Good Friday moment

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I suppose people who were raised Christian can remember the first time they learned about the crucifixion, and what effect that had upon them as a child. For me, I think the real end of innocence was when I found out that we are killing the earth, that even the weather is no longer completely natural. This is an appalling fact, and it’s easy to understand why so many people would prefer to believe otherwise. No one wants to admit that we are capable of geocide, just as no Christian wants to admit that if Jesus were alive today, they would probably join the crowd baying for his crucifixion.

Stabat mater dolorosa
iuxta crucem lacrimosa
dum pendebat filius…

32 Replies to “Good Friday moment”

  1. I don’t remember the first time, but I imagine it was an experience. I remember reading Babar to Bethany when she was just two. She wouldn’t let us turn the page that related the hunters’ killing of Babar’s mother. She just stared and then cried. Death had come into the world.

    I think the admissions you suggest help give the earth a future. For years, I did not make either admission. Now I admit both. Not because I should, but because they’re quite true.

    I never thought about these two moments together: the end of innocence and my complicity in it.

  2. I remember my niece Eva, who is Catholic, being absolutely fascinated with death from the age of 4. Apparently she sat down in front of some painting of the crucifixion in an art museum and wouldn’t budge.

    Now I admit both. Not because I should, but because they’re quite true.
    I think that makes you a true Christian, doesn’t it? Otherwise you are stuck thinking that “they” (Jews, Romans) are to blame, and then what happens to the whole “love thy enemy” thing?

  3. Oh, I like to think I’m a true Christian! But Jesus is so offensive, as your post suggests. Speaking of what I like to think, I stumbled on these lines from Eliot again tonight:

    The dripping blood our only drink,
    The bloody flesh our only food:
    In spite of which we like to think
    That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood —
    Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

    Good night, my friend!

  4. It’s impossible anymore now–for me, at least, and it appears for you given the post–not to deeply feel-beyond-that-word-“feel” that our willingness to commit one act of violence, like homocide, is directly related to all acts of violence, like geocide.

    I remember my Pastor, a very popular man who by now has taken the small community chapel I was confirmed in and turned it into a major suburban church community, showing us middle-schoolers how Jesus was bound and whipped by the Romans before being crucified. He bent over as if his hands had been tied to his legs, which exposes the arch of the back and stretched the skin across the spine and rib-cage. He was fervent that we understand the torture the Christ endured before the crucifixtion. I’ve thought more about the Pastor trying to make us understand (in a rather non-Lutheran way, actually) the corporeality of Jesus, his body and blood as they were literally flayed. That scared me very, very badly, and to this day I don’t understand why his insistence should bother me so deeply.

  5. Peter – I forgot to say thanks for the hopeful thought, that the admissions you suggest help give the earth a future.

    I may not be a Christian, but incarnational thinking is very important to me. Rather than the usual Earth Day abstractions about thinking globally and loving our mother, for example, I would rather see people getting to know specific places, loving specific non-human beings.

    SJ Sunim – That brings to mind the controvery about Mel Gibson’s movie from a couple years ago, which I didn’t see. Of course, the urge to dramatize and thereby manipulate emotions is hardly unique to the Christian faith. Most tribal religions I’ve read about feature such passion plays as well, be it the shaman’s battle with spirits or the trance-dancer’s ecstasis of possession. Not to mention the whole Shiite thing.

  6. Living in a Jewish household, with Passover, Nature awakening all around, and in all the blogs I read, becoming aware of the deeper cycle being represented by the crucifixion and resurrection, and the psychic process of dying & coming back to life that I understood through a recent fast that coincidentally fell on Good Friday, and then reading your post last night… inspired a photopoem. Today I’m understanding better how Christianity, that most imperialist of religions, has tried to fit the bloodiness of its own mythology onto a great Spring rite, and it’s a most strange fit. The Christian imposition works, if barely, and not without hypocrisy, combing the blood and flesh, the horrendous death by torture and the miraculous resurrection, even amidst all the bunnies and chocolate Easter eggs.

