Transfer or Transform?

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!"

John 12:12-16

March 26, 2021, Words By: Joey Ager, Image By: Unknown

At the time of writing this reflection, we only had one mass shooting to lament. 

We grieve those who were killed in yet more acts of gun violence in the United States in Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia. 
As we approach Palm Sunday, let us ask how we — especially the church — are being invited newly into the kingdom of peace in the midst of this violence. 

A week ago, a 21-year old white Christian man, baptised and active in his local church, walked into three spas near Atlanta, Georgia with a gun and killed 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian American.

Their names were:

This violence is no outlier. It exists among a long history of anti-Asian violence and hate in the United States. Consistently, during times of crisis, Asian communities in America have been made a scapegoat for White Americans’ fears and pressures. 

We could list the enforced policies the federal government undertook to cement racist reactions to crises into law, for example, the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’ of 1882 and the incarceration of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

But what is far more insidious are the ways we routinely scapegoat Asians in daily interactions.

Take for instance, the horrific beating and murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American presumed to be one of the Japanese who “took our jobs” in Detrioit, Michigan in 1982. The two men found guilty were fined $3000 and served no jail time. 

In the last year of lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, assaults against Asian Americans have increased by 150 percent, and it was not until these murders in Atlanta that volunteer patrols, protests and vigils have taken place.

The undergirding stories at play here are darkly familiar. The characterization of Asians and Asian Americans as being from ‘somewhere else,’ ‘exotic,’ and isolated as ‘models’ for other non-white ethnic groups brings violence to our cities by creating Others to take the blame. 

Where can we find a path to peace?

On Palm Sunday we are confronted by a dramatic image — a king who rides on a donkey into the city that will kill him, acclaimed by a crowd whose allegiance will turn.

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.

In this piece of popular theater, Jesus illuminates two paths to peace. 

First, he consciously disappoints expectations for a triumphant, violent, vanquishing Messiah, pointing instead to a different kind of king and kin(g)dom. 

Second, on Palm Sunday, he willingly begins a weeklong drama that will unveil the uselessness of violence. Through Holy Week, Jesus will become a dehumanized and scapegoated Other whose death — it is hoped — will expurgate the fears, pressures and disappointments felt by the state, the authorities and ‘the crowd.’ 

The miracle of resurrection gives the lie to this hope. Instead of transferring our pain to a dehumanized Other, the risen Jesus’ path to peace is that of radical honesty and engaging and transforming the fears, pressures and disappointments we feel.

As the background of Atlanta’s Christian murderer has come to light, a troubling picture has emerged of his formation as a young white man in the church, and raised painful questions about the complicity of the Church in the murders of these 8 beloved ones.

Where racism is endemic in the White American church, we form young people to dehumanize Others to violently take the blame for our pain. Where sex is pathologized and taught solely in terms of ‘purity,’ we form young men to blame women for their own desires. 

These are not paths to peace, and yet they endure widely in our churches. This Palm Sunday, let us recommit ourselves to the path of peace through radical honesty and engagement of our fears, our pressures and disappointments. 

Lord, have mercy. 

Joey Ager and Rev. Shalom Agtarap

About The Author

Joey Ager