Good Friday 2022 - Whom Seekest Thou: Restorative Easter Reflections

Friday, April 15, 2022

 



This piece is inspired by bell hooks' essay “Feminist Politicization”

Growing up Mormon, I hardly ever saw any crosses. In my home-ward building there were never any pictures of crucified Jesus, but instead, a few giant paintings of him resurrected in a bathrobe of glittery glory. Clean! Pristine! And perfected! So you can imagine the unsettled feeling that knotted my stomach when I visited my grandma’s house. Because she, she had so many crosses. One of which hung above her bed with a bruised, bleeding, anguished Jesus nailed and crucified.

But I do remember learning about the crucifixion in primary or young women's classes. Many of which placed a personal emphasis on the atonement. I’m sure you’ve been in similar lessons where forgiveness is told to be a personal, private matter between you and God, as if somehow it exists outside time, space, culture, and history. Yet other lessons I was a part of even went so far as to say that the more I sinned, the more I personally had caused Jesus to suffer in Gethsemane and on the cross. 

And on one hand it makes sense, not only because developing personal relationships with God can be meaningful, but also because within the United States we live in a society where individuality and narcissism are woven into our identities. We grow up thinking that my experiences, my life, my body, my dreams, I am all that truly matters. This is one of the reasons the 2nd wave femininst phrase “the personal is political” was so powerful because it made women’s personal experiences the beginning and end of a movement, as if personal experience was the same as political action.

Were we to understand the crucifixion as simply and only ever personal, we risk stripping the event of its historical past and present political ramifications. Jesus did not die for me, Jesus was murdered by the state—an event which is incredibly political.

Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney writes, “There they crucified him… There they murdered him, executed him as a revolutionary, as an insurrectionist, as a person whose threat to the systems that dominate and decimate and dehumanize could only be extinguished in a spectacle lynching. Lethal violence is the resort of individuals and institutions who are confronted with realities that contradict their own world view: Free black children, women and men, relishing our blackness, our culture, our music, our love, unapologetically black and unafraid. Queer folk who are not going back into crucifying closets. Transfolk who refuse to answer to dead names. Non-binary folk whose very being teaches us there are more than two kinds of people.”

Jesus threatened the status quo, sought to stand with the least of these, fought for bread, water, and shelter. Talked out and back against leaders and committed his life to radical, systemic change. And the cost? A cross to bear.

A cross that reminds us of the lynching tree, like James C. Cone writes. A cross that reminds us of glorified militarization, brutality, violence and those who call such suffering, salvation. Thank God for the work of womanist theologians like Delores Williams who demystify brutal death in saying, “Humankind is redeemed through Jesus’ ministerial vision of life and not through his death. There is nothing divine in the blood of the cross…As Christians, black women cannot forget the cross, but neither can they glorify it. To do so is to glorify suffering and to render their exploitation sacred.”

This is what I mean when I say that Good Friday cannot only ever be about a personal experience of grief for your beloved Jesus. In doing this, we risk closing ourselves off to the systems of injustice at play in the crucifixion. We begin to see the crucifixion as an isolated, personal event that happened one time in a far away land. We begin to ask, how could these people have killed such a holy being? Instead, were we to widen our view and look at the political and systemic influences, we would see how state violence, persecution, brutality, execution, and silencing of dissenting voices is not a unique phenomena, but a continual pattern of domination and control at the heart of all systems of oppression. It is not only personal, it is highly political.

And yet, I get it. 12 year old Elise needed a personal dying Jesus above her grandmother’s bed to make her feel connected to the cause—even if she didn’t quite have the language for it yet. And maybe here’s the radical hope linking the personal and the political (of which bell hooks has taught me much): At it best, a personal connection to the atonement and crucified Jesus could help us imagine new possibilities for transformation. It could help us link our personal experiences to collective struggles, thus leading to revolution.

I hope to continue seeing personal experience as only a stage in the process of revolution. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to have to think Jesus died for me personally in order to care about the systems that killed him. I don’t want to get stuck in the personal and mistake it for global experience. I don’t want to have to be personally victimized, exploited, and oppressed in order to show my allegiance and commitment to others who are. I want to move toward radicalization by standing in solidarity with others in an attempt to dismantle forms of domination. Even if they do not directly, personally affect me. And perhaps more importantly, especially if they directly benefit me while harming others. I don’t only want to take it personally, I want to take it politically. 


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