12-15The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:

   Hosanna!

   Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!

    Yes! The King of Israel!
Jesus got a young donkey and rode it, just as the Scripture has it:

   No fear, Daughter Zion:
      See how your king comes,
      riding a donkey’s colt.

 16The disciples didn’t notice the fulfillment of many Scriptures at the time, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that what was written about him matched what was done to him.

 17-19The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: “It’s out of control. The world’s in a stampede after him.” 

-John 12:12-19

I’ve read the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem more times than I can count, but this Palm Sunday has been different. I don’t know if it’s the combination of reading it in The Message rather than the other translations I’m used to, or if it’s the after-effect of a conversation I had last night with friends, but that last verse grabbed me and won’t let go.

After sushi and over cigars (frankly, the only way I think religion should be discussed), the presumed-imminent demise of health care reform came up. The conversation danced around health care, education, welfare, and other social services, but the consensus remained that America’s claim to being a Christian nation was a dubious one at best.

We are a nation in which the loudest religious voices are the ones that claim the litmus test for faith is your tolerance for homosexuality and abortion. And while we are patting ourselves on the back over our staunch defense of traditional family values, we see no problem with- nay, we support!- letting uninsured children be denied health care, cutting pay and tenure for school teachers, denying food stamps to anyone who might abuse them (read: is black), and making birth control as difficult to obtain as possible. It doesn’t matter that the Bible mentions our obligation to the poor (without drug testing or judging them in any way for their situation) hundreds of times, while mention homosexuality a handful of times and abortion not at all.

And that’s not to say that there aren’t genuine and valid discussions to be had about the role of government versus the role of the individual, and the effect that religion should have on any legislation, no matter how well-intentioned. But the apparent hypocrisy of claiming family values and yet being completely willing to throw poor, uninsured, and/or non-traditional families under the bus has not gone unnoticed, and is every day becoming a truth more and more universally acknowledged. The Christian Left, while still nowhere near as formidable or organized a movement as it’s right-wing sister, is growing rapidly at the same time that people (especially young adults) are leaving the traditional church in droves.

And while there are certainly extenuating circumstances that play into these two phenomena (such as the growth of the generally left-leaning Hispanic population in America, for example), it’s hard to look at what’s happening in American Christianity today and not see an indictment of the failures of the institutionalized Church. After all, the most commonly cited reasons that young people give for leaving the Church are their feelings that the Church is too isolated, exclusive, shallow, anti-science, anti-sex, and hostile to doubt.  As one of my friends at the table last night pointed out, the organized Church is dying, but it’s become so Pharisaical that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But I truly believe that the faith itself is not dying. Rather, I see a religion that is adapting to a modern society in which the way you treat your fellow human beings is more important than the prayers you recite or the rituals you perform. In the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions….Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.”

I believe that Christianity has been in danger of becoming a dry-as-dust religion, but I believe even more passionately that it is shedding its dry husk for the life-giving nature it was always called to have. I see my generation of Christians, people who are genuinely more concerned with loving people than judging them, people who are rejecting material wealth to live in poverty, people who are calling for freedom and justice in the world and then going out and making it happen, and I know there is no other time in Church history that I would rather be alive.

This is not a celebration of my own personal accomplishments. I’m embarrassed by how little I’ve done for the world, and am constantly challenged to do more, give more, be more. But it is an honor to live in a time when that challenge is being met by so many inspirational people. I see a world of people, Christian and not, who are making peace, justice, equality, and freedom their rallying call. I see, perhaps  to the dismay or confusion of some who would not prefer it so, a world that is in a stampede towards the same goals as Christ, He who would have us love others as we love ourselves. Which is why, even as our country appears to be crumbling around us, I can’t feel anything but hope for the future.

And if there’s a better way to start Holy Week, then I wouldn’t know what it is.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? James 2:14-17

“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.” – Franklin Roosevelt

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