The Chair and the Desk, 9/24/15

From the chair:

27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. 

-Mark 15:27-32

Rather than my own commentary, I’d like to offer a few lines from a detective story I read in bed the other night that made this scene come alive for me. This is from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery, “The Man with Two Beards.” John Bankes has tried to convince Father Brown that the thief, found dead in the yard, must have committed the crime (because Bankes actually killed him to use him as a scapegoat for the crime Bankes committed).

“’It’s an under-statement to say his reformation was sincere. He was one of those great penitents who manage to make more out of penitence than others can make out of virtue. I say I was his confessor; but, indeed, it was I who went to him for comfort. It did me good to be near so good a man. And when I saw him lying there dead in the garden, it seemed to me as if certain strange words that were said of old were spoken over him aloud in my ear. They might well be; for if ever a man went straight to heaven, it might be he.’

‘Hang it all,’ said John Bankes restlessly, ‘after all, he was a convicted thief.’

‘Yes,’ said Father Brown; ‘and only a convicted thief has ever in this world heard that assurance: ‘This night shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’”

From the desk:

“It is always possible to say, ‘Oh, some violence was done to me, and this gives me full permission to act under the sign of “self-defense.”’ Many atrocities are committed under the sign of a ‘self-defense’ that, precisely because it achieves a permanent moral justification for retaliation, knows no end and can have no end. Such a strategy has developed an infinite way to rename its aggression as suffering and so provides an infinite justification for its aggression. Or it is possible to say that ‘I’ or ‘we’ have brought this violence upon ourselves, and thus to account for it by recourse to our deeds, as if we believed in their omnipotence, believed that our own deeds re the cause of all possible effects. Indeed, guilt of this sort exacerbates our sense of omnipotence, sometimes under the very sign of its critique. Violence is neither a just punishment we suffer nor a just revenge for what we suffer. It delineates a physical vulnerability from which we cannot slip away, which we cannot finally resolve in the name of the subject, but which can provide a way to understand that none of us is fully bounded, utterly separate, but, rather, we are in our skins, given over, in each other’s hands, at each other’s mercy. This is a situation we do not choose. It forms the horizon of choice, and it grounds our responsibility. In this sense, we are not responsible for it, but it creates the conditions under which we assume responsibility. We did not create it, and therefore it is what we must heed.”

-Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (2005), pp.100-101

“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

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