Get Off Your Donkey

Mark 11: 1 11

March 24, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Remarkably the Palm Sunday story occurs in all four gospels. John 12: 1- 12 is a version featuring the palms. Matthew 21: 1 – 9 features a scripture fulfilled. Luke 19: 28 – 40 is the peachiest of the stories, giving few details and overloading interpretation. The version we are going to use today is the Mark version, chapter 11, verses 1 – 11, and it is my favorite. Why? Because it features the donkey. The colt, the one who has never been ridden. 7 of its 11 verses feature the animal. People ask the disciples, as usual doing their three stooges imitation, what they are doing, taking some one’s colt? They say they have no idea. Then they promise to bring it back.


We know from our members and friends Elice Higginbotham and Max Suranjadita that the Batak Protestant Church in Jakarta was demolished yesterday afternoon at 2:45 by a bulldozer. We also heard that the Catholic Church was sealed for three hours during mass. Notably the Islamic community groups that did the shutting down argued that they shouldn’t be able to worship because they didn’t have a permit. The feature of the Palm Sunday Parade that should be noticed is that it didn’t have a permit. It didn’t even have permission. It was one of those eruptions of energy into the street. It erupted because something had to give, something had to change. That’s when people go around untying other people’s coats or pulling out green branches from the fields or taking off their coats and laying them down. Jesus went to Jerusalem because he knew there had to be a new kind of leadership. People followed in the parade, the march, and the event. We have also heard from other quarters that “rampaging Buddhist monks” in Myanmar are terrorizing Moslems. Not all parades are good. Having a permit or not having a permit can go either way, right? That’s why my title “Get off your Donkey” is something I want to say with a smile rather than a pointed finger. When citizens’ energy erupts into parks and streets, sometimes it is a good thing. And sometimes it is not. Finally, the end of the exercise is to get good leadership and good government, not just the kind you have to continuously and continually overthrow.

Just a short course on the bible before we go ahead. When something shows up as consistently as the Palm story in all four versions of the gospel means that there is probably some veracity to it. Mark is the earliest recording and probably has it “more right” than others. But as I like to tell anyone who will listen, the oldest recording is least likely to be true. Ask an old person how many miles they really did walk to school. Ask on their 75th birthday, then ask again on their 85th.

Or go to a cemetery and see the stories told by the graves. Yesterday we went to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn for a tour. The lies and distortions and exaggerations – and tributes – were amazing. Don’t you wonder if they ever did return that donkey? In UNPERMITTED PARADES, things happen, like that night after Harry Ketoukas’ memorial service, when we made a parade with the glitter mobile. Does anybody want to tell the story of what happened? I’ll bet all the stories will be different. So don’t worry too much about which of the four gospels got it right. Just remember that somebody borrowed a donkey and they rode into Jerusalem because they wanted a different kind of leadership. You did see that Congress is less popular than a colonoscopy, didn’t you? Anyway, back to the cemetery. In our Greenwood Cemetery visit, two out of three had false gravestones or were being lauded in ways they would have found hilarious. Henry Ward Beecher’s grave is inscribed, “Evil never did cross his mind.” Leonard Bernstein’s small stone, in keeping with Jewish tradition, had feathers and stones and pennies on it. We left a quarter on behalf of his blessed memory. Founder of baseball, Henry Chadwick, had a large stone made out of bases, a catcher’s mitt and face guard, with newly laid baseballs upon it. Most remarkably there was a Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, had a large bronze horse with two cats and two dogs, the former sign at the headquarters on its. Who knew the Greenwood Cemetery had such a great sense of humor? Or that we could visit graves and find out so much about living people wanting to honor their dead. Somebody had put flowers on Lennie’s grave yesterday. Somebody had put a baseball in the pile of baseball on Chadwick’s too.

A little more context on parades. The most famous parades of all have happened in New York City at Union Square, a place right down the street, to which many of us go regularly. There Abraham Lincoln launched his campaign. Emma Goldman spoke on August 21, 1893 to a crowd of mostly men. Emma of course was a great anarchist and famously suggested that day that the workers steal bread if their wages weren’t raised. She was deported to Russia in 1919. Valerie Solano, who famously said he had too much control over her life, of course, shot Andy Warhol, there. And in 1968 Warhol coined the great phrase about everybody having 15 minutes of fame on the spot. ILGW (only union I am a member of) the international ladies garment workers. General strike, which was also called a general revolt.

A PARADE CAN Be A DEMONSTRATION, A MARCH, A REVOLT…. PERMITS OR NOT PERMITTED. It can be falsely or correctly remembered.

So many public events have happened so close to us here that it sometimes takes your breath away. This week was the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Fire of 1911, which killed 146 people and ended up in Union Square as the largest demonstration of labor ever held before that. The victims’ families were paid only 75.00 for each person’s loss. The fire happened on the corner of Green and Washington but it ended up in Union Square. Stanford White, whose imagination built this place and who lived at 21st and Gramercy, was murdered in the very building he built, the original Madison Square Garden. Need I mention the weathermen across the street or the great number of seamstresses who demonstrated at Union Square, reminding one ever so much of the disciples wandering around in Bethpage looking for a donkey that had never been ridden. Just to add a little more context, some of you were present for the very fine, very petite, very meaningful demonstration we had on the winter weary, tired front steps on Friday, lasting a full 8 hours, with contingents every hour all afternoon, saying basically give us mercy. Keep our families together. Pass a decent immigration bill.

Parade like energy often ends up in great institutions, like the New School or Cooper Union, NYU. Baruch, Stuyvesant High School. When somebody like Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1870s gets involved in geography, great things are almost automatically decreed. Jerusalem might still be Topeka if the great parade hadn’t happened there.

