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30 January 2011

Blessed be Egypt, My People

Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, 
and Israel my heritage.”

Many are surprised to find these words on the lips of God recorded by the hand of Isaiah. This scandalously inclusive text is excluded from Christian and Jewish lectionaries.

As we listen to the cries of Egyptians for democratic freedoms and wonder what this means for balance of power in the Middle East, let us hear the words of God through the prophet of God again:

Isaiah 19:19 One day there will be an altar to the Holy One of Old in the center of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Holy One at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Commander of heaven's armies in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Holy One because of oppressors, God will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. 21 The Holy One of Sinai will make Godself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Holy One on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Holy One and perform them. 22 The Holy One will strike Egypt, striking and healing; they will return to the Holy One, and God will listen to their supplications and heal them.
Isaiah 19:23 One day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
Isaiah 19:24 One day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Commander of heaven's armies has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”

29 January 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I have so many favorite scriptures! Yet when I'm asked for a favorite (or five) I can't just pick one. So here are my favorites in no particular order and contents subject to change on a daily basis. My rationales are at the bottom:

 My favorite biblical books are:
Job
Isaiah
Judith
Tobit
Mark

My favorite biblical characters are:
Sheerah
Jezebel
Joseph
Athaliah
the Blessed Virgin

My favorite verses are:

1 Enoch 42:1, 3
Wisdom could not find a place where she could dwell
But a place was found for Her in the heavens.
Then Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people
But she found no dwelling place…
And She dwelt with them like rain in a desert
Like dew in a thirsty land.

Luke 1:42-45
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Jeremiah 31:3

The I AM appeared to her from far away. I have loved you daughter
with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithful love to you daughter.

Song 1:8
Woman, pastor your flock woman!

Matthew 28:20
Remember, I am with you always - until the end of time!

"Whys" and "Wherefores":
I love Job for its bad theology - sh!t happens and the world is full of bad theologians, pastors and friends who will try to blame you for your troubles. Yet the God of Job is Immanu-El. God is powerfully present with Job. And Job experiences some sweet to soften the taste of the bitter.
I love Isaiah for its poetry.
I love Judith for her prayer and courage and head-taking @ss whipping.
Tobit is just a romp with a sweet love story.
Mark is my favorite, go to gospel. Its early date and clear Jewish context give it more authority to me.

Sheerah the city builder is my favorite biblical character. I love that she named one of the cities she built after herself. 
"Jezebel wasn't a 'ho - she was straight gangsta!" From one of my favorite sermons (by me)! I just love her - the real Jezebel who can be found reading between the lines and who even appears (without her name) in a psalm before she was demonized.
I like Joseph as Zaphenath-paneah. When his family sold him out he made a new life as an Egyptian and was just fine without them. They needed him. He didn't need them.
Athaliah was another hard core queen, really a female king. The bible omits much of her reign because she was so powerful and successful and that was, well, just embarrassing.
For me the Blessed Virgin Mary (Miriam of Natzeret) is the quintessential disciple. She is the one who shows me what it is to be a Christian. And a Jew. And something more than both.

Enoch is a wild ride, but the Wisdom language is so rich and powerful. God is free to be herself in all of her glory.
The Ave (with its antecedents in Judges and Judith) is hands down my favorite biblical prayer - even with its post biblical verse.
I love the places where God uses feminine language to speak to the people as a city or perhaps to individual women and most certainly to me. This passage from Jeremiah is one of my favorites but I have volumes of these gender appropriate translations.
A small piece from the Song where a female shepherd and male shepherd put their flocks together. I have preached this at the marriage of two clergy.
And back to Job, or when I'm feeling like Job, I am grateful to know that God in Christ Jesus is always with me, even until the end of time.

25 January 2011

I Shall Not Want

The One God shepherds me, I shall not want.

But I do want.
And for the life of me, I can't figure out if I'm supposed to.
I am so grateful for all I have. But I am not content.
I want more. Not more stuff.
One more prayer. One more hope. One more dream. One more longing.
One more heart's desire. One more whispered wish.
I wrestle with the theology that says if I don't have it I don't need it. Or that I have what I need in myself. I would certainly be happier if I didn't want anything outside myself. But I don't know how not to want.

