2022 04 10 Alan Storey
Political Protest Performance
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice by Gilbert Lawrence.
Cape Town, South Africa
2022 04 10 Alan Storey
Political Protest Performance
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice by Gilbert Lawrence.
Palm Sunday was an act of political performance art. The purpose of political performance art is to expose the powers. Exposing the powers to protest the powers. To hold up a mirror to them. To take the micky out of them. It is basically to declare: “The emperor has no clothes”.
Political performance art is all about symbolism and timing and place. Jesus was a whizz at this stuff. He knew how to put his finger on the political nerve of the Roman regime as we will find out again this Palm Sunday. The palm waving parade, complete with a Zechariah inspired donkey ride was political theatre at its best. This was immediately followed by Jesus’ dramatic performance shakedown of the religious powers in showing how to deep clean a state-captured-temple.
Jesus’ performance art would secure his execution for sure. Having peeved off both political and religious big wigs – it was a no brainer that they would come together to vote in favour of his killing. The state would supply the wood and nails and the religious establishment would guarantee divine approval.
It is a dangerous thing to dig up and expose the powerlines of any oppressive regime. Here are a few more recent examples of political performance art. Some explicit. Some more subtle. Some planned long in advance. Some spontaneous.
See Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012. For an explanation of the lyrics, see this article.
See the beginnings of the #RhodesMustFall student movement,
with Chumani Maxwele who threw poo on the UCT Rhodes Statue.
He describes in detail all the symbolism that informed the
See Pope Francis spontaneously stop and pray at the Apartheid-Israel wall soon after
praying at the Jerusalem’s Western wall.
And then finally some protest theatre against State Capture way back on 12 May 2013 wonderfully coinciding with Ascension Day. I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.
See 2013 State Capture performance protest from civil society organisations in the city of Cape Town.
2021 03 28 Alan Storey
The tradition of palm branches on Palm Sunday originates with the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, also called the Festival of the Tabernacles or Booths, which was probably the most popular holiday among the Jews in the first century. In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving in their right hands something called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.” Save us in Hebrew is hosianna or hosanna. This is typically followed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:25–6)
Palm Sunday might be one of the moments of the year when that peculiar lingering bittersweetness of the Gospel is strongest. If you’re anything like me, Palm Sunday – or rather, Holy Week, brings up a weird feeling. It’s a time when I grapple about the death of Jesus and why he died. Lent is almost over. Only a few days remain until Good Friday. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem signals a shift towards the end. As Christians we continue to journey with Jesus. This week we will focus on the death of Jesus and what that means for us today. Palm Sunday begins that reflection. I am also reminded that I, too, am like the maddening crowd. Will I shout hosannas with the disciples or will I be silent as the Pharisees ask?
As I reflect upon that this week, I am reminded of the simple lyrics of this beautiful song:
Beyond this lifetime
Beyond this darkness there’s light
Your cross is shining
So people open your eyes
These chains are breaking
Your love is shaking us free
A great awakening
This world will finally see
the cross stands above it all
Burning bright in this life
The cross towers over it all
One hope, One deliverer
Saviour reigning high above it all
Christ has overcome
It is finished, He has won
Christ has overcome
We’re standing strong
© Tim Hughes, Nick Herbert, Ben Cantelon, Matt Redman
Peace and love,
We can tell a great deal about someone by the prayers they pray. This is true especially when trouble is in the air or in the soul.
In last Sunday’s scripture reading [John 12] we read that no sooner had Jesus spoken of being troubled – did he begin to pray. He prayed not to be saved from his troubles, but rather: “Father glorify your name”. He refused to center his prayer on himself, but rather on the true center of his being – the one he knew as Father – the Parental Love that holds all life together.
Last week I read out the prayer of another who lived during troubled times – Etty Hillesum – a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam who was killed at age 27 in Auschwitz in 1943. She too refused to center her prayers on herself. She prayed not to be saved but rather to “take care of God” and to “guard” that place in her where God dwells.
A week before she was killed, Etty prayed:
“I shall promise you one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself.
I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us; that we must help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well.
Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the last … You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for you and remain faithful to you and I shall never drive you from my presence.“
Perhaps we can begin to pray for our prayers to center less on ourselves and more on others and the Divine Lover of all. A simple prayer may get us going: “Make my prayer less about me …” Perhaps this will lead us to salvation. Salvation as in: saved from the need to be saved – which is what this next week – Holy Week – is all about. If we want to save our life we will lose it, but if we can give it away for Love’s sake – we will find it.
Grace and gratitude,
Right now, in this point in history, there are people naming that the movements organizing for change are different than they were during the Civil Rights years or in the height of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The Black Lives Matters Movement describes themselves to be a “leader—full” movement and the students organizing through Fees Must Fall are organized in a similar fashion. There is something about this type of organization that speaks to a hope for decentralized power, for more voices at the table, for a multiplication of message. If these movements sustain themselves in this fashion, we will be witnessing the birth of something very new in the world.
There is always the need sometimes for one—one voice—one message—one call—that leads a people towards “the good” even if it is a nestled voice in the midst of many.
This one that I speak of must have space to rise in the midst of the many to be heard. Tracing through human history, the voices that rose to be heard were the voices of the marginalized. From the depths of the crucibles of their lives wisdom rose and was known in the world. The great struggle songs were born in the trials of life where people were formed and shaped in communities that knew what it was like to share life together, no matter the challenges before them, and they knew what it was like to have a song alive inside of them.
