hatred and terror preserved for eternity. The identities are erased, even though their faces are preserved. What seeps out of those photographs is whiteness in all its poisonous anonymity, this breathtaking confidence that the white crowd protects them, that they can hide in a white fog.

No. I am going to write down the names of the killers. I am going to say them out loud and remind white people about them. I am going to tell what I saw: You put holes in a human being and poured human blood on the ground. You choked the life out of a divine soul. You broke the neck of a child of God. You hanged a woman for being uppity. Then you hid the evidence, you excused your intentions, you made it look like a suicide, and you tried to disappear into the crowd.

And you tried to make me an accessory to your crime by relying on my whiteness to protect you.

Cain, Cain, the Lord is walking in the garden, calling for you. Your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground. I will not allow you to hide within a white fog. I will not be a silent onlooker in your lynching photograph.

The Sermon on the Plain: Children of the Most High

 
Female_Toque_macaque_with_baby_-_(Harmony_of_Life)

If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:32-36 CEB)

  • In the previous section, Jesus told people to “turn the other cheek” and to give your shirt to someone who steals your coat. He also said a) love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them, b) give without thought of reciprocity, and c) treat people as you would want to be treated (the “Golden Rule”). 
  • In this section, Jesus focuses on some of the same verbs he used in the previous section: love, do good, and lend. 
  • The repeated emphasis on lending is telling. Debt was rampant in the first century, just as it is today. Several of Jesus’s parables involve lending and debt. Endless cycles of debt created massive poverty. The idea of lending without expecting repayment challenges ideas—both then and now—about the way the market is supposed to work. 
  • Don’t miss the revolutionary character of these remarks. Remember, Jesus started off with “Happy are you who are poor.” In Luke, economics and power are always a subtext.
     
  • In this section, Jesus raises the ethical bar. Not only are we to treat people as we would be treated, but to “be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” The Golden Rule is difficult enough. Loving as God loves is quite a reach! 
  • That’s why Jesus builds up to it. He is arguing from the lesser to the greater. He begins with three rhetorical questions, which amount to, “If you do what even sinners do, why should you be commended?” If all we are after is reciprocity or transactional relationships “do to others as you would have them do to you” is a great place to start. But it’s still transactional. Jesus wants us to desire something more. 
  • Jesus wants us to be Children of the Most High, carrying on the family tradition of being kind to ungrateful and wicked people, just like our Father. 
  • The word “sinner” here is not judge-y. Yes, we are all sinners. If moral character is a spectrum, we are all ungrateful and wicked compared to someone else. The point is that even people we think of as morally “worse than us” (sinners) are capable of transactional relationships: I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. 
  • Self-interested altruism is the floor, but there is no ceiling: “Love like God.” 
  • Instead of the word sinners, Matthew’s similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount uses the words “tax collectors” and “Gentiles”— that’s us non-Jews. (Click here if you want to compare the two). 
  • Children of the Most High is a beautiful phrase. I wonder how we would think of ourselves, and each other, if we began each day with a reminder that we are Children of the Most High
  • Like Matthew, Luke ties our behavior toward others with God’s indiscriminate kindness. We demonstrate we are God’s children when we love as God loves.

Prayer:
God, our compassionate Mother and Father, I am already your precious child. Help me to live into my divine heritage.

The Sermon on the Plain: Love Your Enemies

 
Reconciliation_by_Vasconcellos,_Coventry

But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:27-31 CEB)