22 January 2011

Doing Me

It is my birthday. Not today, but soon. And I am going to celebrate. with good friends, good food, champagne and dancing. 
I have had a challenging year in some ways: I was treated with unparalleled disrespect by some co-workers and our professional relationships have been changed and are tortured and tortuous. I have had some serious health issues. And I have had some deep disappointments.
I have also had a year of blessing: I have had wonderful professional accomplishments, my work has been well-received, blessed others and I have been blessed as well in it. Each medical challenge has been mitigated or at least abated. I have received so much love and support through my difficult days. I have found a voice in my writing - both blogging and professional writing. And I am in a good place with my relationship with God - in spite of my hurts and disappointments, I have been able to cling to God's love and have a prayer companion who reminds me of that love when I doubt it.
I have always had a problematic relationship with my birthday. It hasn't always been a day of celebration. This year I decided to spend my birthday "doing me" as the contemporary slang goes. I will celebrate myself, the gift of my life and my triumphs in spite of my challenges.
Happy birthday beautiful!

18 January 2011

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
James Mercer Langston Hughes 
 
Every year on the anniversary of Dr. King's birth commentators ask if we have fulfilled his dream. Of course not.
We have all come so far as a nation. African Americans have accomplished so much with judicial and legislative support. And we want recognition and commendation for that. And some want permission to stop working for change and don't want to hear anything about justice.
But there is still injustice in our world and in this nation: There is still bias against African Americans, bias against immigrants, particularly Latinos, bias against lesbian and gay folk. And there is still crushing poverty around the world and here in the US. 
The dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the dream of God: The reign of God; the beloved community. We will get there. But we are not there yet.

17 January 2011

There Will Never Be Another

There will never be another Rev. Dr. Martin (neé Michael) Luther King, Jr. Sometimes I think folk are looking for a successor, an Elisha to his Elijah. I see it in the media's obsession of identifying a Black American spokesman. And I see it in the King-era civil rights workmen (and I mean men) clamoring for that mantle. I see it in the struggles of Dr. King's children for his legacy and the not inconsiderable profits from that legacy.
There is no single successor, no single heir to his mantle. I believe that we are all heirs to his prophetic mantle just as we are all heirs to his legacy. I am reminded of the words from Numbers 11:29, "Would that all the people of God were prophets."
I ascribe to both the "priesthood of all believers" and to specific God-ordained clergy vocations. In the same way I believe that we are all called to prophetic speech and action and that there are some vocational prophets called and set apart by God.
The dreams and visions of Blessed Martin have not yet come to pass. He will not come back to give them birth. We who have inherited his legacy and mantle have also inherited the responsibility to midwife his dreams and visions. We have so much work to do. We should not pass his legacy, mantle and our responsibility on to the next generation with so much yet undone.

The Last Day of Christmas

It is still Christmas somewhere in the world. In Jerusalem, in the Armenian Quarter to be exact. And every where else the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem holds sway. Armenian (Jerusalem) Christmas is 17 January. Thanks to the confusion generated by the unequal adoption of the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the Orthodox trend to observe Christmas on what the West thinks is Epiphany we have a few more days to bask in the light of the marvel that is the miracle of the Incarnation. Merry Christmas one and all!

15 January 2011

Sister-Prophet Shabbat

Shabbat B'Shallach (the shabbat of Pharaoh's letting-go) is also called Shabbat Shirah (Shabbat of Song) because of the Song attributed to Moses in Exodus 14. It is most likely the song sung by Miriam in Exodus 15:20-21 to open the sea and send the people forward. Only the first verse is cited here, a common shorthand in biblical literature. And it is placed in the mouth of Moses, the allegedly dysfunctional mouth of Moses who needed Aaron to speak for him, and perhaps Miriam to sing for him.

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a drum in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the HOLY ONE OF OLD, for God has triumphed gloriously;
 horse and rider God has thrown into the sea.”

A great many biblical scholars read the song as Miriam's composition and find the assignment to Moses secondary.
There is another song that leads me to rename this shabbat, the song of Deborah. In the haftarah, the portion from the Prophets that accompanies the Torah, the story and song of Deborah are the lesson for today.

