Crucify Him!

Here is a responsive reading Jason and I wrote for our Good Friday gathering.  Four of us each presented on a day of Holy Week, and then we each took turns as the “Speaker” while the congregation played the part of the Crowd.

Responsive Reading

Speaker: Jesus’ disciples brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting

Crowd: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Speaker: Tell me, what do you expect of this Jesus who is called the Messiah?

Crowd: We expect one who confronts our enemies.

Jason: He will not confront your enemies before he first confronts you.

Crowd: We expect one who agrees with us.

Sheila: He will not agree with you. He will question you and challenge you.

Crowd: We expect one who fights for us, who defends us and celebrates over us.

JR.: He will not fight for you. He will weep for you. And he will die for you.

Crowd: We expect one who rules us, whose strong arm empowers us.

Keven: He will not empower you. He will serve you and wash your feet.

Crowd: We expect the Lord to prepare a table before us, in the presence of our enemies.

Keven: He will not give you a table. He will offer himself as bread and drink.

Speaker: I tell you the truth — this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know him.

Crowd: Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!

Speaker: He was arrested. And they came to you, and said to you, “”You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”

Crowd: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Speaker: These people were with Jesus of Nazareth.

Crowd: We don’t even know the man.

Speaker: You must be one of them; we can tell by the way you speak.

Crowd: A curse on me if I’m lying – I don’t know the man!

Speaker: And so Jesus was handed over to Pilate. And Pilate brought forth Jesus and a criminal called Barabbas. “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Crowd: Give us Barabbas!

Speaker: And what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who comes in the name of the Lord?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who challenges us instead of our enemies?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who refuses to make us comfortable?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who embraces death rather than fighting for his life?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who claims to be a King but who acts like a servant?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who offers us nothing except his body and blood?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who has failed to meet our expectations?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.

Crowd: His blood be on us and on our children!

Speaker: It will be as you say. Take him away and crucify him. Amen and amen.

What do you think?  Does this reading do a good job of drawing you into the narrative of Holy Week?  Is it too harsh?

Bringing Sexy Back?

I want to wrap up this series by reflecting on the conversation PETA has started with these ads, and what we might learn from them.

PETA’s work is important, and worth our attention.

While I don’t agree with all of PETA’s values or methods, I believe their message and voice are important.  Our culture has made the exploitation of creation for our own convenience and pleasure the rule of the day.  We seldom give second thought to what we eat, wear or drive and how it affects the world around us.

Christians do have a responsibility to Creation, and we would get a lot further by partnering with organizations like PETA.  We don’t have to agree with everything they do, but instead of condemning them, we can offer a helpful voice of critique.  And if we listened a little bit more closely to what they’re saying we can learn something as well.

PETA’s ads raise several important questions we must take seriously.

1. When did you last give thought to where the products you use originated?

If you’re like me, the answer is: a long time ago.  I use animal products – I eat meat, I wear leather, etc.  And I’m not against killing animals as a rule.

But take a look at this horrifying video of a fur farm (if you have the stomach for it).  I don’t wear fur, but this video gave me pause because in watching it, I realized that I need to be more conscious of what I consume.  The way we treat creation says a lot about our picture of the creator, and I believe we can treat animals more humanely than they’re usually treated in our mass-production mills.  (Another great resource to get you thinking is the film Food, Inc.  You can get it on Netflix OnDemand if you’re a subscriber!)

2. What are we doing to live out our convictions?

A lot of the power of PETAs ads comes from the status of the persons they feature.  Each of these persons (allegedly) has some sort of influence over a number of other persons and they choose to leverage that influence to support a cause in which they believe.

PETA works very hard to change your mind.  They work so hard because they’re passionate about their message.  They’ll stop at nothing to save animals from unethical treatment.

I have an important message to communicate.  I’m passionate about it as well.  I bet you are too.  I want to go to the next-next level.  I want you to walk away from an encounter with my message unable to get it out of your head.  I want you to find it compelling.  I want you to mull it over for the next week (or more!).  PETA has encouraged me to step up my game.

3. Why are PETA’s ads so effective?

These ads are brilliant.  They’re smart and sexy (and for the record, I don’t think sexy has to be bad).  They communicate the same message on multiple levels and they have generated an enormous amount of attention.  I haven’t seen anyone in the Church do this effectively in a long time.

Which brings me to…

We would do well to learn from PETA’s communication techniques.