  7. I was an adult when I first realized we were killing the earth. It was the year of the Three Mile Island accident. I was looking out the window at Long Island Sound. There were two snow geese in the water. They looked beautiful out there, a perfectly serene scene. But it struck me how false that image was. I knew they, like we, were no longer safe on the planet. Humans were not only capable of destroying the earth, but actively engaged in activities that would make it so. I realized that we were all complicit in some ways, but that the geese were not. How sad a fate we have in store for them. I think I understood then knowing a place and loving specific non-human beings.

  8. Brenda – I don’t know how well it works for Christians in the southern hemisphere, though. I’m also not sure about blanket characterizations of a religion as imperialistic, which seems to me to imply something negative about its current practitioners (the vast majority of whom are inhabitants of the global South, and are actively engaged in remaking Christianity into an expression of their own values). It’s kind of like referring to Judaism as a pollution-obsessed tribal religion, Islam as a religion of the sword, or Buddhism as a religion of monastic theocracy – in each case, a charecterization that does describe a very visible minority of believers. Anyway, thanks for weighing in.

    RD – TMI is only a couple hours away from here, and I was 13 at the time of the almost-meltdown, so naturally that had a big impact on me, too. But I guess that, like you, the extent of my own complicity in geocide wasn’t something I really came to terms with until I reached adulthood. Interesting that your comment kind of mirrors Peter’s in that regard, and shows me where my too-brief post could have been improved. Thanks for sharing this – an almost haiku-like moment of realization for you, it seems.

  9. An inadvertent use of an adjective, Dave. I ought to be more careful. I think I was referring to the pre-20th c. missionary zeal where colonialism and Christianity went hand in hand and over-ran how many cultures world-wide. Christianity’s been lashed, fragmented, torn apart in many ways since then and is not an “imperialist” religion anymore. I apologize for my sloppy use of characterization. I just read a poem, “Descending Theology: The Garden,” by Mary Karr (who I’ve got to read) on the Writer’s Almanac, that is a very sensitive rendition of the Judas/Jesus betrayal scene. On a personal level it can be a very meaningful belief system. I guess what mostly gets me is that Christianity doesn’t accept/isn’t tolerant of other religions, and I’ve personally experienced this with American readers at another blog site where I lost subscribers every time I even obliquely and sensitively posted on my alter or Buddhism. But, then, how many major religions accept any other religion? That non-acceptance of otherness is what I meant, and imperialist was not the best choice of a word.

  10. Dave, because I used an adjective that referred to a context I did not explain very well, and hope I’ve managed to rectify that a little, and hope I’m not misinterpreted again, does not mean, ipso facto, that I am negatively labelling every religion with single slinging words, as you not just implied but imputed. How you can assume from what I said that I am so prejudiced as to cast aspersions on all the major religions is beyond me. I am feeling very misunderstood, and feeling that it’s somewhat deliberate, since this has happened before. While I feel that at base we are in agreement, and, in fact, hold many of the same views, I can’t handle being tossed into ‘camps of belief’ that are not just contrary to what I believe in, but are abhorrent to me. If a belief system, such as Christianity, brings comfort to someone, and enables them to live with loving authenticity, I am the very last person to criticize that. You ought to know that.

  11. Brenda – I can’t see why you would think my analogies were intended to impute those beliefs to you. It was precisely because I assumed you would find them abhorent that I employed them, and I’d venture to say that’s how the average third party ready would also interpret my use of them. Standard rhetorical trope, you know? If you want to be better understood, though, I don’t know what to say. It’s not simply your use of the word “imperialist,” but the whole thrust of the last two sentences of your original comment that seemed to me quite anti-Christian.

    I too am bothered by the intolerance of many believers, which I think is a general tendency with all the universalizing religions (though rare in indigenous belief systems). I think the emphasis on intellectual assent to a set of propositions as a condition for salvation, of which we find the germ already in the New Testament, is at the root of a great deal of Christian intolerance. And certainly the tendency of Christian institutions historically to ally themselves with temporal power has excerbated this tendency to turn faith into a form of unquestioning obedience. But if one looks at anti-state movements such as the Quakers, Anabaptists, or even (at certain times and places) the Jesuits, one finds much less of an emphasis on obedience and much more of an emphasis on living with the questions.

