Let me see if I can offer a slightly different take on Palm Sunday, the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey before his execution. The story seems to emphasize the trickster side of Jesus’ character. It’s intended to kick your butt. Think about the donkey in the story, and another trickster donkey, the donkey in Shrek.

In the beginning of the move Shrek, the king’s soldiers are buying up all the fairy tale creatures. A woman comes forward to sell a donkey. “I’ve got a talking donkey,” she says. The donkey refuses to speak. The woman says, “Go ahead, say something.” The guard isn’t buying it and tells his men to take her away. But they knock over a container of fairy dust that flies into the air and then lands on the donkey. He begins to float up into the air. Donkey says, “Hey, I can fly!” The crowd is amazed. The guard says, “He can talk.” Donkey responds, “That’s right fool. Now I’m a flying—talking donkey. Maybe you’ve seen a housefly or a maybe even a superfly, but I bet you never saw a donkey fly.” At that point he begins to drop back to the ground. As he lands he runs for his life, with the guards in hot pursuit. The only thing that saves him is running into Shrek, the ogre, who scares all the guards away. From that moment on, Donkey doesn’t stop talking. At one point later in the movie, Shrek is so tired of listening to Donkey’s nonstop chatter he says, “Maybe there’s a good reason why donkeys don’t talk.”

It’s not healthy to live in a Disney style fantasy world. Donkeys DON’T talk. People DON’T rise from the dead. Ancient stories aren’t supposed to be taken literally. The trickster in the story, whether its Shrek or Palm Sunday, bypasses the literal details. The multiple versions and many inconsistencies in the Palm Sunday story make an ass out of anyone who tries to take it literally. The trickster has other interests. It wants to excite your inner activist’s imagination. It encourages you to consider the power of creative activism.

The story is told of the Sufi trickster Nasrudin.

Every month he brought a caravan of donkeys into Persia from the East, laden with goods. The government inspector becomes suspicious, sensing that the Mullah is smuggling something into the country, while avoiding taxes. But he can’t seem to find it. He goes through every item in every bag, and still he can’t discover what it is. This goes on month after month and he increasingly becomes convinced that the Mullah is a smuggler, but he is never able to catch him.

After some years the government inspector retires. He then confronts Nasrudin: He says, “all these years I’ve inspected your caravans bringing goods into our country. I know that you are smuggling goods, but I haven’t been able to find what they are. Now I haven’t the power any longer to prosecute you, would you tell me, just to give an old man some rest, what it is that you are smuggling?”

After a moments pause, Nasrudin replies, “Donkeys, inspector, I’ve been smuggling donkeys.”

Not that I’m encouraging illegal activity or smuggling. Apply the same creative thinking to constructive activism and protest. (read on for more about creative protest)

The most effective protests include an element of surprise, like riding into a major city on a donkey. A few years ago, a female contortionist curled herself up in a transparent suitcase. Someone placed her on the baggage conveyor at a European airport. She was protesting human trafficking. The Free Hugs movement is another creative protest, challenging the mindless and heartless lifestyle we so often live.

Another one of my favorite protests was from a group in New Zealand called Madge, Mothers Against Genetic Engineering. We lived next door to the woman who started it. She and her husband were two parts of the 80s pop group The Thompson Twins.  Madge used some very eye catching protests. A group of Madge women got into the New Zealand parliament and stripped down to their pink undies and bras, to serve notice that they should take these women and their concern for food safety seriously. Madge also placed billboards around town of a woman with four breasts, being milked, the point being that if you are going to design the milk we feed our children, why not just design women to produce the milk.

The protest that I especially loved was when a group of women went to the local store. They all filled up shopping trolleys and went to the check out. They timed it so that they were next in each line. Once they had unloaded all their stuff on the checkout counters, they walked out, effectively bringing the store to a standstill. Their message was that women have purchasing power and their demands need to be taken seriously.

In more extreme actions, people set themselves on fire to create the element of surprise (shock!) in their protests. At least 30 Tibetans have burnt themselves to death in China so far this year to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. Not to forget the Tunisian fruit seller whose self immolation launched the Arab Spring.

What issues fire you up? What causes capture your imagination and your full conviction? Work out what makes your blood boil and get active. You don’t have to set yourself on fire, but you do need to manifest the fire within in creative ways. You WILL offend people in the process. You can’t be both an activist and universally loved. But the people who get you will join you, and the people who don’t get you are on their own journeys.

Trickster and Appearances

One of the things we get locked into is expectations and appearances. The lesson of the trickster is that things are not always as they appear. A great prophet riding on a donkey is not quite the picture you expect. The Palm Sunday story tells us that Jesus wept when he saw the city of Jerusalem. He was overcome with grief and anger. He both wept and he rode in to Jerusalem as trickster activist. Therein lies the balance. Tears and surprise. Compassion and skill. Intensity and humility. Focus and perspective.

What’s the relevance today? Think about this in terms of the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida last month. We spend most of our energy talking about WHO killed Trayvon. In a brilliant eulogy that MLK gave at a white Unitarian pastor’s funeral, Dr King said the better question is WHAT killed Pastor James Reeb and in this case WHAT killed Trayvon Martin. One man pulled the trigger and needs to be brought to justice. One state struggles with some absurd and oppressive laws and needs to be challenged. But we ALL killed Trayvon Martin because we ALL play a part in perpetuating a culture based on appearance and prejudice. We need compassion, indignation and self reflection.

This is what Dr King said in his eulogy in 1965-

James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice. He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician who has moved down the path of demagoguery, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff and law enforcement agent who practices lawlessness in the name of law. He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam, yet cannot protect the lives of its own citizens seeking constitutional rights. Yes, he was even murdered by the cowardice of every Negro who tacitly accepts the evil system of segregation, who stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice…

Powerful words! He questions the whole culture of hypocrisy, prejudice and indifference. King was no trickster. He was in the hero category, pure passion and intensity. The trickster directs the light back on unseen, individual prejudice. The point is made by the Sufi trickster Nasrudin.

“What is Fate?” Nasrudin was asked by a Scholar.

“An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other.”

The scholar answered, “That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect.”

“Very well,” said Nasrudin, “look at that.” He pointed to a procession passing in the street.

“That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder; or because someone saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?”

When you look at the injustices of the world, both weep AND get creative. We can’t solve the problems of the world with the same type of thinking that created them. We can’t conquer despair with more despair. We can’t beat violence with more violence. We can’t beat hatred with hatred.

We beat despair, hatred and violence when we overcome thought patterns and systems based in prejudice, beginning with our own minds.

Let the trickster kick your butt this year. What sort of a world do you want to live in? What are you going to do about it? How are you going to do it? Find your passion and get to work. When your self aware passion coincides with the world’s needs, the effect is phenomenal.

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  1. Dave says:

    Listening to some presidential canidates makes it sound like  Jesus actually rode into Jerusalem on an elephant rather than a donkey.

  2. linda says:

    Ian, well said. And I shall keep busy speaking, writing and making my vision visible. 
    What a beautiful message.
    Cheers.
    Linda

  3. Tawnya says:

    I want to say that I do literally believe Jesus rose from the dead, and if you read Yahoo news this week you will find a baby that was dead and in a Morge for 12 hours was found alive by her parents…Anyway my point is how beautifully you wrote about the donkey and how I never really questioned why, a donkey…I want to thank you for your insightful articles that really touch and challenge my heart and belief system…Thank YOU!!