“With the Terrorists”: Harlem Shake, Crucifixion, and Communion

The Harlem Shake has exploded. It’s everywhere.  For the uninitiated, the Harlem Shake is a viral video meme that goes like this:  one person, usually masked, doing some kind of dance with a crowd of others looking on or otherwise going about their business; then the beat drops and everyone is going crazy, doing their own dance moves in a frenzy of prop-driven absurdity (sometimes underwater, sometimes in the snow, and sometimes at the office). The MCC Youth did their own version around the communion table.  We had a blast.

Then, it came to my attention that the few lyrics of the dubbed-in music begin as follows: “con los terroristas” (tr: with the terrorists).

Yikes, we just danced around the table celebrating terrorism?  I hope not.

First, to get a sense of why the Harlem Shake is connected to this song and, in particular, to these lyrics, see the ABC News article tracing some of that out.  It seems the music, beats, and lyrics were cobbled together from various sources and that the person who put it together may not have understood the lyrics themselves–just that they sounded “cool”.

Second, I love interpretive challenges and the opportunity to dive into the the tangle of theology.  So I invite you to pause with me and think through what it might mean for us to dance around the communion table to the word “terrorist”.

It doesn’t mean that we even implicitly endorse or support terrorism: the communion table, as an expression of the gospel, is not about violence, death, and the destruction generated by forces of fear. But there is a connection to terrorism that is at the heart of the Christian story:  Jesus was crucified as a kind of religio-political terrorist–an enemy of the Roman state.  The kind of death that Jesus was subjected to was the death sentence give to terrorists in that age.  And, he was not crucified alone, he hung next to other criminals as enemies of the state: he was “with the terrorists” at his death.

To join with Jesus at the communion table, in a strange way, is to fellowship with “with the terrorists”.  After all, we are “with The Terrorist” as we partake in his body/bread and blood/wine.

Now that doesn’t quite feel right to me because I don’t think of Jesus, in a primary way, as a terrorist–again and again in the gospels Jesus is pushing us beyond the confines of fear/terror through the liberation of new life.  The angels, again and again–before Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and the bewildered at the empty tomb–share the words “fear not.”  Still, the message of Jesus was subversive, risky, and demanding–it brought him into conflict with those who benefited from marginizalizing, oppressing, and demeaning others.  And it brough him into the suffering of others: the sick, poor and, even at his death, the criminal.

That sharp edge to the gospel is not one that should be lost to the portraits of “nice” Jesus that circulate so readily in our religious culture.  You know, the kind of “nice” that means “stay away from the unwholesomeness of others.”  If there is something shocking about youth doing the worm around the communion table while the spanish lyrics “with the terrorists” are heard:  good.  There is something shocking about the gospel. It’s not just the suprising joy that marks new life–which my previous blog post highlighted–but the demanding quality of living Christianly which brings us into confrontation with (sometimes state-sponsored) forces of death and suffering the fellowship of others, even criminals.  We may have all kinds of labels heaped upon us for joining with Jesus in his mission–but those labels are meant to be shattered by the wonder of Resurrection in the face of gruesome death.  Just as the lyric “with the terrorists” is shattered by the wonder of youth joining with Jesus dancing around the communion table.


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