On the 14th, we had our annual Children's Pageant, which included Christmas traditions from around the world. For the Children's message, we watched another conversation on participating in the Advent Conspiracy - this time encouraging us to preserve our Advent preparations through worship.
Last Sunday, we watched a movie trailer as our continuing series of Children's Messages on reclaiming the meaning of Christmas from the consumerism that has become so normal in our society. This clip shows the shopping "mad dashes" that have claimed more lives again this year. Someone in Pittsburg heard that an employee at Walmart was punched by a shopper when they didn't have what they wanted. This isn't what Christmas is supposed to be... is it?
Our Session last week voted to add an "alternative worship service" to the church in the future. We are still very much in the midst of planning what this new service will look like, and gathering the musicians and artists necessary to do some of the creative things we are discussing. In the mean time, my kids found this on YouTube, and definitely have mixed feelings about what a "new" kind of worship could look like. This gives a new definition to "trying too hard to be hip." Have fun...
A few of those who were picking olives with us – including a London reporter for Al Arabia – went to the weekly non-violent protest in the village of Bil'in, just North of Ramallah. I visited this place a couple of years ago and met with Abdullah and others in the village who welcome the Israelis and internationals who come to help stand against the theft of their land.
The "Security Barrier" runs up next to the village, stealing the village's olive orchards in order to build an illegal multi-story settlement on their land. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that they should have access to their olive groves – where many of their trees have been destroyed – through a gate in the fence. But over the last year, the non-violent protests of the closed access to their groves has been met by increasingly violent responses from the IDF. A Nobel Peace prize winner from Ireland was hit with a rubber bullet there a while back. Not one suicide bomber has come from this region of the West Bank, but the IDF continue to argue for the placement of the fence well inside the Internationally recognized line. Here is footage from October 31st at Bil'in:
Of course, many of the Jews who come to Israel from abroad don't fully understand what is happening in the Occupied Territories. They are happy to be free and away from the Anti-Semitism expressed in Russia, Eastern Europe, or Ethiopia. But some of those who buy homes in the West Bank are not told that the homes they are buying are on land owned by Palestinians. Many of them get "buyer's remorse" after learning that their homes or condos are built on another's property, but they are stuck in mortgages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if they would like to get to do the right thing, they cannot afford to do so. As the New York Times reports, things are changing. Please visit:
The other issue for Palestinians who try to protect their rights in the courts is that Israel does not have established borders or a constitution that guarantees Arabs any rights – even marital rights, if they wish to marry someone who lives in the West Bank. The tragedy is extended to those cases when a family or village is able to get a decision in their favor from the Israeli Supreme Court, if the Military decides that a specific checkpoint or region is essential to Israel's "security" then they are free to ignore the Supreme Court and build a concrete wall between a Palestinian village such as Um Salomona and the villager's olive and almond groves. Isn't it time for human rights in Israel-Palestine?
When did the United States cease being a Constitutional, representative Democracy? The moment states started allowing the tyranny of the majority to supersede our constitutional freedoms and civil rights.
• It happened when the issue of slavery wasn't made a part of the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of the humanity of every resident in the colonies.
• It happened again with the Chinese Exclusion Act.
• It happened again when the Latter-Day Saints were stripped of their religious freedoms expressed in the practice of polygamy.
• It happened again with the internment of Japanese-American's during World War II.
• It happened again when interracial couples were not allowed to marry who they choose.
• It happened again as women were not guaranteed the same rights as men in society and the same pay as men in the workplace when the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't ratified.
• It happened again as the U.S. ignored their humanitarian responsibility on the Mexican border in deference to an "enforcement only" approach to the immigration issue it created with the creation of NAFTA.
•And it happened again this week when religious conservatives misrepresented a California State Supreme Court decision that recognized the constitutional right of all couples to marry who they choose, and voted for a citizen proposition to attempt to write discrimination into the Californian Constitution.
Living in a Constitutional Democracy is supposed to ensure that the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" trumps any majority vote to curtail such rights. But there is a group of Americans who aren't interested in life under the law. It is not that they are not law abiding citizens, but they wish to impose their religious and cultural norms on the rest of American society - wishing to recreate America as a "Christian nation." These folks are fundamentalist Calvinists that ascribe to a form of Christian Dominionism that seeks a Christian Fundamentalist Theocracy rather than the secular system the founding fathers and mothers provided for us.
Umberto Eco writes, "In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view––one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Facisim, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.... Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and point our finger at any of its new instances––every day, in every part of the world." (Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, as printed in "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," by Chris Hedges.)
