How Would We Know?
April 10th, 2009 by Sonja

So it all started innocently enough.  It was just a conversation in a car on the way from one place to another, in a hurry because while most things had been accounted for, one critical piece had been overlooked.  As we drove through downtown Washington DC, my perspective shifted and I saw Rome … metaphorically speaking, of course.

Later in the same evening we attended a hockey game at the Verizon Center.   A metaphorical Coliseum complete with gladiators … but no lions and no death.  Sometimes there is blood.

It made my gears start to turn.  If we could suspend reality for a moment; play pretend like we used to do as kids, how would we know and what would today, Black Friday, look like?  So … play pretend with me for a little bit and I’ll set the stage, you help me fill in the blanks in the comments.

As we were driving back to the hockey game, I talked to LightHusband and we thought through some things.  Of course the metaphor is lacking and has huge holes.  All games of pretend do, and we’re going to ignore them, unless we can think of creative ways to work with them in order to learn and grow in our faith journey.

If Washington DC is latter day Rome, I asked him, “then where would latter day Israel be?”  We talked through what some of the qualifications would need to be.  It needs to be a place that is under military occupation, where the local religion is suspect and maybe quelled for rebellion/terrorism, where the local culture is also viewed with suspicion.  The obvious answer was either Iraq or Afghanistan.  A runner up might be Mexico or Columbia … however, they are not under military occupation.

What would we do and how would we respond to someone with the teachings of Jesus in a Muslim context?

I wonder about that as I read about American responses to Muslims.  Some have moderated with time since 2001, others have grown more and more vituperative.  I look at our perspective on the Romans and we know that their downfall was attempting to assimilate too many disparate people groups into the Roman way of life.  We know that.  Yet we don’t seem to understand it as we go abroad attempting spread the “flower of democracy.”  So what do we do with the Muslims response to democracy and Western ways?  How do we respond to the Taliban?  For example, we find their subjugation of women repugnant.  Yet there are certain segments of the Christian church which are just as restrictive to women.  We think their tribalism is quaint and outdated; almost primitive.  Surely they can see that there are more contemporary, progressive manners in which to organize and operate a government?  Right?  It’s the primitive nature of their system that’s the problem.  If we could just get those poor, ignorant towel-heads into the twenty-first century like us and fix them, everything would be fine.

That last sentence is fairly offensive isn’t it?  Most people would strenuously disagree that they think that way.  Oh … but we all do.  We, here in America, all think that our way is the better, nay, the best way.  If everyone were just like us, the world  would be just fine.  And when you get down to the bottom of it, that’s the way the Romans thought too.

Judea, and by extension, Jerusalem, were under the charge of Herod Agrippa, a Jew under the thumb of Pontius Pilate, a Roman procurator.  So, you see, if we put ourselves in the poor dusty shoes of our Muslim cousins abroad from the oldest civilizations on earth in our game of pretend here, it’s not so difficult to see the similarities.

So my question today as we reflect on Dark Friday and the Cross, is if it were happening now, how would we know?  How would we hear the news?  How would we members of the empire hear of and respond to the news of a Jesus in a rebellious colony?

2 Responses  
  • Maria writes:
    April 10th, 20091:20 pmat

    Interesting excercise, Sonja. (BTW I’ve been reading Subverting Global Myths by V. Ramachandra, and he has a lot to say about the kind of assumptions we make about fixing other countries.)

    What struck me about your questions is that no one in Rome really heard about Jesus at the time — we wouldn’t know if it were happening today, even with the wonders of the internet,etc. And yet within a few years, there were Christians in the imperial household. The only thing that brought that news to the heart of the empire were people whose lives that were radically transformed by the events of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit. Then as now, the empire dominates its own sense of the conversation so thoroughly that it’s hard to hear those voices from the edge saying that something new has happened. If it were happening now, even if we heard of it, we wouldn’t necessarily get it — Jesus is just a criminal executed in some backwater of the empire. Which makes me wonder what we don’t hear from people living on those edges of empire, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ — what parts of the gospel they implicitly understand that we just can’t see because we live in the middle of Rome.

  • If Jesus came today « Khanya writes:
    April 19th, 20097:31 amat

    […] If Jesus came today Jump to Comments Having just completed Holy Week, I was intrigued by this interesting and thoughtful post by Calacirian: How would we know? […]

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