Monday, December 23, 2013


Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
Hang in there.  We're almost there.  Despite all the stress of travel, of family reunions, of endless office parties, of trips to the mall, the mindless shopping, and the running up of credit card bills – the real war on Christmas - we'll find once again… in the quiet of Tuesday night and the peace of Wednesday morning the joy of what it's all about…that annual reminder that God is with us.
This year's reminder comes to us from Matthew, probably the most Jewish of the Gospel writers.  It is notable on a number of scores. 
First, given his own Jewishness and that of his intended audience, Matthew begins with an exhausting genealogy designed to prove Jesus' Jewish bona fides.  Plowing through forty-two generations from Abraham to "Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah," he seeks to document that Jesus is that shoot from the stump of Jesse, that sign from heaven, that Son of David Isaiah and all the prophets anticipated.
The fact that Jesus' claim to the lineage and mantle of David is gained through Joseph might explain a second characteristic of Matthew's Gospel – the prominence of Joseph in his telling of the Christmas story.  Whereas, for example, Luke's angel breaks the news to Mary, Matthew's angel explains things to Joseph – difficult news in worldly terms for both to swallow.  But Joseph, like Mary, obeys and proceeds to protect Mary's worldly reputation.  In so honoring Joseph, Matthew honors every husband and father and, in Joseph, holds up their roles as protector and provider.  He also points us to a model of compassion we might all adopt in caring for young women facing ostracism because of an unexpected pregnancy.  The Holy Family is holy in ways that speak to our daily lives.
A third characteristic of Matthew's Gospel is the way in which it relates how God sometimes speaks to us in dreams – something I firmly believe.  My spiritual director, a Jungian, also believes in dreams and recommends writing them down first thing in the morning while they're still fresh, so that we might reflect on their meaning and discern what God might be saying to us.  On my blog this past Monday you'll find one such effort to do just that.
A final aspect of Matthew's Gospel that I find especially appealing is its straightforward style.  Matthew doesn't beat around the bush.  He tells the story with a matter-of-fact clarity.  How else could you describe the opening line of his telling of the Christmas story: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way"?
It's a story that is played out again and again, over and over, every year.  In this sense, it has about it the flavor of Groundhog Day…you know, the Bill Murray movie.  But it's not like that – frozen in time, never changing.  For each year, with each retelling, each re-reading, we learn something new about ourselves, our world, and the God who is with us.
That name – Emmanuel – used by both Isaiah and Matthew - seven hundred years apart – says it all.  It means not that God was with us in one place, at one time, but rather that God is with us here and now, always and everywhere. I've talked about this before – our Christian concept of time, of God's eternal time, Xairos.  Father Bart Gage, an Episcopal priest puts it this way:
                        Basically there are two kinds of time: Xairos and Chronos.  Xairos is eternal time, the time that is part of God's essential being in which He works out His will and in which all things have meaning.
                        Chronos is the time on the  clock and on the work calendar. How we understand xairos partly determines how we live out chronos.
"Christianity," he continues, "is time set in xairos. It is set within the context of God's working out His revelation and His reconciliation of us to Him. Christianity continues the Hebrew understanding of history. That is to say that history is seen as linear and going somewhere," not as circular as in Hinduism and Buddhism. 
 In its ancient Greek meaning, Kairos also has another meaning – the right or opportune moment.  It is the ever-present breakthrough moment in God's time that must be seized in the midst of moral crisis to act in history as God demands.  Such was the moment of Christ's birth and such is its continuing demand.  That moment is never-ending, its demand always there confronting us, goading us.  The German theologian Paul Tillich described Kairos in this way…it is, he said
a Greek word for a very special time fraught with decisive consequences for good or evil when momentous things are happening, new possibilities arise, more degrees of freedom emerge, and the
opportunity to seize the moment appears.  A time for renewal and nonviolent action when the forces of light rise up against the forces of darkness.
Such moments came in South Africa while Nelson Mandela was still in prison and the battle for sanctions raged in this country and in Europe and, again, in Central America in the wake of Oscar Romero's murder and our complicity.  Thus it was that calls for Kairos action were issued by Christian leaders in South Africa in 1985 and in Central America in 1988.  And, albeit slowly, our church responded.
More recently – in December 2009 – after four decades of occupation and the bloody second Intifada – the Christians of Palestine issued their call for Kairos action – "a cry," they wrote, "from within the suffering in our country under the Israeli occupation"…a "cry of hope in the absence of all hope" determined by a conclusion, they wrote, that "we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people."  To the question "Why now?" they respond":
The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. The hearts of the faithful are filled with pain and
with questioning: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing? The problem is not just
a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.
