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  • David Carlson

378 The question long ago in Jerusalem and in each of our lives is, which procession do we join?

Day 378 Monday March 29th, 2021

The question long ago in Jerusalem and in each of our lives is, which procession do we join?


Sunday is the beginning of what many of us have labeled “Holy Week.” I have stumbled through many of them in my 90 years and I believe that the upcoming week is more important than any of the others, for several reasons.

The days close to the vernal equinox have been of extreme importance for a long, long time — before the Judeo Christian era, before the time of the Druids, before the time of the Greeks and Romans, well earlier than the 5th BCE. The equinox tells us that winter has passed. On a personal standpoint of basic survival, it meant that our remote ancestors had not starved, or frozen to death. They were alive and could make plans for their lives. It also meant they could reset their moral compass.

This gratitude for life, and sense of how to relate care to one another carried on through the centuries and is reflected in many, if not all, religions. It is certainly part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The important spiritual days are sometimes identical. For instance this Sunday the Christian heritage takes us into Palm Sunday, and the Jewish heritage into Passover. Both of these times take us from the fear of death to the promise of new life — and invite us to consider how we treat others who share this planet.

But now we, who dwell in the United States of America, face a couple of unique problems.

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of Islamic Exceptionalism, writes in this month's issue of The Atlantic, in an article titled, "America without God," that religion in America has morphed into politics. Church membership has dropped dramatically and now 25% of the population identifies as “nones” — no religion. He writes that as the role of churches has weakened.

American faith, it turns out is as fervent as ever; it's just that what was once RELIGIOUS belief is now channeled into POLITICAL belief.

So we now have a civic religion. Being called un-American is like being called un-Christian or un-Islamic — it is a heresy. Conservatives are convinced that liberals are betraying true “Americanism” and liberals feel the same way about conservatives. Hamid compares the rallies of the former president to old-fashioned Christian Revivalism but without any Christianity. Accepting Hamid’s premise, it seems to me that the insurrection at the National Capitol on January 6th was similar to the medieval Crusades. I find it rather frightening that we no longer have any kind of common understanding that we can rely upon. Even reality itself has been traded in for what we want to believe.

Given this state of affairs where does that leave Holy Week 2021?

I can imagine many people especially young folks saying, “Well, I just can't believe what's written in the New Testament. I don't think that's what happened.” I don't believe everything in the New Testament was literally true. I don't even think it was meant to be. It was written by people long after the death of Jesus and they were writing what was consistent with their values. In the Gospel of Mark there are two endings. The first one apparently did not conform with the ideas of someone who then added the second ending. The distinguished theologian Hans Kung (1928- ) has given us a key on how to read the New Testament. He suggests we just take everything as a metaphor of something significant not only in the life of Jesus of Nazareth but in our own lives as well. That is the spirit with which I would like to approach the stories we will send out during the coming week. Here is a good place to acknowledge the great help I have received from Chloe Clasper-Torch and our Sister Julie on what you will be receiving next week.

Now, on to Palm Sunday.

It was the time of Passover long ago in Jerusalem. Pious Jews from around the world had gathered to celebrate at the Temple. The Romans had occupied what we now think of as Israel. Pontius Pilate was governor of the area. He preferred to live in his comfortable city on the Mediterranean. However the Romans were control freaks and feared that with all the people in Jerusalem there could be problems for their oppressive rule. So Pilate set forth with a large cohort of soldiers and cavalry. It was like a Hollywood drama, meant to intimidate the populace; horses, armor, military formations, trumpets, drums, lots of metal and gold — power, power, power. Pilate and his entourage entered Jerusalem through the West gate.

At the same time entering through the East gate came a ragtag peasant mob following some ordinary guy named Jesus who lived in Nazareth. He was riding on a donkey and occasionally said things about the kingdom of God, rather than the Empire of Rome. He was a bit hard to understand at times but he seemed like a good man. Truth be told, quite a few people walking with Jesus didn't know much about him, but they preferred to walk in this procession rather than stand around admiring Pontius Pilate’s display of power.

Now jump ahead a couple thousand years and you see some white supremacists on one end of a street, and some people chanting “Black Lives Matter” coming from the other end of the street. The question long ago in Jerusalem is the same question we have today. Do we stand by and watch the oppressors or do we join the oppressed people?

On this coming Wednesday we celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez (1927-1993). In 1965 Chavez and Dolores Huerta were walking down the highway calling out for the farm-workers to leave the fields where they were exploited by the wealthy growers. Those of us who were alive in those days had the same choice. Do we continue to buy grapes or do we join the boycott? Sometimes the issue is between the Kingdom of God and the Empire of Rome. Sometimes it has to do with whether we buy a bunch of grapes or not. If we just stop and think about it, there are many situations where we sense greed and power coming in one direction and simplicity and dignity from the opposite direction.

The question long ago in Jerusalem

and the question in each of our lives today is,

which procession do we join?

Quakers, The Society of Friends, believe that every day is sacred and many of them do not commemorate any particular one day. But I was impressed by something Alistair Fuller, a British Quaker, wrote a few years ago about the stories we hear during Holy Week,

For me, what is undeniable about these Holy Week stories is their deep humanity. I hear them echoed in the darkness and struggle and injustice that we see and experience in our daily lives and in the world around us. I see them lived out in costly, generous and often unnoticed acts of love. These stories live for me where I encountered new beginnings after terrible loss, in the resilient hopefulness of extraordinary ordinary lives.

May each of us have a good Holy Week, and in the process, adjust our moral compasses.

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