  12. Dave, I’m still hopping mad, and the Easter Bunny and I have been jiving with the argument between you and I all morning. It’s true, I am quite “anti-Christian” as you call it. With the heritage of the Inquisition behind us, and having read many feminist critiques of the treatment of women theologically and in practice by Christianity, I could rail well into the night on the problems with the particular set of beliefs and practices that constitute Christianity. You were correct, in other words. Even saying this, however, I have many friends who are beautiful and kind and generous and who are Christian, and for whom their faith is a guiding light. Whatever ideological problems I have with Christianity, Malleus Maleficarum, Crusades, colonialism, and other historical abominations aside, I would never belittle someone’s cherished beliefs, especially if, as I said, they are able to love with authenticity others, the world, through the medium of those particular beliefs.

    I have only to read through the blogosphere today to find numerous examples of the simplicity of faith for people who have loving hearts.

    Not to undo what I’ve said, but I even find Buddhist ideas to remain, incarnation after incarnation, until everyone is enlightened as prescriptive as the Christian bodily resurrection at the end of time. Can a Christian be enlightened in a Buddhist sense? No. Can a Buddhist be bodily resurrected according to Christian doctrine? No. Whatever that’s called, and I still want to call it imperialist, an imperialist slant in both religions, but obviously that’s not the right word, it’s something that grates against me because it divides us- as individuals, as groups.

    There’s nothing wrong with living as a skeptic in uncertainty. Philosophically it’s not too bad a position.

  13. Hi Dave,

    This trial for geocide. Man’s stands to be prosecuted but who will defend him? Didn’t the earth start the fight anyway, drowning, parching, breaking men upon hard rocks?

  14. Brenda – I’m sorry you’re angry. Not sure I understand why, if my earlier characterization of your position was in fact correct, but I’m sure you’ll get over it.

    It might be worth remembering that some of the crimes you allude to – the Crusades (assault on Byzantium); the Inquisition and other campaigns aginst “heretics”; the anti-witch hysterias – were in part persecutions of Christians. I would argue that alliance of any religion with a national or imperial government is fatal to its spirit.

    In any case, I think it’s best to let the members of a faith tradition be the onws to decide what is and what isn’t Christian (in this case). The best and most nuanced critiques of a tradition tend to come from within. Thus, I’m personally much more interested in the criticisms of Christian feminists, Christian anarchists, etc. than those with some other ideological axe to grind.

    Bill – Which trial?

    I’m feeling especially dense today.

  15. Dave, don’t feel dense. I don’t write well or think clearly. I left a lot out. I’d never heard the term geocide, which sounds like a crime so I pictured a trial. There is no trial. I have read your post over several days and have been very in tune with it. Friday evening, so jazzed by spring I took a walk into a wilderness area, going over what we in Missouri call a mountian and down to a river, the St. Francis, I gave myself three hours of daylight and brought no water. I dunno, eight up and down miles over rocky, brushy terrain. I was pretty well dehydrated, unsure of how to find my car, exhausted in full, no-moon darkess when I skinned my cornea on a tree branch. It’s dangerous out there. In a basic way, isn’t it possible we trying to kill the earth before it kills us?

    On a more decorous note, what had piqued my spring fever was a trip to a St. Francis gorge the evening before. As I was crouched down by the river watching bank swallows, a bald eagle repeated cruised by, making its worried hen call, bill apart, clucking. Then I noticed there were two eagles and that one had perched. I climbed about eventually spying a nest in a tall pine. Eagles are just starting to suprise us by nesting in our area. I had not heard of a nest at this location. It’s possible I am the only one to know of it. Very likely not, but it’s none-the-less a heady possibility/responsibility .

  16. “I suppose people who were raised Christian can remember the first time they learned about the crucifixion, and what effect that had upon them as a child.”

    No, not really… The thing that bothered me was that ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ bedtime prayer. I didn’t want anybody taking my soul!

