Love and Peace or Else

A  Sermon for Sunday, May 1, 2016, The Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 13:34-35; 14:25-27; 16:33

       

Cerezo Barredo's Weekly Gospel Illustration, John: 25-27
Cerezo Barredo’s Weekly Gospel Illustration, John: 25-27

        The peace of Christ—it’s a familiar phrase that’s been heard and expressed by Christians throughout history.

             We know those four words well. We have said them frequently in the context of worship for many, many years:

                     “The peace of Christ be with you… and also with you.”

                      “Go in the peace of Christ.”

               But do we fully understand and appreciate the meaning of the peace of Christ?

              Do we know that it’s more than just a nice Hallmark card greeting that we say as an act of rote memorization every Sunday?

             Do we recognize the significance those four words have in our lives as people of faith

             Do we comprehend that the peace of Christ—which Jesus imparts to the disciples in the Gospel of John—is a holy, powerful, merciful and subversive gift from God for all humankind?

              In 2008, I asked several colleagues and friends to contribute essays on my Internet blog on what the peace of Christ meant in their life. My hope is that by revisiting their words and the wisdom of some notable heroes of the faith as well as the scripture, we all might gain deeper insight into the peace that God gives.

               In the first post on the blog series about the peace of Christ, David LaMotte, singer-songwriter and social justice activist, explains that God’s peace is routinely confused with placidity. It’s often misperceived as being chill and serene with no violence and conflict present—a state of numbing out where all you hear is the voice of Tommy Chung saying, “peace out man.” And thus many consider talk of God’s peace or the practice of peace as weak, lazy and apathetic—a leisure activity for hippies and stoners.

                David says that couldn’t be further from the truth about the function and role of peace. In his essay he wrote:

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the product and process of doing conflict well. Conflict is not the enemy. In fact, it is a useful tool in the search for what is real and true. None of us has all of the answers, or at least all of the right answers, so our ideas necessarily conflict. That’s not a bad thing. The question is how we manage that conflict, how we listen and struggle together to seek better ways and ideas…[1]

            It’s no secret that we live in a world brimming with conflict due to angst, fear and hate:

            The economy is precarious and people lose jobs without any warning. Poverty and hunger exists in both urban and suburban settings. Bullying runs amok in schools. Terrorism consumes our thoughts. Presidential politics grows nastier and nastier by the minute. The abuse of children and youth by people in power continually make headlines. There is senseless gun violence on our streets and neighborhoods.

              Families grieve over the death of loved ones to cancer or numerous other illnesses. Other parts of the globe are plagued by war, disease, natural disasters and famine. Racism, sexism, gender discrimination, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamaphobia flourish mightily. Substance abuse, suicide and divorce rates are skyrocketing. And many people struggle daily with health challenges; insecurity about their bodies and self worth; broken-relationships; how to be a good parent, spouse and co-worker.

               With epic storms like these swirling around, it’s a wonder that any of us can get out of bed and get ready for the day; much less embody the love and peace of Christ in our encounters with other human beings. How can we possibly find the energy to daily receive and share God’s peace in the midst of the chaos?

                 The disciples, who lived amid the storm of an oppressive regime of the Roman Empire and who were labeled as insurrectionists for their association with Jesus, certainly had difficulty comprehending their rabbi’s command to love one another, to know God’s peace and to not let their hearts be troubled or afraid.

               As soon as the pandemonium of Jesus betrayal, arrest and death arrives, the disciples flee and lock themselves in a dark room—praying that the Empire won’t find them and give them the same fate.

         76b86e1a1aff99776d8ac69e120423e2     And Jesus, knowing the tempest is near, says calmly and confidently to his disciples, hours earlier:

               “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

               “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

               “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

                Of all people, Jesus should be freaking out. He should be packing a bag and saying, “See ya, I’m gone!” Instead Jesus, the eye of the storm coming toward him, holds his ground and expresses his love for his friends by giving them God’s peace—His peace. And Jesus does this again post-resurrection, appearing before the disciples in that locked room to say “Peace be with you!”[2]  In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am here among you. I am the Peace that is eternal and will not go away!”

             What an amazing gift the peace of Christ is to the disciples and to us. It is a gift that keeps on giving and surprising, usually in the midst of turmoil and when we least expect.

