Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012.06.24 Israel With Love

The Anglican College of St. George’s in E. Jerusalem organized this pilgrimage according to themes from Jesus’ live as recorded in the New Testament and many Old Testament stories related to biblical sites and history as well.

It is hard to separate, if one even should or can, culture from religion.

Because of the pace of things, on the move non-stop every day, and the overwhelming range and amount of input, read stimulation, I have no time even to know what I have seen. 

It gives me an idea what it must have been like for Jesus, on the go and in the rush of his important mission to change the hearts and minds of his people. As a radical god-man confronting the establishment he must have imagined he’d have little time before authorities would silence him forever— or not.

There are 18 “pilgrims” on this course, The Palestine of Jesus.  We come from USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Most are clergy.  The few laypeople, however, are more fervent:)  We are men and women about equally.  We are on the older side, therefore representative of the progressive Christian church in general.   We do have our token male seminarian who is in his 20s and who receives a bit too much mothering I’d say :)

It will be no surprise to most of you that Dick and I are out of step, not quite embracing the same brand of Christianity and theology as others.  But we are here!

The course is organized around different biblical themes and places each day:  The Holy City; Nativity with special emphasis on holy women; Living Waters (including float in Dead Sea, Jacob’s Well)—water is survival here in the desert and water is power; Qumran and Masada, the last painful gasp of the Jewish rebellion and attempt to hold onto their land and sovereignty; Galilean Ministry of Jesus, including ministry of Israel’s prophets; “Who am I for you?” Jesus asks along the way (some of us may be secretly as clueless as the first followers;) Golan Heights, West Bank, water sources for Jordan River ( not deep and wide); wade and renew our baptismal vows in Jordan; boat ride on Sea of Galilee; Mt. Tabor to be transfigured—does our divinity shine through as Jesus’ did?—dimly on occasion I guess; “Jesus Wept!”—spiritual and political streams in Jesus’ day and no wonder he wept, still weeps; Mt. Zion and Garden of Gethsemane; “ Am I my brother’s guardian!” Visit to Yad Vashem ( holocaust museum) in Jerusalem;  visits to Jewish “settlements” in West Bank, Bethlehem of Ephrata; visit to Palestinian refugee camp also outside Bethlehem; Patriarchs & Matriarchs” tombs in Hebron; and we will finish up as Jesus did, more or less, with Church of Resurrection, Holy Sepulchre and walking the way of the cross (stations established in approximate locations) down Mt. of Olives and into the temple area and Calvary where crucifixion took place. I hope that cross doesn't weigh too much!

AND FINALLY THE ROAD TO EMMAUS on which none of us would recognize Jesus with us I bet—unless of course we picked up a whiff or two of his presence in each other.

Having the topography that is approximate to Jesus’ travels is very helpful  There is little doubt among scholars that he was an historical figure and that his place of operations was Israel. The general areas where biblical events happened is known. The exact spot of each one is not known.   That is enough for me. I don’t need to know X marks the spot, only that X likely happened somewhere in this region. 

A few highlights:
    -Gethsemane, which means olive press, has olive trees that are 1880 years old—gnarled and bent they still yield fruit. Hope for aging.
    -open field near mikvah baths on Mt Zion used by Essenes who bathed twice daily for purification as the Sons of Light (no daughters) and  where Pentecost and Lord’s Supper might have taken place. There was no church in this area, hence……... no RC mass going on, no singing charismatic or pentecostal groups, no endlessly wordy Anglican prayers, and no gawking American tourists scantily clad, and no trash.
    -Quote on wall at Yad (remember) Vashem (names), holocaust museum:  “Now is the time to sanctify life, not the time to sanctify God’s name through death…” Ponder this. I forgot the rest as we could take nothing into the museum, but the sense of it was encouragement to Jews in holocaust to have hope in life and to choose it and not to glorify death, especially such a death as befell them—and many others throughout history. The deadly drumbeat of sin goes on and on. I thought of words of God to the people in Deuteronomy: I have set before you life and death , good and evil...choose life that you may live…”
    -Palestinian man , age 24, Hamse, spoke to us in the refugee camp where he was born. Conditions are miserable, yet the will to live lives on.  Hamse is studying psychology and social work in a university in the camp but he is afraid to graduate because where can he go?  Future thinking is dim but education brings some hope, and prayer.  “I’m afraid to die before to do something, to leave a print for me.”  God/Allah?  “I know Allah when inside myself I choose the good way and pray a lot.” 
    -a survivor of holocaust spoke of how at age 7 she crawled over dead bodies and got out of the pit (mass grave) she was supposed to be buried in.  “They shot. We were supposed to fall into the pit. They missed some of us.”
    -The new Dean of St. George's Cathedral here, Hasam Naoum, the first Palestinian Christian to fill this post, told us that, because of all the many and confused identities and fears of loss of identities in this land, it was a time to strive for justice and equality. BUT not to strive so hard for justice that you lose sight of mercy and compassion, two spiritual virtues that are even more necessary just now.