When any part of society gets targeted, even in the name of "family values," a little bit more of our civil liberties protected by the bill of rights gets eroded away. What eventually happens, as in the case of Prop 8 in California, is that heterosexual privilege gets instituted as a cultural norm that allows other kinds of discrimination against Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexuals, Transgender and Intersex persons, and the Queer and Questioning. Then the differences between the rights of those with Civil Unions and those who are Married become more pronounced. A targeted class of people must pay lawyers hundreds of dollars to enact as many of the rights that Civil Union do not provide – such as inheritance rights. Meanwhile, the favored class of people can get a quickie marriage in Las Vegas as easily as setting up a haircut. Separate and unequal indeed.
Yes, heterosexual marriage is in crisis, but denying marriage to all loving couples will not fix it. Instead, Prop 8 is blatant discrimination, it is still unconstitutional, and it is morally wrong. The California Supreme Court recognized marriage as a right everyone has always had, yet hadn't been officially made available to every citizen. It is time for every American to demand that we return to a Constitutional Democracy and correct this egregious wrong perpetrated by the tyranny of a slim majority.
While the Presbyterian Church, among other non-profits, has been discussing divestment as a way of not profiting from the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I wonder how willing we would be to start talking about a peace tax.
Many may not know, but right now the U.S. taxpayers are helping pay billions of dollars each year to both Egypt and Israel for the peace agreement between them negotiated in the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978. It can be said that such an investment helped in the transition of the Sinai back into the hands of Egypt and helped bring about stability between the two nations.
So it makes me wonder, if there is ever to be a peace dividend between Israel and Palestine, would churches and other non-profits be willing to encourage another set of peace taxes. Churches and other NGO's have been considering how to best help those most affected by the conflict, most notably the Palestinian poor. They have also considered how to invest for peace, though most of our funding mechanisms center around mission and grant funding of certain projects that we find consistent with our way of doing church. But I wonder if we would be willing to risk asking our nation, and others, to consider funding such a way of making peace where such conflict fuels the fire of hatred and animosity of much of the Arab world against the West. Such a peace tax would be necessary in any peace talks to provide for the compensation of the refugees of Palestine displaced by Jewish settlers since 1948, and the number of Sephardic Jews who were displaced from Arab countries after that war.
I believe the peace dividend of such a tool could be used to get over the thorniest issues of negotiations, and that it would show the wrongs made on all sides of the issue, including those states that contributed to European-American anti-semitism while displaying to the Arab world our desire for peace.
I made it safely to Israel late last night. Today, our group went to Tel Megiddo (the ruins of the ancient city of Megiddo referred to in John's Apocalypse by the term Armageddon). We also went through the Church of the Annunciation. Our Greek Orthodox tour guide is very similar to the Malkite Catholic guide I had a couple years ago. The place names and biblical stories are woven together in an allegorical and "orthodox" historical reading that doesn't exactly square with the latest that we know about biblical archeology and history. It has been a good trip, but I find myself catching my tongue at some of the simplistic stories told about the history of Israel. It is not that seminary has ruined such travel. I think that most tourists who come wish to see the holy sites, and perhaps don't like to be told that there is no proof that this or that church or site is the actual site of ______________ event.
When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, his Christian mother Helena must have been ecstatic. Shortly after Christianity became the official religion of the empire, Helena toured the Holy Land and heard the legends of what happened where. Now we have churches, shrines, and monuments built for the Beatitudes, a building where Mary was supposed to have been buried before her ascension into heaven, and a path that goes through modern streets of Jerusalem as the "via dolo rosa" – the pathway of the lord to his crucifixion – even though the original road was 3 feet lower and may or may not have followed the same path.
It is good to be here, don't get me wrong. I just wish that those sharing "the party line" about such things would also describe or take us to the other sites that claim to be the household of Joseph in Nazareth. But such honest tourism threatens other parts of the tourism trade. What if Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, a point which is added to the synoptic gospel tradition in Matthew and Luke in the 5th and 10th decades after Jesus died? Scholars believe that this story was placed here in order to make Jesus the Son of David. But what if he really was born in Nazareth? And even if it could be proven, would churches starting singing "O Little Town of Nazareth"?
It was good today to help put some of the Northern Tribe's stories into context at Tel Megiddo. Seeing its strategic place along the trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and witnessing the vast archeological evidence that this place had been inhabited from 9,000 to 400 BCE, all helps describe the resources Solomon put into the place in order to extract the taxes of goods going through this region. It also helps us understand why the place had been run over and rebuilt 28 times. Both Egypt and the Assyrians and their successor Empires would desire this key point in order to control the flow of goods and taxes back to their respective empires.