            In another essay for the blog series on the peace of Christ, Jan Edmiston, a Presbyterian, shared a story about how the Session of the congregation she was serving had to fire the pre-school director. Although it was done for good reasons (which were confidential for the sake of the pre-school director and the church), the pre-school director vowed to ruin Jan’s reputation and began spreading ugly rumors among the pre-school staff and parents.

             Several pre-school staffers quit. Subs were called in who didn’t have lesson plans or know the kids names. Jan and the Session held a meeting for parents after their kids got dropped off at the pre-school and things were tense. She said:

Children were crying. Parents were yelling. One parent spit on me…. Needless to say, I had asked God for help. I stood in the parlor, ready to offer explanatory words, and once everyone quieted down, I opened my mouth and spoke. And the words that came out sounded…kind of amazing. (“That was pretty good,” I said to myself. “Where the heck did that come from?”) The words were calm and mature and strong and uplifting. One parent said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s obvious that you did what you had to do. Thank you.” It was a God thing. Christ’s peace happens when there is no reason why a situation or a soul or a moment would be peaceful and yet it is. … It is a real peace, authentic serenity rooted in the total confidence that—in spite of all evidence that we should be freaking out—God is with us, and everyone is going to be alright.[3]

               Writing for the same blog series, a seminary classmate, Alan Bancroft opened up about a break-up with his girlfriend of a year while he was serving as an associate pastor in Franklin, TN. The woman he was dating was not sure she wanted to be a pastor’s wife and still figuring out her own life. So they talked and cried and decided to part ways. Alan was devastated and he wondered where God would be in his “cloud of sorrow.” The next day was cloudy and drizzly and after work, he decided to go on a 6-mile run. He said:

As I was coming up on the fourth mile, I began to recite the following mantra: Take it away, God. Give me peace. Take it away, God. Give me peace. Then I added another line: Take hers away, God. Give her peace. Take hers away, God. Give her peace. As I called out to God to take way the pain… the warm drizzly day slowly turned into a warm rainy day. As I continued to recite the mantra, the rain intensified and before long, I was completely soaked. At some point, the combination of reciting the mantra, the purifying, soaking rain and the rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, brought me a feeling of peace that I truly believe was the work of God. For those two remaining miles, my heart felt peaceful and void of the turmoil that had resided there since the previous evening. …For me, in this time and place, the peace of Christ represents feeling briefly restored and sustained as I wander through a valley of hurt, confusion and frustration.[4]

               The peace that Christ gives is not the absence of pain, loss, conflict, storms or chaos. The peace of Christ is in the midst of the mess. The peace of Christ is in the midst to love us, comfort us, and heal us.  And sometimes we have to push the disorder aside to make more room for Christ’s peace to do what it does best.

             The retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who helped bring an end to the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa decades ago, says that if people take the time to be more loving and peaceful, amazing things can happen. In his book God Has A Dream, he writes:[5]

One way to begin cultivating this ability to love is to see yourself internally as a center of love, as an oases of peace, as a pool of serenity with ripples going out to all those around you. You can begin by biting off the sharp retort that was almost certainly going to hurt the other. … Rather than intensifying the anger or the hatred, you say in your heart, “God bless you.” …Let’s say you are caught in a traffic jam and instead of getting angry and saying, “What a bunch of morons,” you bless them. … If more of us could serve as centers of love and oases of peace, we might just be able to turn around a great deal of the conflict, the hatred, the jealousies and the violence.

Once we allow Christ’s peace to dwell within us, we are then able to share the peace with others—inviting them to first look inside their own hearts before reaching out to more hearts.

          And it is God’s merciful heart that pours the peace of Christ upon us from the cross, and loosens the peace upon the world from the grave to restore human relationships and the Divine relationship.

         And it is that Divinely heart-felt gift of peace that spurs us to seek justice for the oppressed and to care for all of our neighbors.

          Embodying the peace of Christ in word and deed is literally an act of witnessing God’s love in the other whom we meet. Seeing the immigrant not as “illegal” or the Muslim as a “terrorist” or the black man as a “thug” or the poor person as a “lazy bum” or the woman as a “sex object” or LGBQT as “abominations” —but as beloved children of God.

            Whenever we say “the peace of Christ be with you” or embody the peace through our actions, we are a conveying a message to others that says:  “No matter who you are, I recognize that you are one of God’s creations who is loved to death and beyond.”   

             There was once a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, PA who delivered that message every day to millions of people for more than 30 years. His name was Fred Rogers:[6]

 

             There are many ways to say “I love you” and to tell someone they make everyday special just by being themselves, the person God created them to be.

