Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Reflections: 1 Corinthians 15 & Derrida Working Towards Equality

"Tomorrow is the shadow and reflexibility of our hands."
--Reb Derissa, "Ellipsis," Writing and Difference

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a human came death, by a human also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those are are Christ's at his coming, then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26

According to Paul, today--Easter--is about tomorrow. First fruits are a tithe or tax of sorts, a compulsory giving of produce to feed the priests and their families. Whether or not literally the first crops to be reaped, the crops are given to God first (or a deity, since the first-fruit offering is not distinctively Israelite), then to the farmer (see the Catholic Encyclopedia & Wikipedia for nice overviews).

Paul says Jesus is the tax of the dead, says people created death and resurrection (vv. 20-21). Since humanity "grew" both (to keep the agricultural metaphor) then the first fruits of death and resurrection go to God. Now that the tax is paid and the offering given, the rest of the crop--death and resurrection--belongs to humanity.

At least, we--the body of Christ--are working towards taking ownership of death and resurrection. First, Paul maintains that we cannot have the rest of the fruits of resurrection until we get rid of death (see vv.23-26). Paul foresees the tax paid by the dead--the resurrection of us, the body of Christ--as one that must work to overcome death and "[abolish] all rule and all authority and power" (15:24). To abandon what Paul envisioned, this moment is "the end," when the kingdom is handed over to God and becomes what Philip Pullman describes as the "republic of God" (The Amber Spyglass), that moment where we are all equal, all truly the body of Christ, all God, and all Love, whatever exactly that means.

Easter, according to Paul, is the beginning of that end and we are the means. The tax has been paid and now we have to continue working and reaping the rest of the fruits, i.e., more death while fighting against it. Looking at technology and medicine, we are doing a great job. Looking at oppression, greed, and poverty, we are not doing so well. That's the shadow of our hands that Derrida describes under the pseudonym Reb Derissa. Much of what we see in this world is our fault, but not all. Systemic evil is our fault, hurricanes and tornados is not so much our fault, unless influenced by how we treat the environment. Whatever we do today is shadowed by the good and the bad we do today.

And that shadow affects what we do tomorrow, sometimes inspiring more bad, more good, or, often, the choice to ignore what was done yesterday, what is done today, and what will be done tomorrow. This is where our hands have reflxibility. Our hands not only mirror each other from left to right but from today to tomorrow. Our actions today mirror and have mutually influential relationships with our actions tomorrow. I will do such-and-such tomorrow, so I will do such-and-such today. I will workout tomorrow, so I will have pie today. I will buy this product today, because tomorrow they will give a percentage of the money to fight the slavery they employ to make the product. I do not want to talk to this person, because I am afraid they will eventually hurt me.

This reflexibility is frightening and powerful. The reflexibility itself influences us, sometimes inspiring, sometimes immobilizing us. Easter reminds me to be thoughtful and reflective in my actions today and my plans for tomorrow. I want to foresee the end of authority, power, and rule in a way I doubt Paul did, I want to see it as radical equality. 

Much of the theology surrounding Jesus embodies that radical equality: God becomes one of us and dies like one of us (thanks, Joan Osborne). To get a little preachy, now we need to become like God and resurrect in and by our hands the love that Jesus as Christ represents. If we can do so today, then it will influence what I do tomorrow, which will influence what I do today, and the shadow of my hands today will illuminate instead of darken tomorrow.

He is risen, the first fruits. Now we must rise.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Riddance to Good Friday

Today, I am uncomfortable with the term "Good Friday."

"Good Friday" has varied etymological accounts. Since I'm not a philologist, I can't argue for or against any of these explanations. Besides, what a word or phrase meant doesn't change what it means today.

Not based on any serious study, but rather on my experiences and a brief perusal of the internet, today, the "good" of "Good Friday" mostly connotes how good it is that God sent "his" to pay the wages of sin: death. Let's also note that according to this line of reason, God set these wages and apparently never decided to give a increase or decrease to the wages. However, God accepts substitutes: animals and Jesus.

I won't get into the intricacies of sacrifices in Ancient Near Eastern culture or biblical references to further elucidate sacrificial, substitutionary atonement. Even at the surface level just described, I am uncomfortable with calling this Friday good. God can change the wages for sin as much as God can set them. Accepting a substitution is a change. Accepting a human instead of an animal is a change. So why the death of man? Why death at all? Human history shows that lessons cannot be taught without death, and death seems like a mighty high price for stealing a piece of gum, cheating on your taxes, punching someone, or eating or drinking to excess.

Even if I could accept calling the death good, why the suffering? Before Jesus, sacrificial animals weren't tortured; they were just killed. Jesus could have had his throat slit instead of being beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. For that matter, Jesus could have died of old age, a heart attack, or some other "natural cause." If a spiritual existence and physical resurrection eons after death is the symbol Christians desire, resurrection could have followed any of those deaths, just like Lazarus's. For that matter, Jesus could have skipped death and ascended into heaven like Elijah, telling his followers, "You may die on this earth, but you'll ascend ages later, like my beloved Lazarus."

Many Christians look at Good Friday and Easter as the only solution to our sins. But if God is a creative God not bound by rules, then there certainly were and, possibly--likely--are other options that God could have made good. To call the cross the only option is tantamount to saying the cross makes this Friday good or saying Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is a poem about taking "the road less traveled by"--it is giving significance and acting as if the meaning were there all along, as if it were there intentionally.

According to the common interpretation of Good Friday, God chose a terrible option, not a good one. I can be thankful for Easter as a historical reality or as a powerful symbol without calling Friday good in this manner. And so I say, "good riddance" to Good Friday or, at least, the term as commonly understood today. (Again when I say "commonly understood," I am making a huge leap in judgment from my experience to most English speakers' experiences.)

Instead, I echo the words of Meister Eckhart today: "I pray God to rid me of God." How apropos of this Friday, also known as Holy Friday, Black Friday, Long Friday, and, appropriately in the German, Karfreitag, which means Sorrowful or Suffering Friday (credit for these finding these other names goes to and Wikipedia). We remember--not celebrate--the death of a man so holy that he was called the son of God, Christ, and even God. In a sense, today is a day we remember not only God dying, but a way of understanding God dying. We remember disciples who could not understand Jesus being crucified so much so that they were embarrassed and denied Jesus when he was dying and dead. Today of all days is an apt day to sacrifice our understandings of God for and to whatever and/or whoever God really is. For me, today, this Friday is for remembering Jesus' death and waiting for the reality behind that word.

A Benediction
I wish you blessings of significance this Friday, a time of soul searching tomorrow on Holy Saturday, and a time of rebirth and newness this Easter Sunday. I can only hope that freedom will accompany that newness, a freedom in light of the oppression the Hebrews suffered and escaped in Egypt and a freedom from oppression that so many need today.