It was also good to be able to look across the Jezreel Valley at the Mt. Tabor (the supposed sight of the Transfiguration) and Nazareth. While Nazareth was so small in Jesus' time that it didn't need mentioning in most documents that survive, its proximity to Sephoris, Mt. Tabor and the Sea of Galillee help put Jesus into context. No wonder Jesus taught with agricultural parables. This is the bread basket of Galillee, and the beauty is astounding. It makes me wonder how our natural surroundings influence our cosmology and the stories we live by. Perhaps John the Baptizer did grow up among the Essenes, as many scholars now believe. It would account much for for his ascetic style and brash tone. But Galillee gives us a Jesus of Nazareth – who continues to give us a world of possibilities as we look out at the world.
I am happy to continue giving my own responses to the trip here, but if you want to keep up with the group's blog, please visit http://keephopealiveca.blogspot.com/
The Celtic cross is a symbol we have seen many times, and we are used to seeing tall Celtic crosses carved out of stones in graveyards and on the tops of churches.
Before Christianity came to what is now Ireland and the British Isles, there were already Celtic crosses in use but they were not high crosses. It is said that St. Patrick added the circle to the Christian cross as a way of communicating that the God who created the sun, and hence the universe, also was known in Jesus of Nazareth who died on a Roman cross. Instead, the ancient Celtic cross is more ancient than that.
Instead of upright crosses, such carvings were placed flat on the ground, the four quarters pointing to the four directions. To the North lies wisdom, silence, Winter, death, and the element of the earth. To the East lies rebirth, youth, Spring, growth, sunrise, and the element of water. To the South lies vitality, vigor, Summer, strength, noontime, and the element of air. To the West lies knowledge, experience, Autumn, guidance, sunset, and the element of fire. The circle which connects the four points is the cycle of the eternal returns of all these things, and the Center represents the Spirit and the soul. If you noticed, there are both elements of the divine masculine and feminine in this description.
It seems to me that our culture seems to have lost the ancient connection to the cycles of nature, and the cyclic cosmology from that time. Instead, we think in more linear ways, as if everything has a beginning and an ending. This not only affects the ways we look at life, but influences our conceptions of history and our misunderstandings of such biblical terms as "the end of the age." Instead of the end of an era and the beginning of a new era, many hear a term that refers to the end of the world. Hence, a word like apocalypse (which means to reveal) then begins to take on meanings of the "end times" and the destruction of the world. The cyclic world of most ancient peoples who depended on knowing and living within the agrarian cycles of nature gets displayed in such symbols as spirals and circles. But the Celts also had quite an affinity for the number three, which melded neatly with Trinitarian thought. And so, for hundreds of years Ireland had both an ecologically aware and a very relational form of Christianity. What if we could reclaim such a cosmology as a way of healing Christianity from its pretenses of power over others, alienation from creation, and the reclaiming of the divine feminine?
Some of you know that my youngest brother Steven died in a truck rollover accident last May. He was 27 years old, and left an ex-wife and two children. It has been a hard few months personally as I continue to come to terms with his untimely death. He had just moved to Grand Junction, Colorado in an attempt to find a greater access to work for his painting business. The distance and separation from the facts of his accident provided many questions as we tried to put pieces together. Needless to say, his loss was a shock to all of us. I didn't have much of a sense of his presence except for one evening while going through his pictures while preparing a slide show for the Memorial. Losing a brother I expected to be able to play softball with continues to be difficult. What surprised me, however, was not having a sense of his presence. So as a part of my grief, I found a great tattoo artist named Dr. Skins. He studied art at UCLA and was a jazz harmonica artist with a few rock bands in the 80's and 90's. He helped turn a picture of a Celtic cross into the art you see above, with intricate shading that makes it look like aged stone.
Now I have a remembrance of Steven with me all the time, and a celebration of our Celtic heritage that both of us enjoyed. Life isn't the same without you. Love ya bro'. Go Utes!
I saw the documentary "Flow" this week. This movie is still playing at a few theaters around the Bay Area, and I recommend it highly. It shows the consequences of allowing corporations to privatize what has been a part of our environmental commons: Water. What happens when companies bottle municipal tap water? What happens when companies take over publicly owned water systems? What happens when cities, counties, states, and nations allow this transfer of control over drinkable water in a time of drastic climate change? It tells the story of Bechtel in Bolivia, our SF Presbytery mission partners through Joining Hands.
Do we ignore it, hoping it will go away? Do we overreact? Instead, it seems that Jesus invites us to keep short accounts with one another. In fact, he compels us to meet conflict head on.
