Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another quick one

I was just standing there, pooling water in the sink to hold hair that I mowed from my face, and the BBC WorldService was going into its segment "The Interview," and they were going to repeat a segment I'd already heard, with the mayor of Jerusalem. I had just gotten back from fetching a biscuit, and I had considered blogging a thoroughly mopey observation about the differences between dogs and their vertical but shabby and stunned and melancholically prideful owners on the morning walk, and I was contrasting these and my own mood to the day.

You see, it's Palm Sunday. This is the day when the followers of Jesus got what the literal minded expected. This is the day when Jesus conformed to their expectations -- the expectations people like Nir Barkat would have -- of being King of Israel and Judah. Christians, who know the whole cycle, are in a strange moment of prolepsis and memory, and this has been one of the most intriguing parts of worship for me: we are to celebrate occasions as if they are isolated from what follows and yet as if they are fully in communication with what follows. We celebrate triumph today, and we know, at the same time, what follows.

Anyway, I thought about how, in comparison with something unimportant to the first generation of Christians, like birth days, the date of Palm Sunday is very carefully recorded. The timing of Holy Week is quite precise. We can be sure that this is the same week of the year, even though we have no guess about something like Christmas. The reason is that it occurred during Passover.

That led me to an observation that someone else must have made. Passover must have been an extremely major holiday for Israel and Judah at the time of Christ. If all of the early Christians knew it exactly, and if it was the centerpoint of the year, then it was not simply some holiday or holy day. That led me to thinking that a nation like pre-diaspora Israel must have taken the liberation from Egypt as something like a point of national foundation day (Fourth of July) plus a holy day plus a day of the Law.

The way that I work, I began to think -- largely because of the dramatic increase in hate speech and hate groups in the USA this year -- of what freedom from slavery, what emancipation, would mean for a people. Juneteenth was once a major celebration, we're told, but it has faded out almost entirely. (Yeah, it's on the web, but so are Norse fertility rites, and notice that the first thing is, "What is this?") The Emancipation Proclamation, I hope everyone knows, did not "free the slaves." It freed slaves in Confederate territory. I.e. it freed slaves beyond the reach of the proclamation itself, and it did not free slaves in the Union. It would take later action for there to be real emancipation -- hence Juneteenth.

I thought, "Gee, people ought to have a Passover-style celebration," but then I stopped.

I stopped for two reasons. First, there is nothing divine involved. A nation that ceases to do evil is not actually doing good. When a nation ceases to be legally wicked, it's a pretty piss-poor party we'll throw. Also, the deliverance was judicial and legislative and contentious. The second reason, though, is the question of who would celebrate? All descendants of formerly enslaved persons should celebrate, of course, but do those descendants know who they are? Our histories are vague. Our ancestries are treated, in the U.S., as quaint matters for D.A.R. and cotillion manque dames. Skin color has nothing to do with it, of course, and both "white" and "black" people can find enslaved ancestors and enslaving ancestors, if they have ancestry going back far in the continental United States. (Many of the people now sprouting neo-Confederate tufts of gray are curiously newly arrived, in that respect. They talk of how nice slavery was, and yet they don't seem to want to be enslaved, themselves. I, on the other hand, have the ancestral taint, and I see nothing in it to boast of or expiate on the individual basis.)

Finally, I wondered about celebrating Passover in Egypt. Our situation is quite different. It may be historically unique. We are a society that is striving to integrate and redress. This is peculiar, and it is worthy of celebration. It is perhaps worth shouting about that we did not pass over, that we folded in, that we admitted to membership and admitted to ourselves.

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