Monthly Archives: December 2015

Violence is on my mind these days.

I doubt the world is any more violent now than in former times, but somehow it feels ever more close and intimate–probably because the  means of sharing it  is so immediate and in-your-face.

gun violence

sciencenutshell.com

I speak here of more than what we usually identify as physical violence against others–war, bombing, shootings, arson, vandalism, assault, murder, rape–by including other forms of violence against the bodies of others–hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, homelessness and lack of basic body protections.

police violence

flockforward.com

I mean social violence, too, including ugly words spoken to and about others, individually and in groupings–exclusion and threats to exclude people from groups based on irrelevant characteristics such as skin color, gender and gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnicity, age–in person and on social media, hateful words spoken in hushed tones behind the back of the despised, the silences when those who hear the ugliness fail to speak up to offer correction or objection, as well as the violence that arises when two people, or a family or group of close friends, erupt in ugly words, and sometimes strike out physically, aimed at each other.

domestic violence 1

begun.case.edu

There also is psychic and emotional violence which can sometimes be cold and wordless, holding another or others hostage through spoken and unspoken threats of bodily harm, or eternal damnation or disgrace, if the object person even thinks what has been defined as wrong or evil or just dares to exist.

There is so much violence. And that is undoubtedly an incomplete list.

riots violence

canvas.brown.edu

Where there is violence there will be no peace. It has been said many times that peace is not the mere absence of violence. But such absence is the ground on which peace may grow.

Why do we so often resort to violence when doing so merely increases, or escalates, the level of violence? Is violence ever a good response to violence?

Few people doubt that Hitler and the Nazis could have been stopped without violence. Is that enough to justify its use in every day life, in political discourse in the land of the free and home of the brave, as the template for so much that passes for international relations?

domestic violence

calgarysun.com

I have no good answers. All I know to do in this moment of my life is to begin to observe my own violence, and the violence I experience around me, and the violence I learn about in larger social realms.

I want to understand more fully the role of violence in my life and in the lives of those around me, and in my community, state, nation and world. Naming it is the beginning, cataloging it, labeling it, help, too.

Perhaps what I am proposing is a violence inventory or index, admittedly not a pleasant thought and task, but still I think necessary if we want, as I do, a more peaceful, loving world. (you can read a UN report on violence here)

violence against children poverty

unicef.org

Will you join me? Will you commit with me to looking clearly at the violence in our lives, describing it and our feelings, owning the times when we are the agents of violence or at least complicit in it, as well as the ways and times we see others acting as purveyors of violence–in the hope we can change ourselves, and contribute to wider change, making peace more possible?

On this Solstice, when the dark lasts longest in the 24 hours, let us go deep into ourselves and into our world to hold up, examine, and discard and disown some bit of violence.

 

 

 

 

I sang what was for me a new verse to an old hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” last Sunday.

O come, O come, O Adonai, who came to all on Sinai high,
And from its peak a single law proclaimed in majesty and awe
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come O Come Emmanuel NCH

from New Century Hymnal; vs. 3 is where Adonai is used.

It was for me the first time I had heard in church this term for God, Adonai, which I often say and sing during Shabbat services in the synagogue.

As one-half of an inter-faith couple, and as a pastor/theologian acutely aware of the deep links between Judaism and Christianity (links so often abused by Christians and understandably denied by Jews), I am always grateful when a connection between these two faiths I cherish is made.

Research about the origins of the verse (and the entire hymn) revealed that they are based on an ancient seven-verse antiphon that was in use, according to some scholars, as early as the sixth century. By the eighth century, these seven verses, known as the O Antiphons, were in regular use in Rome, as part of daily preparation at vespers for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, each one using a title that the faithful attribute to Jesus:

  • December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
  • December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
  • December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
o_antiphons_advent_4

blueeyedennis-siempre.blogspot.com

Interestingly, some see in the first letters of the titles, taken backwards,  a Latin acrostic, “Ero Cras,”  which translates to “Tomorrow, I will be [there].” But scholars do not believe this was the intention of the original writers.

