Wake Up, Dead Man

April 23, 2011

The heights of ecstasy don’t amount to a whole lot if a trough doesn’t precede them. That understanding is such an innate thing in us that our language is peppered with cliches to support it. “The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” “Can’t have light without shadow,” etc., whatever. But the basic fact of the matter is that we can have no way to comprehend unadulterated joy and happiness if we don’t have some baseline that is worse.

Sometimes I wonder whether or not, during Holy Week, in the lead-up to Easter we lose sight of the necessary trough. Really, this day sucks. Except it’s awesome. Jesus is dead. In the ground. And for all we know, he’s not coming back. Easter hasn’t happened yet, and we have no way of knowing if it will. This is a trough, and I don’t think we can understand how earth-rending Easter is if we don’t adequately meditate on what it means for Jesus to be dead and gone.

Is it worth it? If there’s no resurrection, are the Beatitudes still the best way to understand how it’s all going to work out in the end? Is pursing peace at all times still the best way to live? Is doing for the least of these ultimately the way to be more honestly human? “Tell me, tell me the story. The one about eternity, and the way it’s all going to be.” Dying on a cross is shameful, and that death would seem to signal that Jesus was, in fact, wrong. Good people don’t win. Peacemakers don’t ultimately carry the day. Attempting to loose the bond of oppression only results in being violently put down.

So he’s dead, and we have to decide, do we still want to try to be like him? And we sit there. whispering, as the profound theological darkness of Holy Saturday closes around us, “Wake up, dead man.”


April 21, 2011

Pity poor Judas. Has there ever been a human so reviled? Betraying Jesus? Even if you don’t buy into the whole “Son of God” thing, it’s pretty clear that Jesus never really did anything wrong, and Judas sold him down the river. Right?

This is the terrible thing about Judas. How are we supposed to think about him? If you believe in free will, then Judas freely chose to betray a friend and condemn him to a brutal death. And if you believe in predestination, then it was all part of some plan to torture a guy to death in order to attain salvation. Either choice is really, to my thinking, pretty terrible.

And today’s the day he did it. There was a kiss, and Jesus was delivered into the hands of the people who would kill him. And how are we supposed to think about it? I wonder if there’s a middle ground. It is very difficult for me to get around the fact that Judas betrayed Jesus. He sold him out. But who among us hasn’t done that to a friend, even a dear friend? Probably the stakes weren’t that high, but was Judas even aware of the stakes? Could he have known that by the next day his friend would be dead? Would he have done if he had?

And what about Jesus? This was a guy who made it his profession to piss people off. He had enemies, and he knew it. Wasn’t it inevitable that someone was going to betray him? Weren’t his actions inevitably leading to an encounter like this, particularly against an imperial power like Rome? If not Judas, then Peter, right?

I think we’ve all been there. A person we respect, love, and support finally says or does something that we’re not able to condone. We just can’t follow them there. Maybe we don’t deliver them into the hands of the Roman Empire for 30 pieces, but we sell them out nonetheless. And does that betrayal hurt any less for not having death at the end of it? There’s a rupture, a loss that we can’t quantify, and it kills us. When The Hold Steady sing, “I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere,” they’re talking about just this experience. It’s a deeply human experience, one made all the more profound by the stakes behind Gethsemane. This is what ends up being most compelling about Lent to me. It is an unbelievably human season. Foreboding, betrayal, hurt, pain, death, triumph, joy. This is what it means to be a human, and when the writers of the Gospels say that God has experienced that, it affirms this sort of existence.

Yes, it sucks. Yes, it isn’t fair. But it is what we are. This life is worth all that. Even when Judas kisses us, it is worth it, if only for the glimpses we get of the better things out there.

Keep the Car Running

April 10, 2011

Kids can grasp it. When they’re playing a soccer game and someone uses their hands, they instinctively shout, “HEY! That’s not fair!” They feel cheated, lied to, betrayed. Isn’t there someone who can stop this? Isn’t there someone who can step in and right the wrong? But the act is done. The cheating already happened. And any adjustment by an outside force does nothing to change the fact that the act was unfair to begin with, and short of lopping off people’s arms, there’s nothing to be done to stop people using them.

Often, the adults will calm the situation, and then dispense the sage advice, “Life isn’t fair.”

Because it isn’t. It may occasionally be good. Sometimes it sucks. Other times it just is. But whatever it is, it isn’t fair. Maybe Lent should lead me to reflect upon the space this opens up. In the unfairness there is room for love and for grace to heal. Maybe. It’s only space. It is full of possibility. Love could win. Grace could heal. Or it couldn’t. Maybe that’s what Lent’s about. I don’t know. All I know is that April 10 viscerally reminds me that life isn’t fair.

Arcade Fire are singing about the end of the world, but they could very well be singing about the end of a life. “They don’t know where, and they don’t know when it’s coming.” They seem to come to the same conclusion I come to: May as well keep going; I’m still here.

I miss you, Mark.