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28 June 2011

A One State Solution

Recently I heard a proposal for a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This Palestinian pastor and scholar called for a whole new paradigm: A single nation-state for all Palestinians, Israeli Jews, Christian and Arabs. A new state with a new name to reflect all its people. A new state with a new song (national anthem) and a new flag.

He acknowledged that was virtually impossible in the current climate, but he was dreaming what could be. A true democracy where all enjoyed full citizenship, respect, dignity, the right to assemble, live, work and play. An end to Palestinian reservations and Israeli-only neighborhoods, and roads that by-pass some communities and only connect others with no on or off ramps. He dreamed a state where the rights up the minorities would be vigorously upheld and enshrined. he suggested moving the capital, perhaps  to Tev-Aviv, perhaps Ramullah, perhaps both. (I say why not Hebron.) He imagined Jerusalem as a federally protected unified enclave, with only one nation, there would be no need to divide it any further.
There is that could be critiqued in his dream. But I don't want to critique him or his dream. I want to join him in dreaming. I want others to join us in dreaming. I want us to dream, envision and imagine the world that might be and work together with each other and God to make it happen.
Keep dreaming sir...

26 June 2011

A Night Out

It was a night out... (but not at the Frankenstein place).
I had the kind of night out last night that my clergy and academic vocations rarely let me pursue, and one that my sense of self-protectionism as a woman who travels the world alone had not yet permitted.
I met a guy, went out with his friends and stayed out until the sun came up.
I had a grand time. But in all honesty, it was possible in large measure because my new friend is gay. I am super careful about meeting and spending time with men at home and abroad. I have survived some things that I don't ever want to revisit. My adventure and my decision-making process leading up to it make an interesting study in my Black American woman's healthy paranoia.
My new friend is an employee and resident of the facility in which I am staying whom I have gotten to know over the past couple of weeks. People here know him and that would have made it possible for me to go out with him, straight or gay. And when he said he had some mates (all Irish) here and that I was most welcome for some beers with them and maybe a barbecue, I said sure even though he told me I might be the only girl there.
One of my inner voices was telling me that this is how all of the girls get kidnapped and sold into sex-trafficking in the movies and in reality. And I had to go there.
But since I had gotten to know him, his coworkers and employers in the past couple of weeks and our plans were public plans, and I - who am suspicious by nature - did not hear alarms, I went.
We started with a friend from his masters program coming over, they had a few beers and we all had a good chat. Then we went to another guest residence for academics and researchers with which I was familiar and about ten of us sat outside, listening to music, eating popcorn and talking while the Irishmen put away 4-5 forty ounce beers on top of what had previously been consumed. I don't drink beer and they didn't have any wine, but I was fine.
Then seven of us went out to the center of the city were there were outdoor cafes and bars around plazas filled with people. We joined a table with a couple of girls who left quickly and had a ball. Hookah was smoked - I took a couple of puffs - that may have made me ill later. And I had a horrible shot of tequila and a rum and coke - that may have had fountain water which also may have made me sick. Needless to say the lads kept pounding back the beers.
Round about two am we went to a dance club and shut it down. That was a lot of fun. I was finished drinking but the boys were still going hard at it.
We picked up two Italian girls and went to another bar and sat outside and talked while the boys drank some more. Round about four am I got cold and I was tired. I was ready to go. My friend had to replace a beer he knocked out of someone's hand and for some reason he came back with two. At four thirty he still wasn't ready - he who had said he'd look after me and make sure I got back home safely. At five I'd had enough. By 5:15 I walked to a cab. Two of the boys ran to me and made sure the cabbie would take good care of me (not my friend); I wasn't worried, but I appreciated their efforts. By 5:50 I was home, stripping and collapsing.
By nine I was awake with a sour stomach. Since my hair smelled like cigarettes and that was also turning my stomach, I got up, took a shower, washed it and went back to bed and took a couple of pepto tabs.
At 12:30 I went to lunch. My friend was nowhere to be seen and didn't answer his room phone. No one knew if he made it home. I took one bite of my sandwich and ran for the loo. I didn't make it. I lost it on the floor outside the bathroom. When I made it into the bathroom I didn't have time to close the door. After a few minutes, I closed the door, finished up and cleaned up. The staff to whom I apologized profusely was already cleaning up.
I went back to bed and got up for dinner at 6. I'm fine now, had a small meal and some tea. Still no sight or sound of my friend. I'm not too worried about him, seems like this is a pattern.
So that was the priest-professor's big night out. Pretty tame by some undergrad standards. Pretty epic by mine. And also a reminder that I and only I am responsible for my safety. I have real legitimate concerns, but I can still have fun when the opportunity presents itself. And it helps me not to feel any potential for sexual pressure when hanging out casually. Thank god for lesbian and gay friends. Now if it had been a dating scenario, I would have gone to meet him - not nine of them - at a restaurant or club and gotten myself there and back by taxi and maybe only had one drink. It's a shame that my life has to be so choreographed, but even so, I had fun.
Now hear's hoping the dear, daft, drunken Irishman finds his way home before he has to report for work tomorrow.