  17. Dave, I’m not sure I even want to comment any more. You’re making less and less sense. Of course the feminists that I read were Christian, a couple of them with degrees in divinity – Mary Daly, Carol Christ, and others (I don’t have my books available to me, they’re in storage). The history of the centuries of the Inquisition I read in a book the name of whose author escapes me at this moment, but a well respected scholar. What you are criticizing, imagined books that I refer to on the problems in Christianity by non-Christian authors, therefore, holds no credence. Also, if you think about it, pretty well everyone who’s been raised in mainstream culture has come out of a Christian tradition, so I’m not sure who those with an “ideological axe to grind” that you refer to are. Not that it matters. Biases are biases, and not much more can be said about the topic if biases are going to reign.

  18. Brenda, I’m sorry you got upset about this discussion because you made some good points and I didn’t think Dave was attacking you, just trying to clarify things. Anyway – as Christian, essentially, I feel that it is not Christianity per se that has been imperialist, but governments who have taken Christianity as their banner. Until Constantine, the Christians were persecuted – then suddenly the religion became conflated with the power of the State. And we can see that happening again and again in world history, not just with Christianity, of course, but it has certainly been intertwined (negatively, in my opinion) with much of western imperialism. That is NOT the teaching or expression of Christianity that I identify with, and it is just as painful for me to observe the twisting of the message as it probably is for peace-loving Muslims to be painted with the jihadist brush. And of course that’s just one way in which Christianity has been used by the “powers and principalities” to justify oppression, prejudice, or violence. All I’d like to say is that this is not what Christianity IS – and in the context of Good Friday and Easter, we have the most glaring example: Jesus, a political radical, being exterminated by the State which found him threatening. Thigns have become rather topsy-turvey since then.

    Dave – I’ve always found crucifixion particularly horrible, almost unimaginably cruel. Images from “Spartacus” and “Ben-Hur” both remain burned into my mind from childhood, and were much more vivid than the images from church.

  19. Bill – Thanks for that wonderful story! I was in the St. Francis National forest in Arkansas briefly last fall with my brother’s family. I don’t know if that’s the same geomorphology or not – interesting loess topography next to extensive floodplain forest.

    I like getting semi-lost and disoriented, sometimes – I appreciate the reminder that the wilderness can kill us. i don’t see conflict between humans and nature as fundamental, no, though it certainly does have deep roots in Western civilization, which is rather uniquely estranged from nature.

    As for the term geocide, I just made it up. (I’m sure others have thought of it too, though. Haven’t googled it yet.)

    Karen – That’s interesting. Back in the 80s and early 90s, I was into the more hard-edged heavy metal. There was one year when three different, major bands came out with songs that quoted that particular bedtime lyric: Metallica, Megadeth, and (I think) Overkill. Something in the zeitgeist, I guess. Or maybe they had a secret pact to see who could make it sound the creepiest. In each case, it was recited in a child’s, or child-like, voice.

    Brenda – I’m not sure either Mary Daly or Carol Christ would currently consider themselves Christian; both have expressed views overtly hostile toward Christianity, and both espouse an ideology of Goddess-worship. So yes, these are the kinds of critics I had in mind. Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong would be examples of critics whose approach I find more tolerant and helpful. Though actually I have benefitted most from Jewish feminist thinkers (I’m most interested in the Hebrew Bible anyway, as you know): Alicia Ostriker, Judith Plaskow, and especially Tikva Frymer-Kensky.

  20. Beth, Dave & I seem often at variance, and this one crept out of who knows where. I’m originally Christian, but not a practitioner in any way anymore. I have friends who I love who are, though. And I do respect theirs, and yours, beliefs.