About this dynamic of life, Jude Siciliano says,
"Jesus isn't calling us to be wimps, to lie dow and let the world run over us in its pursuit of pleasure and ease. He wants us to be an assertive, believing community, ever challenging by our values and ways of living what the world takes for granted and calls "blessings." We are, according to the beatitudes, people who practice unlimited forgiveness, peacemaking and patient loving, in the ways Jesus taught us by his living and dying."
It is too bad that many Christians use Matthew 18:15-20 as the necessary steps to go through before one has an excuse to exclude someone from the community – rather than positively as a way of resolving conflict. It makes me wonder how many of our judicial cases in the Presbyterian Church could be solved before major expense if we followed these words with the grace they were intended.
I spent this last week with my lectionary group at the Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux near Juneau, Alaska. We shared papers on lectionary scriptures for next year's texts, went out whale watching, and did a little fishing. On the grounds there was this 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth made of stone and gravel. At each of the turns there were local plants, and a large stone in the middle where people have left symbols of prayers. The labyrinth is built into the side of the hill with large retaining stones that are perfect for sitting. And, of course, there are roses all around, a symbol of the presence and prayers of St. Therese.
It can be a little hard to walk when the stones are above ground, like in this labyrinth. It is still possible to walk such labyrinths with others, but it makes it harder to pass one another. Metaphorically, what obstacles to we find on life's journey of faith? Do we wait for others to make their way before us? Do we feel constrained by the path, or do we experience the freedom of venturing off the path on our way to Christ's presence in the middle? What do we take away from such an experience with us back into the world?
I took some time on my day off last week to go to Grace Cathedral to walk their new and improved labyrinth. As you can see, they replaced the wool tapestry labyrinth with a stone inlaid labyrinth that looks more like the original 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France.
While I walked, it was very crowded as people came to walk after work. Staying for a while, walking slowly as people rushed through their experience, allowed me to remain later to have most of the labyrinth to walk by myself. This is one of my favorite places on earth, having taken the Facilitator's Training in 2002. Imagine walking in this space with a live harpist and rose petals falling down from the ceiling! More information is available at www.veriditas.org.
The last labyrinth I helped create is another indoor seven-circuit modified Chartres style labyrinth at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, CA. This is also painted on the floor of the Fellowship Hall, protected by a laminate. Having a labyrinth in the midst of a theater and multipurpose room is a great way to add depth to a room, while increasing the opportunities for creating programming in the spiritual discipline of group walking of the labyrinth. Of course, I can't take credit for this wonderful labyrinth because Rev. Catherine Oliver was not only the inspiration for it, but she also helped draw, tape, paint, and organized all the volunteers who helped create this special space. If you are in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, drop by for a walk.
I helped make a seven-circuit modified Chartres style labyrinth made with local materials at Westminster Woods. Across the river from the green and cafeteria, this labyrinth is nestled into the hillside with a small retaining wall that doubles as a bench. The path is redwood duff, divided by rocks from the riverbed nearby.
This is a seven-circuit modified Chartres style labyrinth I painted in the back yard of a friend's house when her house was a part of a garden tour. I have made similar temporary labyrinths at my church – Community Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, CA (www.cpcpittsburg.org) – at various times over the last four years.
This is an 11-circuit modified Chartres style labyrinth inside Duncan Hall at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, CA. Accross the street from the seminary, this labyrinth is the only permanent indoor labyrinth in the area and is perfect for rainy days or lazy afternoons. We have led evening Lenten services on and around the labyrinth, with candles, and a creativity table for journaling or drawing about the labyrinth experience. The indoor space also makes it more intimate for times with live or recorded music.
This Cretan style of labyrinth was made by planting concrete pavers into the grass. This is the oldest style of labyrinth in the world, and can be found on coins from the Mediterranean and even in some stone labyrinths in Britain and some Scandinavian countries. We added a Celtic circle to the interior axial cross of this labyrinth. The secluded spot between Baird Hall and the Lloyd Center at SFTS is very private. Take off your shoes and spend some time.
This seven-circuit modified Chartres style labyrinth is on Geneva Terrace at San Francisco Theological Seminary. We tested a version of this labyrinth in chalk during holy week when I was a chaplain's assistant at SFTS. A classmate suggested turning the entrance toward the mountains and it has made all the difference in the walking experience. I drew this labyrinth, which was then created with an acrylic Portland cement applied by Rob Cowger, and then sealed to protect it from the sun and rain. The acrylic cement bonded with the regular cement, and even exhibits the same pattern of cracking with the cement underneath. The purple color today is closer to gray, perhaps because it hasn't been sealed as often as it needs, but it is still the most accessible labyrinth on campus.