23 June 2011

Words Heal

I know that words hurt. But sometimes I forget that words heal. A young man staying at the same guesthouse as I am came to me today to tell me how important it was for him as a gay man to hear me as a priest talk about my friends and colleagues some of whom are lesbian and gay and married and partnered. He has left the church and his partner is leaving the church because they have not found it welcoming or hospitable. That is so sad and so tragic. Simply acknowledging that I have all sorts of friends and that is not incapable with my faith in or service to Christ was empowering and affirming for him. I think I am embarrassed (and ashamed on behalf of the church) that it took so little.
God loves everyone dammit! What part of all do you not @#$%ing get?

21 June 2011

Race in Israel

Haunted by two people I encountered:

The first one was a young woman serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. She and another female soldier were at the Western Wall in their uniforms with their rifles in their hands, trigger-ready. I'm actually used to seeing armed soldiers everywhere in Israel, even and particularly at the holy places. And the truth is I've seen fewer on this trip than before. Armed soldiers inside the Kotel plaza, where people pray and not just outside at the entrances bolstering security have always bothered me. Some of the female soldiers pray at the wall with their guns. Others take photos with their guns at the wall. It's always hard to see. But this woman was a black woman. And when I saw her I felt both kinship and dissonance. She could a have been Mizrahi, an indigenous black Jew; she could have been Beta Yisrael, an Ethiopian Jew. She could have been the adopted child of American Jews who made aliyah (moved to Israel). I don't know her story. I just know that she is black like me and not black like me. Both of us passed through the womb of Mother Africa and we each found ourselves in different contexts. I though about her military service (so different from mine as a chaplain - I was never armed) and how much of it might be protecting settlements and clashing with Palestinians. I wondered what it was like to be a black Israeli with a brown face on that side of the line. I wondered how the Arabs saw her. And I wondered if it was like some inner city folk's experience black police officers, "black and blue, more blue than black." I didn't speak to her because I didn't know what to say. But I have not forgotten her.

Last night we were in the mother of all traffic jams. A big SUV came at us in what was left of the now single lane we were in going the other way as a result of all the cars parked on both sides of the road. It had Mad Max styled grills all over the windows. Our driver told us that Israeli settlers in Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem were in so many violent clashes with the Arab Israeli citizens into whose neighborhood they had encroached that they had to armor their cars. As the man got out of his car to try to make us back up the street so that he could get through, our diver rolled up the windows and locked the doors, saying he's probably armed. He was. He was also black, and quite handsome with cornrows. And he was furious with us. Our driver refused to move. He got his car around us only because his mirrors were higher than ours, passing with inches to spare. I have never imagined the face of the Israeli occupation was a black face like mine and I was deeply troubled. I still am.

The folk who I've met here are all sympathetic to the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. And all socially and politically moderate to some degree. They are from the US, UK, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. They all have colonial histories. And they're all white, with the exception of myself, a Korean graduate student and an African American graduate student. I'd love to talk to someone who knows this place inside and out about race here, but it troubles me that so many of the experts to whom I have access are white, American or European or even progressive Jews and Israelis.

I am haunted by images of the occupation as black on black crime, to borrow a phrase from my own context, and it disturbs me deeply.