            And so I say to everyone here:

            “The peace of Christ be with you”

Amen.

(Special Thanks to Alan Bancroft, Adam Copeland, Jan Edmiston, Carol Howard Merritt, Emily Miller, David LaMotte, and Derrick Weston for their incredible insights about the “peace of Christ.” God’s work through them was the inspiration for this sermon, even if they are not all directly quoted.)

[1] https://georgiapreach.wordpress.com/2008/08/29/david-lamotte-on-the-peace-of-christ/

[2] John 20:19-21

[3] https://georgiapreach.wordpress.com/2008/08/30/jan-edmiston-on-the-peace-of-christ/

[4] https://georgiapreach.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/alan-bancroft-on-the-peace-of-christ/

[5] God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope For Our Time by Desmond Tutu, 2004. Doubleday Publishing.

[6] The Officer of Make Believe: Being Black in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ by Great Big Story (2:32)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObHNWh3F5fQ

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David LaMotte on The Peace of Christ


“There is no peace without justice. Wherever there is brokenness, violence and injustice, the people of God are called to peacemaking.” (The PC(USA) Book of Order, W-7.4003, “Making Peace”

Intro: One of my favorite parts of worship is the “passing of the peace of Christ,” in which we affirm the forgiveness, freedom and wholeness received in Christ by sharing that gift of peace and reconcilation with friends, neighbors, even enemies. For me, it can be a powerful and sacred act–a time in which I feel God’s presence as I extend a hand of peace to those whom I love and those whom I may at times have difficult loving or even forgiving.

Over the past five years or so, I’ve discovered that not everyone in worship views the “passing of the peace” as a sacred act, an opportunity to initiate forgiveness and reconcilation with others just as God has done with us and the world.  Whether in a traditional Protestant service (Presbyterian and United Methodist), youth conferences like Montreat or alternative/emergent services, the “passing of the peace” time often becomes more of a time for general chatter (which I’ll admit that I sometimes engage in despite my desire to do otherwise) like,  “Hey, how are you? How was the weekend? Did you catch any fish out on the lake?”

While everyday conversation has its place in the church and our relationships as part of fellowship in the name of Christ, it seems odd to hear when we are actually being called to extend the peace of Christ, to look intently into the face and soul of the other and say:

“You are a beloved child of God who is forgiven for the sins you commit against God and neighbor. May God’s peace transform your life and be with you always.”

Somehow we as Christians seemed to have grown way from the intention of the “passing of the peace.” And I think the reason is much deeper than folks being introverted or not used to the language.  We’ve lost the meaning of “the passing of the peace.” Sure, many can recite the definition of “the peace” or provide a theological explanation as I did earlier, but do we really grasp what it means to say the words “The peace of Christ be with you” out loud and to answer God’s call to emody those words in every aspect of our daily living.

In a world filled with so much animosity and hate, of war and violence and constant bickering and belittling that is often fueled by Christian voices (both liberal and conservative), I’m beginning to wonder if we truly understand what it means to be passers of the peace.  So it is with that thought in mind, that I’ve invited several folks to share their reflections on  how they’ve witnessed “the peace of Christ.” My hope is that this series will stir some much needed conversation and provide new understandings of peace passing and making.

Tonight, we’ll kick things off with a post from David LaMotte:

I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago on the great commandment. In the Luke version of it, a lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, and then answers his own question: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus gives him props for a good answer, and the questioner follows up with another question, “And who is my neighbor?”

In that sermon I was lamenting the fact that he didn’t ask instead “And what, exactly, do you mean by love?” It’s such a nebulous word. Are we supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings about everyone? …like them a whole lot? …treat them with dignity and respect? Is this a verb we’re talking about or a noun? Does faithfulness lie this side of our skin, in our feelings? Or is it about what we do?

Even before we introduce all the various takes on “Christ” into the conversation, we run into a similar issue with “Peace.” Are we talking about placidity? Absence of violence? Absence of conflict? Is there are a presence of peace that isn’t just an absence of something else?

Outside of the ‘peace of Christ’ concept, just examining the word ‘peace,’ I think we need to be careful with our semantics. We too often confuse peace with placidity. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the product and process of doing conflict well. Conflict is not the enemy. In fact, it is a useful tool in the search for what is real and true. None of us has all of the answers, or at least all of the right answers, so our ideas necessarily conflict. That’s not a bad thing. The question is how we manage that conflict, how we listen and struggle together to seek better ways and ideas.