    I spent the afternoon reading Mary Karr’s “Sinner’s Welcome:Poems,” and found the Descending Theology poems remarkable in their sensitivity to Christ’s birth, death, resurrection. Take a look at them if you can. Well worth it. Her essay at the end on faith was very moving, and I’d believe, too, if prayer to the Christian God happened to me like that… :-)

    And Dave, I didn’t understand that you meant critics of Christianity who were once Christian but aren’t any more. I thought you meant people who knew nothing of the belief system from the inside. Armstrong and Pagels are interesting, and I enjoyed their books very much when they came out, but Daly and Christ were like enlightenments. And Bartow, was it, who did the book on the Inquisition- still trying to recall. I don’t know the Jewish writers of whom you speak. But they are quite far outside Christianity, being Jewish, aren’t they? It’s an entirely different belief system, Judaism, and not at all like Christianity. I was close friends with a Rabbi for many years, well, still am, and his cosmological viewpoint was absolutely not the same as a Christian’s. So I’m not sure what your point about those who are not Christian being able to talk about Christianity. Completely confused is where I am with what the point you’re making is, or even what it is you’ve actually said to me in this comment thread…

    (thank you, Beth, for calming me down)

  21. Here’s the poem that sent me in hunt for Karr’s book (published this year). The dashes are spaces:

    Descending Theology: The Garden

    We know he was a man because, once doomed,
    —he begged for reprieve. See him
    grieving on his rock under olive trees,
    —his companions asleep
    on the hard ground around him
    —wrapped in old hides.
    Not one stayed awake as he’d asked.
    —That went through him like a sword.
    He wished with all his being to stay
    —but gave up
    bargaining at the sky. He knew
    —it was all mercy anyhow,
    unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene,
    —though that gaze was never
    not rapt, a mantle around him. This
    —was our doing, our death.
    The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
    —into the betrayer’s ear,
    and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
    —the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
    In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
    —of Judas, who was approaching
    with soldiers, glancing up—as Christ was—into
    —the punctured sky till his neck bones
    ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
    —to press a kiss on his brother.

    And now, may I leave this comment thread… the conversation seems at cross-purposes, and may even be turning to Judaism, which is where I began, with Passover.

  22. Dave, we’re 40 miles northwest of the northermost point of the Mississippi Delta. Loess, hmm. I’ve heard of it up north along the Missouri, and to our east along the Mississippi. We are up in the rocks here, forty miles from Poplar Bluff, if you’ve ever heard the Porter Wagner song, on rhyolite calderas left from a (series of ) Yellowstone-like pyroclastic event(s occuring between 1.4 and 1.7 billion years ago), I’m a little vague and may be making this up.

    How could I ever sever myself from the cues of western civilization? I have looked down from the sky over the devastation of the agricultural midwest and considered man’s work gone, a pre- pleistocene landscape with mega-carnivores, etc, something doubltess many airline passengers have done, and was scared cold by the vision of homelessness. Though I’m not much of a comparitive culture guy, I suppose the classic westerner’s definition of progress is that it is the activity of fortifying a sense of a margin of distance from the vagaries of chance and want. Safety and comfort, or at least the perception of those things are it’s/my foremost priorities.

    I checked out some of the peaceful societies at your Dad’s site. Shocking! It is an interesting glimpse intof your background and where your sensiblities are coming from. It almost sounds as foreign to me as if you’ld been snatched from a normal family and placed among monks to be raised as the next high lama.

    The 7500 acre Rockpile Mountain Wilderness area was designated by President Jimmy Carter. It is difficult to access and difficult to cross on foot in short time, as I repeatedly find out. Almost every time I go there it beats me up, or I beat myself against it. The eagles I mentioned, of course, are nesting on private land several miles upstream. The river has water mocassins, paddlefish, aligator snapping turtles over 100 pounds in weight.

  23. Beth – Thanks for the comment, which came in as I was writing mine, and just before I lost my Internet connection for the evening. Your testimony as someone who was raised Christian, left the fold for many years, and then returned (as I understand it – forgive me if I oversimplify!) is very valuable. I haven’t seen either of those movies, unfortunately (?).

    I certainly didn’t think I was attacking Brenda personally, and am sorry if she feels attacked. To me, it’s all about the conversation. When I express strong views, it’s with the expectation (often disappointed) that someone will challenge me, so I sort of assume other commenters here will have the same outlook.

    Brenda, my remark about Jewish femisnist theologians was simply a “by the way” remark. I have the sense here that because I differ with you on one or two points of emphasis, you assume that I mean to disagree with everything you are saying. That is very far from the case. I imagine we can agree, for example, that a good poem trumps a book of theology or literary criticism every time! I’ve often thought that organized religion is poetry gone bad.

