Was It Worth It?

Let’s assume that Jesus never said, “love your enemies,” or “do good to those who persecute you.”  Let’s forget that Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, (if you can’t use the sword to defend the life of Jesus, then whom can you defend by killing?!), let’s forget all of that.  Let’s forget Jesus ever existed.

Tonight, a day after he oversaw the murder of Qaddafi’s son and three of his grandchildren, President Obama announced that the United States had killed Osama bin laden, for the same reason it has fought the war on terror–to bring justice to those killed on 9/11 and to protect any other innocent person from being killed. Continue reading

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

In this 2007 interview with PBS’ Bill Moyers, James Cone argues that the lynching of African-Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries was an almost literal crucifixion because “the cross was a first century lynching.”  Lynching, like the crucifixion, was a public execution in which the victim was humiliated, mocked, mutilated, tortured, and, in many cases, stripped naked. Also, like crucifixions, lynchings served as an instrument of control used by the powerful against the less powerful, intended not just to punish the individual victim, but also to warn, terrorize, and ultimately control the larger group to which the particular victim belonged.

In this resemblance, the cross and the lynching tree interpret one another, as “the lynching tree can liberate the cross from the false pieties of well-meaning Christians” while “the cross can redeem the lynching tree,” by bestowing “upon lynched black bodies an eschatological meaning for their ultimate existence.”   It is important for Christians to understand what the cross means not only in the abstract, but also in their own socio-historical context, since this is the context in which they must be disciples. According to Cone, “to understand what the cross means in America, we need to take a good long look at the lynching tree in this nation’s history.”  When we take this good long look, it becomes obvious that “when we encounter the crucified Christ today, he is a humiliated black Christ, a lynched black body.” The whiteness of Jesus—and it matters not whether this whiteness is consciously perceived—prevents white Christianity from achieving what the Afro-Christianity of early America achieved—namely the making of Jesus more than an idea.  Thus, a white Jesus is a Jesus who suffers largely in the abstract because in America whiteness does not suffer, as whiteness serves to protect and shield from suffering. Continue reading

Violence, Memory, and Mourning

So, we are a women’s blog composed mostly of folks who self-identify as “feminists” and we haven’t mentioned Ani DiFranco even once.  It is now time.  Really, Holy Week is one of the better times of the year, I thought, to contemplate Ani as an artist—particularly as we remember the gruesome suffering of Jesus on the cross.

Ani DiFranco has been often referred to as a “feminist icon”—not only for her the content of her music but also because of the way that she has consistently resisted the efforts of mainstream commercial music and produced her own music.  Continue reading

A Church that Does Body Counts

According to the NYTimes, last Friday

“A NATO airstrike targeting Taliban fighters Friday accidentally killed seven civilians, including three children, in the southern province of Helmand, one of the most insecure regions in the country, Afghan officials said.”

Sadly, despite searching for over an hour, I could find no record or mention even of these seven human beings’ names.

The New York Times article assures us that they were killed “by accident.”  In other words, they are “collateral damage” and as such it would be inappropriate or even unreasonable for us to feel outrage at the news of their deaths, like blaming a driver for the deaths of all the bugs that splatter against her windshield: “yes, the deaths of those bugs was regrettable and I certainly didn’t intend to kill them, but, what could I do?  They were in the way and there was no way I could avoid them and still get where I needed to go. What do you want me to do, not drive?” Much less should we mourn them–we shouldn’t cry over them, or ask ‘why,’ or spend time remembering the particulars of their existence–what their favorite color was or what joke always made them laugh or what pet peeve was most ridiculous. Continue reading

Dia de los Muertos: A Day for Dangerous Memories

Today is Dia de los Muertos.  While my family does not celebrate Dia de los Muertos, the importance of this holiday to so many Catholics—especially so many Catholics living in the United States—makes it a day of importance to me as well.

Inspired by the example of those for whom today is a day of remembering and honoring their beloved dead, I am thinking a lot about our collective memory not just as Catholics but also as persons living in the United States.  I am thinking about what it would look like for the Church to truly embody Metz’s desire for it to be the institutional bearer of the dangerous memory not just of Christ’s crucifixion, but also of the suffering of the living and the dead.  I am thinking about how we should be accountable to the memory not just of those whose names we knew, but also of those whose names have been forgotten and all but erased from consciousness.  What would it mean for the Church to be a body that remembers those whom the “official” histories of progress and patriotism forget?  To be a body that remembers the “crucified peoples” of history?  On Dia de los Muertos, I think it is especially important to ask these questions in light of the nearly forgotten fact of the lynching of Mexican-descended persons at the hands of white mobs and governmental bodies.  We have forgotten both that this happened and that such events were vitally important to the establishment both of U.S. borders and of U.S. identity.  Even worse, we have forgotten how much these victims of lynching resemble the suffering of Christ on the cross. Continue reading

“How Long, O Lord?”

Candles Burned at the Holy Sepulchre

“Prayer is an assault on the prevailing apathy with which we consistently and increasingly protect ourselves against hurt and disappointment until we finally reach the stage where nothing can touch us any more. … The moderate feelings of our day-to-day existence can scarcely be of any help here. We need to be stirred up by more extreme emotions: we need a prayer that embodies these feelings, that does not suppress them in any way but activates them against the gradual dominance of apathy.” (Johann Baptist Metz, The Courage to Pray.)

In a 2003 article titled “Violence, Mourning, and Politics” (Studies in Gender and Sexuality 4 (1), later published in Precarious Life (Verso, 2004)),  gender theorist and philosopher Judith Butler asks about the role of public mourning in the production of national identity.  On the one hand, mourning is a necessary, inescapable facet of our humanity: we are, by virtue of being human, vulnerable to one another.  Others make us who we are.  In Butler’s words, “each of us is constituted politically in part by virtue of the social vulnerability of our bodies—as a site of desire and physical vulnerability, as a site of a publicity at once assertive and exposed.”  (Theologians such as Catherine Mowry LaCugna, who herself follows John Macmurray — to mention only one among many strands of thought — likewise argue for a social openness of the person.)  Vulnerability — not individualism — is at the heart of what it means to be human.  Our bodies place us at the risk of touch, loss, and violence — at the risk of suffering violence, and at the risk of being instruments of violence: “Constituted as a social phenomenon in the public sphere, my body is and is not mine.” Continue reading