The Christian world is beginning Holy Week this week. I know that because it always begins the Sunday before Easter with Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I know today is that day because all this week I’ve been inexplicably humming a song I used to teach the children of my parish on Palm Sunday years ago when my theology was more uncritical. I can’t remember all the verses, being old and all, but here are some snippets.
Kat Liu’s reflection on beating up on herself brought back a happier memory. It was a game my mother played with me when I was little older than a toddler. She would take my arms and force me to hit myself, not so it hurt but until I gleefully giggled when being scolded to stop hitting her baby. She meant no harm. How could she know I would get pretty good at the game? Only when I played it, it did hurt.
Like Kat, I remember bringing home an anatomy test with the highest grade in the class, 98%. But when I showed my parents the test they couldn’t stop laughing that my one mistake was switching uvula with anus. It was funny, why wouldn’t they laugh? Again, they meant no harm. But I was 12. I was very good at feeling shame, not knowing that was different from being embarrassed or being able to laugh at myself. I was black and blue emotionally from beating up my mother’s baby.
When I was a child I liked playing on the teeter-totter at the playground. Apparently, you call it a see-saw here. What I found challenging was finding the balance point with my partner at the other end. I was not a philosophy prodigy at the age of seven, so I had not the words to describe what I knew intuitively: balance is a positive outcome in a precarious world. I did know it was not easily achieved. As likely as not, one end would crash down with prostate-jarring intensity while the other end would fly up threatening to launch the occupant into the stratosphere. Giggling with glee at our failure, we would eagerly try again to teeter without tottering.
The world is stuck. There is lots of evidence. This premise is supported by recent events in Aotearoa New Zealand. The once admired Prime Minister has been stripped of her beatification, not by anything she has done or failed to do, but by our anxiety displayed on Parliament’s lawn. The pandemic is still taking a toll, never mind to a much lesser degree thanks to her government’s decision to put people’s well-being ahead of the GNP. Russia has declared war in Ukraine and threatens the world with nuclear weapons. Certainly nothing Jacinda has done. Thanks to that war, petrol costs are skyrocketing. Again, not Jacinda’s doing. Due to the pandemic interrupting supply lines, petrol costs, labour shortages due to illness, supporting vulnerable people and businesses, inflation is the monster under the bed everyone thinks Jacinda should scare away. Out of our anxiety we want certainty. That desire gets expressed as a demand for a quick fix, when no such thing exists.
I find myself in a conundrum. One of the chief reasons amongst many that drew me to live in Aotearoa New Zealand was its long history of nonviolence, beginning with the Moriori of the Chatham Islands. They once were warriors but chose to become warriors for peace. They paid a high price when more violent and aggressive Māori invaded the islands. Gandhi considered them greater geniuses than Isaac Newton.
Then there is the moving story of Parihaka. Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi preached a gospel of non-violent resistance to European settlement on confiscated Māori land, and more than 2,000 followers came to live at their community at Parihaka. They passively resisted the surveying of their land for European settlement by ploughing it. On 5 November 1881, about 1600 volunteers and Constabulary Field Force troops marched on Parihaka. Several thousand Māori sat quietly on the marae as singing children greeted the force with songs.
I have been musing this week on a quote by Heraclitus that has long intrigued me: “It is impossible to step in the same river twice.” It has brought to mind an attractive, fresh-faced, twenty-something woman with a huge smile who visited me at St Matthew-in-the-city. At the time a list MP, Jacinda was laying the groundwork to contest the seat in the church’s electorate. You would be justified in wondering how I made the 26-century leap from a Persian philosopher to our prime minister.
Like the vast majority of Kiwis I have been unimpressed by the behaviour of the anti-maskers, anti-vaccinators, anti-mandators, Trump wannabes, neo-Nazis, Jacinda haters, and miscellaneous malcontents creating chaos in Wellington for nearly two weeks. Protesting is a justifiable activity in a democracy. Sometimes that protesting leads to civil disobedience, which is an essential force for bending the arc of justice. The question I have been mulling over is: can what is happening in Wellington be considered civil disobedience or uncivil disruption of the peace?
The future has a history. My guess is that humans have always been obsessed with predicting the future. It doesn’t matter if they were using tea leaves, animal entrails, numerology, bumps on the head, palmistry, tarot cards, or dreams interpreted by oracles, shamans, prophets, priests or spiritualists, they craved to know what was going to happen next.
I find water to be not only a miraculous source of life, but also a rich metaphor for who we are.
I recently bought a new scale because the mirror says my health would benefit by losing a few kilograms. OK, maybe more than a few. The scale I bought is high-tech. You know me. What other kind would I buy. It reminds me of cell phones. Remember when a phone’s sole purpose was to call someone. How 2005. Well, my new scale does tell me my weight, but it also tells me my BMI, muscle and bone mass, and what percentage of my body weight is water. For those who are curious, it was 48.6% this morning. Wow! I had no idea. It also tells me a few other things like what the weather will be and records it all on my phone. No, I can’t call anyone with it.
What I have been musing about this week is how water is within, between and beyond us, much like the sacred.
I need to begin this musing with a warning to those who might be triggered by words like Jesus or Christianity. On the Sunday before Christmas, I give myself permission to express some of my thoughts and ideas about progressive Christianity, which are the foundation of my faith. My justification is that both of the denominations that make up Unitarian Universalism were progressive Christians before we had a term for it. While Unitarian Universalism no longer identifies only with Christianity, many of our members are progressive Christians or Christians without God as I like to call them. For those who are repelled by Christianity either because they have experienced toxic Christianity or count themselves amongst rationalists and humanists or follow another faith tradition they bring to the mix, I hope learning about the scholarship that has revealed a very different Christianity from what we normally see around us will be both enlightening and beneficial.