I wrote this essay not long after November 24th, for a class I took last semester.
Memories of my adolescence are littered with the phrase “what would Jesus do?” Despite my family’s relative areligiosity I feel like that phrase was everywhere. On brightly colored bracelets and bookmarks my friends always had, on billboards near my home town, spoken over and over again whenever someone didn’t know what to do or when someone else had done something they disapproved of. I never knew how we were supposed to know what Jesus would do, I’d never read the Bible or really heard it preached. All I ever really heard in that phrase was “whatever you’re doing, stop that. Jesus was perfect and you are not.” Everything I heard about what Jesus would do was in the negative. In my world people talked much more about what Jesus wouldn’t do than about what he would do, and when they talked about what he would do it was still mostly judgement.
I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about what it would really be like to live your life in emulation of what Jesus would do. Thinking about what it would mean to take seriously Jesus’ life, work, and suffering as a human. As Jordan makes so clear, many Christians don’t ever really take Jesus seriously as a human. He’s difficult to handle if he is fully human, his life makes difficult demands on our comfortable lives if we take it seriously. Christ is so much easier to handle. We can build fountains to glorify a god, but we have to give a thirsty man water. We have to accept that we might be culpable in his thirst. What would Jesus do?
It was a Monday and I had plans. I was going to get out of my house and work on a project, be productive. It’s a little astonishing how often my plans of productivity are destroyed by the moral failings of my country. Early in the day I heard that the Grand Jury decision about Michael Brown’s murder would be released that day. I’ll admit that my first thought was that I had too much to do for everything to go to hell on that particular day, but, of course it did anyway. I spent the whole day sure of what would come, knowing there would be no indictment, collecting and sharing essays, and determining where I would meet up with people to head out to protest that evening. I didn’t stop to ask myself what exactly I was doing and if I was sure I wanted to do it until I was waiting for a bus to Oakland and writing the number to the National Lawyers Guild on each of my arms. My only actual response to myself was, “don’t just talk about it, be about it” and so I went. What would Jesus do?
From the 6PM announcement until my 1:30AM arrival back in my apartment things are mostly a blur. I can remember a timeline, and I could point out specific events if asked to, but the overall effect isn’t about those details. I made a choice to “be about it” and then I kept making that choice. I made that choice until my heels literally bled, and then I kept going. There is a clear memory of marching behind the crowd, carrying a banner with a couple of UU clergy members and trying to keep some distance between the crowd and the cops, and realizing how badly my feet hurt. Earlier in the day I had seen a picture of Michael Brown’s father crying to the heavens, and had heard that his mother’s cries could be heard above the protests in Ferguson. I hurt, but they and so many other Black families and individuals hurt worse. I couldn’t end their suffering, no amount of me out in the street yelling my lungs out would actually bring their son back or end their pain, but at least I could be with them. My soul hurt and my body hurt. The pain of the world was in me, and I was going to push through. I was dedicated to suffering with. What would Jesus do?
I didn’t realize until I looked at my shoes the next day that I had bled. I didn’t cry until I was in the shower that Tuesday morning. That Tuesday I kept getting hit with it. With what had happened, with what keeps happening, with what the world demands of me. My whole body ached, my heels hurt every time anything touched them and sometimes when nothing did. For the first time ever Jesus on the cross made sense to me. What would Jesus do? Suffer with the families of those most hurt by our racist “justice” system, flip over the money changers’ tables, shed his blood for his belief in justice and liberation.