“Get down off the cross Jesus, we could use the wood!”: Speaking for those with no voice

crucifixBritish weather is certainly strange. Every time there is a hint that spring is about to burst through, another cold spell brings us right back down to earth! In one of the recent cold spells, I was on a retreat with a friend in a small house in the grounds of a convent outside Monmouth in South Wales. The house was beautiful, but it was freezing cold. I even took to wearing blankets around the house, which I imagine seemed a bit strange to those also on retreat there! At one point, my friend and I were desperately trying to light the fire in the large, icy living room, but the logs and kindling were cold and damp. In a cry for help, my friend looked up at the large crucifix above the fireplace and exclaimed, “get down off the cross Jesus, we could use the wood!”

poverty

Over supper that evening, I asked my friend about his somewhat inappropriate remark. He explained that it was a quotation from a Tom Waits song, later covered by Willie Nelson, and, far from being disrespectful, he maintained that, for him, this little phrase summed up the heart of his faith. After all, he continued, far too often we Christians get too uptight about our worship and our theology. Jesus, on the other hand, would be the first to give up a lofty, privileged view above a beautiful mantelpiece, to help the freezing cold, hungry, poverty-stricken families across the world. As he munched on his cheese-on-toast, my friend lamented that the Church overemphasises the importance of “good” theology and “correct” worship, but forgets how absolutely central our everyday actions should be in our Christian life.

I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish and devalue the centrality of prayer and worship in our faith, and, as a theology lecturer of almost twenty years now, I know that a solid theological underpinning of our beliefs is essential. I can’t help thinking, however, that my friend was making a crucially important point. Both of us agreed that if Jesus were here in front of us in physical form, he would do anything for those who are struggling and suffering. Perhaps we should be adapting the oft-used phrase “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD) to “What would Jesus do for others?” Admittedly, WWJDFO would not be as catchy(!), but the answer would be much more simple. What would Jesus do for others? He would do everything for them… even die for them.

Still Not Love Politics?This should inspire Christians to see it as their duty to speak out for those who have no voice in our society. In the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, 42 Church of England bishops signed an open letter protesting against the Government’s proposed changes to the benefit system – changes that will drive children and families into poverty. This is not an example of a Church interfering with politics, but, rather, is an example of the body of Christ doing exactly what Christ’s literal body would be doing if it were around today in flesh and blood. “We have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need,” stated the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Devotion to Christ, then, does not mean we become imprisoned behind stained-glass windows, worshipping Christ the King. Rather, it means we minister to those people, broken and impoverished, who need us the most and whom we regard as Christ (Matthew 25:34-45).

BeggingMartin Luther urged his readers to draw Christ into flesh. In other words, we must not spiritualise Jesus into something powerful and ethereal, but we must bring him into even the most mundane and troubling aspects of our everyday lives and of our society. He must be allowed to inject new life into people and structures and to transform individuals and societies. And the only way he can do this is by getting down off his cross of glory, giving the wood to those in need of warmth, and living among us in the hurt, grime, and mess of our everyday lives.

“I was walking down 125th Street, and suddenly I stopped. I looked at everything in amazement. It was like I’d just woken up from a dream that lasted my whole life. And I realised that, if God isn’t somewhere out there in heaven, he’s right here, in the dirt” (Jack Kerouac On the Road)

For more on this theme, see chapter 4 “Bringing Jesus Down to Earth” in The Compassion Quest.

10 thoughts on ““Get down off the cross Jesus, we could use the wood!”: Speaking for those with no voice

  1. This is really thought-provoking, thank you. The lyric from the song grates a little with me still – partly because Jesus’ position on the cross was at once glory and humility and the pinnacle of God’s salvation plan. ‘Christians get off your backsides, we could use the warmth’, perhaps as an alternative??

    In any case you make an important point, and I think the way that in y Christian circles we often think of sin as individualist rather than as corporate is an important part of this. The WWJDFO helps us to remember to look outwards; something that we find peculiarly difficult to do in our western society. Thanks for this!

    • Thanks, Tanya. I know what you mean about the lyric… my friend and I had a very long discussion over dinner that evening about its appropriateness!

      Hope you are well, and thanks for reading the blog – I find your comments thoughtful and helpful. Thanks also for your blog – I have bought numerous books after being pointed towards them on Thorns and Gold 🙂

  2. Trys, I would absolutely agree that all too often we have the balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxy completely wrong. I think the other issue – which is connected with your last paragraph but a little different (or perhaps it would be better to say that it lies behind the observation you offer there) – is that we have come to increasingly cast assorted biblical narratives – health, wellbeing, sin, salvation, flourishing etc – in exclusively individualistic terms (my personal relationship with jesus etc). And that stands in striking contrast to the communal way these themes play out across the panoply of the Biblical texts – for example as embedded in notions such as Jubilee or shālôm, or revealed by the ‘communism of love’ characterising the the early church, attested to in Acts. Perhaps if we recovered a sense of health and salvation as communal goods, we would be less obsessed with orthodoxy (or our own individual worship experience) and more able to follow Jesus in such a way that we do indeed ‘bring him own to earth’?

  3. “This should inspire Christians to see it as their duty to speak out for those who have no voice in our society.”

    I love that Trystan. That idea is always going to be a central part of my faith. I haven’t read any of your books but I’m going to rectify this. I’m particularly keen on reading ‘Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering’. I’m a carer for my wife who has a chronic illness, and I myself have struggled with mental health problems for some time, thus I’m drawn to that book.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you, Paul – I appreciate your kind words 🙂 Please do let me know your thoughts on Finding Hope and Meaning when you read it.

      I will be keeping you and your wife in my prayers. God bless you both.

  4. Pingback: Divide and fall: Reflecting on UKIP, Politics, and Faith | Trystan Owain Hughes

  5. Pingback: Beyond the stained-glass windows: Radical compassion and our everyday lives | Trystan Owain Hughes

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