a cool and stark sabbath day...

Today is a cool and stark Sabbath day in the Berkshires hills. The sky is threatening while the promise of Spring is close. The peepers are wildly singing their mating songs in the wetlands behind our home even though they nearly froze to death last night. And the tree buds of Mother Earth are close to popping with beauty but need a little more encouragement from Father Sun. It is a beautifully unsettling in-between time; perfect, I think, for the start of Holy Week.
Last night I read too late - when I last looked at the clock it was 2:15 am - so I wasn't surprised to roll out of bed at 11:30.  After tea and corn muffins with my sweetheart, I discovered three, oddly prescient readings from friends and colleagues on Facebook; words that not only mirror the feel of this Sabbath day, but also speak to the state of our collective American soul. The first comes from the wisdom of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat on her Velveteen Rabbi blog (check it out @ http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2016/03/if-i-forget.html) Her pre-Shabbat poem reads:

How did I convince myself
that distance from you 
didn't hurt?

That I didn't need
your song in my ear, melody
expanding my heart?

Worse: I told myself lies.
That my absence didn't pain you,
that I had nothing to give.

If I forget you, beloved --
let my fingers lose their grasp,
my throat unlearn how to sing.

Disconnecting from you 
would mean shutting off
one of my senses, voluntarily

giving up breathing, 
relinquishing a vitamin I need
in order to thrive.

Not only did her words evoke my own tradition's focus at the start of Palm/Passion Sunday - the
tense paradox of the Prince of Peace entering Jerusalem on his way to the Cross - but also the essence of the ancient prayers some know as "the reproaches" of Good Friday. Historically, Christians have used both Palm Sunday and Good Friday to demonize Judaism theologically and wreak physical and emotional violence upon Jewish communities in real time for the act of "deicide."  Since the earliest days of Christendom this has been the doctrinal position of the Christian Church. And only 50 years ago, in the heady and confessional freedom of Vatican II, was there a change of heart. Still, as Harvey Cox noted in his autobiographical reflection, Common Prayers, a tale of living as a Christian married with a Jew and observing Judaism's liturgical calendar, all too many Christians continue to affirm the anti-Semitism of "the reproaches."

What I discovered in these ancient Christian prayers, however, was a kernel of truth, not about Judaism, but rather about how easy it is for human beings to "disconnect" ourselves from the source of love, hope, joy and life. During one Good Friday liturgical experiment, therefore, we rewrote the old, hate-filled, anti-Semitic prayers for a 21st century, inter-faith context. Stripped of their venom, this lament came to resemble a good deal of Rabbi Rachel's poem:  "How did I convince myself that distance from you didn't hurt?" That is one of this day's awakenings for me.

The second was in David Brooks' column in today's NY Times: "No, Not Trump, Not Ever." (you can read the full article @ http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/opinion/no-not-trump-not-ever.html?_r=0) I am never sure why some dislike Brooks. Honestly?!? He is bright, well-spoken, often self-effacingly funny and even more often clear headed. Today he confesses that he has been too long living in America's elite to have grasped the alienation and anger of those who have signed on to the Trump bandwagon. Like many of this crowd, he believed "the Donald" would fizzle out like other blowhards before him. But that has not been true in this season of fear and demagoguery

Many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

Since the earliest days of the Tea Party - and their racist "birther" campaign against President Obama (which Mr. Trump helped bankroll and popularize) - it has been clear that lower middle class and white working class angst and anger was starting to bubble to the surface.Since the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s - and the liberation movements of women and the LGBTQ community of the 70s - the fears of this sector of the body politic has been simmering. From time to time it has been manipulated carefully by the elite of both the Republican and Democratic parties, but in a calculated and controlled manner. As an independently wealthy political provocateur, Mr. Trump and his cohorts have now blown the top off any semblance of control so that this smoldering hatred can reign full tilt boogie and damn the consequences. Mr. Brooks synthesizes this precisely when he writes:

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa… He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12. He surrounds himself with sycophants. “You can always tell when the king is here,” Trump’s butler told Jason Horowitz in a recent Times profile. He brags incessantly about his alleged prowess, like how far he can hit a golf ball. “Do I hit it long? Is Trump strong?” he asks.

In the most compelling paragraph of this challenging column, Brooks then articulates what is a
at stake when he declares:

Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all. As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.

And third there was the reflection on the poet Naomi Shihab Nye written by Parker Palmer. I have long cherished Palmer as one of America's true "points of light" as he speaks of culture care and political renewal. He is not acerbic like some nor is he stunning or sensational like others. Rather, he is a quiet, reasoned voice celebrating civility in the midst of passion and deep thinking in an era of sound bytes. He wrote:

At the 2015 National Book Festival in D.C., Nye joined with poets Jane Hirshfield and Juan Felipe Herrera for a dialogue about the poet’s role in American culture today. Asked, "What...is the poet's civic responsibility?", Nye begins with this gem: “...to continue to encourage a sense of civility among us and a sense of curiosity about one another’s lives.” As I listened to Nye's words—heard the peace in her voice, saw the peace in her face—I got teary. Here's a reminder of how it looks and sounds when people speak from the heart about the real issues of our time.

Palmer has stated that springtime teaches us to look carefully amid the mud and muck of March for "the green stems of possibility."  I see the connections between today's ominous clouds and the buds on the trees. I see the synergy between our fears and deepest hopes, too. And I know by faith that our hopes are never realized except through obedience to the Lord of Love - however we understand or speak of that love. Yes, there is fear. Yes, it may snow later this week. And yes, within the mud and muck there are still green stems of possibility.

Brother Parker writes:  "Looking for something worth fearing? Here's a suggestion: Fear certain people who resemble me in race, ethnicity, religion and gender. The white men I'm talking about tend to wear $15,000 suits, have $1500 haircuts, own several homes, and fly private jets. Their hobbies are buying politicians, manipulating markets and rigging financial instruments in ways that have damaged and ruined millions of lives—and led to the deaths of a lot more than 3.21 or 3.43 U.S. citizens per year since 2001."

This Sunday for Palm Sunday we are presenting a reworking of the Passion Narrative that carefully excises the historic anti-Semitism that infects our Bible. We have done likewise to the Tenebrae liturgy for Maundy Thursday, too. And Good Friday is ALL about "A Love Supreme" whether that comes from God, Ann Heaton's brilliant reworking of the prayer of St. Francis or the musical meditations of John Coltrane. More than at any other time in my adult life I believe it is essential to challenge fear with love and saturate our actions with beauty born of hope.


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