Allow me to reiterate a point I have been trying to make all along: we didn’t do Drive-Thru Ashes in order to be relevant. Indeed, it seems that we were doing just the opposite.
After reflecting with a few friends (Ben, David, Nik, Phil, and Matt) I feel that I now able to articulate my thoughts. Thanks guys.
It is well known that Americans are afraid of death. And as Drew Gilpin Faust points out in her massively important work, “This Republic of Suffering,” Americans and death have been strangers since the Civil War. As a culture, we deny, forestall, and close our eyes to death.
Holy Comforter, as a community, stepped up to the world and made the counter-cultural claim that we are all going to die on day. The Church unabashedly confronted this world and its idolatry of youth and its fear of death. We called shenanigans on our society.
When a car drove up, I had a little script. After introducing myself, I would say, “I am going to put ashes on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality and a sign of God’s love.” Then I would impose the ashes with the usual formula.
This script was crucial, because it showed that we, as the Church, are unafraid of death because we trust in the resurrection. Plus, we are willing to proclaim that truth to anybody and everybody.
This will come across as extraordinarily arrogant, but there is some truth in it: Holy Comforter was trying to emulate Jonah. We went to a strange people – foreigners we did not know – and told them the truth. We told them that they are going to die one day. Just as the people of Nineveh didn’t want to hear about their sinfulness, Americans today don’t want to be reminded of their mortality.
God didn’t send Jonah with a community, and God didn’t send Jonah to make a community. God sent Jonah to tell a truth, and an unpalatable one at that. True, Jonah’s prophesying elicited a communal response. And perhaps our prophesying will have the same result in the individuals lives that passed through, and on the community of Holy Comforter.