"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, April 11, 2006 Station V - Simon carries the cross
Simon of Cyrene tends to be a romantic figure -- the man who swooped in and lifted the cross from Christ's shoulders for a time to save him at least for a time from the burden. It's a beautiful romantic image, and one that is open to all sorts of reflections about if or how we could shoulder Christ's burdens on that road.
Problem is ... that's not the way it happened. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke at least) tell of Simon -- but of how he was compelled by the Roman soldiers to bear Jesus' cross.
Simon was not a faithful follower carrying a burden that was an honor. He was just some guy a long, long way from home (Cyrene was in Northern Libya) who had the rotten luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or was he?
Compulsion usually isn't fun. And in the quirky, self-aggrandizing way we have written our national story, compulsion -- being forced to do something you don't want to do -- often seems unAmerican and anathema. That's because too often we confuse freedom with license ... a confusion that too easily lets us feel self-righteous resisting the opportunities for greatness that compulsion sometimes holds.
Because it's not just Roman soldiers and strong-armed police officers who compel us. Compulsion is a condition of the heart and spirit as well. Compulsion can happen when we have seen, experienced, heard and felt things that will not let us rest. Things that haunt us. Things that make us give up that which we hold dear ... that compel us to do that which we would dearly rather not.
And sometimes, those are our moments of greatness.
In the bubble of middle-class-and-up American life, it's easy to live in a world of our own construction where real compulsion never enters in. We shut out those disturbing things that might make us re-evaluate and change, that might compel us to sacrifice and labor for other than our own gain.
But when we get out of that bubble, even a little, and let the world into our hearts, compulsion enters in and with it the opportunity for greatness.
Flying back from Ghana, I remember taking a stroll up and down the airplane aisle over the North Atlantic and realizing that I had a choice. I could either go back into my bubble when I got back to America or I could try to continue to live outside it. I could take the experience I had and the people I'd met and turn them into vacation slides ... or I could let them shape my life.
That choice was no choice. If I were to honor not just what I had seen but the people I had called sister, brother and friend. If I were to honor them and live a life not just as a Christian but as a human being with any sense of integrity and decency, I was compelled to change my life, to spend my time differently. To take the tiny bit I was just beginning to learn ... and learn more ... and share.
If there was one moment that set me on the road to where I am now -- as imperfectly as I have followed that path -- it was that one. It was not what I wanted. Barring that feeling of compulsion, I can't imagine it's what I would have done. But that feeling of compulsion was there. And it was what I had to do. And in doing it, God has gifted me with more joy that I could have possibly imagined.
I can't imagine Simon was that thrilled carrying the cross that day. More likely, he cursed his rotten luck and probably said more than a few choice words under his breath to God that day.
But if he was even a little bit open to it, I wonder if he didn't take something away from the experience. If being compelled to carry another's burden even for a little while didn't shape him in some quietly profound.
We'll never know, of course, but I wonder. Because the heart of compulsion is losing control. And when we give up control -- amazing things can happen.
Station VI - Veronica wipes the face of Christ
In Simon, we have someone whose scriptural portrayal the Church romanticizes. In Veronica, we have someone whom scripture doesn't mention at all.
The tale of Veronica wiping Jesus' tears is the stuff of legend -- of a 17th-century Roman Catholic encyclopedia of saints, to be precise. Veronica offers Jesus a kerchief to wipe his face, he takes it, and when he hands it back to her it bears the imprint of his face.
The closest pop culture cognate to this event is when the coiner of "Have a Nice Day" offers Forrest Gump a T-shirt to wipe the mud off his face and when it is returned it bears the ubiquitous "smiley face" on it.
I don't have a lot of time for stories like Veronica's. To me, they cheapen the stark and powerful and even tragically beautiful nature of reality with cheap sentimentality.
I used to go to a lectionary Bible study group every Tuesday afternoon at St. Mark's. I should still go ... it's still on my calendar every week ... but it just keeps getting squeezed out (says unfortunate things about my priorities). Years ago in some conversation during that group, Dan Handschy, the uberintelligent rector of Advent Church in Crestwood started talking about the dangers of romanticizing poverty.
And this part stuck with me. He started talking about not how painful poverty was. Not about how tragic or bad poverty was. But about what just a huge pain in the ass poverty was. He talked about a woman who had to catch three different buses just to get to a job that didn't even pay her enough to subsist and how because the city transit system was so bad, the buses didn't run on time and she wasted a lot of her day just sitting at bus stops.
When we think of poverty, the images that most often come to mind are beggars or people who are just abjectly starving in place. But that's not the face of most poverty. Most poverty is people who are working really, really hard to get by -- only EVERYTHING is a thousand times more difficult than it is for me. The simplest tasks -- getting water, going to school, feeling safe -- might not be impossible, but they take amounts of energy that we can't possibly imagine.
My guess is that there never was a Veronica. And I think the Way of the Cross is a lot better without her. Because I'll be there wasn't anyone there to wipe his face. I'll bet the sweat and tears got in his eyes and they stung and there was nothing anybody did about it. I'll bet there were a ton of little things that lots of people could have done to make even that hideous journey a little easier and I'll bet not one person did them.
While the Christian symbolism is a little lost on me (There's only so much I know..), this post was brilliant for its articulation.
Well - Suppose a poor woman did walk away with Jesus's face on a piece of cloth - and decided to set up a centre for Religious Tourism - (highly hypothetical) - it provides for an economy around that centre - provides for avenues of livelihood.. and what not..
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."