I love this picture from Marion Indiana. It’s perfect for understanding Good Friday and helpful in understanding how young people had “fun” in 1930. It’s a great scene of young people in love, laughing, and having a good time outdoors together. But I’ll come back to this in a second. First, a question:
“Can you use violence to show that violence is wrong?”
That was the question that came out of a radio interview I did last week about The Hunger Games with Joe Formicola. Since The Hunger Games is very violent, we were wondering if it serves any purpose, especially for young people. The alternative being all portrayals of violence further and enhance the cycle of violence, and are therefore morally suspect.
Today, on Good Friday, the answer for me is shockingly obvious. Nothing unmasks the depravity of violene like Jesus ruthless execution before the watching world. Clearly something is wrong when God’s people (“the good guys”) are demonized, pursued, persecuted, called “foolish” and forced to pray “Do not let my enemies exult over me (Psalm 25)!” The Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles unmask a world who has “rejected the chief cornerstone (Psalm 118).” Paul calls this terribleness “the ruler of the power of air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2).” As Holy Week unfolds, Jesus’ friends betray him, his friends try to protect him with violence, his friends utterly abandon him. Something has gone terribly wrong indeed!
Why is it important that Jesus’ Cross functions to expose violence? Because proper diagnosis is necessary and essential for 21st Century Christians. Walter Rauschenbusch (yes yes, that Walter Rauschenbusch!) accordingly speaks of six specific sins, “all of a public nature, which combined to kill Jesus…He bore them, not by sympathy but by direct experience.” The 6 sins that caused Jesus’ death are said to be: religious bigotry; the combination of graft and political power; corruption of justice; mob spirit and mob action; militarism; and class contempt. It is not hard to assume these –or similar public sins – are precisely what Paul had in mind when discussing “a death like his.”
Jesus cross unmasks the darkness of violence and exposes the world as it really is.
James Cone has been unmasking the darkness for me this Lent. In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone says, “Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with the “recrucified” black body hanging from the lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”
Few have drawn this connection save black artists and novelists; I certainly have not. But Cone says, “black artists relentlessly exposed the political and religious hypocrisy of lynching in America.” According to Cone, they did this in 2 stark ways. First, “most have linked black victims with the crucified Christ as a way of finding meaning,” giving them spiritual agency and a proper diagnosis of social sin. Second, and more importantly, by envisioning Christ as black: “the clearest image of the Crucified Christ was the figure of an innocent black victim, dangling from a lynching tree.
Langston Hughes said, “I believe that anything which makes people think of existing conditions is worthwhile.” He said this in response to the controversy about his poem called “Nigger Christ,” which, as you can imagine, caused some controversy.
But Jesus does this in his teaching all the time: choosing examples that offend in order to reveal and expose, and ultimately teach. Something seeing his cross should do each and every time we see it; though of course it’s been watered down to a “harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks (Cone, pg xiv).”
It reminds me of Bull Conners dogs and water hoses; or the horrific scenes from Abu Ghraib torture, the Mai Lai massacre, all of which says nothing about the guilt of the victims and everything about the guilt of those who perpetrated the violence. It even reminds me of some of the symbolic actions of the Occupy Wallstreet, which, at its best, draws our attention to the extravagent greed we’re all lulled by.
But let’s get back to that opening picture. Here it is in large form: a picture from Lawrence Beitler of a lynching in 1930. Suddenly, their smiling white happy faces are a complete distortion set agains the backdrop of black death; a terribleness in joy. What does the violence of the scene say about those who enjoyed the event, even shared the photo with friends? It’s a complete sufficient indictment of this form of violence.
Today, as I mourn the death of Jesus my Lord and Savior, Ithink of this “blunt historicity,” as John Yoder called it; the “concrete social meaning of the cross.” For the cross of Christ is the sharpest, most truthful social commentary the world has ever seen. A necessary tool that shows the world to itself as it really is, and invites us to a better way. ‘If any want to be my followers let them deny themselves, pick up your own cross, and follow me.”
To this invitation, I again say yes.
You might also like:
- A list of all my Lenten blogs this year
- Chocolate Covered Jesus, a post from last year with some similar themes.
- Hunger Games posts.