Sunday, April 12, 2009

Iconic Sunday

It's spring, and life is full of promise. Here in the Midwest, the returning green is starting to take a serious grip on the landscape. While the trees lag behind, the grass tells you immediately that its no longer winter and you know cells are multiplying like rabbits on the microscopic level. On a day like this, the recession is just an abstract concept, pushed aside for the immediacy of the burgeoning To Do List of agrarian life.

That said, it's also a day for pause. Of course, Sunday is the traditional day of rest in the workaday world, yet I mean more than that. It's also an exclamation mark on three institutional calendars, and I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on this convergence, described in ascending order of impact on life in my community.

1. It's Easter. While I can recall an early Sandhill tradition of Annie getting up early and making hot crossed buns, and toddlers hunting for dyed eggs with wicker baskets when the kids were young, that was years ago and this high holy day among Christians is little more than a side note in community life, where the overwhelming majority of members come to us from a Christian upbringing, not with one.

Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus from death and offers believers the possibility of atonement for all sins—no matter how egregious—as well as the promise of everlasting life. It's quite a package. Unfortunately the prospect of free replays has led to all kinds of mischief in the temporal world, most especially the kind of idiocies perpetrated by people who believe their actions have God's favor (which, of course, everyone who believes in a God, believes they have). For the most part, Sandhillians have rejected Christianity (as well as other religious dogmas) because it has led to an atrocious tendency to foul one's own nest—as well as that of others—acting under the claim of "doing God's will." (I think the claim of any person to fathom God's will, something axiomatically defined as unfathomable, is the ulitmate act of hubris.)

In short, practices done by those flying the flag of Christ tend to be grossly out of balance with Nature and unsustainable. At Sandhill we prefer to think in terms of cycles and co-existence, and are less aligned with linear progression and dominion. In striving to lead exemplary lives in which the world will be a bit better for our having been here, and the land we steward will be a bit more able to support life for those who come after us, we have purposefully moved away from most aspects of Christianity. So Easter at Sandhill is mostly a vernal remnant, rather than a day of religious observance.

It's the last Sunday before taxes are due, and today's the day I sit down with the paperwork in earnest and begin the semi-mysterious process of organizing our records into a coherent statement of my community's financial activities for the previous year. Talk about arcane rituals. This is the one where we formally recognize our relationship (uneasy though it is) with the federal government—that institution with a propensity to solve probems with force or money, roughly in that order. At Sandhill, we tend to have a highly critical analysis of federal tactics and strategies, and mostly we focus our political activity on the local and regional level. We hope to have more leverage there and, to the extent we're successful, have apsirations that our changes in local problem solving can be scaled up over time.

The idea here is that it's not enough to be critical of our federal tendency to make war (literally) when we're effectively
approaching problems locally by making war (virtually) with those with differing views on important matters. Once we can demonstrate a consistent ability to disagree constructively (where we lay aside the concept of winners and losers), then we'll have an alternative to offer federal politicians, not just a critical analysis.

This afternoon, we're celebrating a seder with our neighbors at Dancing Rabbit. Seders are a Jewish passover tradition, marking the successful exodus of the Jews from captivity in Egypt. It's one of my favorite religious holidays. For one thing, it's ecumenical. Sure, it's a Jewish holiday, yet non-Jews are expressly welcome. I've been attending seders for 40 years now—coincidentally, just as long as the Jews wandered in the wilderness (40 years!—you gotta wonder how much better Moses might have done with a GPS) and it represents the very best of ritual celebration: all are welcome and the emphasis is on fellowship, camaraderie, and right livelihood. This ritual is alive.

For another thing, seders are more than a celebration of a bright moment in Jewish history; they are also a celebration of liberation. And while enslavement by Egyptian pharaohs is no longer a concern, oppression in general is still a huge issue, and we unabashedly contemporize our seder to address the urgent need for liberation today.

Finally, as befitting a ritual of liberation, there is considerable latitude in what haggadah is used. This is the script for the ritual, and comes in a kaleidoscope of versions. Among the liberal Jewish circles that I intersect with, the haggadahs can be fairly free wheeling, including original works created just for that seder. In this way, the ritual becomes both more relevant (though perhaps less reverent) and an opportunity for performance art.

Taken all together, this is a ritual that's fun, yet retains its potency.
What's not to like? If nothing else, at 4:30 this afternoon I get liberated (temporarily) from doing taxes.

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