Passover of the Dispossessed

Sacramento River1
Photo by Chris Highland, from My Address is a River

I admit, it can be fun to make light of Religion and Faith.  This “holy week” I’ve already asked two Ministers I know, “If there was a Last Supper, what was the Last Breakfast?”  Some folks find these poking questions rather funny and I think we all should.  It reveals the humanity hidden behind all the righteous ritual and  “holy talk.”  It’s time to get real and lighten up, Theists and Non-Theists.

During my 25-plus years as a Chaplain among “outcasts” “cast outs” “marginalized” women and men, I listened and learned (laughed a lot too).  In the endless stories of human beings I heard a lot of truth.  Hard truth.  Nothing but the truth. . .except for the lies.  Mostly those we tell ourselves to feel better.  I hung out with huge numbers of people you’re not supposed to hang out with.  And it made me a better person.  I left my faith in some bushes and weeds along the path, but I journeyed many rivers of lives and thoughts and beliefs that made me deeply grateful.

My Address is a River, a book of chaplain stories I published in 2010, ends with a riff on forming circles of houseless people in a city park, of directing a shelter that became a “lifeboat” for many, and my own question, “Where is America?”  I quote this line from the Sufi poet Rumi, “Who cares what is going on inside my house?  There is blood on my doorstep–don’t ask me why.” And then I write,

In today’s America a growing number are asking why.  There are too many who have fallen at the doors of our cities, our neighborhoods, our congregations.  Chaplains move, sit, walk, stand, shed tears with those who are falling and we are companions for the survivors of poverty and homelessness. Along with my team I led memorial services for over one-hundred houseseekers and travelers.  Some whose stories are glimpsed in these pages are no longer with us, but their blood is on our doors.  Like a passover of the dispossessed, we cannot but take sides.  We are either in the camp of Pharoah or the Liberator.  The ancient story has become our own.”

I am forced to make some conclusions,

America is not the promised land anymore. . . .  Is there hope this side of the river?  I believe there is.  I have to believe there is.  We are a river of Americas, and a country of rivers.

In this Passover and Easter season, it always seems strange to me that “holydays” are celebrations of OUR tribe, OUR beliefs, OUR story joyfully telling ourselves and the world that WE are the INSIDERS.  Hooray.  As I see it, we have thousands of years of distraction. . .centuries of passing over the slaves and dispossessed here and now, of crucifying the innocent (or even guilty. . .who isn’t?) with our exclusionary neglect.  The blood on the doorposts is not just Jewish blood; the chalice is filled with someone else’s liquid life and how could that ever taste good or make us feel better?  Blood is blood.  Life and death mingled in a world of suffering and pain and loss.  If you read the stories this way, maybe there is still something to salvage in the tales of Egypt and Palestine.  But if it’s a comforting message, if people simply leap to liberation and proclaim “It’s OUR Holy Land!” the story is just another fractured fairytale.  If it’s merely a leap from crucifixion to resurrection, with flowers and frills covering up the splinters and stains, the story is no better than a weary old fantasy.

And the one who walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to their own funeral dressed in their shroud (Walt Whitman)

Is there any meaning left in these ancient stories?  I think there may be.  But only if they serve to remind the masses of believers that believing is never enough and may not always be good.  I would audaciously claim that non-believers may be the salvation of meaning for these stories.  Especially given that we are the outsiders in a world dominated by your faith.  As my book tells it, if we’re open to it, we may all find our way back to a river, our real address, our true home, where no one is excluded; it’s here, among the outcasts, and we find that we are outcasts too.  And in that discovery, we are shocked to find we belong to a community whose blood flows in a much more ancient, much greater river than anything the ancestors imagined.  Not a holy or heaven-minded circle, but a very natural, earthbound, shall I say Secular, flesh-and-bloody belonging.

If you participate in Passover or Easter this year, I wish you well.  But I particularly hope you are willing to at least consider the possibility that the blood on the doorposts is fresh and you may find your God is the outsider with a strange name, and without an address.

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