"Why now?" you ask again.  Because, four years on, our decision-makers in Washington and Jerusalem continue to busy themselves with "managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it"… while, all the while, Israeli settlements continue to go up around Bethlehem, Palestinian homes are demolished in Jerusalem, and, in Gaza, children wade through stinking, freezing sewage.  Because, four years on, our Church, our Episcopal Church, continues to see no evil, hear no evil.  It has responded - at General Convention last year and Diocesan Convention in October - with a blind eye and a deaf ear…while, all the while, the pain and questioning of our Christian sisters and brothers in Palestine only deepens.
"Why now?" you ask again.  Why bother us in Advent on the very eve of Christmas?  Why intrude on our Christmas joy?  Because this is all about Christmas.  Because it's hard to be joyful knowing that there is today little joy in Bethlehem as Christmas again approaches.  Oh, thousands of pilgrims will once again descend on Bethlehem, crowding into Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, spectators during prayers and liturgies they hardly understand, immune to the pain – and hope – behind the prayers.  Some may stop at Beit Sahour to pray at the Shepherds' Field, oblivious in the dark to the Wall that now runs through it.  And, in the first hours of Christmas morning, they will board their buses to return to their warm beds in their Jerusalem hotels, leaving behind the Palestinians they never really met.  And among the Palestinian Christians, who, unlike those Western pilgrims, cannot enter Jerusalem, the pain and questioning only deepens.
Such is the reality of Christmas today in the place it all happened two- thousand-one-hundred-and-thirteen years ago.  Were he to describe the situation today, I have no doubt Matthew would do so with the same straightforward clarity he did this morning.  Were Mary and Joseph on the road this morning somewhere between Nazareth and Bethlehem, I have no doubt he would begin as he did first time around: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way."
He might relate how Joseph and Mary had to avoid the Israeli-only roads that slice through Samaria and perhaps how an angel warned Joseph in a dream about the  temporary checkpoint thrown up that night on the dusty  Arabs-only road near Nablus.  He might describe the welcome respite that the Holy Family found in Taybeh, that entirely Christian village between Nablus and Ramallah, where the inhabitants press olives, make porcelain doves of peace, and pray in ancient churches.  In an aside, he might tell us that the ancient name of the village was Ephraim – the Ephraim of our Psalm this morning, the Ephraim where Jesus would seek sanctuary during the last days of his ministry.  He might relate how Mary and Joseph sat and ate some falafel at a roadside stand in Ramallah and enjoyed the company of their kinfolk – the descendants of Christian refugees from the Galilee who founded the city.  He might tell us about the ugliness of the wall they encountered at Jerusalem and the delays they faced at the Qalandiya checkpoint.  He might describe the even longer delays they encountered at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  He might talk about the babies born and others who have died in ambulances at such checkpoints, because, lacking proper permits, they were denied access to a hospital on the other side.  He might even speculate how Jesus might have been born beside the road at this last checkpoint.
No, Jesus was not born in the dirt beside a checkpoint.  No, these were not the incidents the Holy family encountered on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  But, if Jesus were born again this Wednesday in Bethlehem, it would be after the sort of journey I've just described.  It would not be at all far-fetched to tell the story I've just told and say:   "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way."
A few weeks back, at the start of Advent, I passed out these little cards depicting Mary and Joseph near that last checkpoint, staring up at a 30-ft. high wall, a star shining over Bethlehem on the other side.  The art - by Banksy – is striking.  So maybe you saved it.  Perhaps you'd even like more for friends.  I've left a stack in the narthex.
More likely, however, you tossed them without reading the message on the back.  So let me help.  The message is brief.  It begins: "The people of Bethlehem are asking for our help."  Noting that nearly all the agricultural land has been confiscated by Israel, that the wall and settlements are drawing ever closer to the heart of town, and that only three gates to the outside world – all controlled by the Israeli Army – remain, it quotes retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to wit: "It is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation."
And Bethlehem is indeed dying.  Its Christians especially are fleeing in droves, their percentage of the population, which was 85% in 1948, is now down to 40%.  As our little card says, "the oldest Christian community in the world will soon have little left of its Christian history but the cold stones of empty churches."  And so it will, if the world ignores their plight and does nothing. 
But I have faith and hope that we will – do something.  To do something, however, we must first stop ignoring the suffering people we can't miss if we just look.  We must see our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and listen to their stories.  I hope, therefore, you will keep them in your mind and heart and prayers this Christmas.  I hope, too, you will make an effort to learn about their situation.  You know how to google, don't you.  You put your words together…and you type – Palestinian, Christian, Bethlehem, Holy Land.