Deborah, a prophet-woman, a fiery woman (woman of lappidoth - flames), she was judging Israel at that time...
The peasantry prospered in Israel,
they grew fat on plunder,
because you arose, Deborah,
arose as a mother in Israel...
...And the land had rest forty years.
(Judges 4:4; 5:7, 31)

13 January 2011

A Year of Sabbath

Update:
I cannot do the things on my list! My list is too long. I can't exercise because of the snow. I can neither drive to the gym nor walk in my neighborhood. Even if I had enough room on the floors of my furniture-cluttered home I can never focus long enough to work out at home. Videos and DVDs don't help.
My fantasy about beginning each day in prayer and meditation and lectio divina is just that, a fantasy. That's not how my spiritual praxis works. And I'm apparently too old to change. I am in spiritual direction and that is a blessed light in the darkness.
I have organized for a sum total of thirty minutes in the last two weeks and there is the one piece of mail I opened today.
I am writing. Almost every day. And I love it. I am blogging more and I am making real, good progress on my next book.
This is not the sabbatical I imagined. It is the sabbatical I am having. And I am loving it. I will not burden myself with unrealistic expectations. 
New list:
Breathe
Write
Eat 
Sleep
Play
Pray in my own way
Do what I can with my files
Don't set myself up to fail
And don't worry about what I can't (or don't want to do).

Update:
I have learned from the first few days of my sabbatical at home that it is really hard to be on sabbatical at home. The phone keeps ringing; there is so much to be done. My modest to-do list seems impossibly long -
Pray
Exercise
Organize
Write
An hour a day for each would still give me plenty time to deal with all of the things that keep cropping up and REST!
Apparently, I have to learn how to be on sabbatical. This is a praxis practice. I learn by doing.

This is a year of sabbath for me. The year began with my waking and inhaling my first restful breath in a holy place. I left for retreat the night before so that I could live fully into my sabbatical. I wanted to get away. And then it dawned on me with the dawn. Somewhere between sleeping and waking, inhaling and exhaling I discerned that my sabbatical is not from my vocation but it is for my vocation. I am ready, eager for this journey. And it has begun...

[I imagine I will return to this post, update and repost it as I journey through this year.]

11 January 2011

We Pray for the Dead by Magnifying God's Name

 The Jewish prayer for the dead is a prayer that responds to grief by sanctifying the name of God, even in the midst of terrible grief. I like this prayer for people of all faiths (and none) because when I don't know wht to say, I can just call and bless God's Name.
In the case of violent death, Rabbi Arthur Waskow teaches that the prayer comforts God in God's grief that part of the Divine image has killed another part of the divine image.

For Christina Greene, Dorthy Murray, John Rolls, Phyllis Scheck, Dorwin Stoddard and Gabriel Zimmerman:

Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba - Amein -
b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei.
V'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon
uv'chayei d'khol beit yis'ra'eil
ba'agala uviz'man kariv v'im'ru: Amein.
Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam ul'al'mei al'maya.
Yit'barakh v'yish'tabach v'yit'pa'ar v'yit'romam v'yit'nasei
v'yit'hadar v'yit'aleh v'yit'halal sh'mei d'kud'sha.
B'rikh hu.
L'eila min kol bir'khata v'shirata
toosh'b'chatah v'nechematah, da'ameeran b'al'mah, v'eemru: Amein. 
Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya
v'chayim aleinu v'al kol yis'ra'eil v'im'ru: Amein.
Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom
aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'al kol yoshvey tevel, v'im'ru: Amein. 

May God's great Name be exalted and sanctified - Amen -
in the world that God created as God willed.
May God give reign to God's rule in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Let us say: Amen.
May God's great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One.
Blessed is God.
Beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Let us say: Amen.
May there be abundant peace from Heaven
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Let us say: Amen.
May the One who makes peace in the heights, make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel and upon all who dwell on the earth. Let us say: Amen.

10 January 2011

MiSheberakh (Blessing) and Refuah Shleima (Healing) for Gabrielle Giffords

Mi-sheberakh avoteinu v’imoteinu, Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Rachel v’Leah hu y’varekh et Gavrielle Giffords v'kol nikah immanah v’yavi aleihem refuat hanefesh u’refuat haguf yachad im kol cholei amo Yisrael. Barukh atah HaShekinah, rofeh ha’cholim.
May the One who was a source of blessing for our ancestors, Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, Rachel, Leah and Jacob bring blessings of healing upon Gabrielle Giffords and all struck with her, a healing of body and a healing of spirit. May those in whose care they are entrusted be gifted with wisdom and skill, and those who surround them be gifted with love and trust, openness and support in their care. And may they be healed along with all those who are in need. Blessed are You, Eternal Presence, Source of healing.


On her behalf and behalf of all of the injured I offer the prayer for healing offered for the Prophet Miryam:
אל נא רפא נא לה
Hear Holy One, hear and heal her.