  • Jesus changes direction here so fast that it’s easy to get whiplash. He just said “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full, woe to you who laugh, and woe to you when people speak well of you.” But instead of continuing his diatribe he starts talking about love for enemies. 
  • It’s pretty clear Jesus has put his finger on class resentment. There are two sides, and you have to choose which one you are going to be on. God does take sides, and God is on the side of the poor and powerless. But Jesus begins to paint a picture of the life God wants for this community of prophets. 
  • In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount terms, we’ve jumped from the beginning to the end of chapter 5. We’ve skipped the part about Jesus not abolishing the law, and “you have heard it said… but I say to you.” As I said the other day, I think some of this is implied in the set-up. But Luke’s Jesus isn’t bothering to respond to critics and naysayers. He goes right to the hard stuff. 
  • Luke’s Jesus is all about the contrasts. Rich and poor. Violent and non-violent. Here the contrast is between those who live a violent, selfish life and those who live a nonviolent, generous life. Jesus envisions his community being the latter. 
  • Love… do good… bless… pray. This is how Jesus envisions us treating our enemies. And I will confess, that is not my inclination, especially when I consider the class and political injustices he has just indicated. 
  • But Jesus seems to understand that we cannot change the world simply by fighting. As Carl Jung said, what we resist persists. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. I mean that our resistance cannot be simply fighting or fleeing. We give energy to evil and selfishness when we oppose it with violence or respond in kind. 
  • For this reason, I hear Luke’s golden rule differently than I hear Matthew’s version. Luke’s Jesus sees it as a way to end the world’s vicious cycle of tit-for-tat
  • If we are to be a community of prophets, if we would like to see the Great Reversal, it will only come about if we actually live out this ethic of nonviolent mutuality
  • Love is the key to transformation.

Prayer:
Divine Friend, hatred and resentment come so naturally. Help me to love my enemies.

“Change is slow, until it isn’t.”

“Change is slow, until it isn’t.”

This has been part of my mantra about social change for years. It’s the kind of wisdom that only comes with several decades of life experience or by listening to elders.

We are in one of those “isn’t” moments that is accelerating many kinds of social change. It’s going to be hard to see more than a few months ahead for awhile. There are certainly forces of oppression seeking advantage, to solidify their power and crystallize inequality for many more generations.

But there are just as many people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Don’t, in your cynicism, write them off. They are creative, they have been sharpening their skills, and they are hungry and thirsty for righteousness and justice.

I believe the promise that they will be fed until they are full.

The Sermon on the Plain: The Flip Side

 
Rousseau_Eat_the_Rich

But how terrible for you who are rich,
    because you have already received your comfort.
How terrible for you who have plenty now,
    because you will be hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now,
    because you will mourn and weep.
How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
    Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26, CEB)

Wow. Are you ready to hear this? I don’t think any of us are ready.

  • This follows the same form as the “happy are you who are poor” section. Jesus names four groups: people who are poor/rich, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, and rejected/praised. 
  • Old translations say “Woe to you.” This is classic prophetic language of the Old Testament, like Isaiah and Ezekiel, and was often followed by descriptions of war, famine, exile, and grief. Jesus is putting on the mantel of the old prophets. 
  • As we saw yesterday, Luke’s Jesus does not spiritualize poverty or oppression. His words are for people experiencing dramatic economic inequality, and so they are relevant to us today. They also hearken back to his mother’s words in Luke: He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. (Luke 1:52-53) 
  • It’s interesting that Luke’s Jesus uses the same logic here that Matthew’s Jesus uses when talking about hypocrisy in giving, prayer, and fasting for show: “You have already received your comfort.” It’s the same rhetoric applied to a different subject, which makes me think Luke and Matthew are, in fact, drawing from the same source document (Q). They’ve just applied it to different things. 
  • This section addresses people on the top, and it’s disturbing and stunning because we all know we want this stuff and spend a huge amount of energy in our lives to acquire it. Who doesn’t want wealth, food security, joy, and people’s praise. Are we not supposed to want wealth, security, and a good reputation? 
  • The implicit lesson, though, is that the system is broken. It’s not that we should all aspire to poverty, hunger, and social rejection. It’s that some people have and others do not. The system praises prophets (ahem, televangelists, ahem) who support the status quo, and they reject reformers and revolutionaries. 
  • Jesus implicitly invites his followers to be a contrast society, to demonstrate the kind of life that flips our corrupt system of inequality to something more just and loving. 
  • But we can’t make that point without directly confronting the power system that maintains injustice. Jesus can’t start off talking about love and peace without exposing the inequality and sin at the heart of human society. 
  • God takes sides. God has a preferential option for the poor. 
  • Too often, churches mute this section of the sermon. They want to talk about love and justice in the abstract without directly exposing and confronting specific injustices. People say it isn’t loving to make rich people uncomfortable, it isn’t loving to call others “false prophets.” Jesus will certainly talk about love in the next section, but first he must make it clear: He isn’t here to play. He’s here to tell the truth.

