What’s Good about It?

Friends, let’s take a moment to be present with each other, shall we?

Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on your breath.

Do it again.

One more time.

How ya feelin’ today? Be sure to check in with yourselves and to be extra patient and compassionate with yourself and with those who share a space with you.

I mentioned in my last post that I’m pretty much all over the place these days, in terms of observing holidays, religious stuff, etc. I’m making a deal with myself [and with you] to go with the flow, and to let our honesty and curiosity guide us.

Right now I’m thinking about the countless other people today who are not Christian. Jewish folks who just finished observing Passover; Muslims preparing for Ramadan. Baha’is, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains—all meditating, praying, serving, and existing in this time. I think that when something like a pandemic occurs, we see more of the truth of who we are. How do we treat others in this type of situation? How do we care for ourselves? What perspectives and beliefs do we hold to? Which ones do we let go of?

Friends, no matter your faith background [or if you identify as more secular], all of us humans today ought to hear something loud and clear:

This time is an opportunity for us to wake up, to change, to transform.

And second, this time is an opportunity for us to be better together—to stand with those who are on the margins, to care for the most vulnerable and to know that this doesn’t end when stay-at-home orders end. We ought to be caring for people, showing compassion, fighting against racism, homophobia and transphobia, sexism, ageism, Islamophobia—all kinds of xenophobia and prejudice and greed. We ought to be recognizing our privileges [those of us who have them]. We ought to stop hogging the spotlight when others have been waiting patiently to have their moment.

This should be every day, no?

So, humor me for a moment while I rant a bit about Holy Week and Easter, those two loaded things for Christians around the world. Quick and curious question: why do Christians call the Friday before Easter Sunday GOOD Friday? What makes it good?

Only what makes every day good. When we act like citizens of this world—human beings who are capable of doing good and showing compassion, but also self-aware that we are just as capable of evil and of hurting others and of destroying living things.

That is the balance of Good Friday and every DAY—recognizing our ability to be compassionate and loving, yet holding that up with our ability to be selfish, apathetic and hypocritical.

You want to talk about resurrection? Well then, you have to talk about death.

You want to talk about being a loving person? Well then, you have to recognize when you’re not loving. Can’t have one without the other. There’s the cold, violent cross, and then there’s the empty tomb. A heartless, imperial image of torture and death, and right next to it, a wide-open symbol of renewal and life. A night that ends in death and a day that begins with life.

I may be one of the few weirdos out there who is happy that we could not go to church buildings in fine Easter clothes for Sunday worship services on April 12th.

I’m actually grateful that we are forced into this wake up moment to recognize that church, synagogue, masjid, and temple buildings don’t make us or break us.

People of faith don’t need buildings—they need community and solidarity.

And what a gift it is for all of us who claim a religious tradition, in this season, to join with others who do not claim the same tradition. What an opportunity we have right now to focus less on the things that “divide” us and more on the ways we can cooperate and support each other. Without religious buildings and crosses and dogmas and sacraments getting in the way—what might happen?

Look, I’m not going to rehash all the details of the Christian Gospels’ story as it pertains to the end of Jesus of Nazareth’s life. Most of you probably are at least somewhat familiar. If you want to read one of the versions for yourself, try John’s Gospel, starting at chapter 18. Anyway, the CliffsNotes version:

Jesus of Nazareth, who was considered a prophet, a Rabbi/teacher, and a friend–upon entering Jerusalem [his end goal], threw tables around in the temple, ticked off religious authorities, got betrayed by a close friend and arrested without a real cause; Jesus was sent to the Jewish high priest, then passed around to Roman politicians and authorities, was betrayed by another close friend; then Jesus went before the Roman Pontius Pilate and was eventually accused of treason against the Roman State. The sentence? Beating, and then crucifixion or execution by suffocation. Then his body, wrapped in mummy cloths, was taken to a cave.

Now listen, friends, it’s always up to you how you wish to interpret such a story.

I will say this: I highly recommend avoiding the troublesome ideologies and dogmas that assume salvation requires violence and that Jesus’ death was predestined by God as some trade-in for the sins of humanity. Not only has that type of ideology harmed people both physically, mentally and spiritually for centuries—it has also excused great apathy by the church in terms of caring for the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten.

Because if Jesus was meant to die in such a way in order to be a religious sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath, we are all off the hook.

Taken to its extreme, this ideology of violence and sacrifice doesn’t inspire us to be more compassionate towards others. The cross as a symbol has become far too individualistic and consumer-based. Notice the U.S. that are still arguing that they have the right to congregate in large numbers for worship services, as if somehow their god or jesus would want them to do that.  

See, I told you earlier that we have to hold up two competing truth claims if any of our days are to be in fact, good at all. We have to admit that we are capable of evil and prejudice and separation, and we are capable of compassionate love and cooperation. And so, if you choose to see the symbol of the cross, you have to notice that crucifixion, as James Cone once wrote, continued in the American south and in the north, with slavery and violent, systematic oppression of Black people. That crucifixion, just up the street from me, in North Philly, continues as families and kids struggle to survive violence, lack of support, poverty, and lack of access to education and food. Meanwhile, around the world, trans people cry out for help as they are targeted and sadly, some cannot feel safe with their own families. Native Americans continue to have their land [and livelihood] taken from them in the name of progress, industrialization, or just plain greed. There are people unjustly arrested, put on trial, and imprisoned. There are families from other parts of the Americas in detention centers and camps, stripped of basic human rights and necessities.

And in a situation like this pandemic, governments and corporations are exercising their power. For who stands to lose the most, suffer the most in this time and in the coming months? The marginalized, the poor, those who are just trying to survive. And so, friends, if you choose to embrace the image of the cross at all, then embrace those realities. See them. They deserve better.

Our world is crucifying people everyday and not just because of a virus. It happened before and it will keep happening.

And that’s the tragic truth about a “Good Friday” every day, friends. Today [and the days after] are opportunities to stand in solidarity with those who are being told that their lives don’t matter; that they should just pray away their suffering; that somehow they deserve it; that they should just fall in line; that they should just disappear. I don’t believe in a vengeful, violent God who kills Jesus so that our sins get forgiven if we believe it. I believe in a Creator who made all living things to be in harmony; that all living creatures, human and otherwise, deserve love, dignity, and protection. And that all people of all religious or spiritual traditions, and all those of secular traditions–are equally important to this Creator. I don’t need to rehash Jesus’ death to recognize that.

What I DO need is you—all of us need to be better together. We need to be less distracted by what others tell us to think or feel. We need to see the lives all around us [and in us] that need nurturing and loving care. And we need to cry out, yes, as Jesus did on the cross—for the injustices that pervade our world, and the systems that continue to oppress people.

It’s up to us to embrace the stories of our fellow humans who suffer, standing up to the bullies and the oppressors. It’s up to us to be the change and the healing needed to spring forth life and renewal.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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