In that context, I think the Christ did give us some wonderful tools and instructions for how to do conflict, among which are humility, non-violence and speaking truth to power.

I think the phrase “peace of Christ” goes a lot deeper than that kind of peace, though. I think it speaks more to a deep knowing that puts our daily lives and concerns into perspective.

Yes, I may be worried about presidential politics, injustice in the Middle East, melting ice caps, and those are very legitimate issues to worry about and devote my time and energy to as a child of God who is charged with actively loving those around me. In a personal sense, though, the peace of Christ has to do with understanding that I am profoundly, deeply, powerfully loved by the great I Am. Christ came to try to get the idea of that love across to us. I will live however many days I have soaked in that love, regardless of what trials I’m facing, and when my days are through, I will sink back into the deep ocean of that love and be welcomed home. Knowing that to be true, on the blessed days that I am present enough to remember it, lends me a deep ‘peace that passes understanding,’ the peace of Christ. And trying to find some response to that supreme gift leads me back to the work of actively loving my neighbor.

David LaMotte is a singer/songwriter/speaker based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, at least for the next few months.  After that, he’s a Rotary World Peace Fellow studying international peacemaking at the University of Queensland, and is based in Brisbane, Australia. www.worldchanging101.com

Street Theater

Matthew 21:1-11

March 16, 2008, Palm Sunday

            I always loved Palm Sunday when I was a kid. An usher would hand all of the children beautiful green palm branches to wave around as we processed into the sanctuary. The middle and high school youth would be ringing hand-bells, the Adult Choir would be singing “Hosanna, Hosanna!” and people would be smiling and saying “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The festivity filled me with such joy and anticipation that I knew, at just any moment, Jesus would come through the church doors on the back of a donkey, waving and smiling at the folks in the pews.

            The feeling would stick with me all the way through Easter Sunday, which was an even bigger celebration.  As a kid, I didn’t quite understand what was happening to Jesus in between these two Sundays. During my early childhood, it seemed to me that this was one long, happy party for Jesus.  It wasn’t until I was a middle school youth at Shades Valley Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL that I discovered my misconceptions about the events during Holy Week.  A deeper understanding of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem became much clearer while I was playing with my church’s youth hand-bell choir in multiple Palm Sunday worship services at churches in Florida. 

Although I can’t recall the particular songs we played, I do remember that we began each service with a joyful piece and closed each service with a somber one.  And being a youth who was able to pay better attention to the scripture and the sermon, I began to recognize a dramatic change in the story almost immediately after Jesus enters the city. 

            In the NRSV version of Matthew’s Gospel we are told that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “the whole city was in turmoil asking, ‘Who is this?’   Turmoil is a weak translation of the Greek verb seio which actually refers to the action of an earthquake.  The corresponding noun seismos (which is where we get the word seismic as in the seismic waves that cause earthquakes) is used by Matthew in 8:24 (Jesus’ calming of the sea); 27:54 (Jesus’ crucifixion) and 28:2 (Jesus’ resurrection) to indicate a supernatural event.  “Perhaps,” says New Testament scholar Douglas Hare, “Matthew means to suggest that the holy city is shaken to its foundation by the arrival of the Lord’s Anointed.”

Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, in their new book Jesus For President, remind us that the time of Passover, in which Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, was historically troublesome:

It was an anti-imperial Jewish festival “during which the Jews celebrated their ancestors’ coming out of Egyptian slavery. With Roman soldiers lining the street, Jews gathered and waved palm branches, symbols of resistance to the empire. Passover was a volatile time, often marked by riots and bloodshed. (Recall that Herod of Antipas killed thousands of Jews in the streets at the festival.) When Jesus rode a donkey into the festival, it was a lampoon, like street theater at a protest. Scholars call it the anti-triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Imagine the president riding a unicycle in the Fourth of July parade. Kings did not ride donkeys. They rode mighty war horses accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. So here is Jesus making a spectacle of violence and power, riding in on the back of an ass. (And a borrowed one at that!)