19 June 2011

The Trinity, The Shema and the Seven

I'm not a trinitarian. At most I'm a bi-nitarian. There is God-Sovereign-Saving-Spirit without form or shape who reflects and transcends gender and there is God-Incarnate-from-the-Virgin's-womb: Yeshua, Jesus. That's it. Just two.
For me, the descriptions of God in the scriptures are not mathematical equations. They each reveal God in part, yet God is more than the sum of them all.

God is: 
a warrior, 
a king, 
my shepherd, 
a righteous judge, 
my banner, 
peace, 
my rock, 
my fortress and my deliverer, 
a stronghold, 
my light and my salvation, 
my strength and my shield, 
a devouring fire.
God is not a man or the son of man who lies.
God is the rock who birthed me... and the God who writhed-in-labor with me.


And God is more than Three.
There are the Seven Spirits of God in the Revelation:

These are the words of the One who has the Seven Spirits of God and the seven stars...Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the Seven Spirits of God...
Perhaps based on Isaiah 11:
The Spirit of the One God shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Holy One of Old. 




I have recently discovered the Game of Thrones series of books. In one of the realms of the books there is a religion based on the Seven: Mother, Father, Maid, Warrior, Crone, Smith and Stranger.
The Seven speak to me as a more complete metaphor for God than do the Three. 
The Many-Named God, is beloved as Three-in-One and One-in-Three. Whether embraced as the 1001 of the Hindu pantheon, the Trinity of post-biblical Christian tradition, the Seven Spirits of Isaiah and John, or a new vision, I can not say. The mystery of God is more than I can know or understand. But there is a verse that I chant on shabbat that promises resolution:

Zechariah 14:9 One day the Holy One of Old will become sovereign over all the earth; 
on that day the Holy One will be One and God's Name One. 

Hear O Israel - all you who call yourselves Israel or Israel's spiritual descendants -
the Holy One our God
The Holy One - whose Name may not be uttered
is One - singular, undivided, without peer, unique.
‎‏שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד



16 June 2011

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God


Plains Milky Way from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.
This first video was shot in South Dakota.


The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.
This Video was shot in Spain.


The White Mountain from charles on Vimeo.
And this video was shot in Hawaii.

14 June 2011

Living in a Holy (Wholly Sinful) City

I said I wanted to experience what it was like to live in Jerusalem, to be more than a tourist or pilgrim passing through. I don't know that I'll accomplish that even in two months but I am having more contacts with regular folk in neighborhoods away from shrines and monuments. I am heartened that so many of the Christians who are here for more than a pilgrimage are peace workers or actively engaged in interfaith and ecumenical work. I'm also struck by how loud (and rude) is the conservative minority that wields nearly majority power. There are some truly awful people here crafting heinous dehumanizing policies in the name of God, scripture and religion. There is also a huge mass of people who are embarrassed by them but are not politically involved enough to reign them in. I see them as complicit. Israel's treatment of its own citizens differs depending on whether they are Arab or (ostensibly) Jewish. Where they can live, move, build, get permits, travel.
And the truth is the Arab Israelis live far better than the Palestinians who are largely kept in squalor. Israel collects tax money "for them" and then does not release it to pay teachers or police or even to pick up trash. Israel refuses to let the Palestinian police enter Palestine to investigate crimes or protect the people but won't go in themselves because it's "foreign soil."
There ought not be any role for systematic governmental discrimination in the modern world. And our tax dollars ought not support it. Right now the US is building roads for Palestinians which the Israelis are designating as reservation roads, to keep the Palestinians off their Israeli roads.
I've never understood how a traumatize people could traumatize others: Whether it was the newly liberated Israelites enslaving each other and the Canaanites, or the AMerican revolutionaries throwing off the yoke of England but keeping the yoke on their African slaves, or black folk denying the civil rights of gay folk or any oppressed community making sure the women and girls are more oppressed than the boys and men.
Jerusalem is a holy city and a wholly sinful city. It is filled with people after all. But as long as it is an Israeli city - including the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and 1/4 to 1/3 of all Israelis live within it, its suburbs and illegal occupying settlements on seized Palestinian land, Jerusalem will remain the crucible of jihad - righteous struggle against evil.
The struggle for the soul of Jerusalem is the struggle for sole control of Jerusalem. Israel deems itself as custodian of the holy places of all faiths - even as it shuts them down, digs under them and declares them state treasures.
Without justice there can be no peace. Without basic respect for human dignity, religious and cultural diversity, there can be no justice.
I still can't believe that we live in the world where those who so narrowly escaped the fires of hatred seek to destroy someone else's children. How did the children of Israel come to this? And who willed them through the wilderness of sin to the promised land where each shall sit under their own olive trees and none shall make them afraid.
Micah puts it this way:

