The afternoon turned sunny; now, a couple of hours before sunset, high, thin clouds have spread across the sky. The day’s bright sun has brought unseasonably warm temperatures and snow melt. Somewhere close, I’m sure, someone is sugaring.
Sugaring has long been a sacred, celebratory time here in the U.S. Northeast. It marks the last weeks of the winter and hints at abundant food to come, and remains a festive reminder that life is both difficult and sweet. For many, the sugar maple grove is a sacred place, indeed.
Theses days the news seems filled with attacks on sacred places. Churches of minority groups, along with mosques, synagogues, and cemeteries have been desecrated in the past few weeks. As I write, the camps and shrines of the water protectors at Standing Rock are being desecrated and the defenders removed. Across the country the sacred lands of our many Native nations are under siege.
Lately government officials have spoken often about the holy and the sacred. Yet it seems to me that such talk is hollow, based on very narrow definitions of those terms. These men, for they are mostly European males, covet the lands and resources of all others, seek to stay in power through the use of intimidation and fear, identify only their own as truly human and worthy of respect, and deem only their own holy places sacred.
My father used to worry that folks identified themselves as “God-fearing Christians” while ruthlessly suppressing the beliefs and practices of others, especially minorities and Natives. Over the years he repeatedly suggested, usually via metaphor in some church school program, that too many people placed the acquisition of money and power over the needs of others, Nature, and the land.
The pastor of our small, Appalachian style church, a very “old-time religion” sort of man, much-loved by the church and the community in spite of his “fire and brimstone” perspective, held his own version of this belief, expressing it in the oft-repeated question, “What would Jesus do?” In a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society such as our own, that question still has resonance. My guess is that Jesus would be standing with the water protectors at Standing Rock, with the immigrants who are fleeing into Canada, and with all minority people who aspire to live lives of dignity and freedom.
I believe Jesus saw himself as a part of the great Jewish prophetic tradition, a tradition which continues to urge us to raise up and demand justice and freedom for all. Lenny Bruce placed him there as well. I am reminded of a skit Lenny used to do, in which Jesus shows up unexpectedly at a great American cathedral and begins to unseat those who used their religious or secular authority to oppress others. It remains one of the funniest pieces of comedy I have ever heard. It also remains an uncannily timely, and profoundly unsettling, answer to that perennial question, “What would Jesus do?”