The Cross

geralt/24190 images, Pixabay

“I see no alternative, each of us must turn inwards and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.  And remember that every atom of hate we add to the world makes it still more inhospitable.

And you, Klaas . . . dismayed and astonished at the same time, say “But that – that is nothing but Christianity!”  And I, amused by your confusion, retort quite coolly, “Yes, Christianity, and why ever not?”    From Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life


Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew, an author who recounted in her diaries the story of Jewish deportation to German concentration camps in the second world war.  Her journals grapple with the evil perpetrated on helpless victims, and the complexity of those who collaborated.  Caught up in the relentless Nazi machinery, she was sent to Auschwitz where she was murdered in 1943.

On Good Friday, the only truly innocent man the world has ever known was sentenced to death.  But Jesus himself knew he could not take on fully the human condition unless he carried our sin, bore the brunt of its consequences in his own person.  He came for that purpose, and determinedly set his face towards Jerusalem to die there.

As Christians, we often try very hard to avoid the way of the cross, for ourselves and for others.  I remember once realizing with sinking heart that I’d crucified someone in my desperation to be free.  A vision of Jesus appeared, laid down on the boards of a cross, being nailed into place.  As much as, in that moment, I wanted to turn back and take him off,  I knew that this had to happen, that it was the only hope of a way forward.    Jesus hangs in our place, blocks punishment and vengeance, and gives us all the undeserved grace of new life instead.  It’s so amazing that it’s beyond my comprehension.

Etty did not survive the war, but her words did.  She became “the chronicler of this age” that she had wanted to be.  Not only as a victim and witness of evil, but also a victor who loved her fellow human beings.

Like a true Jesus-follower.





The Teacher


Reigi, Google Translate
“Truth, like love and sleep, resents
Approaches that are too intense.”
            W.H. Auden, The Double Man
When we were waiting in the Calgary airport a number of years ago, we witnessed two Japanese women in kimonos greet each other, bowing in turn a great number of times. It’s clear that Japan values this courtesy and politeness to a degree that we don’t usually see in Canada.
As preparation for his high school student exchange term in Japan, my son-in-law learned some rules of Japanese culture.  He was taught to never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer.  For a person to say “No,” would mean someone losing face.  Needless to say, this requires time and a great deal of tact and diplomacy.
Communication across cultures or hierarchies can be difficult, especially when the person to be addressed is in a position of power, or when we prefer not to have open conflict on major issues.   In medieval times, a court jester or fool could use sly humour to get across a point to a monarch.  Hamlet used theatre to confront his murderous stepfather-uncle, and the prophet Nathan told a simple story of injustice so that King David, in effect, pronounced sentence on himself.
Jesus’ parables, too,  have multiple layers of meaning, characters with different viewpoints, stunningly illogical endings at times.  As we grapple with them, we gradually absorb their concepts.  In so doing, we are introduced to ourselves.  It is a kind way to address complex and difficult topics.
This circuitous route is eye-opening, not only to confront wrong or to highlight what is actually happening, but also when the beauty of truth is too overwhelming, when we have to cover our eyes at the brightness and glory of it.  Some experiences can’t be described in our limited vocabulary, they elude ordinary senses.  There are worlds of wonder, but we can only glimpse the splendours.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise . . .
Emily Dickinson
We are given great gifts in analogies, experiences, metaphors, juxtaposition, similes: “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”   It requires a poet’s attentive eye and the courtesy of listening with unstopped ears for the lessons that are all around us.  It is God’s gracious stooping to bow down to our level, and we in turn bowing in our acknowledgement of Him.