Spring is nearly here. Virtually here. In the south, in Georgia, spring arrives early. One day in March you open your door and stumble over spring into summer. For the next couple of weeks summer and winter play badminton over spring’s head then send her off. Once a decade an ice storm will sweep through forcing the issue of winter a little longer.
Sunday we went hoodified out the apartment building door. A sleeveless woman immediately jogging past, I made an effort at casual as I took off the hoodie and stuffed it between the van’s dashboard and windshield. “Ah, spring.” Down the street, I was reassured to see others as slow as I or reluctant (which I am as well) to concede summer. Fifty percent of the population was sleeveless and in shorts. The other fifty percent was in heavy jackets and knit beanies. Those in jackets looked weary. Exempting the homeless (who have nowhere to stow the heavy coat) they looked destination-driven, either walking home with groceries from the store or looking like they were on their way to the bus stop to go to work. Those who were sleeveless were laughing, jogging, running.
Spring is when Jesus dies. I remembered this Sunday because the billboards were up. There are no billboards advertising his death downtown and midtown. One doesn’t hit them until out closer to the Perimeter, stationed for those who drive-in for work, drive-out to the far-reaching satellite suburbs for living. The Perimeter, a loop of 18-wheeler meth-fueled race track which circles Atlanta, is the snake that bounds the edges of the orderly world, beyond which is chaos, Atlanta having grown 10 percent geographically for every 1 percent growth in population, and I read that in the past 30 years Atlanta has grown faster than any human settlement in history. Seems to me there should be a relativity disclaimer but why bother. The Perimeter distinguishes in-town from “beyond”. The areas we’ve opted to live in have always been within the Perimeter, multicultural and Baxter Bunny Vermont maple candy diverse as in mom-and-mom and pop-and-pop households didn’t mean, while the next door same-sex couple passed from home to car, hiding the kids so life wouldn’t prospect you with explaining whatever until they were old enough to fully inculcate the horrors or leave home . Whenever we neared the Perimeter it was time to turn around and go home. So I’m rather shamed that Son was born outside the Perimeter, courtesy of the not-so-hot group insurance I luckily had at the time, at a hospital a later in-town gynecologist I saw said he didn’t even know existed. Not that the in-town gynecologist scored anything but negative points with me when we were talking about perimenopausality and he qualified menopause as a disease that should be treated with hormones. I said I found it hard to believe that nature’s design was that all post-fertile women should be observed as diseased. He spoke down to me saying disease was the body not operating properly and thus menopause was a disease. I didn’t return.
I believe we were on I-285 when I saw him, Jesus, now ? percent bigger than thou’s god, looking out over the many lanes of traffic. He was bearded, his head turned down. I looked twice because I’m always startled by a two thousand-year-old synthesis of Greco-Roman Dionysian mystery cults, Jewish mysticism and Gnostic pessimism surveying traffic from on high, can’t help it. I looked twice because there was something wrong with this year’s medium close-up of god’s son on the cross. My first thought was geez, the toymakers who do the gory dinosaurs had gotten him.
Last week my son, in the third year of his search for the ultimate dinosaur toy, was showing me desirables from a toysite hosting dinosaurs that were all curiously distinguished with having a chunk of flesh bitten from their breasts, a window on their rib cage. The curious distinguishment was small enough to not be too demanding, but I had to wrestle with it. Other than that hunk of flesh gone exposing red meat and bone, they were like any other toy dinosaur. Reason shooed away my brain’s first-response that these must be dinosaur models, like break-apart modular human mannequin chests, used by high schools and colleges for teaching dinosaur anatomy to prospective dinosaur doctors. I stopped wrestling with the dinosaurs and became distressed over my brain.
Back to I-285 and Jesus on the billboard. Whose midsection was covered in blood. Not his muscled chest or arms. Where his stomach should have been there was instead lots of red paint and my brain’s first response was that the toy dinosaur makers had chomped a hunk out hoping to boost sales. That’s what the electric running billboard that is my mind offered first as it began presenting possibles. “You gonna pick me?” No, pass on the dinosaur. The next choice was Jesus a la Mel Gibson. I became a fly in the mobile phone of a preacher talking PR and dollars. Who do we love? Mel Gibson. Who showed the passion like it really was? Mel Gibson. What had people laid down a lot of dollars for? The Mel Gibson model. Go with it. Only forego the lashes for a flood of blood. That’s what the folk are interested in. Bloody Christ.
I can’t compare Mel Gibson’s Christ to this version as I didn’t see Mel’s movie. The idea of part of god condescending to experience suffering “when He didn’t have to” in the form of that part being a sacrificed son and just how much guts that took doesn’t much impress me.
