Living Liberation: Crap Into Fertilizer

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

That phrase, said by many less than a week ago, used to make a lot of sense to me. Who wants to dwell on Good Friday’s suffering, pain, and injustice?  We could so easily look right past it to Sunday, the day of celebrating the Resurrection, not having to be afraid and having hope of new life now and in the age to come. Easter is a glorious day. Sure, Good Friday is important, we make sure to add, but ultimately we can pretty much ignore it except as a logical necessity for Easter.

The Necessity of Grief

Through attending Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services (as well as Easter Vigil and Easter morning) with some of my more-liturgical brothers and sisters at the nearby Anglican Church this year, I had the realisation just how misguided this sentiment is. We cannot afford to glance over Friday. It isn’t just a logical necessity that you have to die to be raised to life. It is a deep spiritual truth engrained into our world. Without truly lamenting in our pain there is no real joy. Without death there can be no new life. And without acknowledging injustice there can be no real justice.

We can see in nature, in Scripture, and in our own experiences that God is always working to bring joy out of pain, new life out of death, and justice out of injustice. I am of the opinion that if we simply ignore the bad things and pretend they aren’t real, we’ll never be able to fully partner with God in bringing something new in its place. I understand why this might be a depressing concept for some, but I actually find it radically freeing. Pain, death, and injustice are real things. Not good things, of course, but real things. It doesn’t help us to pretend that they aren’t. The big question comes from what we do in response to those bad things, which obviously necessitates acknowledging that they are indeed a very real problem.

Most of the way through writing this post, I listened to Greg Boyd’s Easter sermon (full video below). He summed this idea up so eloquently: God doesn’t cause the crap in our lives, but God will turn the crap in your life into fertilizer for growing amazing Kingdom fruit if you allow it. Again, that requires acknowledging it, repenting of it inasmuch as you contributed to it, grieving over it, and then handing it over no matter how painful it might be. If you’re still holding onto your crap (an awkward image if taken literally), God can’t use it to grow fruit.

The Great (In)justice

After all, what greater injustice is there than what we did to Jesus? Jesus who knew no sin was given the most disgraceful death possible. We can see in the Gospel accounts that Pilate didn’t really want to kill Jesus as he couldn’t find any charge to bring against him, but he was afraid of an uprising (Matthew 27:11-26). We see similar logic from the Sanhedrin leader Caiaphas who instigated the arrest because it is better for one innocent to die than for the status quo to be challenged (John 18:14). Even if we stay away from the more intense debates about atonement, the simple historical reasons are clear in the text: they knew it wasn’t just, but they did it anyway as an attempted scapegoat in the name of preserving a fragile peace.

And yet, we believe that God reversed this great injustice, this ultimate scapegoat. We have hope that God used this great injustice to set in motion the Kingdom of God on Earth, with a beautiful restorative justice at its heart rather than keeping the powerful happy. We don’t have to understand exactly how, but we can take hope in this God. Jesus on that cross showed us a remarkable God who would pursue justice – real justice, not simply crime and punishment – no matter what the cost to self.

Imitating Jesus

Jesus did clearly and unashamedly call out injustices in his context, particularly in the religious sphere, but with some serious political overtones as well. While there weren’t any legitimate charges against Jesus, these confrontations with their status quo clearly riled up the political and religious elite enough to have him killed. It’s no wonder why: less than a week earlier the masses were cheering for him and seemingly ready to follow him in upending that status quo.

For the most part in our Western context, it probably won’t get us killed to do the same about the injustices we see around us. But it will bring with it its own share of problems. For example, many have been ostracised from their religious communities for challenging abuses. Interestingly, those remaining inside the community often use the language of scapegoat. There always seem to be ways to shut up the person pointing out a problem, making it his or her fault. It isn’t the pastor’s fault he raped her; it’s her fault for wearing a tight shirt. He’s only human. He’s repented (at least in theory), so why can’t she forgive him or understand why there were no absolutely zero repercussions or attempts to help her heal?

This scapegoating seems like a great strategy. It will typically work in moderation. But as the numbers pile up, and as people dare to look at the grace-soaked example of Jesus, more and more start to dig beneath the facade and see the injustice exposed beneath. I’ve seen it happen, with about 80% of a campus group I was involved in leaving within an 8-month span. A lot of people were seriously hurt, particularly when many of us were scapegoated as our objections become more public as a way to deny the real problems, but a lot of people also found amazing healing on the other side, and even those who stuck around that group did institute some significant changes. New life came out of that pain and I would never consider going back.

I always have to be careful with language here so let’s make sure I am clear: I am not talking about being a doormat, lying down as the sacrifice to whatever someone else wants. I am talking about the turmoil that will inevitably come when you do grieve injustice, calling it what it is, and stand up for a real justice rather than the status quo. If you are being abused, get out. Not only is that self-care, it is also love for your abuser who needs to know that this is not acceptable. The process will probably hurt, for you and for your abuser, but new life awaits on the other side of that pain for anybody who is willing to let God turn that crap into fertilizer.

To quote from The Dark Knight, “the night is always darkest before the dawn.” Yes, Easter Sunday follows Good Friday, but we must feel the weight of that darkness before we can truly fight through it to the dawn on the other side.

The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here: www.wildgoosefestival.org

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.