    Thanks for taking the time to transcribe that fine poem. It’s as good as any of the poems I see in Christian Century magazine (worth a look sometime). The mention of “the dark prince” makes me curious to see what else she has written in this vein. I loved Lucille Clifton’s Lucifer poems.

    Bill – There’s something definitely appealing about a wilderness area named after a rockpile! It sounds like a terrific place. I’m impressed by how well you seem to know your area.

    As for peaceful and other non-Western societies, I do feel that works of ethnography should be part of everyone’s standard education in the humanities. How can we ever really generalize about what it means to be human if we haven’t familiarized ourselves with at least a sample of the amazing diversity of cultures on the planet?

  24. Dave, no I don’t feel ‘attacked,’ that’s far too strong a word, just misunderstood (& misunderstood on my feelings of being misunderstood). I’ll look up the Lucifer poems… thanks for taking the time to work this out. Adding a feed to your comments means you could have endless comment threads going, you know. Bill’s journey sounds most fascinating, and it’s been interesting to follow it amidst the difficulties I’ve been having with attempts at clarity on my position.

  25. All I can say is that this discussion – and the various poems quoted – thanks Peter for those lines from Eliot, too – were far more nourishing and thought-provoking than any of the services I attended duing Holy Week.

    Brenda – you point to something quite fascinating – we Christians (Anglicans, anyway) often act as if we have a love affair with the Jews, and as if there is such a deep kinship between us. But like you, I don’t find that to be the case at all. I think most Christians would be quite shocked to hear how many Jews feel about Christianity – this only began to be clear to me when I began to look at monotheism and the relationship of the various holy books more closely after making some close Muslim friends. I don’t mean that there is enmity, but that the sense of being “of the same tribe” is not shared. I’d be interested in exploring that more deeply, here or on my own blog, and would like to hear more from your experience.

  26. Dave, thanks for the link.

    Beth, oh that is such a difficult question. In my experience, no, Jewish people do not feel we “Christians” are from the same tribe at all – we are “goy.” And I wonder if any practicing Jew who knows their history has any real trust of Christianity. I can’t imagine it. My approach to Jewish people, and I have been very close to some Jewish people, including a Rabbi, as I mentioned earlier, is absolute sensitivity. I think, outside of the holocaust, the most painful thing for Jewish people has been the times when they’ve had to pretend they were Christian to survive, crypto-Jews or conversos- it is speculated that even Christopher Columbus may have been a hidden Jew. They have been persecuted for many centuries; their tightly bound culture is a result of that persecution- it is actually forbidden for Jewish people to be outside of community of their own kind. As a religion that defines and coheres a people, I feel it is much stronger than Christianity. What Jewish person doesn’t attend High Holidays? What Jewish male is not circumcized? Who doesn’t celebrate a coming of age with Bat or Bar Mitzvahs?
    We are like two different races living in the same culture. We think ‘they’ are like us; ‘they’ know they are absolutely not like “us,” and would never want to be like “us” either. They co-exist alongside us, but consider themselves very separate from our Christian culture. They are high achievers in every area. Without Jewish intelligence, nay genius, our culture would be much poorer indeed. They are an ancient race composed of very complex and often brilliant people.

  27. “I’m impressed by how well you seem to know your area.”

    Well, being here is what I do. The rockpile on top of the “mountain” is a very rough rock circle 15 feet across. It has broad divagations from coherent circular form. I favor the notion it was made by Boy Scouts.
    Thanks for your interest!

  28. PS. Of course it occurs to me that I don’t know nearly enough about my surroundings. Rockpile Mountain Wilderness Area is only 4000 some odd acres. Why the heck would Boy Scouts build such a thing? I can’t believe it a bit as I write it. I will try to find out more…

  29. Speaking of Druids and Romany Tree Believers and other discussions on trees, the forest here is leafing out and I’m frightened. The sky is becoming sealed with green. We will be locked in. Never hit me like this before. I’m a bit panicky. Can’t catch my breath…

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