Tag Archives: Politics
Where the kings of the world are carried to church for their coronation, Jesus is forced to march to the place of the skull. Where the kings of the world are cheered, Jesus is mocked. While the earthly king is invested in royal robes, Jesus’s clothes are stripped from him and divided up by soldiers. The kings of the world are seated on thrones and given scepters and crowns that represent their power. Christ is raised up on a cross. Which is not just an instrument of painful execution, but an instrument of abject humiliation. Roman citizens could not be crucified.
But in Luther’s thinking, and in the life of the church, the cross is much more than that. The cross is the way we know God. The cross is the way God chooses to be revealed in the world. We do not know God by our own wisdom, by our own good deeds, or by our perception of God’s mysterious power and glory. All of those things become idols. When we chase them, when we look for God in greatness or power or glory, we only run into a magnified version of ourselves
And because we find ourselves when we look for God, God chose to hide his glory where we would never think to put ourselves: in suffering.
Jesus does not enter this world, or this holy city, as a violent revolutionary or a conquering general. He offers his followers no visible protection and no obvious victory. He enters this world where power alone rules, and where morality, law, and justice are just bedtime stories we tell to hide the truth, as a very different kind of King.
The child in Bethlehem is not mighty. He can’t speak. He can’t read the stars. He can’t interpret a dream. He has no armed guards. He has no religious experts to flatter and protect him. Yet he is the one who draws the homage of the great and mighty. He commands that homage. And it doesn’t matter if the homage comes in the form of rich gifts or royal fury. They all point to the same truth
The loss of this mode of politicking is the less-seen shadow side of the dysfunction and looming institutional crisis created by extreme gerrymandering. Once you know with a mathematical certainly who you don’t need, and where you don’t ever have to go, you are just wasting your time trying to hear out and nod along with some random collection of constituents. You have to tend to your party’s nominating voters and your funders, and they don’t care whether you’re able to empathize with whatever marginal voter you’re chasing at the mosque or the deli or the tavern.
But here’s the thing: Jesus, like Moses, did not come before the people as a religious professional. He did not come in special clothing or wielding a special credential. In Mark’s Gospel, which we hear today, there is not even any annunciation to Mary, dream for Joseph, or Bethlehem or wise men. There is only Jesus. His words and actions are not a confidence game. They don’t borrow their authority from anyone or anything. They have their own authority.
This is one of those problems that I can articulate without being able to conceive of an answer beyond “lots more people should go to church, but, like, a good church.”
(A version of this appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi, in September 2009. It is not longer extant and their site, so I have posted it here). In the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, enthusiasm for interfaith iftar events swept America’s liberal Christians. When I was studying theology, an interfaith iftar – […]
(This op-ed originally appeared in The Daily on May 20, 2012, under the name ‘Flunking History.’ It is no longer extant, so I am posting it here) In a 2009 foreign policy speech, Mitt Romney used the word “medieval” to deride the aims of jihad. The jihadists, he claimed, intend to drag “the entire world […]
(This piece originally appeared in The Daily on July 31, 2011, under the title ‘Other/None Nation.’ It is no longer extant so I am posting it here) In a celebrated early chapter of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” the narrator, Ishmael, takes the side of a pagan companion as they go about getting hired for an […]