“We Shall Overcome” was a slave song. They would sing it in the fields as they worked. The first use in a political nature is traced to 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina in a strike against the American Tobacco Company. The workers were fighting for higher wages. They were being paid only 45 cents an hour. Some of the leaders from Charleston went to meet with leaders in Tennessee at a center called Highlander. The philosophy of Highlander was that “the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers.” They organized groups to listen across lines of division and they would always sing together. It was at Highlander that “We Shall Overcome” was birthed into a Movement Song.
One of the young people at the Justice Conference sang an amended version of a South African Hymn that some of the students are using when they organize. They have changed it to make it their own. This young woman was hesitant to sing the song when asked by the group, but when she stood and lifted her voice, the pain she was relaying, the struggle for air, for space, for freedom was evident. Movement songs have this quality about them, in that they are born in the journey of life and wrestled into being.
We gather in worship on Palm Sunday morning to sing “Hosanna.” Do we know what it means when we sing praises to the one who leads us in the crucible way? Do we know what we say when we name we will follow? There are songs that bind us together in the Christian Faith, but let us always remember that God is always giving rise to new songs. May our ears always be listening for the new God is giving birth to in the world and our spirits be open for the change it will require in us.
With you on the journey,
This is a sacred week. A Holy Week. This week invites deep attentiveness from each of us. Attentiveness to what it means to be human for in this week we witness the heights and depths of the human person. In Jesus we see the heights and in the crowds, rulers and scattered followers we see the depths. In Jesus we see who each of us is called to be and who we were originally designed to be. In the others we see our brokenness and waywardness – the people we too often are. In Jesus we see strength and courage against oppressive power. In the others we see expediency – a fickleness of character and the crucifixion that inevitably follows from such cowardice. In Jesus we witness a fullness of life even in his dying as he lives for something greater than himself. In those who surround him we smell decay – their humanity has died even as they continue to breathe.
I invite you to read Luke 22 – 23 every day this week. Allow the story to seep into your inner being. Go deep into each of the characters. Each character is a mirror into our own lives. To be attentive – really attentive – we need to carve out space – un-cluttered space. Turn the TV off for the week. Ditch social media. Be still. Be quiet. Go for a slow walk. Muse! Turn off your lights and light a candle. Honour this Holy Week with your attention. In our busyness our mind becomes “dull and domesticated”. So we should fight for free space and free time. As Rebeca Solnit writes:
“Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use… Time spent is not work time yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space – for wilderness and public space – must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”
~ Rebeca Solnit: Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
There is no perfect family. We don’t have perfect parents, we are not perfect, we don’t get married with a perfect person nor do we have perfect kids. We have complaints of each other. We were disappointed in each other.
Therefore, there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival.
Without forgiveness the family becomes a theatre of conflict and a bastion of grievances. Without forgiveness the family gets sick. Forgiveness is the sterilization of the soul, the cleaning of the mind and the liberation of the heart.
Who does not forgive has no peace of soul nor communion with God. The pain is a poison that intoxicates and kills. Having a wound of the heart is a self-destructive gesture. It is autophagy [a self-degradative process]. Who does not forgive sickens physically, emotionally and spiritually. That’s why the family has to be a place of life and not of death; territory of healing and not of disease; stage of forgiveness and not of guilt.
Forgiveness brings joy where sorrow produced pain; and healing, where pain caused disease.
~ Pope Francis
On Palm Sunday we witness Jesus perform some seriously prophetic (truth revealing) street theatre that hilariously screams for everyone to hear: “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes”. This prophetic tradition is continued by an amazingly imaginative Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
Last Sunday afternoon, about 150 people met – seriously and joyously – at the West End Synagogue in Manhattan for a religious service, followed by an hour of street theatre – both aimed in the spirit of Passover and Palm Sunday, at the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation, especially the Koch Brothers.
The street theatre took place near and on Lincoln Center, at the David Koch Theatre. It featured a dramatic collision between a figure costumed as Pharaoh, traveling with a Pyramid of Power and followed by a gaggle of people carrying oil cans, coal bags, etc.
the Prophet Miriam as Mother Earth, traveling with a large globe and followed by a band of people with windmills, solar panels, and earth-friendly banners.
Picture of Cross of Nails: With gratitude and recognition to http://dogbreathsoup.deviantart.com/
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.
In preparation for Holy Week I have been re-reading some works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German Lutheran pastor who stood fearlessly against Nazi rule. He was jailed and finally executed on 9th April 1945 at the age of 39 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered.
I trust his words about the Cross for two reasons: First, not only did he write about the Cross but he carried his own cross. The cross that is the consequence of a radical faithfulness to the ways of Jesus. Second, because his entire understanding of faith and life and God was shaped by his primary understanding of God as the Crucified LORD…
ON PEACE …
“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”
ON SUFFERING …
“It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own, personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through the engagement of one’s physical being than through the Spirit. Christ Suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and soul, and likewise subsequently many Christians along with him.”
“There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.”
CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS …
“Christians stand by God in God’s suffering” — this is a Christian’s distinguishing character. This is what Holy Week teaches us to do. See you in the week.