Moreover, from an interfaith perspective, this interpretation is tricky at best: Jews would never use the term Adonai to refer to Jesus. Thus, although I was excited when I sang this verse in church, I became concerned as I did this research to think we Christians, or some of us, might once again be appropriating, or misappropriating, that which is not ours.

Jewish Jesus

theguardian.com

What is undeniable is that the birth of Jesus is a Jewish birth. He is dedicated, circumcised, in the temple as a Jewish boy/man. He goes to temple at age 12 and converses with the rabbis. He never calls himself a Christian. Nowhere in any holy text do we find an indication that he intended to start a new religion.

I want to think, and pray, more about how to be sure that these Jewish roots are not lost or ignored–certainly at Christmas but also throughout the liturgical and spiritual year of the Church. I want Christians to stop using the Hebrew Scriptures to proof-text why they believe Jesus is the Messiah (and really only value those Hebrew texts that they claim do this).  And please do not read this as an endorsement, or repudiation, of Jews for Jesus (any more than Rabbis engage in the arguments between various sects claiming to be Christian).

At this very moment when Christmas overwhelms our culture–of course, much of Christmas as it is enacted culturally has little to do with Jesus or any other faith–and creates a situation where our Jewish siblings can feel claustrophobic, it is vital that we give thanks to God, to Adonai, for the historic and contemporary ground of our faith in Judaism.

Let us celebrate the birth of this Jewish baby who grows up into a beautiful Jewish man and rabbi, from whom we continue to learn and grow spiritually!

Let us celebrate the One who is with us, and is coming yet again.

Political rhetoric often gets in the way of facts, not to mention reason and logical thought.

Ted Cruz

Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz–wanting to establish his bona fides  as the toughest of the tough against ISIL–proposed “carpetbombing” the terrorist group into oblivion, suggesting that with enough bombs the desert might glow.

However, Cruz misuses the term “carpetbombing,” when he suggests not that we level the ISIL capital but rather bomb where the troops are. This is not carpetbombing–it is targeted bombing, which the United States and its allies are already doing. Carpet bombing is what the United States and Britain did to Dresden, Germany in World War II, flattening the city and its people.

Dresden one year after the bombing

People boarding a tram in Dresden one year AFTER the bombing that left the city mostly destroyed. news.bbc.co.uk

Another word for carpetbombing could be “massacre.” As I read about Cruz’s proposal I thought back to two episodes of “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman” Jonathan and I watched recently. Entitled “Washita,” it involves a re-telling of the complete destruction of an encampment of Cheyenne by troops led by then Lieutenant Colonel George Custer in 1868.

Washita massacre

hubpages.com

At the time, this battle was seen as a great victory over the Cheyenne, many of whom were resisting being moved onto reservations–and it restored Custer’s reputation as a military hero, ten months after he had been stripped of his rank and command for desertion and mistreatment of his troops.

There is one problem, however. The encampment was entirely populated by peaceful Cheyenne, including Chief Black Kettle who promoted peaceful relations with the government and settlers. The entire camp was on reservation land where the people had settled after being promised safety by the local Army commander. There was a white flag flying from one of the dwellings, indicating a desire to avoid conflict.

Within a few hours of the early morning raid, begun while the village was still sleeping, 103 Cheyenne braves were killed, including Black Kettle and his wife, and many other women and children. Some braves escaped and fought back, but in the end nothing was left.

custer.over-blog.com

custer.over-blog.com

This is how carpetbombing looks up close and personal. Of course, it is demoralizing, one could say terrorizing, to many of those who remain–which is what Custer and his boss, General Philip Sheridan, wanted, in order for more native Americans to move onto reservations.

But it also creates deep resentment and anger in others, which is, I suspect, what such action would produce in the Middle East. The loss of innocent life would be a great recruitment gain for ISIL and other extemist groups.

