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28 May 2011

Traveling Shoes

I love shoes!
No excuses. I just love them.
I'm packing for a new adventure, two months in Israel on an extended writing retreat.
What shoes shall I pack?
Walking shoes: hiking sandals and closed shoes in case it rains.
Shower shoes: just because.
Swim shoes: the Sea of Galilee is really rocky and shower shoes won't cut it.
Sandals: for everyday.
Flats: for dressy occasions.
Am I taking enough pairs of shoes?
I love shoes!

25 May 2011

You Shall Not Oppress A Resident Alien

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 

The current discussion series of monologues between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have re-centered the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the American people. (And have stirred me up as well.) There are three pernicious issues that perpetually plague negotiations discussions about the formation of a Palestinian state. There are others but these seem to be the most thorny:
1) potential borders,
2) settlement of Palestinian refugees
3) who gets Jerusalem.
Each of these is its own morass. That morass is made even more difficult to navigate by selective memory and the construction of alternate, novel and/or incomplete histories. In response to some of what I have heard, some of which gives me hope, some of which discourages me, some of which disappoints me, some of which makes me really angry, I am reflecting on these three questions:

Where will the Palestinian state be and how large will it be?
Right now the Palestinians are in two disconnected pieces of real estate, the Gaza Strip on the western side of Israel and the West Bank on the eastern side, (albeit west of Jordan). A Palestinian state will have to be contiguous. I believe that the Palestinians will have to relinquish the Gaza Strip. Connecting the two is unfeasible, costing Israel nearly a third of its land. The Palestinian State will be based around the West Bank territories where the majority of Palestinian peoples live. The boundaries that mark that territory were established and accepted by the international community in 1967 after the Six Day War in which Israel took and then relinquished the Sinai Peninsula. However since then, Israelis have with the support and sanction of their government, moved into the West Bank building settlements that now house some 650,000 Israelis. Some of those settlements will be incorporated into Israel and some into Palestine, in any arrangement reducing the size of Palestine, which will have had to previously surrender the Gaza Strip in theory. Israelis are still building those settlements in what many see as an all out land grab, seizing the most fertile land and olive groves to preempt their inclusion in a future Palestinian state. Israel has to prevent the establishment of any more settlements or the expansion of those that exist and, has to prepare to relinquish the great bullet of them. 

What will happen to the Palestinian refugees?
When Israel was founded in 1947 on the heels of World War 2 after the Holocaust, it was primarily settled by European Jews. There were Jews in the land whose ancestors had not been dispersed to Babylon, Persian, Egypt or Europe. But the modern state of Israel was built by immigrants. And they did not immigrant to an empty land. They immigrated to a land that was inhabited by Arabs, Jews, Druze and Christians. As the state of Israel took shape Arab inhabitants were dislocated, in spite of having ancestral land claims for centuries and modern titles to their homes, lands and businesses under the British Mandate. Those displaced persons became refugees; some of them were taken in by Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, others stayed in the region, called Palestinians using the British terminology (based in part on the Hebrew word for Philistine - don't ask!). Israel says it will not permit the return of the decedents of these people because they will outnumber the Jews - without regard for the legitimacy of their land claims and property titles. I think that Israel has to let some of those families who held clear titles to their land return. Israel will find itself adopting the policies of fascism and apartheid if it tries to guarantee a perpetual racial, cultural or religious supremacy.

What will happen to Jerusalem? 
Will Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel? It was not always so. Sometimes the four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian have been governed independently.  Israel claims that it has preserved access to the holy places of all three faiths, but access to the Dome and other mosques is severely limited from time to time. Will the Palestinians get Jerusalem, the home of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall of the Temple built by Solomon (renovated by Herod)? That is less likely. Giving the Palestinians the Muslim (and Christian?) Quarter is complicated by the proximity of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall to each other. And made even more complicated by the archaeological digs and tunnels underneath, when not prohibited entirely. Some have talked of making Jerusalem and independent city-state like Vatican City, but there is no single organizing body that can manage it. There are many Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches, religious orders and communities in Jerusalem, some in the same building, like the Holy Sepulcher, and their fights - literally fist fights - are legendary. I actually favor a divided Jerusalem, if such a thing were possible.

