A Raggedy Band

Some years ago, my friend Jim Manley wrote a song celebrating that original procession into Jerusalem with palms and shouts of joy.  Thinking of the motley crew that Jesus’ followers were, he titled it, “Raggedy Band.”

“The Raggedy Band is marching along/Folks keepin’ rhythm to the beat of the song/That a little boy’s playing on a dime kazoo/Holes in his hands match the holes in his shoes/Leadin’ down the alley with the Raggedy Band/Stretchin’ all the way to the Promised Land.

“BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka…”

This ad hoc parade was a rather haphazard event of misfits and rabble assembled together at a moment’s notice.  The message of Jim’s song is that the very same band now stretches through all time down to our day. 

All one organic stream with that original procession – our varied selves and motives, our assorted backgrounds and races – a motley crew of the weak, the distracted, the resolute, the corrupted, the holy, the polluters, the dedicated — all part of that original procession streaming towards the Holy City.  All drawn by the Irresistible Power of Longing – like a cloud of iron filings inexorably drawn to a magnet.

“BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka…”

Those of the original procession were little knowing of the tragic events to follow later that week.  And like that original crowd, just as fickle.  One moment shouting hosannah, the next, utter betrayal. 

We need to bring this joyous occasion back down to reality, to dispense with much of the “irrational exuberance.”  Keepin’ it real.

You’d think Jesus could have chosen a better class of followers, a more reliable group of comrades, but this parade — our parade — is a very mixed bag.  We’re what he has to work with. 

And down through the centuries, some have been exemplary in their drive to live out that radical ethic of contagious Love.  And, many will provide succor along the journey for the halt, the disinterested and the uninspired.  They will move heaven and earth to make sure as many as possible reach the destination as possible.

For these folks — some might call them saints — the faith journey is not an isolated, singular event.  It’s a “we” project, God drawing all creation to its consummation – all.  That is the divine will – that we leave no one outside Love’s embrace.

In the midst of this procession are those who ensure that all are fed, that all are clothed, that all have a share of the material blessings. 

However, among the mix are some dyspeptic souls who only thrive when everyone else is miserable.  Sort of like one family relative who would march off to her room whistling a happy tune only after she had started a huge family fight.  You know the sort.  Like the representative who gave a big fist pump to the January 6th insurrectionists as they were heading in to trash our capitol.  Even these, too – all are a part of that raggedy band streaming toward the heart of Christ.

“BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka…”

Here, I’d rather focus on some of those who keep me company on the journey, some who’s truth and compassion encourage one step after the next.  These are those who share stories of difficulty and privation – stories of outrage at greed – stories of despair over senseless cruelty.  They are my contemporaries who give hope, give a prod in the backside, who enlighten with possibility.  Keepin’ it real.

I’m drawn to the story of one young girl growing up in the housing projects, an eleven-year-old named Dasani.  She was named after a bottle of water thought to be so out of reach of her financially strapped mother, that a name like that must be most exquisite – and so was this newborn daughter.[1]

Dasani’s story is told by a most compassionate writer, Andrea Elliott, first time author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 2022 for general nonfiction, about that parade of humanity heading for the dream of “better.”  Dasani lives in a one-room hovel in a homeless shelter with her mother and stepfather, the entire family, ten to the room.  Mold on the walls, the sink leak that keeps some of the children awake at night.  No one dares go to the bathroom down the hallway after dark, so there’s a “piss bucket” in a corner.  She shares a twin mattress on the floor with a sibling.  The room is pretty much wall to wall mattresses.  Piles of unwashed clothes everywhere.  Chaos, in short.

It’s writers like Andrea Elliott who inspire the journey with such stories that are soaked through and through with the humanity of those most of us will never encounter — the least of us.  They’re keepin’ it real.

Yeah, Dasani and our writer Andrea are all a part of that parade drawn to Hope.  “BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka…”

Bernie Sanders, a magnificent Truth-teller, is one who keeps my feet marching in that parade.  More than ever, I’ve been drawn to Bernie Sanders’ insight that there’s indeed enough to go around, enough to feed every single pilgrim in this entourage, enough to educate every child, enough to house and clothe — enough to sustain the journey to a Just Society for each.  He lays this out, chapter and verse, in his new book, It’s Okay to be Angry About Capitalism.[2]

Ironically, it takes a Jew to point out to us Christians that there’s enough for all.  Just like that other Jew, Jesus.

I join him in his rant of wasteful military spending.  On our journey we do NOT need enough firepower to blow up the world a hundred times over.

