Thursday April 14, 2022
These days, every newscast about the war in Ukraine includes a warning about “disturbing images.”
Victims lying in the streets, hands tied behind their backs, a bullet hole in their heads. Bodies, wrapped in plastic, laid out like speed bumps. Trenches with the dead stacked like sardines.
Tomorrow’s “Good Friday” church services should carry a similar warning: “This service may contain disturbing images.”
The Roman empire didn’t have ballistic missiles, of course. It had something almost as deadly, its legions of about 5,000 highly trained, ruthlessly loyal, soldiers.
Like the Russians in Ukraine, they killed without compunction. For a far-away emperor. Who no doubt shrugged off reports of unnecessary brutality as “fake news.”
On that Friday, roughly 2,000 years ago, Roman ruthlessness focused on an artisan from northern Israel, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate a religious festival. All male Jews were expected to come to Jerusalem for the Passover, just as all Muslims are expected to do a hajj to Mecca.
This man had not advocated rebellion against Rome. On the contrary, he had encouraged his followers to pay their taxes.
He had, however, alienated his own religious hierarchy. Whether it was his challenge to their legalistic theology, or his popularity in the polls, they wanted to get rid of him.
So they trumped up a charge that he plotted to be “King of the Jews.” Even though he had specifically rejected that role, several times.
He was tried twice. In two different courts. By the current king Herod. And by Pontius Pilate, the, notoriously cruel Roman governor. Both acquitted him.
When Pilate could find no grounds for conviction, he turned the trial into a political photo-op. He let the mob decide.
“Crucify him,” they chanted.
So Pilate washed his hands of the affair.
If you have any sense of justice, that should be disturbing enough. But it wasn’t. Pilate’s Roman guards now had a human body to play with. They tormented him. Beat him. Humiliated him. Mercilessly.
They took sadistic pleasure in inflicting as much pain and suffering as they could, without actually killing their victim. Because the final official torture still had to take place.
Crucifixion was the most cruel, most inhumane, punishment that Rome could imagine.
Bluntly put, broken bodies were fastened to crosses and suspended off the ground to die, slowly, of hunger, thirst, pain, sunburn, asphyxiation, or all of the above.
The best they could hope for was to die more quickly than others.
And the Christian church labels this GOOD?
We call it “Good” because we have been taught for generations that something good eventually came out of it.
But it’s not good. It never has been.
Nothing good ever comes out of sadism. Cruelty. Malevolence.
Do you seriously believe that something good can come from bombing a railway station crowded with refugees?
Or blowing up a children’s hospital?
Or shooting riders in a subway?
Calling cruelty “good” gives us an excuse for doing nothing about it.
Instead of wearing long faces in Good Friday services, we should be raging. Because “Good Friday” is still being acted out all over the globe.
As modern prophet Pete Seeger asked, “When will they ever learn?”
Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write firstname.lastname@example.org
I wasn’t looking for affirmations when I wrote last week’s column, but I got a lot of them. I adapted the Barry Manilow song as “I write the words…”
· Sharon Adams: “And we are very glad you do.”
· Ann Krikken: “Please do not give up your columns. l know lots of people, including me, look forward to them.”
· Donna Mercer: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Thank you for your words.
· Andrew Lane: “Thank you Jim. A nice touching piece. Yes, I remember Barry Manilow!”
The mention of Barry Manilow brought back memories for many of you.
June Tink: “I remember Barry Manilow. He was always one of my favourites.”
Isabel Gibson: “Who *is* Barry Manilow? Hahaha. I lived through his career.
“We sure can't take anything with us when we go, but we can leave things. As writers, we leave our words and their effects on others.
“But Anais Nin said that we write to taste life twice. What we do is for others, partly, but also for ourselves. We, too, are God's children, valuable in our selves, not just in our resumes.”
Steve Roney wanted to correct a possible misimpression: “Contrary to popular belief, ‘I Write the Songs’ was not by Barry Manilow. It was by Bruce Johnston, of the Beach Boys. Who never wrote anything else of much note. Nor was Manilow the first to record it. And the ‘I’ who writes the songs is, Johnston explains, not Johnston, but God.”
It would seem that the aspect that caught most of you was the sense that each of us is not what we used to be, once upon a time.
John Shaffer: “True. You are more than the somebody you used to be. And always will be.”
Ray Shaver seemed to be saying something similar: “Yes, Jim, you write the words, but to us who read them they add new dimensions, or awaken fond memories, or inspire us to do, to say, to be, something or someone that cares, that loves, that helps others no matter how old we are or have reached a time when what we were good at is now a life’s loss.
“But Jim, I don’t see it as a ‘life’s loss.’ I see what we now figure in our elder years as a life’s loss as something that hopefully inspired, guided, mentored someone younger to live a more happy, or productive, or caring, loving life long after we experienced the “loss” or, in fact have died. Your writings for all those many years that you have written have, I believe, inspired countless readers to be more than they would otherwise have been without the written gifts from your pen.”
Steve Enerson: “I’m thinking, in response to your provocative words, that getting old is nature’s way of helping us learn what the essence of living is. It’s nature’s way of helping us release the puffed-up parts of our egos so we can see ourselves and our world in their natural states. In my own limited experience, I sense a wider world opening up to my awareness once the boundaries of my ego have been broken. Letting go of the ego is a painful process, but there is a payoff, I think.”
Ralph Schmidt: “Between COVID and some failing health I have really been struggling. Retirement at age 70 from parish ministry was difficult enough without the extra health issues
What your words did for me was bring a smile. A smile of recognition, of maybe not being quite so alone, about the need to savor whatever today might bring.
“I write this on Palm Sunday, the beginning of what was formerly the busiest 8 days of the year, and it is not. Thanks for being able to introspect and reflect with honesty.”
Janet Cawley commented, “We seem to be reflecting on the same issues these days. I was responsible for the prayers of the people last Sunday.” Here is one short excerpt from Janet’s prayer;
“We know that all this new life does not replace the old
or make up for the grief and loss
or heal all the wounds or bring back the dead.
Last year’s leaves do not return, nor do our loved ones,
yet the exuberance of new life brings some consolation
and a way forward decked in beauty.”
On the efficacy of prayers, Nenke Jongkind wrote, “I do believe in sending positive thoughts/energy and prayers. I’m told prayers work. I’m not sure what I believe in that regard.”
Hilde Vickers: “What would the situation in Ukraine and the world be like without prayer and good wishes? Positive energy needs all the help we can give. Even if it feels like throwing one starfish back into the sea at a time.”
Like me, Tom Watson recalls old song lyrics: “Your column reminds me of the song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
Once I built a railroad, made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it's done
Brother can you spare a dime?
Three of my paraphrases of Psalm 116 deal with something or other known as God. Then I thought of a little girl I new, whose eyes suddenly lit up when she saw her Nana.
1 Granny listens to me.
I tell her my stories, and she believes me.
2 When others blame me, Granny doesn't jump to conclusions.
She doesn't get upset;
she doesn't always support someone else.
She really listens to me.
12 How do I thank her?
13 By running to her with my arms stretched out whenever I see her.
14 No matter who is there, I run to her.
15 Granny says I'm precious.
16 Everyone else expects me to do things their way.
But Granny doesn't expect me to be anyone but myself.
I would do anything to make my granny happy.
17 I help her set the table, without being asked.
I help her crack eggs for the pan;
I like making beds with her.
18 Even when she has company visiting, I fling my arms around her neck and hug her.
19 I love going to Granny's house.
I hope God is like Granny.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to email@example.com. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at email@example.com.
I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a note to email@example.com
And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted several new poetic works there a few weeks ago. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to email@example.com (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)