The lynching of Jesus

16 09 2020

“Jesus didn’t so much die FOR the sins of the world, but BECAUSE of the sins of the world!”

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, but it continues to resonate with my ever-expanding theology of the cross. The life of Jesus was simply too much for the broken system into which he was born, threatening both Rome, as well as the Jewish authorities of his day. His affinity with the poor and his affection for the marginalized were upsetting to an empire that sought to privilege only a select few; and his willingness to expose the hypocrisy of the religious elite was doing harm to the religious nationalism that was central to faith of Israel. His message of love and grace was a threat to the law and order of the Jerusalem power brokers; and his calling out the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hardness of heart was a blasphemous affront to their religious elitism.

All of this put Jesus on the cross. One might even say that each attempt to silence his will and way in this world was a nail that held him there. For that is what sin does. Sin crucifies the Christ: again, and again, and again. Sometimes it does so slowly and subtly, other times more overtly and quite aggressively; but either way, sin always attempts to stop God’s ever-flowing streams of justice and righteousness. It halts, at least temporarily, the bending of the universe’s moral arc, and it hinders the coming of God’s kindom, where God’s will is done “on earth as in heaven.” That is what sin did 2000 years ago when Jesus was physically crucified on a cross, on a hill outside of Jerusalem; and it is what sin continues to do today, in cities and towns all across America!

Every time people of color (who by the way, look far more like Jesus than most White Americans!) are mocked in racist jokes, slandered in racist epitaphs, or belittled in racist slurs, a crown of thorns is placed on the head of Jesus. When young Black men are innocently lynched at the hands of frightened and over-aggressive police officers, or by biased and bigoted vigilantes, nails pierce the hands of Jesus. And every time we White people watch, shake our heads, and wonder why everyone can’t just play by the rules — OUR rules — a nail tears the flesh of Jesus’ feet.

Growing up, this was how I often heard preachers and teachers talk about sin. The sins were very different, but the results were the same. Back then I would be putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus if I drank or smoked. The nails were the more serious sins: thinking about sex to much, being promiscuous, or listening to things like Exile’s “I want to kiss you all over.” (One has to wonder if the church’s pre-occupation with sex is why people like Jerry Falwell are so messed up!)

Fortunately, according to this sin narrative, my role in putting Jesus on the cross was minimal. I was a ‘good’ boy! But therein lies the problem. For too long the Church has regarded sin as personal moral failings, and far too often those failings were all about sex — actions, as well as thoughts! And all the while, other failings, particularly those of a more corporate, or systemic nature, were overlooked. People just needed to be ‘good’, and have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. And if they did, salvation would be theirs for the taking.

But today, at the risk of overlooking the great variety of sins that plague our world, American racism is crucifying the Christ over and over and over again. Lynching people of color — like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Daniel Prude — perpetuates the lynching of Jesus. And as I rightly learned more than 40 years ago, it’s not just blatant racist acts that crucify Jesus, but racist thoughts as well. Every time we look at a Black person in a hoodie and lock our car doors; and every time we see a group of Black boys coming toward us and cross to the other side of the street; we are crucifying Jesus. Such racist behavior and the attitudes which motivate it, continue to give power to the systemic oppression of people of color, and embolden the purveyors of structures that oppress all those who do not look like me.

All of this is to say that whenever we refuse to embrace the anti-racism of our day: every time we resist the call to name our bias, or fail to use our privilege for those who have been marginalized because of the color of their skin – perhaps even reject our privilege altogether, we participate in the lynching of Jesus. And when we allow the violence of a few protesters to distract us from the cause of the vast majority, who are doing nothing more than peacefully crying out for justice, we pound the nails in to the hands of the Messiah. So the American Church can no longer remain silent on this matter. What we have done to people of color: from the stealing of Native American land, to the internment of the Japanese during WWII, to the systemic oppression of the Black community for 400 plus years, is nothing less than an on-going, continual, and daily lynching of the Christ. And the time has come for it to stop.

Two thousands years ago, on the outskirts of town, Jesus suffered the pain of a cross for three-plus hours. Here in American, from sea to shining sea, people of color have been suffering on the cross of racism for 300-plus years. So when will we White people cry out with the words of Jesus, “it is finished!” “Enough is enough!” “We are not going to do this to our Black siblings any more!”

Naturally, some of us will choose to close our eyes to such sin. Some of us will continue to distract ourselves by denouncing the protesters as dishonoring the flag, or by advancing a form of Christian nationalism that is not willing to push against a brand of ‘law and order’ that only applies to some people. But let’s be clear. When we do, we lynch Jesus again, and again, again! And when the crowds in which we find ourselves cry out that “all lives matter,” we shouldn’t be surprised that those words sound eerily similar to the cry of another crowd.

You remember it! “Crucify him!”

We’re depressed. Here’s why.