Prayer:
Just One, shine your light on our society, so that we may see it clearly and confront its problems  courageously.

Time for a New Religion

Hey, American Christians! Time for a new religion.

Christianity hasn’t made you more loving, or generous, or less violent and militaristic. Your scriptures say that God loved the world so much that God gave God’s only son, but you don’t love the world enough to even slow your economy in the face of pandemic or environmental collapse. So obviously, preaching Christianity from American pulpits hasn’t worked for y’all.

So let’s try a different religion. In this one, your immortal soul doesn’t go to heaven or hell. It time-travels and goes into the person who, during your life, you most treated like shit. Your reward, or punishment, is that you get to live their life. Punched someone in the face? You’ll feel it. Spread life-ruining gossip? You’ll feel that, too.

Suffering is inevitable for everyone, of course, but whatever suffering you manufactured for others will be visited upon you.

Of course, you’ll get their joys, too. And maybe you’ll have a chance to learn a lesson and develop more kindness, or maybe the lesson will simply make you more bitter and evil. It’s really up to you.

And here’s the kicker: depending on the size of your effect—say, you created or influenced public policy—you may actually wind up living multiple lives. If, for example, you were a ruthless dictator who killed thousands or millions of people, your reward is that you get to live every single one of their lives. You’ll get their joys, of course, but also millions of dashed dreams, millions of unimaginable griefs, just unbelievable pain. If you were a billionaire whose lobbyists pushed millions into poverty, you get to live ALL of their lives. You’ll get to feel what it’s like to have too much month left at the end of the paycheck. You’ll feel the rage and sadness of watching loved ones die because they can’t afford preventive healthcare. You’ll feel the trauma of racial disparities and other systemic injustices.

What happens to you when you die? You get to walk in the shoes of the people you hurt.

As a matter of fact, it’s silly to say “you’ll get to” live their lives. It’s already happening, because of time travel. See? The pain you inflict upon them is the same pain you are inflicting on yourself now. You just don’t know it yet. You may not even know it then, in the future-present. It depends on how spiritually stupid you insist on being.

You can erase some of this, of course, with your good deeds. And it may be that after you live the lives of people you hurt, you’ll get to live the lives of people you helped. There may be a reward, many lifetimes from now. But I suspect that in this new religion, we’ll need to keep that a far-off hope, because American Christianity has demonstrated it has a far greater affinity for hell and threats of punishment than for heaven. We seem to prefer a theology of deserving to a theology of grace. That’s why I think this new framework will be perfect for us.

And if you’re following the logic of this transmigration of souls, you begin to realize that we’re not actually separate souls. We’re all the same life, which makes it vitally important that we care for each other and the earth while we have the chance. You may have eternity to work it out, but there is an urgency to it—in part because our species won’t live forever, either, especially on our present trajectory. We can’t wait to fix our behavior and our attitudes until tomorrow, because tomorrow is already now.

American Christians, some of you may realize this sounds a lot like Hinduism. And, for the record, India is certainly having their own problems with selfishness, hatred, and terrible social policy right now. But maybe it’s time to try living our private lives (and adopting social policies) that take karma seriously.

You know, like “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Because those aren’t just hypothetical statements spouted by some random messiah. And your current leaders who are loudest in claiming allegiance to him while doing harm are liars. Or, as he said, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

So it’s time to re-evaluate. It’s time you tried out a different religion. Or no religion at all.

And if this sounds like blasphemy to you, then you never knew Jesus Christ.

(Matthew 7:21-23, Luke 6:46-49, Matthew 25:41-46)

Weird Easter Stories

The resurrection account in the gospel of Matthew has two stories that we don’t usually include on Easter morning, because they are so weird. These are stories only found in Matthew.