It amazes me that 25,000 people helped raise over $4.5 million dollars. While many people were at worship in churches around the Bay Area, others were walking and praying for a cure to a disease that continues to ravish people all around the world. Almost three decades after the first victims of AIDS were targeted and excluded from the church, today even Evangelical Christians in America are working to end this terrible disease around the world. While in Seminary, I remember organizing my congregation in creating home health care kits to send to southern Africa. People went shopping for rubber gloves, bandages, gauze, scissors, and bedsheets, and we mailed them in large boxes to our Presbyterian partners. With the increasing number of AIDS orphans, the families and villages that have been devastated, and the those here in the U.S. who continue to live with the effects of the virus, let us continue to pray, and walk, and heal.
This year, about the same number of Presbyterians joined in the walk. The Episcopalians raised $19,000, the Lutherans raised $16,000, and the Catholics raised $13,000. Next year, lets send teams from every congregation in the Presbytery, and see if we can catch up with our brothers and sisters in raising money for a cure. Then more of us will be able to participate in the great hospitality offered by Mission Bay's community!
The recent General Assembly updated its Social Creed from the versions of the past in an attempt to be able to address the current needs of the world. What do you think about this? What would you add, or leave out? What is the role of the Church in the world? How does this affect our local mission?
A Social Creed For the 21st Century
Remembering the prophetic Social Creed of the Churches of 1908, we respond to God’s call to transform our social order toward justice and peace, and address the 21st century’s great challenges of globalization and sustainability. Hearing also concerns of churches and peoples around our globe, we pledge ourselves to specific practices of personal and social responsibility that reflect our Triune God’s gracious will for all creation. We rejoice in the Biblical vision where all “shall long enjoy the work of their hands” and “not labor in vain or bear children for calamity”(Isa.65: 22-23).
In faith, we celebrate the full humanity of each woman, man, and child, all created in God’s image, by working for:
Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage.
Protection of workers from dangerous occupational conditions, injuries, and death.
Full civil, political and economic rights for all people, protected by new governance structures.
Abolition of forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children.
The rights of workers to organize, and to share in workplace decisions and productivity gains.
Adequate time and resources to care for families without fear of work penalties.
High quality public education for all, free from racial, gender, or economic disparity.
A fair, de-racialized criminal justice system, based on restorative justice and rehabilitation.
In the love taught by Jesus, despite the world’s sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of cooperation by working for:
Abatement of poverty and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.
Safe, affordable housing, served by adequate public transportation.
An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.
Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.
Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers’ rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.
Public service as a high vocation, with integrity in voting, campaign finance and lobbying.
In hope sustained by the Holy Spirit, we pledge to keep and heal the environment, recognizing our responsibility for its health and our interdependence with Creation and one another, by working for:
Adoption of simpler lifestyles for those who have enough.
Access for all to healthy food, clean water and air, with wise and equitable land stewardship.
Sustainable use of all resources and promotion of alternative energy sources.
Equitable global trade that protects local economies, initiatives, cultures and livelihoods.
Peacemaking through international cooperation and rule of law, mutual security rather than unilateral force, nuclear disarmament and a strengthened United Nations.
Redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses.
Relationships of mutuality among the world’s churches and faith communities.
With all those who labor and are heavy-laden, we commit ourselves to a culture of peace and freedom that embraces non-violent initiatives, human dignity and greater equality, with a deeper spirituality of inward growth and outward action. By these means, we witness to our hope in the God who makes all things new, whom we know in Jesus Christ.
Ok, so our Moderator, and my friend, the Right Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow has encouraged the church to increase the different ways we as pastors communicate with our congregants and the church at large – and so, after much arm twisting I have finally started a blog.
I will use this space to go down the many rabbit trails our weekly lectionary scriptures take us. I also hope to further explore what it means to be a Christian in the midst of Empire – both as citizen and critic – asking what it means not just to believe in Jesus but to be a follower of his radical message in a time of much Christian complacency and complicity with injustice around the world.
So read and struggle along with me. Replies are always welcome. Let's start a conversation about our lives and loves – exploring how God calls us into the future together.
This is an Open Source project for all who seek to make the world a better place.
We live in an evolutionary world that continues to evolve and change. Humanity is the universe becoming conscious of itself. For good or ill, we are the co-creators of our world. If the world's philosophical and religious traditions are the inheritance of all humanity, what are those sayings, quotations, readings, etc. from every discipline that will help humanity build a new way of living in peace with the planet and one another?