April of Resist: MLK+50, Holy Week, & Passover

This coming spring, three powerful Prophetic moments will arise in American society. We need to – and we can! -- bring them  together to face the threat of despotic leaders ready to poison justice, peace, our democracy, and Mother Earth herself.

All three of these moments of the Spirit Rising have their roots in powerful grass-roots movements against despotic power:  against Imperial Pharaoh, against Imperial Rome, against an Imperial US Government that Dr. Martin  Luther King insisted had become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

  • The Christian Holy Week will begin on March 25 with Palm Sunday, ending on April 1 with Easter.
  • Passover will begin with the First Seder on Friday evening, March 30, and continue through April 7.
  • And the deepest questions of American society – – past, present, and future – – will clang together on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee.

Exactly one year before he was killed, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King had spoken with deep concern about the American future – – not only condemning the US War Against Vietnam, but also warning that the deadly "triplets" of racism, materialism, and militarism were corrupting and endangering our country.

[Dr King at Riverside Church in NYC for his most prophetic speech, "Beyond Vietnam," with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel & historian Henry Steele Commager at his side.]

Why did King use the word “triplets” rather than “trio” or simply “three”? Triplets have one distinctive characteristic: they share a large amount of their DNA. What DNA do these triplets share? Subjugation. Exploitation. Contempt for “the other.”  Increasing their own unaccountable, irresponsible power by trampling others in the mud.

Half a century later, have we weakened these “triplets” in our midst? Our President waves the bloody flag of racism, threatens to annihilate in nuclear “fire and fury” millions of helpless human beings controlled by a despotic leader, and plans to spend a trillion dollars “modernizing” nuclear weapons that can already empty our planet of all life. 

And three aspects of materialism are far worse than fifty years ago:  gross economic inequality, grinding poverty for more people, and destruction of the Earth that is our common home.  All these aspects of the third triplet bear down upon us from the power, greed, and cruelty of Hyper Wealthy corporations. Modern Pharaohs, modern Caesars.

And we have realized that we need to name beyond King’s triplets another form of oppression: sexist contempt and hostility toward women. So now we must face deadly quadruplets. 

Can we draw on Dr. King’s prophetic wisdom and the spiritual power of Passover and Holy Week  to heal us from these woundings and move toward what King called the Beloved Community?

One year after King’s death, on April 4, 1969, the third night of Passover, in the basement of a Black church in Washington DC, about  800 of us  --- Jews and Christians, Black and many shades of “white” --   joined in an unprecedented "Freedom Seder." 

What made it unprecedented was that for the first time, the "Telling" of the ancient story of Exodus from slavery under Pharaoh was intertwined with other tales of liberation –-- especially the ongoing, unfinished story of the Black community’s struggle for liberation in America.

I wrote the text of that Telling, and a group called “Jews for Urban Justice,” far outside the established Jewish organizational structure, organized the actual celebratory Seder.  The night was filled with eloquence, song, laughter, comraderie,  tears..

The Telling was published by Ramparts magazine. The actual Seder was broadcast live by WBAI radio in New York City, and major excerpts were broadcast on television by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Seder itself, and what it inspired, pointed toward the “Beloved Community” and the “moral revolution of values” that King envisioned. Tens of thousands of Jews and Christians across America responded with joyful recognition. And not imitation but emulation: a flowering of Seders that were feminist, antiwar, ecologically responsive. The Freedom Seder turned out to free Passover itself, opening it to new energies and visions. And not just Passover, but many other aspects of ritual and ceremony were reread into new life, new meaning. The Freedom Seder became a tiny crystal of change tossed into a super-saturated solution of people who were thirsty for change. The "super-saturated solution" became a light-filled, light-refracting  crystal.

Can we do this again, this year?  Can the Spirit rise in the face of tyranny as it rose in the Exodus, in the week from Palm Sunday to Easter, in the Hegira from Mecca to Medina?

Already, all across America, a multi-state nation-wide Call for Moral Revival, led by Rev. William Barber, intends to include vigils and civil disobedience in affirming a new Poor Peoples Campaign  --  renewing and enriching what Dr. King was doing in  the last year of his life. See <https://poorpeoplescampaign.org>

Already the National Council of Churches has called for a massive gathering on the National Mall in Washington on the morning of April 4 to begin a great campaign for “Truth and Racial Reconciliation.”  See --

<https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/national-council-of-churches-endorse-sweeping-initiative-to-end-racism/>

<http://disciples.org/event/unite-end-racism-2018/>

Already, The Shalom Center has organized and posted a remarkable collection of prophetic teachings by and about Dr. King.  See <MLK50.org>

What more? All across America, religious communities and congregations and multireligious alliances could sponsor Interfaith Freedom Seders during Holy Week and/or Passover (especially April 3 or 4) as a way to challenge the Pharaohs and Caesars and Bull Connors and Trumps of our own day. 

For example, New Freedom Seders could dedicate the Four Cups of wine or grape juice in the Seder to  “Healing Us from the Deadly Quadruplets”  -- the triplets named by Dr. King and the fourth, sexism, added by the realities of our day.

The Shalom Center is at work on creating the text for that Seder. We welcome your suggestions.

And meanwhile, we invite you to explore these versions we have already created of a Seder for the Earth:

“The Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth” at <https://theshalomcenter.org/haggadah-for-the-earth>

“The Seder that Makes Clear the Earth Really Matters” at

<https://theshalomcenter.org/content/passover-when-earth-really-matters>

Please write us with your suggestions for a New Freedom Seder and/or with requests for our help and suggestions in creating and organizing your own.

 

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1 Comment

Toward liberation

The Exodus story as metaphor for our individual liberation. We seek liberation yet fear the unknown of 'freedom' - Pharoah promises and reneges mimicking our difficulty of letting go to move forward only to lose his forces in their failed attempt to hold the tide back. The crossing of the sea to Sinai and wandering is the birth of a people and an ideology similar to the birth of a human - gestation, painful birth, maturing thro' new experiences and leaving old patterns behind and finally receiving 'heart', the Mishkan. Our failure to follow the wisdom if this path to liberation is one cause of our suffering thro' life rather than embracing true liberation. This points up the struggle between mind and heart and the shortcomings of language.

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