So........ how may people have died for us? Jesus is not alone. Many have died at the hands of others or by their own as martyrs or in despair.  They die. They are remembered as signs that we must work to help each other retrieve the spiritual side of our human nature.

Yad vashem. Remember a name.

Every day is “Jesus wept” day. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

2012.06.11 Omigod!

While in NYC at Easter time we stopped in a little deli to grab a small lunch. Of course since chocolate chip cookies are my favorite and I lean religious,  I was attracted to Ohmigod! cookies.   They were shrunk-wrapped and tied in black and white grosgrain ribbons with Ohmigod! printed in black on the white ribbon.

Who would do a thing like that? I had to know and I had to have the cookies.

Here is the story of Ohmigod! It began with an essay written by Matthew for his 7th grade English class:  “There I am sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the best dessert ever. My dad and I are baking a magnificent cake which used to belong his grandmother. We were having fun but all I keep thinking about is that cake in the oven.  Finally the cake is done. My dad takes the cake out of the oven to cool and cuts up two little pieces, one for him and one for me. We both take a bite into it at the same time and say “Oh my God.” Every week we would make this cake together until a tragic thing happened. My dad passed away. I was so sad and all of our friends and family were at our house to show that they loved us to care for us and to keep us company. It was about four months later that I asked my mom if we could please make my dad’s cake in memory of him, because it was his favorite cake. Now my mom and I make the cake all the time and it comes out great, almost as good as my dads used to, but most of all in my heart, when I make this cake,  I will always remember my dad.”

When Matthew turned 19 he began to share the cake recipe in local shops. Matthew is now 23 and has a business that is booming.

His mother writes: “I do believe in divine intervention and I am certain that Matthew’s dad is smiling down from up above. To all of you “Ohmigod!” fans out there you really are taking a bite into heaven on earth!”

I made an informal Easter Eucharist out of the delicious cookies and remembered my own dad.
We are leaving for Israel tomorrow in the early a.m. I hope to post some travel blogs, but mostly I just want to be a pilgrim.

I’ve always dreamed, among other things like long silken hair, a wasp waist, being a priest, and getting published, of going to the land where Jesus walked. Why? Oh, because he’s my guru and the one who taught me to be real because he was. He makes me say OmiGod!

Also, I had a Jewish grandfather I never met but whose people may have walked Palestinian land, at some time their home.

Going back to pick up life spaces in fact has become more enlivening than going forward. No wonder! My long-term memory has far surpassed my short-term one.

For today I hope only that our visit to the land we call holy will be holy, imbued with wonder, love, gratitude, God’s own dream of peace, and droves of spiritual experiences—also strong joints and a chocolate chip cookie, or two.
Our Jewish neighbor, the one who is a beautiful singer and who has never been to Israel, just came over to sing a Christian liturgical chant she’d prepared for us as a send off.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

2012.06.08 Where is God?

A friend recently sent me an email with the subject line: Where is God? Help me on this one please.  She then gave details of a friend who was drowning in pain over multiple and what seemed to her serial losses—all tragic and all related to alcohol dependency. 