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 of Old,
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 Holy One 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 Holy One of Heaven's Armies has spoken.

10 June 2011

Selling Hot Pussy

This was the title of an essay by bell hooks that my theology professor assigned in seminary. A number of my too-holy-for-their-own-damn-good classmates ran to the Dean's office to object: "Do you know what's being taught in your school? I knew she wasn't saved!" The Dean asked, "Did you read it?" They replied "Of course not! I'm not going to pollute my spirit with this filth. Hallelujah!" The Dean said, come back when you read it.
The article was about the commodification of black women's bodies. I am reminded virtually every time I travel that the selling of my body and its cavities is not limited to my own country. American media is most profitable globally so Hollywierd exports its constructions of my people and my body and me around the world. That is why virtually ever place I have traveled (Turkey is the only exception so far) I have been called a nigger like it's a compliment: "Hey brown nigger baby" - in Kenya and "What up my nigga" - in Jerusalem. While the Jamaicans called me "Empress" their offers were sewage-worthy.
I am not for sale. You can not "be my boyfriend or husband for the night." I do not want your number. I will not give you mine. You cannot visit me at my hotel. I don't care what Beyonce, Nikki Minaj or Rhianna, say, sing or wear. I am not for sale. Hollywood and the recording industry have sold you a bill of goods. I am not included.

07 June 2011

Wrestling With God and Scripture

I had one of those experiences in the scriptures this week that happens about once a year. I'm reading large amounts of text closely and I see something I've never seen before. And this time it was awful:
Exodus 21:7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves go out. 


I know there's slavery in the bible. I know the Israelites seek to subjugate the Canaanites (or dream about it retrospectively) as they were subjugated by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. I get it.
But could they not even wait until they got out of Egypt, off the Sinai Peninsula before they started enslaving each other? And not just randomly; they were selling their own daughters for sex. The passage in Exodus tries to put some limited ethical reforms on the practice:
8 If she is unacceptable in the sight of her lord, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be ransomed; he shall not sell her to a foreign people – he does not have the authority to do so because of his treachery against her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall treat her justly as a daughter. 10 If he takes another woman to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or intercourse of the first woman. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing – no money.


Really? This is an improvement? They were just screwing these girls, literally and figuratively and selling them off away from their people? Really! Just despicable. Ugh. I had had it.

Then I read again a passage that I knew was there, yet it still took my breath away:
Exodus 22:21 Not one resident alien, female or male, shall you wrong or oppress, for you all were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 Not one widow or fatherless child will you oppress. 23 If you do abuse them, as sure as they will cry out me, will I hear their cry. 24 My fury will burn, and I will kill you all with the sword, and your women shall become widows and your children fatherless.
How can both of these verses be in the same book? Does the Torah wrestle with herself? With God? Who walks limps away with the blessing?

05 June 2011

The One Who Transcends

"When we read the classics of the various religions in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find substantial convergence, and that is something to rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us; let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common." 
~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu (God Is Not A Christian)

