Thursday, October 23, 2008

Peace tax for a peace dividend

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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Historical Critical Pilgrimage

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

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ancient Celtic Cross

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?

Celtic Cross

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!