PETA is not the devil; they’re doing some good, and they’re working harder and more creatively than most faith-based organizations I’ve encountered.  They’re using the resources they have at their disposal and they’re using them well.  For me, they call to mind Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-12).

Listen to what PETA had to say in defense of their ad campaigns: “As for the sexy women in our ads, the silly costumes, the street tableaux and the tofu sandwich give-aways, in a world where people want to smile, can’t resist looking at an attractive image and are up for a free meal, if such harmless antics will allow one individual to reconsider their own role in exploiting animals, how can it be faulted? Yes, Peta could restrict its activities to scientific work, but how often do you read of that in the papers? It could just hand out lengthy tracts about ethics, but how many people would stop and take one, let alone read it? Any peaceful action that opens eyes, hearts and minds should be commended, not condemned.

I would debate whether the ads truly are peaceful – there’s a violence in pornography and in misappropriation – but that (important) debate aside, notice what PETA is doing: they recognize that just talking at people doesn’t effect change, that facts and figures (and, I would add, casually quoted Bible verses) don’t move us to alter our lifestyles.  So they appeal beyond our reason, to our emotions and to our identities.

HERO-JESUS-T-Shirt-Front-Design-M I wish that within the Church our communication was more creative and intention in the ways we communicate.  I don’t think that everything PETA did in these campaigns was right, but they are effective, original and creative – three words we can seldom apply to anything coming out of the Church.

PETA’s ads make me ask, “Am I using all my creativity to generate compelling and original incarnations of the Gospel?  Am I working at what I’m communicating, or am I stuck in a rut, talking at instead of talking with?”

What we need is a better picture of healthy sexuality.

The short takeaway from this for me is: Until we as Christians develop a healthy picture of sexuality that is indebted more to thoughtful exegesis of Scripture than it is to traditional (read: Western, post-industrial revolution) gender roles and unreasonable, culturally-formed sexual expectations, we’ll never be able to do anything more than stomp our feet and throw a temper-tantrum when we discover cultural texts such as the PETA ads.  To borrow a line from Andy Crouch, our posture will always be one of condemnation, never one of critique and certainly not one of creativity.

And we desperately need creative and clever pictures of healthy sexuality in our culture right now.  If this study has taught me nothing else, it’s how broken we all are, how fully our culture screws up our picture of what it means to be sexually healthy.  I don’t have much of an idea of what this looks like yet, but it’s something I’m exploring pretty heavily for an upcoming series of posts.

For now, though, I’d really like to hear your thoughts about what constitutes a healthy sexuality.  Pretty please?

Coda: Better Late than Never?

One last note – one of PETA’s more recent campaigns is “Ink not Mink”, which features various tattoo-bearing celeb in an anti-fur message.  And best of all, most of them are male – from R&B artist Mario and rocker Tommy Lee to “Miami Ink”’s Ami James and “Jackass” star Steve-O.  And, of course, Dennis Rodman.  The ads are no less pornographic (with the possible exception of Steve-O, who is just absurd), but at least including men in the ads is more… balanced?

And in case any of you are unsure, these pictures are great examples are what NOT to do.

In A Godda Da Vida

In this series, I’m exploring a recent series of ad campaigns by PETA.  The ads are striking for their use of nude (or nearly so) minor-celebrities to creatively and cleverly promote various aspects of animal rights.  The first post explored PETA’s use of sexually suggestive imagery and text such that the models are dehumanized and thereby relegated to the moral level of animal.  The second post dealt more specifically with the “Angels to Animals” campaign in which (I argue) PETA misappropriates Christian religious imagery and language (the cross, rosary, concept of ‘savior’ and others).

In one regard, I believe I have not clearly communicated my intentions in this series of posts.  I do not believe that PETA is engaging in this advertising campaign maliciously.  I want to argue that these ads are indicative of larger cultural trends: we are dehumanizing ourselves through our (mis)use of sexuality and we are losing the unique and significant meanings of our Christian symbols.  PETA is not a Christian organization and so has no reason NOT to undertake this campaign. From a non-Christian perspective, the ads are, frankly, brilliant.  But more on THAT in the last post (coming next week).

The Eve of a New Day

Today, I want to focus on one last ad-campaign with which I’d like to dialogue: the “Turn Over a New Leaf” campaign.  The text of the ads is fairly innocuous by itself – ‘turning over a new leaf’ is a common idiom in our culture for trying something new, and the ads suggest that we try Vegetarianism.  So far, so good.  But I find fascinating how they’ve chosen to use their models.  Here are model/actress Pamela Anderson and actress actress Maggie Q.  Both women’s essential parts are covered in lettuce leaves, and they bear an uncanny resemblance to Eve, our first mother who gets a bad rap for – well, most of the rest of Western History.

