“The systems we participate in require us to live with multiple, and sometimes conflicting narratives. If we live our lives creatively, candidly and connected, one of our narratives, if not most, will expel us, incriminate us or kill us.”
After watching Game of Thrones’ last episode, I couldn’t help but ruminate on the reasons that Jon Snow, and for that matter his late father, Ned Stark, had to die. As a fictional story, none of the events are real, but the events leading to the murder of Jon Snow were surreal and actually all to real as they connect to our world. Jon Snow’s integrity was ill-fitted for a world dominated by murder, blood-lust and tribal rivalries. More to the point, the reason he was ultimately killed relates back to his ability to absorb the conflicting narratives that kept the Night’s Watch and the Free Folk at war. Because these age old rivalries were not as important as the grander narrative of the coming war with the White Walkers, Jon Snow was able to absorb the ongoing tension of the tribal identity that he belonged to in order to see the bigger problem, i.e. that if they left the Free Folk north of the wall, the White Walkers could turn them into zombies, entailing an even larger army to defend the North against.
Jon Snow was murdered because he lived like a character in a grander, more expansive narrative entailing that he would be a foil for the more short-sighted tribal narratives that were at war in his failing world.
This made me think of how many people have to knowingly live with conflicting narratives that they hold together. Some transcend these narratives for a larger grander, more compelling narrative, while others feel that doing so causes them to live a divided life. In the U.S., minorities live with a tension of belonging to conflicting narratives, i.e. wanting to transcend the limitations placed on their ethnic identity while still full identifying with their ethnicity, etc.
The systems we live in expect us to cooperate with them by keeping the ‘undocumented’ rules and boundaries that separate us unchallenged. (I’m not referencing natural boundaries that makes us distinct from each other like language, ethnicity and culture, but rather boundaries that are imposed on diverse communities by the dominant culture) When someone lives a full authentic life that isn’t compartmentalized, they tend to ignore those boundaries inherently. Those who protect the boundaries then see them as a threat and begin the process of expelling, incriminating or killing – metaphorically or literally.
As I’ve watched the June 5th video of police officer, Eric Casebolt, dragging a black teenager in a bikini to the ground by her hair, pulling his gun on unarmed teenagers and then kneeling on her back for a sustained period of time, I’ve tried to make sense of how something like that could be justified. Why it happened is a no-brainer. For some, it is because the teenager was not complying with the officer, thereby justifying his show of force. For others it is because the teenager was black, thereby explaining his show of force. Either way, everyone knows why it happened – it’s just that the reasons are very different depending upon how one sees the event as it unfolded.
I’m one of those people who tend to think that her “Blackness” had something to do with it. Mistakes were made by many people involved, including the organizers and teenagers at the pool party, but the decision to escalate the situation by the officer in question only served to increase the confusion and melee. So what did these black teens do to warrant this response? It seems that these black teenagers had the audacity to believe, that they too, could live an undivided life. As teens, they could have a party, have some fun, and even if some of them got in trouble, the consequences would be commensurate with their actions. At the end of the ordeal, that’s actually what happened. While the situation peeked with racial tensions at play, no one got in any real trouble, except for the officer who escalated the melee. While he broke police protocol, his reactions to these black teens showed that they broke an unwritten cultural protocol. If you ask someone from the black community about this situation, eventually someone will tell you that they avoid contexts like this because they know that reactions like Corporal Casebolt’s are all to common, and for many, it’s just not worth it.
This young black teenager was brutalized because she had the audacity to live like a member of a much grander, more inclusive and expansive society, entailing that she would eventually be a foil for the more short-sighted tribal societal norms that were at war in her city.
Jesus & The Playground
Part of the reason Jesus was killed has to do with this discussion. He lived in such a way that the systems he participated in couldn’t abide his audacious way of living. They had to expel, incriminate and finally kill him in order for them to maintain their world.
Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” – John 11:47-48
Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue – John 12:42
It’s much like the unwritten rules of the playground. When someone doesn’t follow the rules, they typically get punk’d into submission until an adult comes along and re-establishes outside order for a time. The problem is that once that order moves on, the playground returns to its unwritten rules. There is no lasting change. The only way that lasting change comes is when a member of the playground interacts outside of the playground rules and does so simply because the aspects of their life are candid and connected. When that person stirs up enough internal dissension through living an honest life, the gatekeepers begin to react and expel, incriminate or kill (metaphor) the connected candid person. When that reaction takes place, it is one of the few times, everyone gets to see what they are really a part of, before it disappears from plain sight. If that happens enough, substantive change eventually does take place.
The tensions between the black and white communities in America are receiving a lot more attention recently. This is bringing to light that while racism has distinctly diminished in some forms, it also has regrouped and transformed into different expressions. Racial tensions have always been present, but the recent upsurge in racial tensions is helping the U.S. as a society begin to see and accept that it is still here and is still a bane on our society, and that we, the regular white anti-racist people in American might still be more a part of the problem than part of the solution. We aren’t always actively part of the problem (with some exceptions), but in our day to day lives, we don’t have to live with or absorb conflicting narratives nearly as much as those who are minorities. This blinds us to the fact that we may be happily and passively participating in systems that benefit the white community and oppress, neglect or discriminate against minority communities – which makes us all the more protective of those systems. When the discriminatory machinations of these systems are challenged by minorities who live within them, and even benefit from them in some way, the gatekeepers come out of hiding to knock them down, drown them out or expel them. The problem is that much of what goes in in these interactions is not direct or out loud. Minorities simply challenge these systems by “foolishly” thinking they can be their true undivided selves within a system that isn’t ultimately hospitable to their “kind”. Living with the audacity to be oneself and to live an undivided life in a world that expects you to not be yourself and to live a divided life, will eventually bring pain, incrimination and, at times, death.
Jesus was a true Israelite. He didn’t live a double life. He was the ideal Israelite in every way. The irony is that it was those who “protected” this idealism that eventually killed him. They had turned the idea of being an Israelite into something that benefitted the few and excluded the many. In keeping with his identity, Jesus broke all those rules and said things like, “the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath” or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s but render unto God what is God’s”. He intentionally aggravated their unjust systems by participating in them fully as an ideal Israelite, but in a way in which his ethics eclipsed their own and so that his integrity and honesty called into question their own. As a rabbi, he recruited the wrong kind of disciples. As a teacher he interpreted the wrong passages. As a guest, he visited the wrong homes, ate with the wrong people and brought along the wrong companions. As a law abider, he broke all the right rules. And as an ideal Israelite, he had all the wrong friends. It was because he was living a full, candid and undivided life, that he was expelled, incriminated and finally killed. While he died for many more reasons than we’ve discussed here, he was, at the same time, definitely killed for these reasons.
Jesus was murdered because he lived like a member of a grander, more expansive Kingdom, entailing that he would be a foil for the more short-sighted tribal kingdoms that were at war in a world that was passing away.