from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A day of crucifixion 

A day of Crucifixion

For most of the world’s Christians today is the most sacred day of the year. (for Eastern Christians it will be one week from today). Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the Cross. Although I no longer consider myself Christian, I spend over 17 years of my adulthood attending churches on this day, first in the Episcopal Church into which I was baptized, then in the Orthodox Church in which Leaves on the Current and I were married (and where she remains).

Today I wish to reflect upon a theological understanding of this day, not because I wish to impose a Christian world view, for I do not. But the symbolism of the day can offer us something that can inspire, or at least keep us from despair. I will offer that, and then a poem that approaches the imagery of the day very differently. Perhaps when put together all of this may serve some use to someone. If so, it is worth my effort.

It may surprise some that -trained as I am as a musician - I do not reflect upon music for this time. After all, the Western musical tradition has many great settings of the Passion story, especially the two by Johann Sebastian Bach of the material from the Gospels of St. John and St. Matthew. These two works and similar pieces by other composers are powerful expressions of one understanding of this day. But in my days as a Christian I used to wrestle with theological understanding, so let me start with that.

Please accept for now the following idea - that as a Christian one can argue that Incarnation and Ascension are separate mysteries from Crucifixion and Resurrection. One can argue that the idea of God taking flesh (incarnation) and ascending back to heaven carrying in that incarnate personage the created universe as represented by human flesh was part of the intent of the Creator all along. Remember, the tale of Genesis tells us that when God finished creation he looked upon all he had created and declared that it was very good. But man, the peak of his creation, was created with free will, and in that will strayed from his original purpose. And in that straying he brought to the potentiality of ruin all of the created world with him. Unless the world could be restored to its original status at the time of creation, that it was very good, the final goal of ascension, of raising the created world up to the full status of being holy was impossible.

Incarnation and Resurrection are viewed by many in the Church as restoring man to his original status in the Edenic days of his first existence. That is a common understanding. But if what I posit about God’s original intent is correct, then sin was not necessary for the Incarnation to happen.

The Eastern Church understands that this is not just about humanity, but of all of creation. In the hymn to the Mother of God (Theotokos, or literally, “God-Bearer”) in the liturgy of St. Basil, served during the Sundays of the Lenten Season, we hear the words “All of Creation rejoices in you oh full of grace.” Man as part of the created world carries in his flesh the potentiality of all of the created world, for good or for ill. If, as Athanasius wrote (and Irenaeus of Lyons may have written before him) that God became man so that men could become God, then one can see how this process of Incarnation and Ascension is separate from this holiest of days that precedes the triumph of Resurrection. It is to that which I will now turn.

What I am writing will appear in several places, most of which have a political focus. How is it relevant for me to post this, the theological meanderings of one who does not even commemorate this day? Because even for those who are not Christian the story of Crucifixion and Resurrection can illustrate much of what we know about the human condition. The various Twelve Step programs deriving from Alcoholics Anonymous always begin with a recognition of our lack of control, of powerlessness, over alcohol or its equivalent, and in the third step one is letting go, turning one’s will and life over to God, to the higher power. Humans are often arrogant, individually and collectively. We think we know better, in fact we believe that we know perfectly. The symbolism of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil is a paradigm for our willingness- yeah our eagerness - to embark down paths without regard for the consequences.

As individuals we often learn that we have to let go, or as it is put more simply, let go and let God. If one prefers not to use terms so charge with religious content, we have to trust in something or someone outside of ourselves. Human society cannot exist without this being a part of each of us. Unless to some degree we acknowledge our need to trust, and therefore participate in a social environment, we will wind up, for all our material possessions, in a psychological state such as that described by Hobbes, where the life of man was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

What, you say, with my two houses and four cars and good food and drink and clothing, and my many acquaintances, how can you argue that my life life is nasty or poor? Let’s apply Hobbes words on a larger scale to see what I mean. A nation that chooses to live in arrogance as ours through administration is doing, may quickly find that no matter how great its individual military or economic might it increasingly lives in fear and isolation, its ability to intimidate and bribe others more than offset by the loss of liberty and constant fear of attack. We are the man struggling to keep his head above water, and in the process exhausting ourselves. In the Marine Corps we were trained in “drownproofing.” To stay alive in water for a long period of time, one often has to let go of the strong impulse to keep one’s head above water, and instead keep one’s face below water as one glides, and then only as one slows, briefly lift the face above the water line, take a breath, and then kick off into another glide. It represents a surrender to something outside of our instinct and our will in order to sustain ourselves for a longer period of time, while clinging to the belief that we will be rescued.

We know that the human spirit can be very resilient, but we also know that the human spirit at its best is the outpouring seen after disasters to others which they cannot control. Look at the world’s response to the Tsunami, look at our response to Katrina. Part of what sustains many is the idea that despite the loss of all property or of many loved ones it is possible to begin life anew, with the help of others. “God was in this place and I did not know it.” We experience that most often through the generosity of others, as they comfort and sustain us when we are at our lowest points.

As a society we now face a major crisis of who and what we are becoming. The actions of this administration are a symptom, not a cause. In applying the model of Good (or Holy) Friday to our current situation I am not arguing for passivity, but I am suggesting that we acknowledge that we cannot fix what is wrong by ourselves or by our own will. To some degree we must die - let go - in order to be restored, through the common actions of others. If we be arrogant and say that it is our task only (for it is our task in part), then we lose connection with others that empowers, that is our only real hope for positive change. As the tale of the Passion is retold, one may hear of Simon the Cyrene, the man from the crowd pulled out to carry the Cross on which Jesus would be crucified because God made man could not carry it himself. Think about that image if you will - incarnate God still needed an ordinary man to help him with a task necessary for him to proceed down the path that he had to travel, if he was to accomplish his healing work. For those who are religious, I remind them that in moving towards life we see a similar pattern, for in the Annunciation, in which the possibility of incarnation is presented to the human race, it required the assent of a very young lady for the incarnation to occur. It is in these two images that we can see that if God cannot work without the assistance of man, because man has freedom, then neither can each of us work without regard to the needs and assistance of others.

The words I have offered to this point are my own. This is not systematic theology by any means. Nor is it even a well-organized meditation. It is an offering of some thoughts that I hope might be relevant to at least one reader.

I am not a poet. Poets often offer us a window into mysteries, for in their use of language they peer deeply into the human condition and far beyond as well. There is a poem to which I often turn on this day, written by a man many know far better as the founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. It is by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and is entitled ”Christ Climbed Down”, and appeared in the collection A Coney Island of the Mind.” It is written as a commentary on Christmas, but I find it appropriate now. I will close this posting by offering it to you in its entirety, unedited, and without commentary. May your day help lead you to peace.

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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