Monday, July 29, 2013

When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment?

Wouldn't they think that was absurd?

After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

This became clear to me anew during a thrilling sermon by Will Storm at St. Luke's Logan Square at the 2013 Easter vigil, in which he talked about the many forces wanting to blot out life, like a giant thumb blotting out the sun, saying "Abandon all hope, you who enter here." The story of Christ is the antidote to this -- "the sign placed over this world [to be] a limit and an end to its suffering.  A sign that hope is not to be abandoned."
"This is the sign that stands against and triumphs over the gates of hell, which the Holy Spirit cries into our hearts, each by name. This is the sign that occurred in the saving ark, in the deliverance of the Israelites through the Red Sea, in the saving presence within the fiery furnace. This is the sign to which Mary Magdalene was the first witness along with the apostles, the sign to which the church has given testimony to throughout the centuries by its proclamation and its action, by the blood of its martyrs and the works of its saints, by the confessions its has spoken and the hymns it has sung, through its art and writings, through its scriptures and acts of charity, by the immersion of ever new generations in the waters of baptism and the offering of our Lord’s presence in the wine and bread. Throughout our history the Holy Spirit has not ceased to cry until its voice has grown hoarse with this message: Christ is risen!"
So: for Christians anywhere to worship a "God of Entombment" is unthinkable.

Or is it?

Now I'm not going to try to suggest that there is some aspect of Sunday morning worship at my church, or any church, that directly glorifies this God of Entombment. But I do have to ask: haven't we gotten to the point where the values around which we've built our lives -- i.e. "worship" as defined by "what we commit ourselves to" -- have become inextricably mixed with this system of mass incarceration?

This past Sunday, we did a screening and discussion at St. Luke's Logan Square of the film, The House I Live In, dealing with the mass incarceration of 2.5 million people in the United States. It is a powerful indictment of American society. It suggests that we've gone far, far beyond any defensible notion of law and justice. We're now just warehousing people for profit, or worse. And we're all implicated.

After all, do we go day after day without making a single contribution to ending the systemic racism that is fueled in our schools and feeds the system of mass incarceration (aka the "school-to-prison pipeline")? Or maybe it doesn't matter because our kids are getting high quality educations, thank you very much?

Are we content to live in Cook County, home of one of the great hellholes and feeder tombs to the system of mass incarceration, Cook County Jail? Or maybe it doesn't matter because I'll certainly never see the inside of CCJ?

Do we remain blind to the practice of torture via sensory deprivation (aka solitary confinement, "special housing unit (SHU)", "administrative detention," etc etc etc) in Illinois prisons and prisons across the country? Or maybe it doesn't matter because we've got our nice comfortable homes to live in?

Do we find an excuse to sidestep the invitations of organizations like Community Renewal Society (FORCE Project), ALSO, Radical Public Health, Black and Pink: Chicago, Decarcerate Illinois, and many, many others to make a difference? Or maybe it doesn't matter because the job market seems to be working to our advantage just the way it is?

I wonder if this isn't exactly the kind of inconsistency -- inconstancy, faithlessness -- that prophets like Amos and Hosea railed against. Wouldn't they say, "You pretend to 'worship' at Christ's altar while tolerating the entombment of 2.5 million people? I will put an end to your mirth, your festivals, your new moons, your sabbaths, and all your appointed festivals!" (adapted from Hosea 2:11) And "I hate it, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Your offerings are meaningless. Your songs are just noise. The only 'God' you worship is a God of despair and darkness." (adapted from Amos 5:21).

So I ask: can our profession of Christian faith be separated from a determination to end the entombment of men and women in America's prisons?

Related posts

I believe Easter is God's gift to humanity of victory over death, hopelessness and frailty, and I believe that God is alive and in our midst. The witness of the Guantanamo lawyers has confirmed me in those beliefs.

(See Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers )

Cook County Jail is the perfect example of the nationwide injustice that Michelle Alexander described in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration, focused principally one people of color, in which "crimes" (often related to drug possession or other low-level offenses) become the mechanism for entrapping people in a cycle of incarceration that is brutalizing and often begins a downward spiral of lifetime discrimination.

(See Free Them All )

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))

The Last Supper is a staggering collection of 600 plates that the artist Julie Green has painted with images and notations about the last meals of people put to death in states across the US.

(See Communion of a Different Sort: "The Last Supper" at the Block Museum )