Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 19, 2018

Walk up? Walk out? Walk in? What’s the appropriate (and faithful) response to cultural issues?

Last week, students all over the country led walkouts at their schools for at least seventeen minutes to honor the seventeen lives lost at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The next day, teachers here in Kentucky held “walk-ins” to protest proposed funding cuts to their pensions—gathering outside the school buildings to protest, then walking in to start the day with their classes as they do every school day. While these two events were widely promoted on Facebook pages, another statement simultaneously made the rounds: Walk Up, Not Out. Initiated by the father of one of the Parkland victims, this statement encourages young people to pay more attention to those around them, to be inclusive, to be fair—the kinds of active, soft intervention that leaders of faith communities always advocate—in the hopes that kids on the edges might be acknowledged and helped by simple, positive human interaction.

These three ways of expressing viewpoints in a free society have all moved me. Each is like, and unlike, the others. One is a demonstration that, in some cases, involves risk (suspensions, other disciplinary measures). One is a way of expressing opinion without sacrificing work. One is a pretty low-risk way of simply doing the right thing.

Which one is right? Honestly, all three can be effective, faithful responses to disagreements over important cultural issues.

This Sunday most Christians observe Palm/Passion Sunday. The gospel readings are from Mark and John, and those are quite similar to the accounts in the other two gospels, Matthew and Luke. What always strikes me about the stories of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was how public and over-the-top it was. Yes, the descriptions were written so that readers will compare this event to Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9, but this parade seems so different from the ways we’ve seen Jesus up to this point.

How many times did Jesus tell people who’d experienced or witnessed a healing or seen a vision (like the transfiguration) not to tell anyone about it? How often is Jesus a simple teacher, even if before a great crowd?

But here? Here this procession celebrates a leader for all the people, even though a humble one. And the parade involves cheering, not prayer; shouts, not silence; palm branches, not dust even on the feet of the donkey. In Luke’s version, the religious leaders cite the unseemliness of the spectacle and tell Jesus to silence the crowd, to which he replies that even if he were to try, the very rocks along the path would cheer. And John tells us that Jesus’ popularity deeply worried those same leaders.

So, what?

While these gospel stories have nothing to do with our current cultural divides in the U.S. over guns or teacher pensions, they remind us that faithful expression takes many forms. Sometimes it carries the mantle of quiet prayer. Often it lives in individual encounters that encourage and support. Occasionally it is focused through particular teaching in houses of worship. And, on occasion, it may take the form of a mass in-your-face demonstration to focus attention that couldn’t be obtained any other way.

Let’s encourage all these forms of expression, and not disparage any of them. Whether you plan to share welcome and support to the people around you, make your opinions known while carrying on your responsibilities, or attend public rallies to show your support for an issue—good for you.

You’re following in the footsteps of Jesus.palms, LR adjusted, copyright, low

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


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