I recently read a non-fiction book called The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle, who has been one of my favorite novelists for years, but I'd never read any of her non-fiction until now. I'm not sure exactly why, but I'm glad of it because I don't think I would have gotten as much out of it in high school as I have now. Anyway, in the book she describes participating in reading the Passion as part of the crowding chanting, "Crucify him!" and describes how it disturbs her because she doesn't know whether or not she would have actually been part of that screaming mob had she been there at the time.
I can relate to this. During most of my childhood summers I participated in the Black Hills Passion Play (which, alas, is now defunct), but it wasn't until I was 12 years old (old enough and tall enough) that I participated in the mob scenes. And the first time I did so it was extremely difficult, because on one hand I was acting in a way that was completely counter to my nature, and yet at the same time I felt within myself the capacity for that depth of violent rage and blind hatred, and I felt that, under certain circumstances, I too could possibly be carried away by those emotions. After all, had I not been carried away to a lesser degree by violent emotions all my life? Did I not consider myself somehow akin to the Incredible Hulk? Eventually I got myself under control, and realized that if you're going to do a Passion Play, you need an angry mob or it's not going to work.
Tonight when we read the Passion, what struck me was the way Jesus' friends all abandoned him when the high priests came to arrest him. This is something else Ms. L'Engle addresses in The Irrational Season, pointing out that it was the women who stuck by him, despite--or perhaps because of--the fact that they were virtually powerless, second-class citizens. That was something that I'd never really thought about before, and that's probably the reason why it struck me tonight more than ever. In fairness to the disciples, while it would have been very noble of them all to go along and die with Jesus, it would have meant there would be no one left to tell the story (except the women, and in that societal situation who would have listened to them?), so it was probably a good thing in the long run that they did run away, but tonight I was disgusted with them for their cowardice.
And yet, even while I was disgusted with them, I had to ask myself if I wouldn't have done the same thing in their shoes. Would I have had the courage to stand by Jesus and be persecuted and possibly killed with him? To answer this question I attempt to broaden it by imagining in Jesus' place a friend or family member, and it becomes easier to imagine standing my ground, but I still don't know that that's the choice I would make if I were actually faced with the decision.
I talk a lot about the cause of same-sex marriage (which, by the way, has just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court of IOWA; we're through the looking glass here, people, but I think it's nicer on this side) but I do so here, in my LiveJournal which is, after all, fairly anonymous. Yes, I was in The Laramie Project, and yes, I distributed pamphlets against our little marriage amendment when it was on the ballot in 2006, but how committed am I, really?
Just today I had a chance to speak up when people were talking about the Iowa Supreme Court decision in the break room at work, yet I remained silent. Last November I had a chance to speak up during the "Feast of Faith" lecture series thingie sponsored by the Cathedral, when the topic was "theology of the body" which, almost inevitably, included discussion of homosexual behavior as depraved and the inclination as disordered, which this particular speaker interpreted to mean a psychological disorder (and to be fair, he was not a psychologist so he could perhaps be forgiven for being behind the times as far as mental health diagnostics goes). There was a question-and-answer period afterwards, which would have been the perfect opportunity to speak up, but I did not. To be sure, I was so enraged that I was having trouble formulating my thoughts into something coherent, let alone rhetorically effective. I also justified my silence to myself, after the fact, by invoking the words of Father Roger Schmitt in The Laramie Project, convincing myself that I didn't want to make things worse by gibbering with rage and giving this well-meaning yet clueless speaker the opportunity to say, "You see how they are, these queer allies and 'fag-enablers'? You see how mere association with homosexuals makes one bestially violent?" But the fact of the matter was that I had another reason for not speaking up and it was good, old-fashioned, self-centered fear. I'd found friends amongst this good-hearted but tragically limited group of people; for the first time since moving to Sioux Falls I had a social life again, and I didn't want to jeopardize that. I didn't want to be judged, I wasn't willing to brand myself with the pink triangle and be ostracized. Which forces me to ask myself what I would have done, had I been a citizen of Nazi Germany, when the pink triangle meant not only ostracization but condemnation. Would I have stood in solidarity with my brothers, knowing that it would mean persecution and suffering and almost certain death? I can't say for certain, but this is why I chose Maximilian Kolbe as my patron saint when I was confirmed, in hopes that it would inspire me to follow his example of sacrificial love.
But I don't know that I have the strength of character to take it that far. Maybe it would be easier to die for, or die with, someone I love than it would be to stay by them and watch them suffer. I'm reminded of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, and that my favorite character in the play is Louis, the schmuck who deserts his boyfriend rather than care for him while he's dying of AIDS. It's not that I admire him for being a schmucky boyfriend, but I do admire the fact that he realizes he's a schmucky boyfriend and suffers a lot because of it. I relate to him more than any other character in the play because I know that, were I in his situation, I would be tempted to leave too.
Because it's one thing to care for another person, to feel sympathy and empathy and wish well for them; that sort of thing is easy. It's quite another thing to have to care for someone in concrete ways, cleaning up various secretions and execretions of bodily fluids and that sort of thing; that would be very difficult for me, and I hope that, were I in that situation, I would rise to the occasion and put my own wants and fears aside and make the sacrifice of caring for the other person, the person I loved, but I don't know. How many opportunities did I pass up to visit my beloved grandmother in the nursing home because I could hardly stand to be there, because the atmosphere was stifling? And how much worse must it have been for her, who had to stay there all the time? And how much more will I regret those lost opportunities if--more probably when--it becomes necessary for me to live out the rest of my days in a similar institution? How will I ever be able to expect people to take time out of their busy lives to come visit me when I didn't go visit her as often as I could have and should have?