Matthew 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

23 May 2011

The Browning of the World

This post is not about global warming - or global scorching as it might more accurately be called. The browning of the world is a perception in nations that have enjoyed had a majority white population (in numbers and/or power) and now are experiencing cultural and racial shifts in light of global migration patterns.
Early in the history of the United States black peoples made up a numerical majority even as they were commodified as a social and political minority. In modernity and exploding Latin@ population means that several individual states have lost and more are losing their white majority. And it is talked about as a "loss."
In Europe, there are significant tensions based on the immigration of peoples of color - especially Muslims, many of whom are among the large numbers of Asian workers who provide essential services throughout Europe - in recent years. Some nations are desperately trying to stem the tide of immigration, while encouraging their own citizens to have more children. All to maintain a cultural identity that is in part based on (the construction of) whiteness.
This past week I was reminded of this new reality listening to the serial speeches of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu rejects out of hand the possibility of allowing Palestinian refugees who have been dispossessed from their ancestral land - land to which Israel also has some legitimate claim - because they would dilute the ethnic majority of the Israelis. PM Netanyahu did not deny the legitimacy of their claim. In order for Israel to exist as a Jewish state, Jews must be a numerical and enfranchised majority for him.
There are many sad and tragic ironies in this position. The slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust was based in part on their exclusion from the category "white." Jews and Arabs are both Semitic peoples - linguistically as speakers of Northwest Semitic languages in the Afro-Asiatic language family and religiously as Abrahamic/Ibrahimic peoples. And the "Jewishness" of Israel is very much in dispute with in its borders. Those who see "Jewishness" in terms of religiosity are a minority in Israel, albeit one with growing political power and influence. And even among Jews, Israel has differing immigration policies, permitting non-Jewish descendants of European Jews to immigrate for two generations while limiting the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to their Jewish family menders and still requiring them to go through conversion rituals. As a result Israel has seen a rise in anti-Semitic skinhead activity from the neo-Nazi grandchildren of European Jews who immigrated for the great social programs and standard of living in Israel.
I am preparing to go to Israel for the third time. I will live in Jerusalem for two months. East Jerusalem. That is code for Arab Jerusalem. I will be near the Palestinian checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Two walls - the remains of the external wall of the destroyed temple and the security fence on seized Palestinian land - frame Jerusalem. And I feel them closing in on me. Already.

Joy and Sorrow

How does one move from sorrow to joy?
Step one, admit and grieve your sorrow.
Step two, give thanks for all that is joyful and joy-filled everything else.
Step three, repeat step two.
Step four (optional), repeat step one when necessary.
Step five, repeat steps two and three.
Step six, open your eyes.

I am so very grateful for all of the good, very good gifts of God in this life.
I see my earlier sorrow and see it diminished.

22 May 2011

Dear God

Dear God,
Help me to rejoice with those who rejoice. 
Even when I am weeping on the inside.

21 May 2011

Two Nations are In Your Womb

Genesis 25:23 The Holy One of Old said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

While this text is about Jacob (Israel) and Esau in its initial context, today it speaks to me of Israel and Palestine. Another text that speaks to me is:

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 

In both of these texts the moral agency is placed on Israel in my reading. Israel should know better. This is why I am so aggrieved with Prime Minister Netanyahu's response to President Obama's recent speech on the Middle East, rejecting the 1967 boundaries of Israel out of hand as "indefensible." They who have been hunted to the brink of extinction have been commanded not to turn around and do the same thing to anyone else. Particularly if they see themselves as a Jewish state for whom the bible is scripture.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the on-the-ground reality has changed since 1967; there are as many as 400,000 Israelis living in what is Palestine according to the 1967 map. He is saying that the fact that they are there, means the land can't be Palestine (there will be no Palestinian state within the borders he claims for Israel) - however the fact that there are Palestinians there does not mean to him that the land can't be Israel. And of course those settlements were (and are) constructed illegally inside of what was Palestine's internationally recognized borders. And at the same time Israel is demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, claiming they were illegally constructed, while refusing to grant permits for new construction and preventing Arab citizens from living with their spouses in Jerusalem if the new spouse does not have a residency permit - there is no way for them to get one.
Now, what President Obama said - what every American president since Clinton has said - is that the borders of the two nations should be based on - not even identical with - the internationally accepted borders, allowing for negotiation, give-and-take, land swaps.
A deeper issue for me is what Netanyahu and others seem to mean by a "Jewish state." They don't mean religion, they mean race. They mean to create and keep an ethnic majority by any means necessary. They imagine a future in which all of the Jews in the region are Israelis and all of the Arabs are in a greatly-reduced Palestine or are refugees absorbed by the other Arab nations.
The last time in recent memory that a modern state was founded along ethnic and religious lines was the partition of Pakistan from India. The partition was accompanied by monstrous violence and the ongoing and continuing hostility between the two nations has led to the increase of terror in the world (the Mumbai bombings, the escape of OBL and other Al Qaeda leaders at Tora Bora and along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border).
I said that Israel should know better. Even if Israel is not a religious state, it was founded on the principles of equity for all peoples in the bible. The founding declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel says in part:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

It is time for Israel to live up to and into the words of its founding mothers and fathers and the prophets whom they venerated. Hear them now:

Micah 4:1 In days to come the mountain of the house of the Holy One of Old shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; peoples shall stream to it. 2 And many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Holy One, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God's ways and that we may walk in God's paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Fire of Sinai from Jerusalem. 3 God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Commander of Heaven's Armies has spoken. 5 For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of God-Whose-Name-Is-Holy, our God forever and ever.