However, I imagine it would make Senator Cruz, and presumably others, feel good about his leadership skills, believing that toughness is the main ingredient . . . if we are just tough enough, violent enough, mean enough, these ugly people will either cave in or be destroyed.

This is what fear induces, unless it is coupled with reason and intelligence. Public policy rooted in fear, flavored in shrillness and hyperbole, is invariably bad policy, producing reactions and counter-reactions that leave the world in a worse place than before.

Senator Cruz, like Mr. Trump, is well educated–Cruz after all his talk and actions about being a political outsider, is a Harvard Law School grad and served as a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist–but in his drive to win the presidential nomination seems willing to sacrifice accuracy in speaking, not to mention thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.

Caveat emptor.

Hanukkah party Mishkan Torah 2015

Hanukkah party at Mishkan Torah, Greenbelt MD, 2015. Author photo

We celebrated Hanukkah these past days, including a party offered by the religious school at Congregation Mishkan Torah last evening (the final night of this eight-day feast). I say we celebrated it for past days, but not eight because I could not find our menorah until time to light the third candle at home!

Christmas tree

heart.co.uk

In ten days, we will fly to Michigan to celebrate Christmas with our extended family. In between, we will observe the winter solstice on December 22. Muslims will observe Mawlid, the birth of the prophet Mohammed on December 23 to 28 (depending on the branch of Islam). Then there is Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) and of course New Year’s Day.

This is a time of year marked by celebration.

Hanukkah is often called the Festival of Lights because of the centrality of lighting menorah candles each night (beginning with one the first night and then adding another each evening). And Christmas is marked by bright lights as well, on Christmas trees and on the exterior of many homes and other buildings. This surely is a reflection on the star that guided the magi from the East to the stable in Bethlehem. Both of these holy times are dear to me, and I know to many others as well.

winter_night_snowflakes_merry_christmas_sky_hd-wallpaper-1613250

imagesbot.com

But light is not central to two other celebrations, namely the winter solstice and Kwanzaa. In fact, they are really celebrations of darkness.

I cherish darkness–skin tones to be sure–but more, too. I value the dark of night, I value being in the dark, meaning not being sure of exactly where I am or where I am going or what is around me. I have a feeling this is not how many, probably most, people feel.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes

I cannot remember the last time I heard someone use “dark” to describe something good. Fear of the dark has been sanctified in so many people’s minds . . . without constant reminders that darkness is not a synonym for mortal or spiritual danger, most people I know revert to the equation without even thinking about it. (Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 54)

I don’t meant to suggest, any more than Taylor does, that there is never danger in the dark. But in a world where terrorists randomly kill and behead people and fly planes into tall buildings, police shoot people even as they lay dying,  and people drive cars into crowds to express their frustration–all in broad daylight or on well-lighted sidewalks and streets–I am not convinced that being in the light is all that much safer than being in the dark.

fire in darkness

myinnermystic.wordpress.com

We can learn from the dark. Do you realize that if you are outside at night and you shine a light on something that you will see it in some ways better than without the light, but at the same time that the light will block out what is around the object and around you? Light actually limits the range of your vision.

That limited vision is reflected in white racism and white privilege, too–many of us are conditioned to not really see the darker-skinned people in our midst as full members of the human race. If white, or light, is the norm, is the preferred coloration, we devalue our siblings and all the richness, truth, and beauty of their divinely created humanity.

starry night sky in winter

vi.sualize.us

And at this time of the year, in the northern half of the globe, we are given the opportunity to slow down, as the plants and trees and many of our fellow animals are doing, and rest, letting go of our need to see everything and be everywhere. I am not a big fan of cold weather–and really dislike snow–but I do value the opportunity to burrow into the cocoon that is our home and feel enveloped by darkness that is longer each day.