Some of you may recall a sermon Pastor Mike preached last year on Palm Sunday about the two drastically different processions that occurred at the beginning of Passover.  According to scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

One was a peasant process, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives cheered by his   followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class…On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus knows the procession and way of Pilate and Herod-men who wield power with riches, weapons and violence.  Jesus and the poor people of Israel have been surrounded by these powers of oppression for most of their lives.  Many people in Israel, including some of the disciples, expected Jesus to follow in the footsteps of the great kings and warriors of Israel by violently overthrowing the Roman Empire.  They expected Jesus to take up the sword like the Jewish priests Judah and Jonathan Macabee who using guerilla tactics led the brutal Maccabean revolt against their Syrian oppressors. Upon victory, the Jewish people under the Macabee brothers cleansed the temple, which had been desecrated by the Syrians and “entered it with praise and palm branches and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”

            There is an expectation placed on Jesus by some of the people of Israel and it is reflected in the Call to Worship liturgy that John, Jesse and Lindsay shared at the beginning of the service: “Why did Jesus want a little colt? The Messiah ought to come to the throne on a mighty war horse! Didn’t he know how ridiculous he looked on the back of that donkey?”

            Jesus didn’t care about looking ridiculous on the back of a donkey. His point was to show that the Roman Empire, King Herod and the religious authorities were the ones who looked ridiculous sitting in self-righteous and oppressive seats of power.  In a scene depicting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from the 1999 TV film Jesus, two observers remark “This procession with the palms and Jesus dressed in peasant clothes and riding on the back of a donkey is brilliant! It makes Pilate and Herod look like the asses they really are.” Chuck Campbell, a professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, reminds us:

Jesus is turning the world’s notions of power and rule and authority on their heads. His theater is a wonderful piece of political satire. In his triumphal entry, Jesus lampoons all the powers of the world and their pretensions to glory and dominion, and he enacts an alternative to the way of the Domination System. He comes not as one who lords his authority over others but as one who rejects domination and comes as a servant. He comes not with pomp and wealth but as one identified with the poor. He comes not as a mighty warrior but as one who refuses to rely on violence. Jesus enacts the subversive, nonviolent reign of God in the midst of the city.

Take a closer look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and we discover that Jesus planned every detail:

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet…The disciples went and did as Jesus directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd (which some scholars believe are the peasant farmers and poor who live outside the city) spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them across the road (as opposed to soldiers who would raise swords when a king or ruler would ride into city on a war horse).

Laurel Dykstra, a columnist for Sojourners magazine and a veteran street theater protest performer, reflecting on Matthew’s account, explains:

The movement described is complex; there is collaboration between the out-of-towners and the local resistance community. The political action is planned to coincide with a time when imperial power is blatant and feelings of resistance are high. The protest tools are low-tech and readily available, and the demonstration design is inclusive and participatory-there is no “audience.” Large numbers serve as security and protection for those who are identified and targeted as leaders.

           

            When Jesus rides into the city on a donkey, he turns the world’s notions of power and rule and authority on their heads. Jesus shakes the powers, the Domination System to its very core like an earthquake-shakes away the pretensions and reveals nothing but deceit, malice, and ugliness. And Jesus exposes the powers today just as he did in Israel.  Riding into the city on a donkey, he lampoons the powers of the current Domination System in this world. Powers like:

The large gas-guzzling vehicles that roll into downtown cities with music blasting and bumper stickers that read-“You can pry this gun… from my cold bear hands.”

The shoppers who push and punch at one another in a shopping mall to get the latest $1,000 fad.

Governments who severely beat Tibetan monks with clubs and rifles

The media (both liberal and conservative) that utter sharp words of hate and prejudice toward those who are black, immigrant, gay, lesbian and poor.

Agencies who still haven’t provided  the lower class and pour with resources to return to a city once devastated by flood.

The Christian men in high-powered business suits on Capitol Hill who support the torture of other men and women.

            Riding in on a donkey, Jesus reveals the ugly deceit and treachery of the powers.   And this idea of street theater, of lampooning the powers, the Domination System has been passed down from every generation since.  The tradition is very much alive today.  Consider the 1970s Jesus musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell which truly embody the type of lampoon Jesus enacted in his entry into Jerusalem.  In Superstar, Herod is depicted as this sleazy king of porn films who wears tight leather pants, and big yellow tinted sunglasses.  And in Godspell, Jesus has a painted clown face and the disciples where these colorful clown-like clothes to show what a bunch of clowns Pilate, Herod and the powers are.

