Today I am writing from Beverly Hills California. Palm Sunday and every day of the Holy Week triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve Saturday) I attended services at All Saints Beverly Hills to listen to the sermons of the Reverend Barry Taylor. So now I return to a theme about which I wrote something last year: https://charleslincoln3.com/2013/04/23/saint-george-the-anarchist-420-meditations/
A year ago today, on Sunday 4/21, it was already “Good Shepherd Sunday” (Fourth Sunday in Easter) and I was in New Orleans, and that day I attended Evening services in the Chapel of Trinity Church on Jackson Avenue in the Lower Garden District, the day after 4/20. One of the hymns played and sung that Sunday a year ago was #522, a well-known string-quartet composed by Franz Haydn which became the National Anthem of Germany and Austria. (The Episcopal Hymnal text attached to this stirring tune is: “Glorious things of thee are Spoken”—522 is a dull, kind of uninspired hymnal text, at least to my mind and ears, but “Deutschland uber Alles” is inspiring and stirring….).
I thought it then worthy of note, and I think it today worthy of note, that this day 4/20 then, especially when celebrated with songs of leadership on days remarkable for their claims of world salvation, that the rules of Christ and Hitler should be compared. Very few people read or take much comfort if they do read the writings of Adolf Hitler these days, but for about a dozen years he was considered by many millions to be the Savior of Germany (and they did so consider him until Hitler or, at least, the war he had as much a hand in starting as anyone else, if not more, all-but-totally destroyed Germany). There are those in the world today who believe that the US and the UK both “backed the wrong dictators” in World War II, and that the modern world would be better if Stalin had been destroyed and Mao never allowed, while Hitler’s Germany guided Europe much as Angela Merkel’s Germany does today….
Guidance, leadership, rulership and power granted by or deriving from God, divine inspiration, Shepherding. Those words are constant themes of Christianity on Easter and every Sunday, but I suppose, especially Good Shepherd Sunday.
Yet, at least among people of a conservative mindset in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Patriotic ideologues speak scornfully of the “sheeple”—the people who follow leadership like sheep, implicitly to their slaughter.
So on Good Shepherd Sunday last year, falling as it did on 4/21, and today Easter Sunday, falling on 4/20—I cannot help but reflect on the contrasting and possibly contradictory, and quite possibly irreconcilable human desires for Salvation, Leadership, and Freedom.
Jesus was a genuine revolutionary, there seems no doubt of that. Christ’s Gospel preachings were aimed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, the “powers that were” in his day in early First Century Jerusalem—and they seem eerily relevant to critiques of the “powers that are” today. So were Hitler’s speeches and writings. So were Karl Marx’ and Friedrich Engels’ texts. More people know the Gospels today than any writings by Engels, Hitler, or Marx, but more people in the world today live under regimes which adhere to Marxist teachings and doctrines than to any version of Christianity or Christ’s lessons and parables.
Jesus taught, however much he preached about sheep and compared himself and his leadership to a Shepherd, about freedom from oppression, freedom from illegitimate power, but also about Freedom from Lies and Deception.
So how I have to ask: how can sheep ever be free? How can we pray both to be guided and herded and responsible for self-determination? How is free will compatible with leadership? I suppose “free will” is generally understood to be the freedom given to Adam and Eve to choose to eat of the forbidden fruit or not…. and they had no Shepherd, but only a disinterested and experimental God watching over them. But later generations that (presumably) either had Shepherds or at least had access to such people created Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babylon, and Beverly Hills, California.
Of course 4/20 has another widespread meaning to many people around the world, as Bob Marley’s birthday, it is “World Weed Day” or International Smoke Marijuana Day…..So I also have to ask, are wine and weed conducive to freedom or to compliance with power, to passivity or assertiveness? Are stoned sheep likely to rebel? I suspect that is why alcohol and drugs are tolerated in the west… and all around the world—they make people into better Sheep.
The purpose of Sheep’s existence is to be sheered and ultimately slaughtered. I had a delicious lamb roast at the King’s Head Tavern in Santa Monica after Church…. it was almost as good as used to come from my Louisiana-born grandmother’s kitchen in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas….. But I insist on asking: Is it a really such a good thing for Sheep to have a good Shepherd which makes certain that none ever get away? Or is it a bad thing to do anything other than the which “the powers that be” want you to do?
Is this a problem with the Religion of Love which teaches us all to follow “The Good Shepherd?” Or should we, as the Reverend Barry Taylor at All Saints BH seems to preach every Sunday, choose to reject the conformist “sheep” and “shepherd” analogies all together, and assert the freedom of sarcastic and cynical Englishmen to live and love as their core religious mantra? Should we love Jesus the Good Shepherd, or the Rebel Jesus, the champion of the poor, the friendless, and the enemy of the money changers and lawyers in the Temple?