The Turning of the Tide

Then

The shift from Palm Sunday to Good Friday has always fascinated me.  Cheering masses turning to ugly mobs.  Crowds assembling to catch a glimpse of the possible Messiah reconvene to scream for his blood.  One might think Jesus supported healthcare reform and immigration, the way people turned nasty, threatening his very life.  Oh, wait, that was part of the problem.  He told the rich young ruler to give away all he had to the poor.  He overturned the money-changers tables in the temple.  He offended the scribes and Pharisees.  He offended the self-righteous by dining with Zaccheus.  He offended the pious by declaring the destruction of the temple.  He offended the rich by telling them they were responsible for the poor. He offended the poor by being fair and kind to tax collectors and the rich.  He offended everyone by accepting everyone AND chastising everyone.  I am sure that the caustic fringe (of both his day and ours) would refer to him as Jesus Hussein Christ (finally… the answer to “Jesus H. Christ”) in a petty attempt to turn others against him.  It really isn’t about Jesus,  (And, no, I am not comparing Obama to Jesus, so don’t drive off that cliff…) but about how people react to those they want to harm or discredit.  Holy Week points out in graphic detail the bizarre mixed-bag of love, hate, adoration, contempt, praise, curse, kindness and cruelty that is the basic state of being what is known as “human.”

Part of my problem is that I know the whole story.  Sitting in year 2010, I know who this Jesus guy was.  But what if I were a simple, uneducated villager in the year 30.  I have heard rumors.  I have heard stories.  I have heard of miracles and healings.  Now, this rural celebrity is coming to the big city, and I have a chance to see him for myself.  I gather with dozens, maybe hundreds, of other people all abuzz.  Using palms to shoo flies (I am speculating here…) we begin to sweep the sky in a mounting rhythm.  People lay cloaks across the roadway and soon Jesus makes his appearance, not riding in on a majestic horse, but on a simple donkey.  The party spirit still prevails, but already I am wondering in the back of my mind what all the hubbub is about.  He doesn’t do anything much impressive, so I go home.  Over the next few days I keep hearing the stories — how he caused trouble in the temple courtyard, insulted the ruling classes, ditched the poor to feast with the rich, threatened to destroy the temple, and there are rumors that some leaders want him out of the way.  Next comes the news of the arrest, and all kinds of evidence that this man Jesus is a threat, a lunatic, a liar, or an insurrectionist.  What was I thinking?  In the vagaries of human fickletood, I am doing what normal people do — I change my mind.  I’m no longer a fan, but an opponent — and in the shifting mood of the mob, I am justified in crying out for blood.  No punishment is too extreme.  

Now

And have we changed?  Just watch video from this past week of people protesting health care and immigration.  Look at recent footage of anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality rallies.  Look at the faces.  Look at the unmasked hatred.  Look at the blood lust.  This is what Christ saw when he looked at the crowds on Thursday and Friday.  Death threats?  Abuse?  Violence?  Certainly in our more “civilized” day, we wouldn’t lower ourselves to such behaviors.  There is no way in the world we would act like “those” people did in the gospel stories.  We don’t treat people like that.  

When will we learn?  When will we change?  When will we stop living in denial?  The love of God that led to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross calls us to something better.  The fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — where is the evidence?  Do these qualities truly distinguish us from “the rest of the world?”  No longer must we be like children (Paul teaches) tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.  Yet, tossing to and fro seems to be what we are best at.  Staying the course of kindness, civility, compassion, mercy, justice, self-control, and love — this is too foreign, too strange.  We just can’t manage it on a regular basis.  It’s abnormal.  But this is the point.  No one said it was easy.  Easy is letting your emotions run away with you.  Easy is being reactive.  Easy is lashing out.  Easy is losing control.  Being Christian isn’t easy.  I think it’s one of the reasons why we need each other.  I need friends around me who can help me when I feel like losing control. I need friends who keep their heads when I lose mine.  I need people who can stay focused on God’s grace when I shift focus to vengeance and anger.  My prayer is that we might become communities of grace and light, able to be one body, unified and dignified, instead of becoming a mob, masses of disgrace and darkness, doing violence not just to each other, but to the good name of our Lord and Savior.

19 replies

  1. Bill, read the article again. don’t think the point of the article is anywhere near the ballpark that you suggest.

  2. “I hope you aren’t suggesting that any reasonable Christian would support name-calling, violent slogans or death threats. I’m certainly not calling for that….”

    And that’s part of the problem… what makes a “reasonable Christian”?

    This past weekend, nine persons claiming to follow Christ were arrested in Michigan for plotting to kill police officers. If you ask, they would say they are reasonable. I don’t agree with their stance, but I also don’t share their worldview. They view the apocalypse as imminent and fighting for Christ is reasonable.

    I certainly do not condone anyone claiming to follow Christ sending (in whatever method they choose) death threats to people with whom they disagree. But I also would argue that we have the right to stand up for what we believe – including our faith in Christ. (Which in recent years has been dismissed and belittled in our American culture.)

    How do we do that when it seems that we’re being more and more ignored? We have the example of Christ, don’t we… Yet Christ was not passive. Sometimes we’ve equated “reasonable Christians” with being passive and “lovey-dovey.” Christ does say that folks will know his followers by their love, but it’s not a passive, door-mat love.