Of course, we have moved into a more urbanized area than our former neighborhood in Richmond, and the porch lights of neighbors, perhaps 100 feet away, seem perpetually on–but still I have the great joy of taking Cocoa out for a dark walk at 10 pm or so (most people do not leave their exterior lights on and the tree-covered walkways of our two-hundred-plus acre co-op are wonderful for walking). I also cherish going out before sunrise to walk with him. If you do this, perhaps you too notice how much more clearly the bare trees stand out against the night sky. They are a great joy to my soul.

Close-up of a family celebrating Kwanzaa

kunm.org

I don’t want to stop celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, but I want to put more emphasis on the Solstice and Kwanzaa–I want more balance in my life, and that means more dark, less light.

Spiritually speaking, I take my cue from the Hebrew writers of Genesis. Creation started out as void and darkness, and then was given more shape by the creation of light. But the light did not erase the darkness, and both were judged to be good.

May it be so in my life, and yours.

 

 

 

 

Two-angry-men

lawofselfdefense.com

When lovers fight it can become very intense. Harsh things are said, even threats sometimes. Voices are raised, one or the other storms from the room (in the best of moments, someone may ask for a “time out” but often that nicety is lost).

Is that what is happening in our national life, too?

It seems as if we are two people–one very afraid and sure all is coming to an end, and the other also afraid that all they value is being lost. Perhaps it is better to say each feels afraid that all they value is being lost, taken from them by the actions and attitudes of the other one.

pessimism-or-optimism-small

fortheloveofthistruth.com

I know which one I am, and if you read this blog at all you will know that, too. To put it somewhat crudely, I am more frightened by those who want to bar all Muslims from entering the United States than I am by the terrorists who  slip through whatever security arrangements our government erects.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says he believes there are two kinds of people, optimists and pessimists. He says it all breaks down to this basic division.

In that schema, I am an optimist.

As I write that, I want to add some qualifiers–“reasonable” or “realistic” or “sensible”–but that is because I am sensitive to what others will think, and because I can hear the voices of others who matter to me asserting that things are in a pretty bad state and that a good outcome is not assured. I hear them, but believe it is important to stand where my soul calls me. So no qualifiers.

gandhi-prayer

indiafacts.org

At the same time, I yearn to be  rooted in my soul place without saying harsh things, without raging in ways that make dialogue impossible, without storming from the room when those whose souls root them in pessimism utter their truths. We are in this together–even though sometimes it feels to me that the “this” is at least two very different things.

In our national life, I see many of our leaders acting from what are sometimes called masculinist assumptions, what I call the “bomb first, talk later” syndrome. Yes, I know that can be viewed as incendiary language, but it is the response of many in the face of what feels to them to be real and present danger.

donald Trump 3

businessinsider.com

In my life generally, and more and more, I try to follow the Ghandian principle that peace begins with me, within me. That means, I believe, that it is my responsibility to find ways to communicate with others, perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree most clearly and fundamentally.

This is a spiritual quest for me, but it also is what I am coming to believe is my patriotic and human duty–to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts large and small. So my question right now is this: how can I engage Donald Trump and others who are such a radical remove from me and my concerns and views?

I welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

springborofestivals.org

springborofestivals.org

I often feel a bit Scrooge-like at this time of year.

I’m not stingy with gift-giving, and I am certainly willing to wish people blessing and good cheer (and am more than willing to adapt my greeting to accommodate the existence of religious traditions and beliefs, or the lack thereof, that are not my own). But I do become grumpy about what seems like the over-commercialization of a sacred time.

It feels to me that the spirituality of Christmas gets lost in all the office parties, shopping, and even some of the good cheer (maybe the kind of excessive cheer that gets people drunk).

It’s not that spirituality need be glum or only serious without any fun, but there is in living spiritually an inherent depth that is lost in the marketplace. And Christmas has become very much a marketplace event. It is the most important sales event of the year for most retailers.

