The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America

By Mark Lewis Taylor | Go to book overview

4. stealing the show:
Way of the Cross as Dramatic Action

This really means making the movement powerful enough, dramatic
enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches,
labor, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put
pressure on congressmen to the point that they can no longer elude our
demands. Our idea is to dramatize the whole economic problem of the poor.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Defense lawyers called the [bail] sum unprecedented and punitive, while a
prosecutor portrayed [activist John Sellers] as the real puppet master in a
protest replete with puppets and other theatrical agitprop objects.

—Monica Yant Kinney and Angela Couloumbis, “Catalyst for Chaos,
or Singled Out Unfairly,” Philadelphia Inquirer (August 4, 2000), about the
holding of Sellers on $1 million bail for misdemeanor protest charges, sus-
tained at the 2000 Republican National Convention

The way of the cross is adversarial, yes, but the primary embodied expression of that way, under conditions of empire, is neither violent tactical maneuvering nor passive endurance. Both of these responses may be necessary in certain situations. Neither should be seen as by definition always inconsistent with the way of the cross. Nonetheless, the defining characteristic of Jesus’ way of the cross is its prominence as adversarial, dramatic action. It taps the powers of creative, theatrical action. As is borne out in street movements today, and as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer above, the theatrical has a power that can be seen as a threat even by repressive power.

Jesus embraced performative and dramatic modes of engagement and speech on the way to the cross. The cross itself was also a dramatic act within Rome’s theater of terror. After Jesus’ execution, narrators of the stories about him so crafted the memory of Jesus and wove in testimonies about resurrection and the power of God that a new and more expansive drama developed. It was a breathtaking drama that dwarfed the Roman theater, subordinated Rome’s imperial pretensions to God’s unfolding drama, a pageant of empowerment for the poor. The way of the cross thus steals the show from imperial power.

This defining characteristic of the way of the cross, dramatic action, is also the crucial center of a theatric of counterterror we need today. Dramatic

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