(Congresswoman Giffords worships at Congregation Chaverim, a Reform Synagogue in Tuscon AZ.)

A Shabbat Walk to a Parish Church

I walked to church today. To a neighborhood church with only a vestigial parking lot. It was built as a neighborhood church. It made me nostalgic for the days when people walked to worship with (and in) their families. Your neighborhood was your parish.
I think of a Jewish friend who grew up in Blessed Sacrament. The suburb in which he lived had a secular name. But everyone said they lived in the Parish of Blessed Sacrament.
I think of my Jewish neighbors who moved to this neighborhood because of our neighborhood synagogue. When they looked for a house, they looked for a synagogue first. When they found a synagogue, they looked for a house within walking distance (there is a rabbinic formula for how much walking is permitted on Shabbat).
What would it mean for Christians to return to a parish system? What would it mean to move to a community because of the Church?
Imagine... Taking a new job (which is how and why so many of us move) and asking first about churches in the neighborhoods - before even schools four our precious children's education - before even looking for a home to be our refuge from the world.
Imagine... being the kind of church that people want not only to join, but to live near and participate in the ministry life of the church on a regular basis. Imagine having a church that prizes neighborhood real estate, not a country estate outside of the city and its problematic people. Imagine the immediate neighbors of a church being so deeply involved in the parish that they comprise the bulk of its membership. Imagine the issues affecting the neighborhood are the issues affecting the church community. Imagine a church culture in which commuting to church is not unwelcome, but uncommon.
I imagine that a neighborhood church functioning as a parish church would be a thriving church and that a return to the parish system might mark the end of the decline of our major denominations.
But I suspect that many of our churches and their folk don't want to be parish churches again, because they don't want to fellowship with and minister to those who are their neighbors.

07 January 2011

Transforming the Bitterness of Life to Sweetness

Now, daughter, child of earth, hear what I am saying to you... open your mouth and eat what I give you daughter. I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. The hand spread it before me; the scroll had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. The messenger said to me, child of earth, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak... So I opened my mouth, and the messenger gave me the scroll to eat. The messenger said to me, child of earth, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. 
Ezekiel 2:8-3:3

As the new moon gives birth to a new month I sat in a circle of women welcoming her, reflecting on the blessings and challenges of the month before. In the course of the evenings teaching and meditation, our priestess taught the Honey-Torah of Ezekiel: Take the bitter experiences of life into yourself and transform them.

In truth, the taking is the easy part. Honestly, I absorb pain and disappointment readily. But I don't always know what to do with it. Rather than let it poison me, I can transform it. Or perhaps, God in me. I have struggled with letting things go. Now I know that when I cannot let go of anger, hurt or disappointment, I can transform it. And in the process, I am transformed.

03 January 2011

If I Made New Year's Resolutions

If I made New Year's resolutions I would choose these Rumi-nations (translated by Coleman Barks):

There is a commmunity of the spirit.
Join it and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion, 
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.

...

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.
Mevlana Jalaludin Muhammad Balkhi Rumi

02 January 2011

A Cold and Broken Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen writes of a "cold and broken hallelujah" in what has become a new favorite of mine. KD Lang's version is particularly striking.

I know what a broken hallelujah is. I know what it is to wring a cold and broken hallelujah from a broken, bruised and bleeding body, heart and soul. The past year has had many such moments. Yet they ended in "hallelujah."
A broken hallelujah is one that emerges from a place of brokenness and yet affirms a living, sovereign, inscrutable God. The awe of that divine majesty gives birth to the hallelujah. Even when it is a cry of pain.
The existence of that Other is a mantle staving off the desperate cold of isolation. Even in despair the psalmist is never abandoned. Hallelujah.

01 January 2011

A New Year's Renewal

I don't believe in resolutions. It seems that they are designed or destined to fail. But I do believe in reflection, transformation and intentionality. As this new (civil) year opens I am aware of who, what and where I am and who, what and where I would like to be.
My intentions for this year are in the form of prayer:
May this be a year of prayerful reflection and introspection.
May this be a year of good health, nutrition, exercise and medical care.
May this be a year of modest improvement in organizing and filing.
May this be a year of creative, imaginative and passionate writing that connects with others.
May this be a year of rest, peace and well-being.
May this be a year of renewal of mind, body, soul and relationship.
May it be so. כן יהי רצן. May it be God's will.
Amen.