Just two things I want to tell you about the parade. You probably thought this sermon with its pugnacious title, “Get off your Donkey,” was going to be about action and demands and hyperbolic chanting, Si Se Puede, Whose streets, our streets etc. It is not. That would be a misreading of at least the Mark text if not the others as well. In the Mark text there is a kind of bleakness, a kind of quiet, a kind of animal plod. Get me a donkey. Make sure it hasn’t been ridden. Tell them I will give it back. The animal has a sense of tragedy attached to it, as does the tone. They enter Jerusalem. The people follow. The people come out, like they did in Les Mis, the movie, with its fine rendition of a parade. When I say get off your donkey, I mean get off your by passed sense of urgency. I mean it actively but also quietly. Get off your despair, your debilitation, your denials and delays. Put your excuses in a box and mail them to the storage facility.

Today there is a demonstration from Stonewall to Washington Square Park. 1 p.m. It will be as important as the many I have already mentioned. Should the Supreme Court uphold the Defense of Marriage Act this week, there will be a blow up. A big blow up. Palm Sunday people demonstrate before blow ups as well as after them. We have a plodding sense of urgency. The government has no business defending marriage, especially the kind that involves just a man and just a woman. Marriage, as an institution, needs to defend itself. It is imploding from within its own frameworks and not in need of Supreme Court protection. Marriage is the most anti-consumerist institution in the world. When we marry we say we will stop shopping. That we will stick it out and be stuck with one other person for what is known as forever. REPEAT If the government really wanted to defend marriage, they could enforce the eight-hour day for workers, so people would have time to snuggle and cuddle and drink coffee together in the morning. Because we haven’t gotten on our donkey about how to protect our families, marriage is a pale imitation of itself, starting with the gift registry and ending with the astronomical divorce rate. Today, we can get off our donkey of despair about the foolishness of the government, and ride around town. This is important.

By getting off our donkey, I also mean one more thing: We can learn to attend to our tone of voice when we ride into Jerusalem or Union Square or out from Stonewall. Jesus didn’t demonize the other kinds of kings. He just requested their attention and the attention of their people. Whether it is rampaging Buddhists or workers who still don’t have sick days – or the sense you have that your own marriage or partnership or lack there of – has less juice than commitment, find a way to a donkey. Untie the colt. Promise to bring it back. Have respect for the people who have ordinary lives and commitments. And then get thee to a parade.

Marriage Equality is an emerging story useful to both same sex and the “one man/one woman” kind of marriage. It is even helpful to families who are single parented. By story I mean the tale we tell ourselves about ourselves. The big word for it is narrative – and what the nation is missing right now is a narrator in chief about gender. Without a commanding narrative about what it means to have a gender, we are each and all lost in the woods of personal confusion, which results in national confusion, which results in many long dark nights of the soul, for those with any kind of sexual equipment. Marriage equality is helping, not hurting, this gender confusion. It helps by allowing for experiments it what it means to be married, what it means to be a person with a gender, and what it means to cling to each other, in the world beyond consumerism. We promise richer/poorer; better/worse; sickness and in health when we get married. Our word is our word here. Multiple attention dissolves into singular attention, the kind we want from a lover. We stop “shopping” and start living.

In marriage equality we have a grand experiment in what it means to be male or female, mommy or daddy, frau or fraulein, boy or man. In the great mixing, we learn more about the cliché that “everybody has a little masculine and a little feminine in them.” In particular, we learn to apply choice to gendered roles and let a man be a mommy and a woman go to war. We aren’t going to understand these meanings in one or even two generations. But with different kinds of marriage, beyond the cage and box of “one man, one woman,” we all enter a great experiment. In that experiment there is joy and good for everyone. The wiggle goes back in our gender walk.

Masculinity is in crisis, if by crisis we mean that we no longer have a good story to tell each other about what it means to be a man. Warrior? Guardian? Rapist? Bearded sage? Father figure? Femininity is in crisis, if by crisis we mean that we no longer have a good story to tell each other about what it means to be a woman. The plug for someone else’s cord? The starving nurturer? The mother whose failure is the result of everything else?

Our stories of gender are failing us because a kind of violence has erupted in them. Not just Sandy Hook and not just Iraq and not just Indian women being thrown off the bus after being raped. Not just the Oscars singing “boob songs,” as though they were funny, and not just shorter skirts on 13 year olds who think the world likes them to look “sexy.” These are the high peaks in an underground ferment about who we tell our sons and daughters that men and women are. The stories conflict internally, then erupt as volcanoes in violence. The original violence is the gender confusion, what can positively be called the queering of America and negatively be called the lie or distortion. Am I, as a woman, to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan? Or just choose one and let the other be outsourced? Are you as a man to be strong enough to protect me and also strong enough to overpower me when your frustration gets beyond your capacity to control it?


The best story about families that I have read in a long time is called “The Stories that Bind us." (Found here.) 


Its theory is that families bind in positive ways when the stories they learn to tell about themselves that ring true. It also says that families who distort their stories and tell either the flattering or the unflattering parts fall apart. When families fall apart, people fall apart. Even if we are single, we like knowing something about who we came from because that origin determines our destiny. Nothing is sadder than a person who tells the story of coming from “dysfunction” and is heading to more of the same. Nothing is happier than a person who tells a story about coming from people who loved me because my narrative is I can love. Nothing is more real than a story that has a little dysfunction and a little love, even a lot of love for those who couldn’t function.

What marriage equality is going to give us each and all is a new story, beyond the prison of gender. It is going to say a good man is a nurturing warrior. A good woman is a warlike nurturer. Or reverse the sentences. Marriage equality is going to open the doors on the boxes that have hurt us too long. I can’t wait for it to be EVERYWHERE.


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