Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth: The Original Shock Jock

I am a political liberal, a student of the Bible and a person with at least half a brain so there are many reasons for me to despise Glen Beck and the raving TV and radio commentators of his ilk. But unlike many of my colleagues and peers, it isn't how insulting it is that bothers me. No, to be clear, it is not the method that makes me mad, after all, Jesus of Nazareth was a shock jock. No, it is the message: Jesus modeled response while Beck models reaction; Jesus was the Prince of Peace; Glen Beck pantomimes immolating a colleague on camera. And this is the critical point for me: Jesus preached living intentionally while the broadcast bullies of the modern era preach living irrationally.

Yes, Jesus was a Shock Jock, and a really good one at that. Jesus entered Galilee when it was in a period of tremendous cultural and economic upheaval. People were attracted to Jesus, he was charismatic, his message was thrilling and terrifying. Everywhere he went people crowded around him. Some shouted him down and some lauded him, but you have to admit, he got plenty of air time for his century. He pushed the cultural and political envelope of his era to its very limits and he encouraged his followers to buck the trend in their lives. Now, obviously Jesus never preached an "us and them" mentality for the kingdom of Heaven, but he did call his opponents bad names, and incite his followers to defy authority.

But here is where Jesus is different: Once, famously, he turned to his followers and said, "Does what I am saying offend you?" He told the crowd, in essence, "look down this path. If you follow me, that is the direction in which you will be going. Ask yourself, is that a world you want to live in? And are you willing to do the work to get there?"

Jesus asked his followers to think. Look at where you are headed and make an intentional choice, take a proactive step into a future you know you can live with. Beck and his buddies are not about thinking, they are not consciously moving toward a goal. They are tearing their hair out and screaming into the camera to tear down, to destroy. They never ask their followers "and then where will you be?" There is no promised land in their philosophy, only ashes.

To return to the question of comportment. I said above that unlike my colleagues, the brutality and boorishness of these media monsters was not the issue, and it is not. But, as was recently very coherently pointed out to me, it is still a very dangerous part and it places a significant burden on people like me. A registered voter, a graduate student at seminary, a mother and a writer, I am the target of the vituperous vitriol spewed out by the right in our media. The inflamed rhetoric and irrational behavior is designed to disgust and disillusion me. The objective is to revolt me so completely that I remove myself from the debate.

But you see, my favorite talking head tells me I can't. I must live not irrationally, but intentionally. I must walk on the path toward the future I want. And so must you, and every thinking breathing, articulate and reasonable person who would much rather turn away in disgust. Wen you are tempted to give up the fight to the revolting voices of the right, ask yourself, "Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:67).


John Novick said...

Wow! I absolutely love placing Jesus in the proper historical context...a shocking, anti-establishment rabble rouser! And while I never thought of it before, it rings SO true, the notion of having to really work hard to keep one's self from being so "revolted" by these morons that you disengage...thus leaving the field to them. I'm also excited to see someone out there, from a Christian point-of-view, exposing the hypocrisy of the Christian Right. Since Liberation Theology seems to have fallen out of the limelight, the Christian Left seems so very silent...and God knows we need those voices! (: You're a fine writer, Shay.

Thomas said...

There are definitely times when Jesus engaged in something very close to "us and them" language.