Craig Eisendrath – a close friend – is a scholar, social activist and author. Out of a lifetime of reflection and dedicated work at the front lines of social justice, a number of heroes have emerged for Craig, including Dag Hammarskjold and Jesus whose lives are honored in his signature novel, To Enter Jerusalem (2008). In the last few years Craig’s ongoing work has been informed by his journey with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
In this Reflection I share a short story that Craig recently wrote. In few brief and beautifully crafted lines, it expresses the essence of two ideas that are central both to his thinking and exemplary life:
- The universality – and, equally, the intense particularity – of the values-based work that Radical Decency aspires be is a part of; and
- The spirit affirming, even transcendent potential inherent in this work – and, equally, the excruciating and, at times, soul-wrenching challenges with which it inevitably co-exists.
One of the strengths of Radical Decency is that it is not unique. To the contrary, it is still another version of a set of values that have found expression for literally thousands of years.
On the other hand, it is (I like to think) thoroughly grounded in our current situation, which I describe in this way: We live in a world that is permeated to an historic degree – given our cultural history and current technologies – by a set of values largely at odds with Radical Decency’s values. Those values? Compete and win, dominate and control.
In an effort to do justice to the particularity of times in which we live, my writings attempt to answer these two questions: (1) What does a committed Radical Decency practice look like in every area of living? (2) How do you overcome the daunting challenge of implementing this philosophy in an environment that relentlessly pushes us toward the mainstream culture’s predominant, indecent values?
My further hope: That my writings, taken as a whole, persuasively express both the sobering realism, and energizing sense of hope and possibility, that inform my sense of the situation in which we find ourselves. In others words, that in a constructive and helpful way, my thinking and writing carries forward Craig’s second theme as well.
I am a prose writer. And while Craig is an accomplished essayist, he also has a poet’s gift. So here is a story from a gifted thinker and writer whose continued vitality and engagement with life in these difficult, last few years has been an inspiration to so many of us.
Jesus, by Craig Eisendrath
Two taps on my head, what she had done all our lives to initiate her teasing me. Now that joke was still between us as we walked through the streets of Jerusalem. All our lives – she was three years and four months older than me – she had teased me.
She finally told me she had been sexually abused by father – this explained her anger, but didn’t excuse it. When I saw her, I could feel myself tensing up as I had as a child. It didn’t matter what she was now. I could never forget how she made me miserable during most of our childhood.
I have to give her credit – she was very inventive in making me miserable. She would hit me twice on the head, and then say, “Toodle loo, little bro,” and then trip me, or then take away my toy, or tickle me in a way I would end up crying. Her inventiveness seemed endless.
Now she was saying, “Little bro, I think it’s time for lunch—you will treat me, of course. I’m looking for something better than rice and beans, if you can afford it.”
“Okay, I always do.”
“Who’s this person who seems to be making all kind of noise on the street?”
“Don’t you know – that’s Jesus?”
“He seems like one of those persons who never can shut up.”
“He can’t – that’s because he’s so full with God.”
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” – “After everyone is through with it.”
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – “A kick in the ass.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” – “ Self-serving politicians!”
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”— “A true lawyer.”
“Listen to him. He has something to say.”
“Would a true lawyer listen to him? “
“I mean the kind of lawyer people hire to protect themselves, no matter what they did.”
“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, raca [a dismissive epithet], shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” – “It’s clear to me who’s the fool – It’s Jesus!!
“Listen to him.”
“Because he spoke the truth.”
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies…” – “It will only make it easier for them.”
“Listen to him. He’s telling the truth.”
“And the truth will make you free.” – “What nonsense!”
“I have to say, I’m deeply moved.”
“Are you going to become a follower of Jesus?”
“Maybe …. I’m deeply moved.”
“Go ahead – I’ll miss you.”
“I won’t be gone – only I will be more there. “
“I’ll miss you.”
“You said that!”
“I’m glad that you’re still capable of being angry.”
“That’s what Jesus would say – what would you say?”
“You’re driving me crazy.”
“Off to the asylum.”
“Are the followers of Jesus crazy?”
“Speak for yourself.”