Because I didn’t see “The Passion of the Christ” and no one I know saw it, I have to depend on reports of the public stir over the film, one camp complaining it was a near pornographic display of violence while the other insisted it had to do with exposing everyone the reality of the torture.
Because I couldn’t closely examine the billboard I’m depending also on an impression of it. I figure that’s OK as that’s what the billboard is designed for, overseeing the interstate where only a quick glimpse is afforded, unless one is stalled in traffic.
As a child I was for a brief time RC and the church I was exposed to during that time had a crucifix that on weekdays I would ride down early morning on my bike (just turned nine and able to bike around town) and visit. On Sundays I studied the Stations of the Cross hung on the walls and the peculiar figure of the infant ruling Christ dressed in that Sunday’s colors like a little doll. Alone, on weekday mornings I would visit the crucifix. I remember this one wasn’t mass-produced and that a craftsman had made it was something I thought a lot about. I’d sit in the pew thinking about the person who had carved the figure, comprehending that each personally carved Christ was going to express its creator, and that is what impressed me more than anything else.
Considering the times, thinking of the emphasis of some churches on the passion of Christ, I was reminded of the pictures of the tortures at Abu Ghraib, torture being torture, humiliation being humiliation, regardless who experiences it. I was reminded of military photographed laughing over dead individuals. Discarding any mystic content to the Christ, approaching the Christ as a historical individual as literalists do, I considered how the tortures of Jesus did not include sexual humiliation, which is convenient as passion plays would have a hard time dealing with that. No dehumanizing, identity-removing hoods. It would be difficult to enter a theater of war carrying the cross of such a Christ as one’s hope and testament of strength. No, instead, the billboard Passion Play Christ is god as contest of wills, a visage of blood contest intended to terrify the enemy, the eternal warrior never subjected to feeble old age. A young man, he is at the peak of his strength when he dies and rises anew to continue battling on. In this aspect he is the god’s son of no conflict between god and state, saying give unto Caesar what is Caesars. This is the prevailing internet interpretation I read of Jesus telling Peter to replace his sword, to let the government do god’s will. That the state’s will is god’s will, there being no state which doesn’t draw it’s rule from god. This is not a pacific Christ teaching non-violence, I read. Instead he is taking the sword from the hands of the individual and putting it in the state’s hands. One is to submit to the authority of the state.
Which is perhaps why Bush reportedly told a group of Amish that God spoke through him, he was sure of that, or else he’d not be able to do his job.
Christianity has been for nearly two thousand years a religion of war, of conquering, of bringing the heathen world within the dominion of the right god, subjugating and destroying other cultures by excuse of spreading the word. The Jesus on the billboard is the War Christ so popular among Xtian Fundamentalists. The mystery of the ancient symbol of the cross isn’t deliberating upon, nor the mystery of an empty tomb. I think one reason the idea of the Rapture is so popular is because of insecurity in the idea of resurrection. My suspicion is though they speak of their god being one who has brought the promise of resurrection, they fear death, they don’t want to lie in the ground where the body decays , flesh falls from the bone. The Rapture is a better alternative because that way you don’t have to risk the uncertainty of resurrection. What accompanies the Rapture but the End Times, so is it any wonder too that many wish those End Times would hurry up and get here before they die. In this way, Fundamentalist Xtianity, which offers no reward in examining actions and consequence into the 7th generataion, is not only ever ready for immediate catastrophe , there are also some who wouldn’t mind helping it along so that their god will return.
Over at Stone Bridge is a rumination on Karl Rove’s rapture:
There is a lot of schadenfreude hidden in the message of the Rapture. Why is that? The message has been around since a preacher named Darby invented it in the 19th century, but it seems to have caught on just as red state residents got more unhappy in general. And why indeed shouldn’t they get more unhappy? The bottom 2 economic quintiles in the country (heavily represented in red state America) have been getting steadily poorer for 30 years, the middle quintile is getting steadily more uncertain that they won’t be next, and thru the genius of Karl Rove the Republican wurlitzer has provided a steady menu of scapegoats for whatever is troubling you. Liberals. Homosexuals. Feminists. Muslims, since 9/11. We are all familiar with this. But why are fundamentalists in particular so susceptible to this stuff?
Having lived on the edges of a Fundamentalist family (my husband’s) for a long while I’ve thought about this a long while, and observed how it plays in the strangling of more moderate churches, such as the tearing apart of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded for the purpose of preservation of slavery among its missionaries, was staunchly conservative but permitted individual choice in interpretation of scripture as literal or not, and with the Fundamentalist takeover was finally even abandoned by President Jimmy Carter after 65 years of membership.
My husband’s parents remain members and would be considered liberal by his mother’s side of the family who were/are Assembly of God.
