Christ is dead in the tomb. Everything is suspended.The congregation is silent, sitting and mourning the death of Prince, a black youth murdered by a police officer (or all of us), and the death of Christ, murdered by jealous rivals (or all of us). Miroslav Volf steps to the front and speaks in a slightly European accent:
“It’s painful. Death is horrible. I know that you are speaking about his life having a higher purpose in order to make meaning for yourselves. To cope. You’re weaving Prince’s story into the larger story of your Christian faith, and you’re saying that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That’s in the Bible, it’s true.
You don’t need to make meaning of this death. Not all suffering, not all tragedy needs to be woven into some personal narrative of triumph and joy. Some things are so evil they don’t need to be incorporated and given meaning, they need to be driven out— wiped away, undone, uprooted, overturned. Like demons being driven out, or sicknesses being totally healed, or Lazarus being raised from the dead. The death of this innocent black man is horrendous, and meaningless, a waste that should be undone.
Coates nods and stands up again.
“…I am afraid. And I have not God to hold me up. And I believe that when they shatter the body they shatter everything,and i knew that all of us—Christians, Muslims, atheists—lived in this fear of this truth. Disembodiment is a kind of terrorism, and the threat of it alters the orbit of all our lives and, like terrorism, this direction is intentional. Disembodiment. The dragon that compelled the boys I knew, way back, into extravagant theatre of ownership. Disembodiment. The demon that pushed the middle-class black survivors into aggressive passivity, our conversation restrained in public quarters, our best manners on display, our hands never out of pockets, our whole manner ordered as if to say, “I make no sudden moves.” Disembodiment. The serpent of school years, demanding I be twice as good, though I was but a boy. Murder was all around us and we knew, deep in ourselves, in some silent space, that the author of these murders was beyond us, that is suited some other person’s ends. We were right.”
A portly man with a British accent and a clerical collar stands up and comes forward. NT Wright speaks:
“I agree with Coates. I understand what you all sitting here mean when you say to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. It’s scripture. But to see the death of the body and the escape of the soul as salvation is not simply slightly off course, in need of a few subtle alterations and modifications. It is totally and utterly wrong. It is colluding with death. It is conniving at death’s destruction of God’s good, image-bearing human creature while consoling ourselves with the (essentially non-Christian and non-Jewish) thought that the really important bit of ourselves is saved from this wicked nasty body and this sad, dark world of space, time, and matter. Salvation means, of course, rescue. But what are we ultimately to be rescued from? The obvious answer is death. But if, when we die, all that happens is that our bodies decompose while our souls (or whatever other word we want to use for our continuing existence) go on elsewhere, this doesn’t mean we’ve been rescued from death. it simply means that we’ve died. Disembodiment. It’s horrible. It’s not God’s plan.
A nervous looking white girl stands up, and her voice squeaks as she says:
“But perhaps this dualism is part of a lie we Dreamers tell ourselves. Our white Dream that survives by plundering black bodies— their souls are alright, it doesn’t matter what we do to their bodies. We’ve given them Christianity, their souls will fly away, so let’s rape and steal and kill and destroy but call it civilization and we’re all okay”.
All: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
A moment of silent confession.
Everyone goes home to think about it. Goes home to think about how we will be held accountable for every act we take in our bodies.
This is part 2 of a three- part fictional exercise where Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mirslav Volf, and NT Wright have a conversation about bodies. For part 1 go here. Almost all of the words the characters speak come from their writings. I have only added in where I needed to smooth transitions or find background context. Coates’ words come from A Between the world and Me, Volf’s words are based on his ideas in The End of Memory, and NT Wright’s words are taken from Surprised by Hope.