I wanted to preach 12-step recovery wisdom; instead I went for Christian wisdom and wrote.......

You of course are asking the $64-billion question theology has wrestled with for all time. It's called theodicy.  Where is God in these situations? Why do the innocent suffer? I tend to ask people what God they are wondering about. Usually it is the deity they expect to intervene for the good and to save.  But few consider what salvation means beyond mere rescue.

We pray for a rescuer and often we get a lover, a God who accompanies us, strengthens us from within, loves us in the midst of all kinds of tragedies but does not FIX it.  It seems unfair I know but think about the fact that if God fixed everything for us we would never grow up and we would never access the enormous capacity God gave us to love one another, just as you are doing for your sweet friend.

With such a God we might feel cozy or spoiled but would be dependent and not free. (Think Alanon.) YOU are the presence of God to her as you listen, advise when you can, and mostly just be present gently until she grieves and begins to heal.  (A good book on this question is Rabbi Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." )

God to me is a compassionate presence not a judge, a cosmic controller, or a rescuer—except through us.  My nephew for example has been rescued many many time by the Salvation Army. The rest of his salvation is  transformation and it's is up to him and God.

If God were to prevent or eliminate evil & suffering She would have done it for Jesus at the very least.  Jesus spread good and healing around but he didn't heal everyone and God didn't stop the crucifixion but simply acted to restore Life in the Spirit forever, which Christians call resurrection. 

God limits God's own powers for the sake of love—and for the sake of our freedom, including nature's. 

Theologian William Pocher Dubose said something I remember: "God's will waits upon our willingness."

Demond Tutu, retired Anglican Archbishop of So. Africa said, "God without us will not, and we without God cannot ." Yup! Relationship/partnership/cocreatorship— not control is the way this kingdom is run.

I believe that God created us imperfect AND perfectly driven to yearn, strive, struggle, and question life as it comes. It's just that way. The amazing grace, when we can be aware, is that we recognize serenity in patches—patches so colorful and enchanting (and often nuts)  that they remain embroidered on our souls forever and help us go on, no matter what.

Be the amazing grace, and I send you grit and prayers, and hope,


P.S.  It's  OK too to rant and get mad at God who will listen, not condemn, and let you work through your powerlessness…. and God's as well :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

2012.06.06 What Does It Matter?

What does it matter when someone at a geographic distance, that you haven’t seen in 30 years and only glimpsed at a reunion, and with whom you have no personal connection but whose work you admire and whose ministry touched you once for a very short time, gets hurt unjustly?

Margaret Farley, RSM (Sister of Mercy, an order in which I am an Associate member) was one of my favorite professors when I was in seminary at Yale Divinity School in the early 80s.  She taught Ethics. The church required aspiring clergy to take Ethics. I thought I was ethical. What did I know? 

I remember Margaret’s generous spirit, her scholarship, considerable and accessible, and her wry grin. She is a faithful woman who has been subjected to three years of intensive interrogation from her church hierarchy and has had to defend her perspectives and scholarship over and over, only to be told her work is condemned because it runs counter to official Roman Catholic moral teaching.

Margaret’s view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was always broad and deep. Now she is being persecuted, not by her Order but by the Vatican whose Gospel values to me seem shallow and narrow, an institution quite closed in on itself by fear,  and rife with its own corruptions.  Implosive I’d say. 

Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,  a book Margaret has worked on over years and a compendium of much of her thinking on the radical topic of LOVE has made it to the condemned list of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) because it contradicts  Catholic moral teachings on matters of, what else, sex—the usual culprits, divorce and remarriage, homosexual sex, and, my favorite, masturbation, an activity the magisterium finds “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Margaret suggest such an activity may improve marital relations, may enhance and equilibrate differences. 

So how do you screen for masturbatory activity? Who would know but God?  What precisely makes it unethical? (I remember my first time. I experienced bodily power I never knew I had; it helped me love the body someone else had abused and I had shamed and it helped my marriage.)