            In recent years street theater has been performed by the rock band U2 who in their 1997 Popmart Tour, recently released on DVD,  design the concert stage to look like a shopping mall with one-half of a very familiar golden arch and other thinly disguised commercial logos. As a U2 biographer notes:

U2’s latest mission…was to erect the cathedrals of today’s religion, expose its emptiness, and then try to dig deep down somewhere for Jesus in the midst of it all…Christianity had become commercialized on many levels, and Bono may have been turning over the tales of various modern Christian temple courts.

Street theater is all around. Anytime you pick up a newspaper or surf the Internet or turn on the TV and see a protest, there is usually a colorful act of street theater occurring in the midst-a lampoon of the powers, the Domination System.   A friend of mine recently shared a poem he wrote about members of the Ku Klux Klan who gathered last May in front of the courthouse in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee to spew their hatred.  It seemed that once again racism would fill the air of that spring day until another costumed group known as the Coup Clutz Clowns appeared:

                       

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be
In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee
The men put on their uniforms and quickly took their places
In white robes and those tall and pointed hoods that hid their faces

Their feet all fell in rhythm as they started their parade
They raised their fists into the air, they bellowed and they brayed
They loved to stir the people up, they loved when they were taunted
They didn’t mind the anger, that’s precisely what they wanted

As they came around the corner, sure enough, the people roared
They couldn’t quite believe their ears, it seemed to be – support?
Had Knoxville finally seen the light, were people coming ‘round?
The men thought for a moment that they’d found their kind of town

But then they turned their eyes to where the cheering had its source
As one their faces soured as they saw the mighty force
The crowd had painted faces, and some had tacky clothes
Their hair and hats outrageous, each had a red foam nose

The clowns had come in numbers to enjoy the grand parade
They danced and laughed that other clowns had come to town that day
And then the marchers shouted, and the clowns all strained to hear
Each one tuned in intently with a gloved hand to an ear

“White power!” screamed the marchers, and they raised their fisted hands
The clowns leaned in and listened like they couldn’t understand
Then one held up his finger and helped all the others see
The point of all this yelling, and they joined right in with glee

“White flour!” they all shouted and they felt inside their clothes
They pulled out bags and tore them and huge clouds of powder rose
They poured it on each other and they threw it in the air
It got all over baggy clothes and multi-colored hair

All but just a few of them were joining in the jokes
You could almost see the marchers turning red beneath white cloaks
They wanted to look scary, they wanted to look tough
One rushed right at the clowns in rage, and was hauled away in cuffs

But the others chanted louder marching on around the bend
The clowns all marched along with them supporting their new friends
“White power!” came the marchers’ cry – they were not amused
The clowns grew still and thoughtful; perhaps they’d been confused?

They huddled and consulted, this bright and silly crowd
They listened quite intently, then one said “I’ve got it now!”
“White flowers!” screamed the happy clown and all the rest joined in
The air was filled with flowers, and they laughed and danced again

“Everyone loves flowers! And white’s a pretty sort!
I can’t think of a better cause for marchers to support!”

“White Power!” came their marchers’ cry, quite carefully pronounced
The clowns consulted once again, then a woman clown announced
“I’ve got it! I’m embarrassed that it took so long to see
But what these marchers march for is a cause quite dear to me!”

“Wife power!” she exclaimed and all the other clowns joined in
They shook their heads and laughed at how mistaken they had been
The women clowns were hoisted up on shoulders of the others
Some pulled on wedding dresses, “Here’s to wives and mothers!”

The men in robes were angry and they knew they’d been defeated
They yelled a few more times and then they finally retreated

And what would be the lesson of that shiny southern day?
Can we understand the message that the clowns sought to convey?
Seems that when you’re fighting hatred, hatred’s not the thing to use
So here’s to those who march on in their massive, silly shoes

            Blessed is Jesus, who marches into Jerusalem not with pomp and wealth but as one identified with the poor. Blessed is Jesus who comes not as a mighty warrior but as one who refuses to rely on violence. Blessed is Jesus who enacts the subversive, nonviolent reign of God in the midst of the city. Blessed are we who are invited to foolishly follow him!

Amen!