And, next Sunday, I hope you'll stay after our lessons and carols for an hour-long movie in which you will meet Palestine's Christians, experience their history and current situation, and hear their stories.  You will learn that they are not the "cold stones of empty churches."  They are, rather, the living stones who continue to witness to our faith where it all began that Christmas night two-thousand-one- hundred- and-thirteen years ago.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013


I know I promised you four sermons.  How about just one...till next week's.  This is from November 24, the eve of Thanksgiving.
The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.'
Kind of simple, kind of sweet, this story of the first Thanksgiving…not unlike our own in Plymouth, Massachusetts…at least the way we learned it and will celebrate it again next Thursday with family and friends.
Like the Hebrew pilgrims fleeing Egypt's slavery, our Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in England and Holland, were delivered into a land, if not of milk and honey, at least of maize, clams, and squash, and, in their case, a people willing to share their bounty with the newcomers.
"Welcome! Welcome, Englishmen!" cried Samoset, a Wampanoag Indian from Maine, as he walked alone into the Pilgrim camp.  He soon returned with Squanto, who spoke fluent English and introduced the Englishmen to Massasoit, the Great Chief of the Wampanoag Nation.  A treaty was signed and the Wampanoag opened their lands to the newcomers to farm and hunt on and taught them how to fish the local rivers and bays.  And, together, they sat down that fall to share "the first of the fruit of the ground."  An idyllic memory of what might have been had the Christian settlers been as Christian as the Indians who greeted them.
To be sure, relations between the two peoples remained good for the first fifty years or so.  But, as the English colony grew in size and power…and arrogance, the Pilgrims increasingly insisted that their hosts – the Wampanoag -submit to English land transfer and criminal laws.  In 1675 Indian suspicion and resentment boiled over into what became known as King Philip's War, a conflict named after Massasoit's son, who was then Chief of the Wampanoag.  The war resulted in the defeat of the Wampanoag and, according to one source, the decimation of both sides and, "the virtual extermination of tribal Indian life in southern New England."
History I've learned is written by the victors, usually by those with the most and biggest guns.  Thus we celebrate – rightly so – the camaraderie around that first Thanksgiving.  But, oh, how easily we've forgotten the dirty little war and the two centuries of extermination that followed.
And pilgrimages, I've learned, don't always end in milk and honey and satisfied appetites.  For America's Indians, their pilgrimage – the one they learned to call the Trail of Tears – ended on the Sacramento River in what Kit Carson called "a perfect butchery," with a collective heart and soul buried at Wounded Knee, with sacred burial grounds such as those in Emeryville paved over for parking lots and shopping malls…and hungry kids – out of sight, out of mind - on reservations dotting scrublands around the West. 
And, for far too long, our courts and churches justified such genocide on the basis of the five-hundred-year-old, morally defective Doctrine of Discovery – a doctrine which accorded Christian colonists the right to claim and exploit any land inhabited by non-Christians, to convert the "pagans" encountered, and, if they resisted, to kill or enslave them. 
To our credit – albeit a decade into the twenty-first century – the Episcopal Church, in 2009, passed a landmark resolution repudiating this abhorrent doctrine and urging the U.S. government to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  For her part, our Presiding Bishop Katharine has called us to reconciliation and lamentation around America's collective guilt for the genocide committed in our name against its native peoples.  This must begin by relearning our collective history in its totality; remembering; yes, reconciling and lamenting; then, repairing what we can. 
Let me turn, then, to our reading from Deuteronomy, to that older pilgrimage from Egypt and that first Thanksgiving in God's promised land of milk and honey.  It's a story that has long troubled me.  In its truncated telling here it glosses over another genocide.  It has been sanitized by our selective lectionary, by a victor's justifications, and by the collective amnesia of modern readers.  The entry of the Hebrew pilgrims of the Exodus into "the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess" is a story literally dripping in blood.  Worse yet, the sort of violence America's pilgrims slipped into out of greed and arrogance was, we find, embraced wholeheartedly, unflinchingly by the Israelites.  Their justification?  God  commanded it.
In the line immediately preceding today's reading, for example, God commands those about to claim their inheritance to "blot out the memory" of the Amalekites, to erase them from the map.  And a few verses earlier, the authors invoke a God that commands them to "annihilate…the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Prerizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites" and "not let anything that breathes remain alive." Talk about "perfect butchery!"
