What Does It Mean to Carry the Cross

In some Christian circles we tend to complicate the meaning of what it is to be a Christian, and yet in other circles the opposite occurs, we will simplify what it means so as to make it more palatable, either for ourselves or for those around us. I see something a bit different, and it falls right in the middle of these two extremes. Christianity, or the message of Jesus was at its core simple, and yet, it is very complicated and not at all palatable.

For me, to be Christian in its purest form is to carry your cross daily. Simple enough, but we must understand what this means. Some of my liberal friends may see this as serving the homeless, or loving your neighbor. While my fundamentalist friends may see this as attending church regularly, and/or reading scripture daily. As you could probably guess I disagree with these notions completely. As I see it, to carry your cross is to understand that we are the “brood of vipers” that Christ spoke of.

To carry your cross is to violently deny the Empire. So for first century Nazarenes this was Rome, and for twenty first century westerners this is the United States. Before I go on let me clarify something important. I used the word [violently] and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m speaking of hurting others. Actually it’s the opposite, true violence is the complete lack of violence. We see this when Christ tells us to, “turn the other check.” Some see this as letting people shit on you, or letting the Empire corrupt everything around you. For many this works, because we are told to desire something else after this life. This mentality ultimately allows the Empire to continue its reign. I will address [true violence] more in depth in another post.

So even though the notion of carrying your cross is simple, it is extremely difficult and complex. It was Christ who said [the path] is narrow, and it’s narrow because it requires us to leave our identity. Our identity is intertwined in our family, friends, and yes, the Empire. We are called to [hate] our family, friends, and Empire. We usually gloss over this, but it is essential to carrying your cross. I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to actually hate our folks, but to hate the tribal identity that is bestowed upon us by these mechanisms. The irony is it would be much simpler to just hate your family.

By calling Jesus the son of God, Lord, the truth etc…is to say the Empire is not. The Empire [capitalism] is sown into the fabric of our Being. For most, we know the horror, yet remain because of this reality, and ultimately find comfort in its embrace.

You can’t serve the Empire and God

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5 comments
  1. Jeremy said:

    I find your third way approach questionable. For one, I think it attributes to much value to cognition and motivation. For instance, the liberal do-gooder Christian, in your schema, doesn’t understand the Christian message because they don’t have this radical understanding of empire, the kingdom of God and the death of God. However, why does that matter? From what you’ve said in this post, you’ve only identified an opposition to capitalism and empire as the sine qua non of a true understanding of the Christian gospel. Yet, I think this focus on theory does not necessarily do anything to change the material conditions of society. Here’s my question: if the ‘liberal Christian” who thinks that serving the least of these is the enactment of the gospel ALSO identified as a Marxist theoretically would you be satisfied? Would that make them ‘good enough’ in your mind?

    What I’m calling into question is the ways in which many of these radical critiques often assume a direct correlation between thought and action. I think many theologically conservative Latin American liberation theologians have done way more to challenge empire than Altizer’s radical theology. Why are we to assume that challenging empire necessarily requires a radical theological perspective?

    • Michael Schertz said:

      My point is that the “liberal do-gooder” feels good in serving the least of us, yet remain content inside of the machine that causes this oppression. So you’re feeding the hungry only to contribute to their starvation later. So I see this serving as more self-serving than anything else. It allows us to cope.

  2. Jeremy said:

    One reason your argument is questionable is that provides a rationalization for doing nothing and thinking that the justification for doing nothing actually matters (i.e. I’m being truly revolutionary by not helping others because within my conceptual theory I am simply perpetuating the system). However, if we shift the perspective from the agent to the person in need, what matters is care. This fixation on the motivation of the agent (i.e. if he feels good about himself so it’s all for naught) is an evangelical notion that i find bizarre. People should feel good about doing good things. It’s simply dishonest to pretend otherwise. Deriving pleasure from being useful is part of the human experience.

    How does one respond to suffering by not being implicated in the “machine”?

    Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics, “Jesus took upon Himself the guilt of all men, and for that reason every man who acts responsibly becomes guilty. If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence, and what is more he cuts himself off from the redeeming mystery of Christ’s bearing guilt without sin and he has no share in the divine justification which lies upon this event. He sets his own personal innocence above his personaly responsibility for men, and he is blind to the more irredeemable guilt which he incures precisely in this; he is blind also to the fact that real innocence shows itself precisely in a man’s entering into the fellowship of guilt for the sake of other men. Through Jesus Christ it becomes an essential part of responsible action that the man who is without sin loves selflessly and for that reason incurs guilt.”

    • Michael Schertz said:

      It seems you’re putting words in my mouth. Curious where you got my “do nothing” comment from? Or that serving is all for naught?

  3. Jeremy said:

    “So you’re feeding the hungry only to contribute to their starvation later.”

    I ask again: How does one respond to suffering by not being implicated in the “machine”?

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