I know another blog or article bemoaning what has become of Christmas is probably not needed–I don’t think all the ones prior to this have done much good– and it is not my purpose anyway. But is the context in which I write today.

spiritualityandpractice.com

spiritualityandpractice.com

Like many before me, I am in search of the spirituality of Christmas. Or perhaps better, I seek the spiritual practice of Christmas. I often like to think of a spiritual practice as a path to a closer connection with the Divine, the one I call God.

What is the path of Christmas? Please note I am not asking what is the path to Christmas, but the path of Christmas. Christmas is not a destination, not a date on the calendar, but a way of living more deeply, more spiritually.

It begins in humility, the humility of Joseph accepting the child in whose creation he did not play a part and the need to leave his home in Nazareth and journey to Bethlehem by order of the government. And the humility of Mary, accepting a child for which she did not plan. Then there is their shared humility of being consigned to a stable for the birth, and being overwhelmed (I would think) by angels, shepherds, and wise man from another land and religious tradition coming to celebrate this event (something neither of them could have anticipated).

kellyneedham.com

kellyneedham.com

The first path of Christmas is humility, a way of being open to, and grateful for, the wonders of God, knowing we did not create these divine gifts, freely given to us without regard to our merit.

Hospitality is a path of Christmas, too. We have no name for the innkeeper, but he responded with kindness and the best hospitality he could muster (probably more likely a cave than a barn-like stable).  We could even say the other animals in the stable were hospitable, by making room for the unexpected visitors. The visitors from the East also practiced the hospitality of guests by bringing gifts. And every birth is a form of hospitality by God, welcoming a new life into the world.

Of course, peace is a path of Christmas–the peace that descends after a successful birth when mother and child can nestle with each other and the father and others can gaze adoringly. And love, too, in much the same way. And surely joy.

blog.birthplaces.com

blog.birthplaces.com

But I want to focus on hope as a significant path of Christmas, specifically the hope of God and others inspired by God–shepherds, wise men, angels–that somehow this birth, this particular birth, would change much in the world for the better. Every birth is transformative, certainly for the mother and the newborn, and usually for others affected by it. In this sense, every birth is marked by hope that the changes wrought will be part of creating a new and better life, not only for the child and the parents but for others as well.

This birth is laden with meaning, however, that goes beyond the immediate persons involved. Whether the details in the biblical accounts are accurate in our modern/postmodern sense of historical truth is really beside the point because the story has become imbued with great power and portent. As the tradition has unfolded, Christmas hope for a world filled with love, peace, and joy is divinely inspired. Such are our hopes, yes, but their source is God. That makes the hope powerful, indeed, provided we continue to acknowledge the source of the power. The same can be said of hospitality.

creation Sistine ChapelIn some ways, then, we are back at humility, recognizing God as the source of all that is good and holy. This is not the humility of groveling at the feet of God but an awareness that God is the author of good, a humility that leads us to sing songs and give thanks and share generously what we have received and are receiving.

So let me be as clear as I can be. There is nothing wrong with buying gifts to share with others, or receiving them either, or to having parties where we welcome friends, family, and neighbors to celebrate and are welcomed by others. There is nothing inherently wrong in buying things from merchants, for ourselves and for others. That is part of being in community, and it is a way of generosity.

07 Jan 2012, Lalibela, Ethiopia --- Pilgrims making a queue at the corridor into a cave church at Christmas. Simple farmers, many of them have camped around the churches for as long as a week. --- Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

07 Jan 2012, Lalibela, Ethiopia — Pilgrims making a queue at the corridor into a cave church at Christmas. Simple farmers, many of them have camped around the churches for as long as a week. — Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

But the path of Christmas is so much more than those activities. The path of Christmas is quiet and deep and self-giving, leaving (even breaking) us open to change we cannot predict or control (think about Mary and Joseph starting out on the journey of parenthood and where they ended up).

That is the Christmas I seek, the one I cannot control, the one that brings new revelation and spiritual health and depth into my life, new peace into the world, new love between enemies and those alien to each other.