18 May 2011

A Preaching Sabbatical

I am not scheduled to preach until the Fall.
I have been on sabbatical from the congregation in which I volunteer to support the paid staff for five months. I have been (and will be again) a scholar-in-residence at another congregation. I preached twice there.
I have been back to my own congregation to visit and even said one special Mass. I also preached one pre-negotiated sermon for a special commemoration. And I have preached a sermon on the road. All of this marks a great difference from my usual practice of preaching every month, sometimes as many as three times a month. And now an even greater change, a true sabbatical from preaching - more than three months.
And I have to admit I am finding it hard to contemplate. I am already grieving it. What shall I do? Shall I blog the sermons I would have preached? That doesn't feel the same. How will my sabbatical from preaching enrich my ministry of preaching? I have no idea. With all of my sabbatical plans, this is one thing for which I did not plan.

16 May 2011

Unanswered Prayer

I wrestle groan and seek.
I do not understand that I do not hear.
I see no evidence of having been heard.
I persist in what well may be a one-sided conversation.
Am I to deduce an answer from silence?
Is it no, never or not now?
I continue to ask, seek, hope...

15 May 2011

I Confess

I confess that sometimes my first thought is not a worthy thought. Sometimes I think less than well about others and even myself. Sometimes, more often than not, I catch myself before I say what I am thinking. That is progress. I long for the day when I will not have to keep myself from saying what I am really thinking.

11 May 2011

Would Jesus Recognize This Church?

Would Jesus recognize this Church?
And if not, is that a bad thing?
How has the church changed since the first century of this era?
~ Rome has fallen and has reconstituted itself as a Christian empire.
~ Christianity is now an imperial religion.
~ The Church is now even more multi-national than it was at its inception.
~ Slavery has been outlawed virtually everywhere.
~ Monarchy has been delegitimized, overthrown, truncated.
~ Monarchs are no longer the symbols of unlimited power short of the power of God, even when they are anointed, they are less than the anointed of God.
~ There is a sovereign if nominal Jewish state in which the Church has a presence.
~ Gender bias hasn't changed much.
~ There are powerful women leaders in the Church and beyond now as there were then.
~ And there are gender bigots now as there were then.
~ Women have more reproductive options now, live longer and generally have fewer children.
~ With the practice of contraception sex outside of marriage has become commonplace.
~ All of us have a much longer life expectancy.
~ Literacy is the norm for most members of the Church in most contexts.
~ Same gender love is no longer claimed the sole (contested) privilege of wealthy Greek men who exercise it in a rigid hierarchy.
~ Same gender couples and families are welcome and affirmed in many churches.

Would Jesus recognize this Church? Does it matter? Would Jesus want the Church to stay trapped in the first century? Was Jesus's approach to his disciples anything like Osama bin Laden's approach to Islam? Did Jesus want us to imitate and replicate his first century life and only his first century life in perpetuity? Or does Jesus want the Church to become something that we cannot imagine, something that transcends our expectations? Perhaps Jesus is exclaiming with awe and wonder, I wonder what they will think of next?

Gratitude Journal Volume 2

I had a good day today.
I am grateful.
I wasn't particularly grateful in the morning.
I had to work at it.
But I was determined.
I gave thanks.
And in giving thanks I became truly grateful.
The hours passed and the day turned.
It was a good day.

10 May 2011

Finding My Way

I have returned home from wonderful ministry travels and I am not happy. I don't want to be here. And I am surprised. It seems like all of the spiritual and emotional work I did while I was away and before I left was of no avail.
I'm not even sure where I want to be. I'd love to revisit my former ministry site. And I have other equally wonderful travel opportunities on the horizon. But I will always have to come home. I have commitments here! Commitments I want to honor.
Maybe it's just that I miss teaching. Maybe I just had a bad day. Maybe I'm still adjusting to the weather and the time zone.
Why else would I be sleeping twelve hours a day? What am I hiding from? What is it about my life that I don't want to wake up to? And how long will this last?