“Take the military budget.  We currently spend more than $775 billion annually on our military, over half of the discretionary budget of the United States government.  This is more than the next ten countries combined.  Yet, despite the enormous size of its budget, the Pentagon remains the only federal agency not to have successfully completed an independent audit.  Nobody doubts that within that budget there is a massive amount of waste, fraud, unneeded weapons systems and outrageous cost overruns.  We can cut military spending by tens of billions of dollars a year and use those funds to invest in the social needs of our country…”[3]

Just a fraction of that, spent on making the Child Tax Credit available to qualifying families, pulled some 2.9 million children out of poverty.  To extend this would only cost $1.6 trillion, spread out over ten years.  A fraction of the military waste over that period.  Do we REALLY need enough to blow up the planet tens of times over?  I say, let’s consult the head of our palm procession, Drum Major Jesus.  What’s his take?

My friend, Jim, reminds me of the quote, “We love guns more than children.”  But heaven forfend they see a production with actors in drag!

“Washtub drummer beatin’ four to the line/Chopsticks tickin’ on a bottle of wine…”

“BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM…”

Our president sometimes rises to the occasion of full inclusion of all in this holy pilgrimage to a Land of Freedom and Full Personhood.  Catch what he proclaimed this last Friday, March 31st, to our transgender companions.

“BOOM ticka BOOM ticka”  – YEAH!  In the image of God, you are.

“To everyone celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility, I want you to know that your president sees you — Jill, Kamala, Doug, our entire administration sees you — for who you are: made an image of God and deserving of dignity, respect and support,” Biden said in a video message name-checking the first lady, vice president and second gentleman.[4]

Another who keeps me plodding along, gazing up at the sky on the alert for weird weather is Bill McKibben — and the writers he inspires on all matters Global Warming.  Yes, in the words of Katharine Hayhoe, it’s now “global weirding.”

With the efforts to caution us to the dangers of breathing the air along the way, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have alerted us to those in our midst who would discredit the messengers of the common danger we face.  In their book, Merchants of Doubt, we are alerted to how the basic science, and researchers are discredited and demonized.[5]

I remember sitting in a session of Citizens’ Climate Lobby listening to an Exxon/Mobil spokesman attempting to convince us that they were good environmental citizens, all the while contributing millions to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC – to “greenwash” their business. 

Yes, Exxon and their ALEC buddies are also on this journey with us, writing hundreds of articles to encourage climate denial in popular monthlies like Sports Illustrated, Guns and Ammo, Good Housekeeping – all publications that won’t draw too much attention from real scientists to the crap science they are pushing on their readers – folks who tend not to read many science books.  All to convince us, “Nothing to see here folks, just keep moving.  Move along.”  This Exxon guy claimed to have no knowledge of what their company contributed to.  All a hoax and left-wing lies. 

By the way, did you know ALEC is one of the major originators and perpetrators of laws across the country to restrict voting rights.  That’s right – drop boxes, voting by mail, same day registration are all corrupting our elections.  And to keep voters standing out in the sun in hours-long queues from getting even water or a sandwich.  Compassion may get you jailtime for trying to unduly influence these citizens about to faint in line.  Heaven forfend!  And all brought to you by Exxon/Mobil and ALEC.

We’re a motley assortment of the hopeful, the timid, the prophetic, the corruptible, the compassionate, the deniers – all having fallen far short of the Glory which we seek.  We’re only human – frail vessels for the redemption we seek.

Yet, might there be mercy for even us who drive our polluting autos from freeway to freeway, even for us who refuse to see the Dasanis of our slums.  Even for us who support a government that wastes trillions on death and destruction – all the while neglecting the common good?  Some small mercy, dear Lord?

Yet we wend our way to a God who would embrace all.  A God who would restore and renew.  A God of Easter Promise who still holds out the best hope for each one of us.

In the end, I can even imagine that that turncoat Judas would have found welcome had he thrown himself on the mercy of this God.

Welcome for all.  That is the destination of this Palm Sunday procession – leading all the way to an Easter Promised Land.

“BOOM ticka ticka ticka BOOM ticka ticka…”  Amen.

[1] Andrea Elliott, Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (Random House: New York, 2021).

[2] Bernie Sanders, It’s Okay to be Angry About Capitalism (Crown: New York, 2023).

[3] Op. cit., 172.

[4] White House message on Transgender Day of Visibility, March 30, 2023.

[5] Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury Press: New York, 2010), Chapter 6, “The Denial of Global Warming.”

April 2, 2023, Palm Sunday

“A Raggedy Band”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission

Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; 2nd Reading: Philippians 2:5-11; 
Gospel:  Matthew 26:14-17:66 (Passion Narrative)

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