I feel like a Christmas pilgrim, enjoying the glitter and the sounds and swirling bodies all around me, on my way into a neighboring land where the glitter is of deeper hues, the sound more angelic than even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the energy more organic and less frenetic.

That is my Christmas path, beautiful and challenging. I hope your Christmas path is too. Perhaps we can even share some holy gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember sitting in our living room on the farm outside Milford, Michigan, some time in the late 1950s and listening as my parents and other local members of the Farm Bureau discussed a video about the Red (Communist) menace sweeping the world. There was a graphic moment when red paint spread across much of Europe and then moved on to parts of Asia.

The Red Menace is real

flickr.com

I thought it overdone at the time, and today I know I was right. Even my father, pretty conservative in some respects, told me later it seemed to be raising an alarm for the sake of raising an alarm.

This memory, and especially my father’s observation, has been dancing around in my head for the past few weeks as I continue to listen to Donald Trump, and others, paint a dire picture of the United States and how the world is being overrun by terrorists (and specifically Islamic terrorists). Of course, there are more crises than anyone seems capable to managing, let alone winning. The world is a very dangerous place these days; no place is safe.

Donald Trump 2

businessinsider.com

But what I am seeing and hearing are alarms being raised for the sake of raising alarms. The latest is Donald Trump’s call to bar all Muslims from entering the country.

What good this will do is hard to grasp–unless you think, as he appears to believe, that waves upon waves of Muslims are pouring into the nation to destroy us, a complete fabrication out of no evidence.

The harm it will do is obvious: turn even more people in the Middle East and elsewhere against the West and specifically the United States. His proposal, and similar ones offered by others is the surest way to enhance radicalization in the Middle East and elsewhere. For people who are already scared, it sure sounds satisfying.

The gentleman from TrumpLand will say anything in order to trump everyone else (getting to the White House). The New York Times analyzed all 95,000 words in every public utterance by Trump over the past week in an effort to discern his appeal (about one-third of Republican voters polled say he is their choice for the presidential nomination–read it here).

The Times reporters say, “He has a particular habit of saying ‘you’ and ‘we’ as he inveighs against a dangerous ‘them’ or unnamed other — usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (‘they’re pouring in’), Syrian migrants (‘young, strong men’) and Mexicans, but also leaders of both political parties.”

bullyboy

antibullyingblog.blogspot.com

The article highlights much to be alarmed about, especially his use of ominous, negative, divisive language, and utter disregard for facts. He speaks demagogically much of the time. This is partly what took me back to that memory of the Farm Bureau film and discussion–use of language and images that remind me of Senator Joseph McCarthy and others in our history who maniacally sought to scare us into believing whatever they say and doing whatever they tell us must be done.

Trump is in attack mode 24/7. This is what bullies do. And sadly bullying is so often an indication of great weakness inside the bully–it can be called over-compensating, striking out to disguise weakness inside.

psychiatrist and patient

jimwallacemd.com

I am not qualified to conduct an evaluation of his mental state or health, but for the first time in my lifetime (other than for Richard Nixon) I think we need the presidential candidates–all of them, to be fair–to undergo clinical psychological/psychiatric evaluation.

President Obama may be too cerebral, not emotive enough, but we can’t afford to swing back in reaction all the way over to someone who is only emotive, and who is adept at getting people to think he can fix it all by a few shouted commands–Get Out! You’re fired! Your’re dumb! (fill in the blanks) is the enemy! Bomb them back to the stone age! You’re weak!

Then again, I admit it. I do begin to see the outlines of a new Red menace . . . . states that will give him enough of their votes to put him in the White House.

You're fired with Donald Trump

libertyblitzkrieg.com

I also think that if I could get his attention, the publicity value of his attack on me with (he tweets incessantly against anyone who opposes him) would be worth many new readers.

So, bring it on Donald! Fire Me!