A common thread in Fundamentalism seems a contempt for other, for education, for learning. American Indians of different nations went to D.C. and Europe and returning home many said, “No thanks”. They were exposed to Anglo-European culture with the hope they’d be cowed by its magic. Instead many speak of the slavery of the Anglo-European culture to its desires, its effects, and the harsh treatment of its people. Fundamentalism seems frequently unable to afford investigation into “other”. The rejuvenating, circular, tail-devouring Ouroborous which contains the known and outside of which is terrible, menacing chaos, is threatening, and also as enticing as it was to Eve who tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Duality, the dark side as evil in opposition to light, is essential to Fundamentalism which can’t tolerate incorporation of nature’s ambiguities into the self, has never considered seeking a path of balance rather than elimination, the White hats sentencing the Black hats to death or vice versa.
If Fundamentalism can’t afford investigation of “other”, it’s unlikely to be able to afford much self-scrutiny. Convinced of self-righteousness, their Christ is he who claimed to be bringing, rather than peace, a divisive, discriminating sword. I read somewhere the astute observation that the Passion Christ leaves his Fundamentalist followers in a tense position of waiting the return of god. The wording was particularly adept but I can’t locate it now. That tension lived daily, flavored with a literal interpretation of Revelation and its condemnation of the bulk of humanity, their reality the center of the universe, the devil lurking at the door seeking to trick, to deceive, to wrest salvation away, the vigilance required to be ever ready for transfiguration and to keep their personal devil away from Rapture’s door, must leave very little energy left for anything but sharpening the sword of division. Their concern is global, knowing whole countries are doomed to Judas Iscariot perdition as agents of tyranny used by god to remind his people when they are out of step, which means that war is fought not only to rid the world of evil but to prove a quickly recovered spiritual superiority with every victory. The saying “We are all related” tends toward an all-embracing affinity (when interpreted as not only referring to family), and this understanding is certainly there with Fundamentalism, but the relatedness is threatening, is shaped to point toward Rapture and End Times. All events and people being directly concerned with them, a matter of their concern, it’s impossible to leave others alone. Personal and national sovereignty mean nothing. Though they understand they are ultimately the victors in all, their god describing himself as hated by the world makes them also always victims. Those who do well in the world are aided either by god or the devil depending on their profession of faith. Those who do not do well, if they are not Xtian, are paying the penalty of the heathen. Those who do not do well, if they are Xtian, may be seen as some way deficient and that god’s teaching him with the rod, or they may be hated victims just as their god is both hated victim and victor. That’s a great amount of flexibility and judgment often relies on who claims to serve as a mouthpiece for god. Support is fickle if even in a tight-knit community individuals may be abandoned as suffering hardship for sake of divine instruction. Outside the community? There’s likely to be little compassion for the suffering if one can’t count on their own people for support.
The Passion Play Christ on the billboard will likely be said to be a loving Christ who serves as channel to god. But that love, with Fundamentalism, is severe. A sword of which the prophecy is taken literally that it will divide family according to belief or non-belief, eschews the sacred ancestral beliefs held in many cultures, adopting members of the faith into one tree that is not inclusive, which is nothing but the obliteration of the history of other cultures.
March 19, 2003 is when the U.S. chose to start the war on Iraq. Right before the Spring Equinox.
When my son was six he saw a crucifix for the first time and thought it was an odd totem pole. To me this meant we’d managed to get through his first six years, in the Deep South, relatively unscathed by Xtian imagery. His father’s parents have been respectful of our views and not, to my knowledge, attempted to instruct him, though they have routinely given him Xtian books.
When he was one, I insisted he meet his father’s mother’s mother before she died, though we had for years been told not to visit because of, well, who we were. She still lived in the house the decent wages of her paper mill union husband had purchased decades previous. There were many pictures of Christ. No books. I think she softened toward me for the first time, crying when she saw me breastfeeding, saying no one she knew breastfed anymore. This meant a great deal to her. She repeatedly pled that he be saved so that she would see him in heaven. She was in her 90s. I said she didn’t have to worry. Some may think I was deceiving her, but I didn’t feel I was. For no, I didn’t and don’t think she needed to worry.
Not long ago my son, it having been the first time in his life he was informed, by a peer, he was bad for not going to church on Sunday, I think perhaps in relatonship to this pointed out to me the crucified Christ on a Seven African Powers candle . “What is this?” he asked. I told him it was a person who had been hurt and hung on a cross to die. Puzzled, he demanded, “Who did this? Why would they do that?”
He’d asked the same when he’d glimpsed an image of a hooded man being tortured at Abu Ghraib, clothed as if in sackcoth, standing on a box, arms held out to his side dangling wires.
Spring. “There’s more light now,” my son said a couple of days ago.