Christ cross

The cross is meant to be co-opted

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Image: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

When Rod Dreher announced he and his wife were divorcing, the first thing I should have done was pray for them. Instead, I braced myself for the nasty comments I knew would follow his announcement. And they followed, as Dreher himself predicted.

Dreher has a lot of wrongdoers, and not wrongly. Despite his large following, he is not a cautious man and tends to bounce from panic to panic, only resting in maddening self-indulgence that is frustrating even to people who agree with some of his opinions. ; and he is downright repugnant to those who find his views appalling. And some of the things that he believes are appalling.

Still, I guess my corner of the internet is somewhat sheltered, as I was unprepared for the avalanche of joy that followed the news. It wasn’t just about desserts, like a bad boss getting himself fired, or a thief getting his own stuff stolen. He was a man whose ideas people did not agree with when they announced that he had struggled for nine years to save his marriage, and had finally failed, and it was partly his fault. Responding to such news with joy is putting hell on your head.

One comment in particular stood out, as it presented itself as correcting his Christianity. A woman mocked him for using an image from The Passion as the essay’s header image where he briefly describes his suffering.

Dreher is, in fact, in Jerusalem at the time he writes, and had been praying at Golgotha ​​during Holy Week, so it would be almost anomalous if an image of the crucifixion had not suggested itself to him as a natural illustration of intense personal pain. But this commentator chastised him for comparing himself to Jesus. She said it was typical self-glorification for him to co-opt the imagery of the cross for his own suffering.

But that’s cross stitch.

Rod Dreher in Sydney. Photo: Alphonse Fok

This is why the execution of our savior was public. This is why it was done in the middle of the day, in front of the crowd, on the top of the hill: so that everyone could see, and everyone would know that Jesus wept and bled and lost the strength to his members. just like us. Like all those who had suffered until now, and like all those who would suffer. That’s the point. The cross is meant to be co-opted. That’s why.

I think the woman who made fun of Rod Dreher probably didn’t have a lot of theological thoughts in her head, and mostly just didn’t like Rod Dreher, and wouldn’t have any sympathy for anything he would do or would say. But it’s quite common for people who are more righteous, and who don’t reflexively kick people who are already down, to make a sort of defensive safeguard when it comes to suffering: Saying that this or that is not real suffering, or that it is not genuine, worthy or deep enough to be called real suffering. That it’s something lesser, something we should be embarrassed to admit we struggle with.

Well, there is suffering, and there is suffering. I remember hearing how a family friend sat by her dying husband’s bedside. Her roommate had the TV on, tuned to a televangelist channel, and famed Tammy Faye was on, crying into the camera as usual, her gummy mascara bleeding into the neck of her expensive silk blouse as she begged for l money for Jesus.

A nurse came into the room and brushed past the future widow as she sat and waited for her husband to die, wondering how she would look after his large family of young children when he was gone. The nurse looked up sadly at the TV and said in a plaintive voice, “Aw, why is Tammy crying?”

So there is suffering, and there is suffering. It’s true.

In suffering is sometimes the only place where we meet Christ. Photo: CNS, Nancy Wiechec

And I remember thoughtful and painful conversations around the “Mama” painting, which shows a Pieta where the dead Jesus looks a lot like George Floyd. The artist, Kelly Latimore, told The New York Times that he “always answers ‘yes’ when asked if the painting depicts Jesus or Floyd.”

The artist goes on to say:

“It’s not a script or one or the other. Is it George Floyd? Yes. Is it Jesus? Yes. There is something sacred in every person.

I don’t know exactly what he meant by that. There is suffering, and there is suffering, and it is worth having respectful conversations about how firmly to draw the line between our suffering and that of Jesus.

What I do know is that Jesus is like us in all things except sin, but for many of us that never seems real until we suffer. This is where we meet Jesus, know him, recognize him and feel his help: in suffering. Sometimes it’s the only place we meet him.

And so it is a very serious thing when other Christians want to remove that commonality, on the grounds that we are not worthy to consider ourselves so close to Christ, or to feel that we have so much in common with him.

Because that, too, is the point: we are not worthy. That’s why he came for us. Our unworthiness to have anything in common with God is the very reason we need a saviour.

There is suffering, and there is suffering, but there is only one man who suffered for public consumption, so to speak. The suffering of Jesus is universal; it’s for everyone. And at the same time, it’s personal. It is for each of us as individuals, and it means what is needed in our specific lives. The cross is for us to use, to co-opt, to identify with, to look at, to cling to, to use as we can so as not to fall into the underworld. That’s why.

The suffering of others, however – yes, even the suffering of experts we don’t like – is not ours to judge, and certainly not ours to use, certainly not for our own amusement. Be careful, my friends.