The gospels don’t all agree on the details of the resurrection, and the discrepancy causes distress in some people. But I think we have four gospels for a reason. The early authors and editors had the chance to harmonize them and make them consistent, and they resisted that temptation. That diversity of perspective and opinion was important to the early church. The differences are important because they all have something different to say. (I doubt very much that the contemporary church would be as willing to live with the contradictions if it were compiling the Bible today. Some religious people like things tidy and don’t tolerate questions very well.)

One weird story in Matthew involves soldiers. Matthew gives us this absurd situation where soldiers are assigned to guard a dead man at the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing Jesus’s body and claiming he has been resurrected. I think Matthew includes this story not so much to discredit the doubters, but to point out the ridiculous lengths the state goes through in order to maintain its power of death. The fear of death is important in order for the Empire to maintain control. But the death-dealing state is no match for the power of resurrection.

Listen, Kay Ivey. Listen, America.

The other weird story in Matthew is that Jesus is not the only dead person who gets up. Matthew includes this little detail about other people being resurrected with Jesus and appearing to people in the days afterward. I think Matthew includes this because resurrection is isn’t just about Jesus and our hope for the future—it’s about how resurrection *changes our relationship to history.*

What does it mean if ALL those unjustly killed get back up? What if those who have been lynched and executed show up at the doors of their murderers? What if the prophets stand up, shake off the dust, and start roaming the streets again?

What if our ancestors could show up at our door at any time?

Too many Christians and non-Christians think resurrection is about wish-fulfillment, about life after death and going to heaven when we die.

The Good News of resurrection is a thunderclap. It is a recognition that the merchants of death in our society are bankrupt, and that what society thinks is dead and buried has only begun to make itself known.

Good Friday is All Around Us

It is ironic that we who are not incarcerated usually spend Good Friday in beautiful churches instead of sparse execution chambers. I wish the people of God would crowd into prisons to mark the occasion instead. We certainly have enough of them in the America; more than anywhere else in the world.

So it is fitting that we are stuck at home. Imprisoned, as it were, though most of us are freer and more comfortable than our siblings who are in prison.

Remember, it was religious leaders allied with the state who executed Jesus. Institutional religion defended itself against reform, and militaristic government defended itself against revolution. Both collaborated to put Jesus on the cross, much the same way politicians and religious leaders collaborate today. This is why some churches put flags in their sanctuaries, and why some politicians want scriptures on the walls of courthouses.

I am sorry that Christians are not able to gather in sanctuaries for Holy Week, to tell the story of Jesus’s last supper with his disciples and the way he was mocked and killed by our leaders. I miss the drama of sanctuary choirs and tenebrae services of light and shadow.

But the story we tell is being acted out on a global stage, as religion and politics scramble to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, to hide from God and the public view that their power is based on fiction. The crucifixion unmasked the sin of humanity, as this pandemic does. Suffering exposes that so much of human suffering is manufactured, the punishment we inflict upon ourselves and the innocent in order to maintain the status quo.

Good Friday is only “good” insofar as it is a revelation of the way God works among us. We nail Christ naked on the cross, but it is our whole system of deciding who “deserves” life and death that is exposed, naked and shameful. This is the sin we see most clearly, we who are willing to let some die to save the economy. “It is better that one man die than the whole nation perish,” was the logic of the day.

We tell the story even as our leaders deny they know Jesus every day, but we blame *Peter* for saving his own skin. We blame Judas for selling out his friend for 30 pieces of silver, but we won’t provide health care to the most vulnerable. We blame Pilate for washing his hands, but Alabama just executed a man who didn’t pull a trigger, not for the sake of justice, but to preserve its own system of executions. “We have to do this,” went the reasoning, “or else we wouldn’t be able to execute ANYbody.” Our governor and the Supreme Court washed their hands and walked away.

We don’t need to gather in church buildings to celebrate Good Friday. Good Friday is all around us.