09 May 2011

My Baptismal Covenant

It's Easter and baptisms and baptismal language and theology are in full bloom.
Today, two of the baptismal vows made themselves known in my hearing and are accompanying me through this Easter and beyond:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I am thinking seriously about what it means to seek and serve Christ in all persons. This is much stronger language than image of God language. It is also much more particular. On the one hand, Christ is the singular emblem of one particular religion, and in that way not a universally accepted symbol. On the other hand, the common humanity of Christ is the one attribute that (nearly) everyone can agree on, including those who do not revere Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, Christ, of God.
What does it mean for me seek - actively search for - Christ in all persons, especially non-Christian persons? It is one thing for me to say that because of Christ in me, I treat others in an ethical way. It is quite another to say that because of the Christ in you - Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, pantheist, animist - I am bound to ethical treatment of you.
And how deeply must I search and for how long? If there is no evidence of Christ in a person, must I continue to search? Is there a Christ in each person? Or am I merely to search and never rule out the possibility as a discipline?
Linking the search for Christ with the love of neighbor is striking. It makes the love of neighbor conditional on seeking and serving Christ in each person. At least for the baptized who have so sworn themselves. Ourselves. Myself. Me.
The vow to strive for justice and peace among all people seems to big to be possible. How can I bring peace to the world when I cannot bring peace to my family, to myself. Is it really enough for me to strive for peace and justice where I am, among the people to whom I have access? Are my pitiful efforts sufficient? Can they be multiplied by the work of others? Are we changing the world, one heart at a time?
Do we have to wait for the end of the world, the unmaking and remaking of the world in order to see the fulfillment of the reign of God among us?
How close can we get to justice and peace among all people and dignity of every human being without divine intervention? How many of the baptized are even trying?

08 May 2011

Mother's Milk

1 Peter 2:1 So rid yourselves of all wickedness, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all the ways there are to speak ill of another. 2 Be like new-born babies, crave the unadulterated, reasonable, word-milk in order that by it you may be grown into salvation – 3 if indeed you have tasted that God who is a mother to the motherless and a father to the fatherless is good, merciful. [The New Feminist, Should-Be-Standard Translation]

Taste and see! 
What is it that we taste? The milk of the Torah, the milk of the Word, the milk of the Gospel, Mother's milk. 

Happy Mother's Day.

05 May 2011

I Hate Your Depression

I hate your depression.
It took you away from me.
We are friends in name only.
You don't have time to see me.
Depression steals all of your time.
If you're not in bed,
you're trying to catch up on all the things
you let go of while you were in bed.
Or you're at the doctor
or pharmacist
or therapist.
Getting your meds adjusted
again and again.
Trying to find balance.
And when you can, you work.
Your depression makes room 
for some of your family and friends,
those in your inner circle.
But not me,
I'm in another circle.
I hate your depression.
I hate that it took you away from me.
I miss you
and wish you were still in my life.

03 May 2011

Baby-Killers, Bin Laden and Babylon

Blessed shall they be who 
snatch your little-ones and smash them against the rock!
~ Psalm 137:9

Scripture is replete with images of violent vengeance even as it proclaims that vengeance belongs to God (Dt 32:35) and the love of enemies (Lu 6:27). When I heard the news of bin Laden's death and the rejoicing that accompanied it, I heard through the filter of Psalm 137. 
I teach my students to ask how the scripture is true. I can be too easy to pass judgement on the text and declare it is or is not true. But how is a difficult text, a text of terror, scripture - is a much harder question. The truth of Psalm 137 is that people do such terrible things to each other that we seek some visible recompense. Hurt people hurt people. 
The psalmist has lived through the devastation of Judah and Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Imagine if the assault on Pearl Harbor or 9/11 had resulted in the fall of the United States, if our citizens had been deported to Central or South America and resettled in internment camps. Now hear the Psalm again:

Remember, Holy-One-of-Sinai, 
hold it against the children of Edom  
the Day of Jerusalem  
their saying, “Strip her! Strip her! 
Down to the foundation!” 
Daughter Babylon, the predator! 
Blessed be those who return to you the “peace” 
that you have returned to us. 
Blessed shall they be 
who snatch and smash your children against the rock!

I understand the cries for violence and vengeance. Vengeance is downright biblical; it is human nature. I do not judge those who cry for vengeance or rejoice in the death of one who has afflicted so much pain in the world. I understand. And I know that God understands too.
The people who produced the Psalms offer another vision: their violent rhetoric as catharsis. The remnant of Judah did not go on a baby-killing spree. Giving voice to that horrible desire may well have exorcised it from their midst. They went on to rebuild their world from the rubble, and while their society continued through tortuous changes, their religion transcended their context, culture and ethnicity and through one of their own rabbis changed the world. 
I have not forgotten those Palestinians and Israelis who call for the deaths of each other's children and do all they can to bring that holocaust to pass. I see the same brokenness, the same grief at work. 
Let us pray for the sons and daughters of Babylon, and even the family and friends of Osama bin Laden.

April Showers

None of these are from my garden, but perhaps one day...

01 May 2011

Living in the Moment

I have always struggled with living in the moment. I have just finished an amazing ministry journey. And another lies ahead. I have good reason to live in the future or in the past. But something extraordinary happened today, while I was waiting for my luggage and my ride in the rain at the airport. It was a glorious day, at the slightly dingy, big city airport. Between ports of call in the Pacific Rim and the Mediterranean, I found contentment on the East Coast. This moment, this day, this gift. Thank you God, I am truly grateful.