Pick Up Your Cross
Sunday, June 19, 2016, Reflection on Luke 9:18-24
by Elizabeth Dede
What does it mean to pick up your cross daily? We all know about the cross that Jesus had to pick up. In this Gospel passage, Jesus foretells that he will suffer greatly. Part of his cross — he is knows he will suffer. He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup of suffering be taken away. Jesus shares in this passage that all his followers carry their own cross. What does this mean for us?
My suffering is nothing like Jesus’, or the suffering of other people in this world. I just finished reading an article about Ghandi. He knew true suffering, and he also saw it in the lives of the people he chose to walk with. He literally walked nearly 250 miles on the Salt March to embody the suffering of colonial rule.
I found myself thinking about the Prison & Jail Project as I read this article. I was a part of the Prison & Jail Project for six years. Each year we would do a 100-mile walk over a week in September to call attention to the injustices in Southwest Georgia for poor people caught up in the criminal justice system. We always started on the Sunday after Labor Day, and it seemed like Southwest Georgia always suffered a heat wave during that week. We would be out on the hot pavement, sweltering in 90 plus, plus, plus degree heat. No matter what shoes I wore, I always ended up with terrible blisters on my feet and aching knees.
One year we highlighted our work in Smithville. There, an all white police force was brutally attacking the African American community, which makes up the vast majority of that little town’s population. As if to prove their white supremacy, six, of our small group of eight, were arrested for Parading Without a Permit as we peacefully walked through the town. The parade ordinance had been adopted by the town during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s to stop anyone who thought they might want to protest the injustices of the Jim Crow South. The white police chief was literally shaking in his boots with fear as he arrested us. We were not jailed because the chief did not want us stirring up trouble in the jail. So we went ahead and walked through Smithville. It was the most ridiculous of my many arrests for civil disobedience. We were later exonerated when the judge found, after a night of prayer and research, that the Supreme Court, in the marches on Birmingham, Alabama, of the Civil Rights Movement, had ruled that such parade ordinances were unconstitutional, which is what we had argued with the police chief when he decided to arrest us.
That year I suffered a stress fracture while walking on the Freedom Walk, but I was determined to walk the whole way. I wanted, in the heat and pain, to feel a little of the ongoing spiritual and emotional, and even sometimes, physical pain that the African American community of Smithville felt daily.
That was a direct way to suffer, and sometimes I look back on those radical days of my life and wonder if I was suffering in some way from symptoms of my bipolar disorder. I have left behind those days of civil disobedience and cannot imagine a scenario in which I would submit myself willingly to arrest, jail, and all of their dehumanizing aspects.
Nevertheless, we are called to pick up our cross. Now I am more aware of my bipolar disorder and my need for a peaceful, orderly life. Often I wish that I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I don’t like the constraints it puts on my life. As I look back on my life, there is a certain satisfaction I feel in solidarity with Ghandi and Martin Luther King. But I have done what I can. Now I must submit to the nonviolence of life on a Christian farm, which lives out nonviolence in a totally different way from those days of the radical life.
So how do we pick up our cross? One way is simply living in community. In many ways it would be easier for me to live alone with my little dog Willie in my own house in town. I didn’t have to worry about the daily interruptions of life in community. I didn’t have to submit my introverted self to a life that necessitates extraversion. I didn’t have to share a thing. Just yesterday I found myself upset with one of our neighbors who had taken over all the driers when I needed a couple to dry my bedding. But that’s life in community.
There are little acts of kindness and self-giving that you find in yourself as you live in community. These aren’t the heavy burdens of splintered, wooden crosses. But they are the daily actions of picking up your cross.
So for me, although it has its suffering, life in community is the only way to live. It has also the blessings of the resurrected life—sisters and brothers on the journey with you, a happy home, shared bread, prayer and worship together, and love and care from many.
Jesus knew the suffering of the cross, but he also saw through to the joy of resurrection, just as Ghandi saw through to independence from colonial rule. Let us all find joy in life together.