JUST LOVE is a wily and provocative title.  It can mean just love as if love alone made the world go round and was all you needed; or it can mean that all love must be just.  Knowing Margaret, even without reading this book, I’d vote for the latter interpretation. I’d bet that couples, friends, peers and colleagues, or most people who say they love someone or a group, a pet, nature’s beauties, or a cherished idea, don’t think of justice as an ethical boundary that must surround their affections. 

We think of justice more as a social category than a personal intimate one, but justice is the framework that supports love, both erotic and platonic, and allows it to grow.

The official Notification that Just Love may not be used in any Catholic institutions even for ecumenical discussion is deliciously ironic. Farley is a professor emeritus at Yale Divinity School, not a Catholic institution, and even more the recent censure has sent this book’s sales soaring.

Academic Catholic colleagues are weighing in with vigor in defense of Margaret's scholarly rights and in admiration of her person. I wish some Anglo-Catholic bishops would speak out. I suppose they are worried about damaging ecumenical relations, but this is about solidarity not  politics. 

Mercy’s leadership supports their sister and is helping her through this process while they are simultaneously defending themselves after vatican crackdowns for doctrinal offenses and serious feminist leanings ( more on sex and women) that threaten the same hierarchy, itself profoundly disordered by its own sexual scandals and coverups.  Its a mess. And why is everything conflictual always about money or sex? 

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister minces no words. “Where has all this energy for empirical destruction come from in a church now projecting its own serious problems with sexual issues onto everything that moves?”

You can read all about it online, with the help of Google/God of course. Start with the Sisters of Mercy website, Margaret Farley, Yale Divinity School, even Huffington Post, and click along the links.

Why does it matter to me?  It matters because I am a woman, an Associate of Mercy, a former student of Margaret Farley, a member of the body of Christ wounded. It matters because anything that hurts one of us hurts all of us, no matter who or where we are.

Most of all it matters because it hurts God, the divine spiritual presence whose graciousness wraps us round with a love at once intimate and impotent, a love that waits upon human cooperation to create “JUST LOVE,” both political and personal.  Freedom, God’s loving gift, is valueless and serves no higher purpose, without justice to give it breath.  

What I remember most of all the wisdom Margaret Farley imparted is something she told us about Peter and Judas, the polarized hero/villain team of the Christian drama. She noted this paradox:  Peter—the favored one, the rock of the Church, the “pope,” leader and most faithful of all—  in the end discovered he had little faith, little enough to betray all of it thrice.

While Judas, the identified betrayer— condemned, cast off, placed outside the inner sacred circle of the faithful forever— discovered in the end that he had true faith, enough to die for its sake.

How timely!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

2012.06.03 God Grows and Grows: How I Learned the Trinity

I’d seen pictures of God in my favorite book The Little Book About God, published just two years before I was born by  Doubleday. God was an old man reclining on a cloud creating myriad wonders on earth below—His Earth. I was impressed by the Creation thing,  but what grabbed me by the scruff of my soul was God’s odd personality quirk—listening.  

God would sit for hours in a garden and listen to all the sounds of Earth, identifying and cataloguing every single sound, including “weeny sounds” like the soft weeping of a little girl, a sound so small it was “very hard to locate.”  But God found it. 

I had a difficult time when my grandmother moved into our small NewYork apartment with us and the dining room became the only place for her bed. She had bad ears. Mastoiditis they said. No wonder she had bad ears. I could see they were too long, hanging down all along her cheeks. I resented her ears. It was because of them that she needed care and moved in so my dining room table sanctuary moved out.  God, to me, lived under that table. Where would God live now? 

I sucked my thumb double time and raw and my pout deepened as I grieved my table and re-thunk God.  While I wondered I still talked to God who listened, table or no table.

That was how I learned that God must be intimately a part of my own spiritually charged imagination and didn’t dwell solely there any more than God dwelt under my table.

God got around. God lived nowhere and everywhere. God lived in me and in you, not just in Jesus like the church said. God was free.

My experience and the images it generated helped me digest what the church calls the Holy Trinity, whose Sunday it is today,  because it made God plural, deeply relational,  mobile and multiform, read, less patriarchal uber-MAN in the sky, and decidedly un-housable.