Mixed messages

pietro_di_giovanni_dambrogio__entry_into_jerusalem__1435-40__pinacoteca_stuard_parmaPalm Sunday is here and once again we hear the familiar story of The Passion retold; we will hear it again on Friday. Today we also hear of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with cries of “Hosanna! Hosanna!” It won’t be long however before we hear other cries, the madness of the mob now chanting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” How easy it can be to sit in the pews of our parishes, or in the comfort of our homes and read these accounts imagining ourselves hosanna-ing and not calling for Jesus’ death.

What a mistake.

We are in a unique moment of time. Yes, each time in history is unique, but I am particularly struck by this moment in time. The crescendo of a refrain that has been building for some time comes to new heights. The idea that everything should run like “a business” –  even churches, has been codified. This is not new news. Read these words from theologian and minister Harvey Cox, written in The Atlantic in the way-back days of 1999:

Divine omnipotence means the capacity to define what is real. It is the power to make something out of nothing and nothing out of something. The willed-but-not-yet-achieved omnipotence of The Market means that there is no conceivable limit to its inexorable ability to convert creation into commodities. But again, this is hardly a new idea, though it has a new twist. In Catholic theology, through what is called “transubstantiation,” ordinary bread and wine become vehicles of the holy. In the mass of The Market a reverse process occurs. Things that have been held sacred transmute into interchangeable items for sale. Land is a good example. For millennia it has held various meanings, many of them numinous. It has been Mother Earth, ancestral resting place, holy mountain, enchanted forest, tribal homeland, aesthetic inspiration, sacred turf, and much more. But when The Market’s Sanctus bell rings and the elements are elevated, all these complex meanings of land melt into one: real estate. At the right price no land is not for sale, and this includes everything from burial grounds to the cove of the local fertility sprite. This radical desacralization dramatically alters the human relationship to land; the same happens with water, air, space, and soon (it is predicted) the heavenly bodies.

The Market as God was published in March 1999 issue, so the piece is exactly 17 years old this month. Do yourself a favor, go read it. Read it already? Read it again. Despite numerous readings, I continue to glean a new element or two with each exploration. Cox is an author worth exploring in general, so go explore!

Today however we have the mixed messages of hosanna/crucify. Like the impatient and ungrateful people that Moses led out of Egypt with the help of God, we can’t wait for God, we have to melt down the goods and make ourselves a golden calf. What we might not realize is that in our self-focused impatience we might just miss what God wants to do for us.

transportation201012mixed-signals-signalIn short – we ourselves are the mixed message. While “waiting” for our “winner” can we do anything?  Holy Week is upon us, so this just might be a good time for a little introspection. Like our ancestors of old we can look within and perhaps accept and embrace the message of a crucified messiah. Or – like our ancestors of old, and like generation after generation, we can reject a bloodied “loser” and imagine a golden calf-like “winner” who will really take charge and show people who is boss!

Maybe that is at the heart of the mixed message, the same “winner” versus “loser” argument, over and over and over again. Culture in our time and in particular in the United States, demands productivity and progress. We are back to the god of the marketplace so aptly detailed by Dr. Cox.

Just look at the political scene around us! This did not simply spring up recently, we have melted down all the good gold of God and offered it up as a mighty idol. Poor people are deemed lazy losers and likely thieves, bilking the system, and we reject them. “Crucify them” is our battle cry. Business leaders are hailed as experts, job creators, and more. They know how to run a “successful” business (whatever that means) and therefore will be “great leaders.” They will “get things done.”  That businesses are focused ever more and more and more on profit and less and less with marketplace and common good, and certainly not on employee good is one element of this, and that many business leaders fail and become ever richer by their failure should be noted. That many business leaders are found at the heart of scandals of such enormity that we can’t even take it in should be another lesson.

Does the Gospel ever talk about focusing on those who are a huge success? Does the Gospel remind us to teach the poor a lesson by making them work harder? Does the Gospel ever say that we should turn away strangers? Does the Gospel ever tell us to make a mockery of others with words and actions? No, the Gospel does none of these things, but we are too busy with our hosanna one minute, crucify him the next to notice such things it seems. And truth be told, we want “successful winners” and not broken down losers to be our leaders.

Will we be honest enough to examine our hearts and not only embrace the cross, but actually go to it ourselves? At 58, I have a lot of practice getting close, but the mere thought of a splinter is enough to send me running, let alone being nailed to it. Yet, each Lent of my life, I try to inch a bit closer, to die to my own machinations and give myself over to God more fully.

And so this week, I will shuffle my way along the road to Jerusalem, likely tripping over my own two egotistic feet as I approach the cross.As I do so, I have to release the shopping bags full of non-essentials from my grip, whether they contain the comfort of my couch, the click of my computer keys as I type, the unseen wifi that allows me to surf mindlessly, or simply the desire to come out on top in all things.

This week I will have to face up to my own cry. Will it be Or will it be ? Or will it be, like so many times before, the very mixed message I so much want to reject, but that I hold to my bosom? Step by step Jerusalem comes closer into view. Which message will I cry out – “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the message of the market or, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” the message of the Christ? Which message will you cry out with me? We cannot mix them, we cannot have them both.