Sources:

Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, 2008

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, 2006

1 Maccabees 4:36-40 and 2 Maccabees 10:1-9

Sojourners: Faith, Politics and Culture, “Word on the Street: Street Theater” by Laurel A. Dykstra, March 2008

The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching by Charles L. Campbell, 2002

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman, 2005

Excerpts from “White Flour” a poem by folk musician David LaMotte (http://www.davidlamotte.com/) May 26, 2007

Singing About Peace and Justice

The Interfaith Peace & Justice Coffeehouse on March 8 at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in D.C. was an incredible experience. Many thanks to David LaMotte, The Cobalt Season and Native Deen for coming together to share their inspiring message of peace  & justice. Thanks also to everyone who came out to support the event. Here are videos of Dave LaMotte and The Cobalt Season’s performances:
 

White Flour

David LaMotte first shared the poem “White Flour” on Saturday evening of the Spring 2008 Interfaith Peace & Justice Coffeehouse. Recording of David reciting “White Flour” can be found on YouTube. Hope you enjoy.

White Flour

by David LaMotte

(a true story about events that occurred on May 26, 2007. © 2007 Lower Dryad Music)

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be
In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The men put on their uniforms and quickly took their places, in white robes and those tall and pointed hoods that hid their faces

Their feet all fell in rhythm as they started their parade.
They raised their fists into the air, they bellowed and they brayed.
They loved to stir the people up, they loved when they were taunted.
They didn’t mind the anger, that’s precisely what they wanted.

As they came around the corner, sure enough, the people roared.
They couldn’t quite believe their ears, it seemed to be – support?
Had Knoxville finally seen the light, were people coming ‘round?
The men thought for a moment that they’d found their kind of town.

But then they turned their eyes to where the cheering had its source.
As one their faces soured as they saw the mighty force.
The crowd had painted faces, and some had tacky clothes.
Their hair and hats outrageous, each had a red foam nose.

The clowns had come in numbers to enjoy the grand parade.
They danced and laughed that other clowns had come to town that day. And then the marchers shouted, and the clowns all strained to hear. Each one tuned in intently with a gloved hand to an ear.

“White power!” screamed the marchers, and they raised their fisted hands. The clowns leaned in and listened like they couldn’t understand. Then one held up his finger and helped all the others see. The point of all this yelling, and they joined right in with glee

“White flour!” they all shouted and they felt inside their clothes. They pulled out bags and tore them and huge clouds of powder rose. They poured it on each other and they threw it in the air. It got all over baggy clothes and multi-colored hair.

All but just a few of them were joining in the jokes. You could almost see the marchers turning red beneath white cloaks. They wanted to look scary, they wanted to look tough. One rushed right at the clowns in rage, and was hauled away in cuffs

But the others chanted louder marching on around the bend. The clowns all marched along with them supporting their new friends. “White power!” came the marchers’ cry — they were not amused. The clowns grew still and thoughtful; perhaps they’d been confused?

They huddled and consulted, this bright and silly crowd. They listened quite intently, then one said, “I’ve got it now!” “White flowers!” screamed the happy clown and all the rest joined in. The air was filled with flowers, and they laughed and danced again.

“Everyone loves flowers! And white’s a pretty sort! I can’t think of a better cause for marchers to support!” Green flower stems went flying like small arrows from bad archers. White petals covered everything, including the mad marchers

And then a very tall clown called the others to attention. He choked down all his chuckles, and said “Friends I have to mention. That what with all the mirth and fun it’s sort of hard to hear. But now I know the cause that these strange marchers hold so dear

“Tight showers!” the clown blurted out, and hit his head in wonder. He held up a camp shower and the others all got under. Or at least they tried to get beneath, they strained but couldn’t quite. There wasn’t room for all of them, they pushed, but it was tight

“White Power!” came their marchers’ cry, quite carefully pronounced. The clowns consulted once again, then a woman clown announced. “I’ve got it! I’m embarrassed that it took so long to see. But what these marchers march for is a cause quite dear to me!”

“Wife power!” she exclaimed and all the other clowns joined in. They shook their heads and laughed at how mistaken they had been. The women clowns were hoisted up on shoulders of the others. Some pulled on wedding dresses, “Here’s to wives and mothers!”

The men in robes were angry and they knew they’d been defeated. They yelled a few more times and then they finally retreated. And when they’d gone a black policeman turned to all the clowns. And offered them an escort to the center of the town

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be. In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee. People joined the new parade, the crowd stretched out for miles. The clowns passed out more flowers and made everybody smile

And what would be the lesson of that shiny southern day? Can we understand the message that the clowns sought to convey? Seems that when you’re fighting hatred, hatred’s not the thing to use. So here’s to those who march on in their massive, silly shoes