Alaina Kleinbeck: I need the hole-ridden Jesus in this hole-ridden world
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Jesus is present with us amid the gun violence that pierces our world, teaching us by example how to live with this reality.
I dug a bullet out of the wall of my living room on Maundy Thursday.
More precisely, I sat on my couch, my hands hiding my face, while someone else dug it out. Then we found five more holes in the exterior of my house.
I’ve poured love into this house. I’ve spent hours painting walls, ridding the yard of invasive vines, learning the basics of home repair. I’ve saved to make necessary improvements and fretted over the cost of impending ones. Most of all, I’ve focused on creating a cozy and calm space for myself and anyone who may visit.
Though I’d previously noticed a small bit of exterior damage to my house, further investigation that morning had revealed bullets caused this damage -- and one had come inside. I realized then that my cozy and calm space was bullet hole-ridden. I still have no good answers as to how or why or when it happened.
Jesus was betrayed on Maundy Thursday. In discovering those bullets, I, too, was betrayed, my illusion of safety shattered, my sanctuary violated. Bullets are not cozy and calm. Bullets are inherently violent.
I cried on Good Friday. A lot.
At church, we remembered that a crown of thorns dug into Jesus’ head and nails pierced his hands and feet. We extinguished candles and remembered that Jesus died, violently, and was buried with holes in his body.
As my friends in the choir sang “Were You There,” I thought about our black sisters and brothers at Mother Emanuel AME who were killed in 2015 by a racist armed with plenty of bullets. People commonly understand that the “you” in that hymn refers to us, you and me, the singers and the listeners. But ever since the Mother Emanuel massacre, I hear the song as an exclamation of angry, holy doubt that God would stand by to witness such atrocities. “God, were you there when he killed them in the church?”
I have no good answer to this question, but I can’t stop asking it. “Were you there?” is as much about Good Friday as it is Mother Emanuel, Syria, the elementary school down the street and our homes, my home. I don’t understand where God is in this bullet-ridden world.
I mowed my lawn and built a new raised garden bed on Holy Saturday, averting my gaze from the bullet holes in my gutters and siding. Holes in my home. I imagined Mary Magdalene trying to keep it together -- managing the mundane meal preparation and funeral logistics, all while averting her eyes from the gaping hole in her heart. May this all go away, I prayed; may this not happen again. May this all have been a dream. Maybe Mary prayed the same.
I went to church on Easter Sunday and was reminded that Jesus had died and been buried but that his tomb was now empty. My pastor pointed out that when Mary met a gardener at that empty tomb -- a gardener who was Jesus -- she exclaimed, “Teacher!”
A first-century, Aramaic “OMG!” would have been a more likely response to the once-dead, now-alive Jesus.
But Mary didn’t say OMG. She said, “Teacher!” She wasn’t finished learning from Jesus. She, too, had been wholly undone from witnessing the violence of this hole-ridden world. The holes in Jesus’ body and the holes in Mary’s heart weren’t magically patched over that first Easter morning; Mary’s exclamation tells us that she needed to learn from Jesus how to live with those holes.
A bullet in my drywall is nothing like the crucifixion or the murders at Mother Emanuel. But its existence ties me to the ill-logic of violence and the fragility of life. I, too, am bound up in the systemic causes and consequences of violence in this world.
Gun violence is not theoretical to our siblings in the black church, to our children at school, to my neighbors or to yours. Its banality has eroded our consciousness, our well-being. We’ve plugged the bullet holes and prayed that the violence will stay away. We’ve hoped it has all been a dream. But it hasn’t; there are always more bullets, more victims, more holes.
I need Jesus to show me how to live with these new holes. I don’t want to pray away my anguish, but I do need help having the fortitude to continue asking myself, and asking you, How do the people who follow the resurrected yet still hole-ridden Jesus live with the holes that gun violence creates in our homes and hearts?
I don’t have good answers to that question, except to follow Jesus’ example to show up in his hole-ridden body for his hole-ridden friends. He showed up at their homes, on their walks, at their work. I don’t know how to do this, and perhaps that is why Mary’s exclamation is deeply helpful: I have so much left to learn.