Why use Eve?  She’s a complicated figure even within the Biblical text, and 6,000+ years of human history has only made her more complex.  Today she is both an object of scorn and a paragon of feminist virtue, an uber-woman who long ago escaped the texts in which we meet her to roam across our culture leaving a powerful impression.  For some Feminists, she’s become the ultimate example of choosing to embrace advancement against the threat of patriarchy.  As Lilian Barger argues in Eve’s Revenge:

Rubens_-_Adam_et_Eve[1]This act of eating forbidden fruit has in recent years been seen as a ritual of empowerment within feminist theology.  In this reinterpretation, the first woman is said to have been exercising power over her own life and challenging the existing order.  Through ritual eating of an apple we follow the first woman in an act of subversion, encouraged to overthrow the oppressive patriarchal power that has dominated us (136).

Is it a stretch to see in these ads this Eve, this empowering symbol?  I don’t think so; in fact, to use Eve in this way is clever and subversive in its own right.  Cruelty of any kind is often viewed as a male trait, albeit a lesser, undesirable one (see, for instance, the writings of Grace Janzten).  Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is often touted for its many health, ethical and social justice benefits.  It’s a short step from there to imagine that vegetarianism is, well, a little bit more evolved than omnivorism (quick shout out to my Veggi-minded friends who have never once made me feel this way for enjoying my steak!).

lisa_vegetarian[1] So Ladies, are you unhappy with your life?  Or perhaps more pointedly, given the ad’s choice of models, are you unhappy with your Self?  Then it’s time to go, girl!  Time to recreate yourself, to unleash the kind, clever, strong and beautiful woman trapped inside!  Turn over a new leaf and stop eating meat!  You’ll look and feel better than ever before.

This model of Eve is not the most healthy or helpful model available to us.

This rebel-against-patriarchy is not the most helpful picture of Eve.  In fact, I think the Genesis 2 narrative offers both men and women a more helpful answer to patriarchy.  I don’t have space for a full exegesis here, but briefly:

Genesis 1:27 reveals that the image of God is both male and female – that neither is complete without the other, and that both are necessary to embody the fullness of God’s image.  Genesis 2 affirms this by stating that “It’s not good that the man is alone.”  Woman is introduced as the man’s ezer, a Hebrew word that means ‘ally’, ‘partner’ or even ‘savior’ in other biblical texts.  It’s not until Genesis 3 we see hierarchy (read: patriarchy) introduced into the text.  As a result of the Fall, God tells the woman that her “desire will be for the man and he will rule over you.”  In this reading, patriarchy is the consequence of our choice – both Adam and Eve’s.  And more importantly, it’s a choice that is reversed at the Cross.  The church is meant to be a place in which gender is no longer linked to power (as Paul points out in Galatians 3:28).

So what’s wrong with the PETA ads?

Is PETA buying into the image of Eve-as-rebel?  I think so.  The message I see in these ads is a call to reinvent yourself in your Mother’s image, as a Vegetarian (is this a subtle appeal to Ken Hamm’s pals?).  Our path to overcoming patriarchy and (re)creating ourselves as stronger, moral persons runs through the Cross.  We don’t recreate ourselves, reverse the curse we brought down on ourselves.  We are renewed, regenerated, recreated through Jesus, who is even now making all things new.

image Of course, I don’t fault PETA for not creating advertisements consistent with a Christian worldview.  They’re not a Christian organization.

I wonder what might happen if we try to recover Eve as a model not of rebellious or anti-religious womanhood, but as a model of good and pure humanity, an example for both men and women to follow?  A model of a person who chose unwisely, but who through self-sacrifice and faith can be rescued from death.

Truthfully, I’m not sure a PETA ad inspired by that Eve would look a whole lot different.  So maybe I’m reading too much into these ads.  But they’ve at least given me pause to reflect on my own idea of gender roles.

To what sort of Eve are you drawn?  Does she figure prominently (or at all) in your theology or spirituality?

Next time: I want to take a step back and reflect on the issues this series has raised.  I’ll talk about what I really like in PETA’s ads and a bit more generally about what I think a healthy Christian response should be.