3 09 2020

Like many of you, I’ve lived my entire life being quite comfortable with peoples’ differences. My American family has Roman Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats; and my Danish family has Pentecostals and Lutherans, devout Social Democrats and staunch fiscal conservatives. I have friends and colleagues from different countries and backgrounds, all with different tastes in food, music, and clothing. And in the four different churches I have served, I’ve sought to faithfully pastor congregants with differing views on everything from Scripture, to budgets, to the music used in worship.

Many of us have lived lives full of great diversity. And for most, while that diversity has sometimes prompted intense and hard conversations, it has almost always wound up expanding our thinking, broadening our perspective, and enriching our lives. It has made us wiser: more tolerant, more inclusive, and more respectful.

But sadly, four years ago, this all began to change. And that is why today so many of us are so depressed!

Most of us aren’t clinically out of whack (although sometimes it may feel that way!) but there is an ever-present, and at times an all-consuming sadness, that lurks in our souls. And it rises up within us every time we turn on the evening news, read the headlines in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or open our FaceBook newsfeed.

Today, peoples’ differences appear to be greater than ever. But sadly, our differences are not revealing the rich beauty of the world’s diversity. Rather, they are revealing the broken, fearful, and selfish side of humanity; and that reality is destroying our relationships. We see our country being torn apart by a megalomaniac, and that concerns us greatly. But in the midst of his terror, relationships are being destroyed. That is what has counselors and therapists working overtime these days. And that is what has so many of us, so depressed.

Consider some of the differences we’re dealing with today: lies vs. truth, law vs. justice, and politics vs. principle.

First, far too many people we love have chosen to overlook the daily lying of the current administration. They have been willing embrace leaders who don’t just avoid truth-telling, but actually punish truth-tellers. And while every administration plays with the facts, and while both political parties expediently determine what information will or will not be shared with the public, no administration in our lifetime has so boldly lied to the American people the way this administration has. And fact-checkers on both sides of the aisle agree on this. News is not ‘fake’ just because someone in power doesn’t like it. And ‘alternative facts’ are not even a real thing! That such terms have even entered into our vocabulary is depressing.

Second, law and order – a term that was used all the way back in 1962, when Officer Krupke in “West Side Story” sought to deal with the racism of the Jets and the Sharks – continues to distract people from the importance of “liberty and justice for ALL!” So when family and friends, particularly those who claim to be followers of Jesus, cannot spot the INjustice of implicit bias and White privilege, we are rightly concerned. When they are so distracted by what they perceive to be the anarchist and unpatriotic challenging of American values, values that are in fact no way reflective of the nation our Founders sought to establish, we are are rightly disturbed. And all of that is depressing.

And third, when people we care about are so willing to put their political agendas ahead of everything else, including both the very principles that we all believe to be at the heart of this great American experience, values like equity, respect, and the common good; but also the principles lifted up in the Christian Scripture, values like kindness and compassion, goodness and grace – when both of these sets of values are sacrificed for one’s own political agenda, we are stunned and bewildered. One simply cannot overlook the President’s lack of character and integrity solely because we think he has the power to advance our politics. The ends do NOT justify the means; and that so many don’t yet get this, is just depressing.

The current state of American politics is not normal! Lying, not just misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts, but unabashedly lying, is wrong. Always! Ignoring the injustices of this nation that we all love and call home because of some pejorative understanding of law and order, is also wrong. Always! And sacrificing the most basic principles of our democracy and our faith because of some narrow and narcissistic political agenda, is wrong. Always! And when people we love, the people who raised us and the people we thought we knew, embrace such ideologies, depression is actually the least of our concerns.

Never the less, the depression is very real; and that is what so many of us are feeling these days. Depression over relationships strained, relationships tested, and relationships lost.

So to all of you who are depressed, know that you are not alone. I am too! And while at times we may be tempted to think that we simply should have kept our mouths shut . . . remember that silence IS consent. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of some, but the silence of others.’ Racist comments, sexist jokes, and religious bigotry, can never be tolerated or accepted; and if we don’t speak out, who will?

You may also be tempted to think that it’s your fault the politics of our day has broken, or perhaps even ended, a relationship. But don’t do that to yourself! Relationships require mutual respect and admiration in order to remain strong. And while they can survive without those two important characteristics, those relationships will never be as strong as when they are present. Losing respect and admiration for another is not your fault. Unfortunately, it’s just life!

Finally, you may also be tempted to think that the burden of restoring the relationship is on you! And it may very well be. But it may not be as well! Remember that just as people change, so too do relationships. And just because we may be grieving what was, doesn’t mean we can, or even should, go back. In fact, when we see people for who they really are, we can never go back. We can continue to love, but we can never go back. And that too is why so many of us are so depressed.

Author and poet Octavia Butler, a wise woman of color who left this world far too soon, at the age of 59 back in 2006, wrote the following: Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

It’s sad when people we don’t know, don’t do this. It’s maddening when people we do know, can’t do this. But it is depressing when people we love, won’t do this!

So hang in there friends. Depression is like grief. It comes, and it goes. We just need to be patient.