    And here’s the root – at least as I see it – what is in your heart? Do we who follow Christ really know the depth of the cross? Are we really willing to pick up our cross daily to follow Christ? Are we willing to surrender everything to Christ as his completely devoted follower?

    I know the answer for many people in our country – No!

  3. Jeff,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. If I read you correctly, what you are saying is that somewhere….there must be some middle ground. I would say that such middle ground represents the vast majority of Christians in America. Your example of the “Michigan Nine” would be a perfect fit for “radical fringe” … regardless of which “end” of the spectrum one might think they represent. (Who knows who they really are?)

    My point….that I’m fairly certain Dave W. is perfectly clear on by now….(I think we are acquainted) is that the so-called Tea Party movement (pictured in Dan’s article) does NOT reside in the same, radical neighborhood. Not even close!

    Please….I ask again…. take Dan up on his suggestion to “Look at the faces” in the example photo he posted….and tell me if you see the same thing Dan saw…. “Look at the unmasked hatred. Look at the blood lust.”

    We have enough freak instances of “Michigan Nine” level horror stories in our world today, and I don’t think anyone could miss the hatred and blood lust that they represent. What we don’t need is seemingly reasonable Christians suggesting that “Tea Party” people, those who oppose abortion, those who oppose “amnesty like” or “open boarder” immigration laws, should be viewed in the same category.

    In my opinion, both Dan and Dave W. know full well there is more than one point that is made by Dan’s article. And I would suggest that Dave knows full well that I didn’t miss them!

    This whole discussion leaves me wondering. What would this dialog look like had Dan made similar comments presenting a stereotypical depiction of any Islamic group? Why is it apparently so acceptable to judge fellow Christians so harshly?

    • I would interject here that “brchad” is confusing two persons. On this blog there is a Dave W and a dave w who occasionally comment. I am dave w, and I have not commented on this particular comment.

  4. Just chiming in on a couple points. First, I do believe that many of the same people who gathered in Jerusalem to welcome Jesus were in the crowd calling for his crucifixion. The odds are just too great, in my opinion. And I have no axe to grind to turn it into a racial thing. The “blame the Jews” motif requires us to ladle on layers of modern interpretation to a premodern culture. That doesn’t work for me. Were many of the people Jews — both who welcomed Jesus and who condemned him? Yes, of course. Do we use this to justify a whole history of hate crimes? Only if you’re insane or filled with hate (or a third reason I can’t think of…)

    I’m sorry this whole discussion took an obtuse turn around one picture. It has provided an excuse to miss the point, but people will always find something to fixate on when they don’t like what they hear. My point, which I believe valid regardless of one image (oh, by the way, the picture of Jesus and the mob at the top isn’t an actual photo, so don’t get hung up there either…), is that we do not witness to the gospel when our discourse is not civil, respectful, kind, compassionate, and fair. Insults, name-calling, threats, violence, etc., do not align with my vision of good Christian conduct, and it breaks my heart that so many Christians believe these behaviors are acceptable and that others would defend them. It is also sad to me that my naming bad behavior is seen as incendiary and inflammatory. I am all in favor of peaceful protest — disagreeing isn’t the point, but the ways we disagree is. I opted not to use a number of images because they contained veiled threats on placards (sorry, not all “tea-baggers” are “fair and balanced”**), obscene gestures (a true image of rage on faces ruined by a single finger…), or outright images of violence that I don’t think are apporpriate for an open blog. Anyway, I failed to censor myself far enough — I should have posted the blog with no images… then it would have been harder to find some way to twist the point.

    **the term “tea-bagger” is a fantastic illustration of the problem with labeling and name-calling. “Conservatives” have adopted it as a label of honor, and proudly call-themselves “tea-baggers,” as do the pundits and pseudo-news celebrities. “Liberals” immediately latched onto it as a term of derision and a put-down. Reminiscient of an earlier label — “Methodist” — used as a mockery, came to be a movement. Go figure.

  5. Dan,

    You wrote above: “I hope you understand that I condemn the bad behavior of Christians against both sides.”

    I would certainly prefer to understand that. Unfortunately, the original article, with the picture or without it, clearly expresses a strong political bias. All of the examples you used (including the picture) to bracket “blood lust” and “unmasked hatred” clearly referenced conservatives.

    The reason I centered on the picture is that it was a perfect example. My guess (opinion, thought, idea) is that you never really looked at the faces in the picture prior to posting it. That’s my point in a nutshell. You were already so totally convinced (via media etc.) that Tea Party members are generally ignorant, violent, hateful people….that you just assumed any old picture of them would suffice.

    From your last comment, I would assume that you still hold that generalized, stereotypical view of Tea Party people.

    You wrote: “I made an assumption that people had been watching the news and had seen incidents of, and heard threats of, violence.”

    The assumption that I am making is that you may have been taken in by mainstream media. I could be wrong, but I believe that were you to actually attend a Tea Party gathering and mingle and visit with them, my point would be made perfectly clear to you.

    I invite you to do that…. and I sincerely offer my personal help to facilitate that visit. I live near the D.C. area and would be more than glad to extend a hand of hospitality if you are in the area. 🙂

    • I can only reiterate: I am against violent, uncivil behavior on either side. If you read that as a stereotypical view of the Tea Party, I can’t agree with you. I don’t believe that, but if that is what you read into I cannot do anything about it. I am in conversation with many people across the spectrum, and I am pleased that the Tea Party supporters I know don’t condone the violence that some embrace.

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