04 June 2011

Partial, Unfair and Imbalanced

Impartial, fair and balanced. Objective. Trustworthy. The claims of professional opinion-makers. None of them live up to them. None of the rest of us do either.
Today I proclaim that I am partial, unfair and imbalanced. I have my own perspective. Mine. It may not be yours. But it and I am trustworthy. I am speaking for myself.
I had a particularly hard time claiming my voice today. I am in Israel and found myself struggling to name the Israeli occupation, even when I could see the wall from my roof, cutting farmers off from their olive trees, strategically isolated on the Israeli side, along with the settlement road, designed to bypass Arab villages - there are no on or off ramps.
I was afraid of being called an anti-Semite, a Nazi, a supporter of holocaust ideology. That is the level of rhetoric some - and only some, but with loud voices and media access - American Jews and Israelis use to assault critics of the state of Israel. I'm writing a public blog with my name and face and my employer's name and I am oh-so-careful that I not draw heated and hated scrutiny.
And I have been anxious. Anxious about my encounters with religious Israelis here and Jewish friends at home for whom the welfare of the state of Israel and it policies are tender issues.
I have also felt pressure - internally - to couch each critique in a narrative that at least places equal blame on the Palestinians for the necessity of the wall and/or recounts the sufferings of the Israelis through and as a result of the many bombing campaigns and Intifadas.
But I don't want to make a carefully nuanced hopefully politically acceptable statement. I just want to say how I feel. I saw the wall today and it took my breath away - all those olive trees on one side and only one side and the Arab village on the other. It hurt. I hurt. I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn't come. They are coming now.
I am here in part because of something the Canon of the St. George Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem told me the last time I was here, that Christian presence and prayers in Israel were active peace-making. Holy One let me be an instrument of your peace.
May it be so, even in our days that Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us all. Amen.

02 June 2011

Learning to Pray All Over Again


I am living in community in arguably the holiest city on earth and I am thinking about prayer. Every time the adhan, the call to prayer, at one of the neighboring mosques rings out, I think, I should pray the Offices every time salat is prayed. Yet I somehow lack the discipline or something. Those of you who know me in my everyday identity may well be scratching your heads. I didn't get all of these degrees or publish all this work without discipline. There must be something else at work here.
I have been journeying in prayer with a wonderful spiritual director this year. Unfortunately she doesn't travel with me. She has blessed me to see my own practice of prayer as longstanding. To name it and nurture it. I'm an all-day, in everything, praying person. I meditate and contemplate while I walk. I like to pray in my own words, thoughts, and images when I'm alone. I love the liturgies of the church when I'm in communion. I have a scripture-mantra that I breathe when I formally meditate.
Yet part of me thinks I should be doing something special - more special.
I have asked Jesus to teach me how to pray.
Now I just have to accept that my prayer practices are his answer and God's good gift to me, and know that there's a reason God did not call me to a monastic community.

01 June 2011

A New Adventure

And I'm off...
I'm on my way to Jerusalem, a city that is larger than life, overburdened with hopes and dreams, fears and schemes. I'm going to live in Christian community, first a community of scholars, later an Anglican community. I'm going to write and read and reflect. (And hopefully eat well and exercise.)
I have some anxiety.
I am not afraid of terrorists or of falling prey to an act of violence. Although there is some risk. The risk is there, here, everywhere.
The anxiety I feel stems from my love for Israel as a theological space, my love for Judaism, my love for our shared scriptures and my real disappointment, frustration and sometimes anger with the Israeli government.
I am keenly aware of the calling to be a peacemaker. And I confess I do not know how to bring peace to even a small morsel of this deeply divided soil. I feel such outrage at the dignities heaped on the Palestinian people and such horror at the atrocities perpetuated by and against them.
I'm frustrated with the posture of those who reject any criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic, yet I find myself choosing my words oh so carefully, trying to avoid the mines. In this regard it feels like a battering relationship. Israel has more power now that David could have ever dreamed of, and it is not enough.
The revenge-fantasies of desperately oppressed and abused people have become scripture and that is the heart of my anxiety. My beloved Hebrew Scriptures call for the establishment of ancient Israel in an inhabited land. And some texts call for the annihilation of its inhabitants. And we live in a world in which the tools of genocide have kept pace with those who have the will to wield them.
In some ways it doesn't matter what the archaeological record says, or what other portions of the scripture say, there is Exodus - Joshua calling for the dispossession and annihilation of non-Israelite peoples in God's name and voice. Today, the biblical scholar in me has been beaten, wrestled down and pinned by the text.
So I'm packing my bruises and anxieties and flying across to water. I do not seek an overly promised land. I seek peace, within and without. Wholeness and restoration. Wellbeing and security. שלם