Thursday, February 26, 2004

This is my body

I admit that I have not seen Mel Gibson's film The Passion so I don't purport to speak authoritatively on its content. I am conflicted about seeing the film given the pre-release controversy over anti-semitism and the stealth campaign among fundagelicals to generate a market for it. I tend to operate out of a principle that I don't pay my oppressors to oppress me and G-d knows the fundies are pretty good at oppression, repression, suppression and compression.

The general consensus among those who have seen the film is that it is a bloodfest. A bit like Jesus of Nazareth meets Freddy Kreuger or Jesus visits Texas for a chainsaw massacre. Jesus Seminar scholar John Dominic Crossan described the film as a pornography of violence. And one has to wonder whether he might be onto something. Clearly the slasher movies are stimulating. And feminist scholars for years have pointed out the difficult to separate responses to sexuality and violence aspects of snuff and rape pornography.

In all fairness, Gibson said he sought to graphically demonstrate how horrific the crucifixion of Jesus must have been. Of course, he appears to have fallen into the same trap as the Gospel writers in blaming the Jews for the event and letting the Romans, who actually killed him, off the hook - the paradigm which 1900 years later will form a basis for the Holocaust. But, it is not a bad thing to consider the horrendous nature of the world's most famous execution - indeed, any execution.

The strongest supporters of the film have been fundagelical Protestants and some conservative Catholics (Gibson's dad is far out to the right that he thinks of the current pope as "liberal" - go figure!). They've brought whole congregations to see the film, many stressing the need for people to know what a price Jesus paid for human sin. Without diverting down the siderail here to the whole question of why any human being of good conscience and an IQ above that of a rutabaga would buy such theology, suffice it to say that atonement theology can be readily depicted without slow motion close-ups of chunks of the muscular Jesus' flesh being ripped out and his eye being put out. As one fundagelical minister said, "I'm afraid this might back fire and cause people to doubt atonement theology." One can hope.

Frankly, I am not terribly interested in worshipping a god who requires this kind of torture for any reason. I've never been able to reconcile a notion of G-d, the good creator who loves the creation, with a vision of G-d the bloodthirsty tyrant demanding his honor be redeemed through a gruesome piece of human sacrifice. That is not a god worth worshipping, in my view. On the other hand, a Lord who proclaims the Kingdom of G-d, who calls people to value the good Creation and themselves, who prescribes a way of living out that calling in the form of the Great Commandments, a prophetic sage figure who speaks of G-d with intimacy - Abba, Daddy - does indeed point toward a god worth worshipping. And his communal rite of belonging - a rite marked by eating and drinking together with "all sorts and conditions of men," to cite the Book of Common Prayer, does speak of being a part of a movement through which G-d is revealed and whose calling to live as the people of G-d can be embraced.

As I walked by the edge of Lake Underhill today considering these thoughts, I began to hear the words of Jesus. I looked across the lake's surface to the ducks preening themselves in the shallow water avoiding the piece of Styrofoam floating next to it..."This is my body!" And in my mind's eye, the Roman guard's whip caught a chunk of Jesus' flesh, ripping it from his shoulder, blood spurting through the air....The voice of the Holy Spirit punctuated that awful image, this time in the song of a mockingbird, As I turned my eyes toward the tree where she sang, I caught sight of the McDonald's cups and straws caught in a stagnant pool behind a natural gas pipeline...."This is my body!" And the crown of thorns were jammed into Jesus' scalp in my mind's eye. Shaken, I decided it was time to go home, my prayer and meditation time over....As I approached the expressway overpass, a plastic bag with a half-eaten salad to go and an empty bag of chips from a fast food drivethrough tossed from a car window created an arc of debris across the shoulder of the street and the bikepath on which I jogged....And in my mind the voice screamed out "THIS IS MY BODY! THIS IS MY BODY! THIS IS MY BODY!!!!!!....." the vision of Jesus exhaling his last breath from the cross now vivid in my mind's eye.

Frankly, I don't know if Jesus was G-d, anymore than any other human being has been. I don't know if Jesus is really present in the sharing of the communion or that the communion of saints stands around us at that moment though I believe I experience both of those things. But I do know that Sally McFague is onto something when she calls the Earth the body of G-d. In our haste to reassure our own existential security needs about the next life, we have allowed some of the basest sins to be committed against the body of G-d.

Can we in good conscience speak of salvation - health and wholeness - even as we choke G-d's body with our waste products of smoke and toxic gases? Should we not choke on our holy bread even as we befoul the water supply that our overpopulated planet already finds in short supply? Does not the wine cause a lump in our throat as we read of yet another species of animals no longer among the living, the victims of human acquisitiveness? Can we even look up from our debates about a movie long enough to see what is being done to the body of G-d?

This is my body given for you. ...Do this in memory of me....Whose memory do we really cherish?


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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