Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christian Theology: The Cross

I continue this series of posts on Christian theological reflection with an entry on the meaning of the cross. Admittedly, these gestures reflect an inchoate effort at translating traditional Christian symbolics into a language more familiar to my Unitarian Universalist parlance. This dialogical engagement is of utmost importance, I believe. Not only does Christian rhetoric claim significant currency in our culture, but the Living Tradition traces its rich heritage in and through Christianity's winding legacy.

As for the cross:

1) The Cross as Exposure: despite the darkness that covered Golgotha (Matthew 27:45), the crucifixion-event served as a form of illumination. In this way, it was God dwelling in the dark clouds (1 Kings 8:12). The cross cast a spotlight back on the world of violence that nailed Jesus to those beams. It exposed the raw hatred, power-fetishes and brutality simmering below the facade of empire. It pierced the Real and, in so doing, demonstrated the contingency of the Symbolic (Zizek) - the radical possibility of egalitarian re-configuration. Rosemary Reuther refers to this process as the unmasking of idols and proclamation of the good news of "abundant life in loving mutuality."

2) The Cross as Verdict: rejecting Jesus' invitation to conversion into solidarity with the downtrodden, the political and religious authorities cast their verdict. The antagonists in this violent drama should not be overlooked. In this way, the oppositional "verdict of the Father" (Barth), as signified by the resurrection, calls those who encounter the living Christ to similarly oppose the politics of empire and dehumanizing orthodoxy of calcified institutional religion in our time. "The cross means human beings rejecting human beings," C.S. Song writes. This is true. But we, as religious enthusiasts with an eye on current events, must not forget that the perpetrators were those alleging political treason and religious blasphemy.

3) The Cross as Mystery: the most haunting scene of the crucifixion narrative undoubtedly centers on Jesus' desperate cry for God's presence amidst isolation and estrangement. This scene tempers the well-intentioned tendency to view the Calvary story as a triumphalist cosmic victory over evil. As Rosemary Reuther intuits, the horizontal evils plaguing human history are often cast aside amidst enthusiastic fervor surrounding the vertical action of the "god-man" satisfying God's supposed wrath. We cannot succumb to this interpretive temptation. Rather, the disturbing absence of God during periods of the crucifixion-event testifies to God's mysterious and unknowable nature. On the one hand, "God means to put an end to all the crosses of history" (Boff). On the other, we must neither romanticize suffering nor arrogantly claim secret insight into God's will. At the end of the day, "God cannot be owned" (Countryman).

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