Over the years too many people wearing a collar and standing in a pulpit, have felt compelled to justify the slaughter or to say "Fuggeda about it."  Forgive me.  I can't…not anymore than I could ask you to forget the Holocaust or other crimes of genocide such as the forced "pilgrimage" of African slaves or the "Original Sin" of Europe's Jewish refugees to modern Israel - the ethnic cleansing of 1948 that created a Palestinian diaspora of nine million and left a pitiful remnant to fester in open air prisons called Gaza and the West Bank.
No, I won't ask you to forget such things or, washing our hands, blame them on a vengeful, destroying God more akin to Kali than to Christ…a God I just don't recognize.
Instead let me ask you to look at our histories – Israel's and ours – in their totality and sort out what is holy and what is profane…and sometimes obscene.  As the commentators of our Oxford Annotated Bible tell us, Deuteronomy "does not permit itself to be read literally or passively.  It challenges its readers actively to confront the problem of the relation between revelation and interpretation and breaks down conventional boundaries between scripture and tradition."  This Thanksgiving I urge you to take up that challenge, to struggle with the sometimes bloody traditions of an ancient agricultural tribe and the ethical heart of a religion that made them a great people.  I urge you to confront also the dark side of our American past, as you strive to live into the American Dream that calls us to greatness.  I urge you to consider anew the intertwined stuff of pilgrimage, thanksgiving, and lamentation.  If we do so honestly, we will be better for it, as Christians and as Americans.  And that is something to be thankful for.
These are things that have been on my mind this week, as I prepare to embark on my own Thanksgiving journey – to my sister-in-law down in Ojai – a trip I plan to combine it with a pilgrimage of sorts into our American story, our California story.
John Steinbeck is my favorite author and next year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.  It is the story of the 1930s pilgrimage of the Joad family from the tragic hopelessness of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl to the fertile fields of California.  In the words Shayma' Abdul Ali Jasim, a Steinbeck scholar, it is the story of an "ironic Exodus from home to homelessness, from selfishness to communal love, from 'I' to 'we'"…to a "dream of a dignified society in which they can harvest the fruits of their labor."  Instead, he says, the Joads find that their "new Eden is like the old land of bondage. It is filed with Californians who oppress the newcomers with poverty wages, intermittent work, vigilante deputies and strike-breaking violence."  As I've said, not all pilgrimages end happily.
But, however sad the novel's ending in a boxcar north of Bakersfield, one has the sense that it's not really an ending…just a pause…God's semi-colon.  Hope remains.  The pilgrimage continues.  Listen to the defiant Ma Joad: "We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."  And then there's Tom Joad's famous speech, a spoken dream really.  Remember Henry Fonda in the movie?
I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.
The Okies were replaced in the fields by Filipino-Americans and by Mexicans on their own pilgrimage from places like Michoacan and Jalisco.  Tom and Ma Joad were replaced by Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta and, in 1965, "the people that live" - the farm workers of Delano - went on strike for a minimum wage and formed a union – the United Farm Workers.  The struggle was long – five years – bloody, and hard.  But this time the "people that live" won and they are now "eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the house they build."
And so – in an hour or so – I'll head south…to the scenes of strikes and strike-breaking at Delano's Forty Acres; to Government Camp at Weedpatch, once home to Okies and now Mexicans; to the grave of Cesar Chavez up the side of Bear Mountain at Keene; and, at last,  to a Thanksgiving with Margo and her friends.
And, as I drive down 99, I'll reflect on all those other pilgrims and those they encountered – the Israelites and Canaanites; the Puritans and Wampanoags; the Israelis and Palestinians of today's Holy Land; and the Okies, Filpinos, Mexicans, and all the others who now call California home.
I'll reflect also on the universality of the pilgrim experience and on a plaque on the Pieterskerk in Leiden, Holland, from whence the pilgrims began their journey to America.  It reads: "But now we are all, in all places, strangers and pilgrims, travelers and sojourners…"
I've travelled to many places that once seemed distant and strange and I've lived as a stranger and sojourner among their peoples.  And, as I've done so, I've found that the distances have shrunk and that what once was strange has morphed into comfortable familiarity.  I've found new intimacy in a common home grown small – "this fragile earth, our island home."  And, on this tiny blue globe, we journey together through the darkness of space and the mystery of time, wondering always about our destination.
T.S Eliot, that most Christian of poets, has an answer very appropriate I think to this our Christ the King Sunday: 
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Having recognized the Alpha and Omega of our search, having found the bread of  life and discovered that we need never again be hungry, never again be thirsty, never again be homeless, might we rest at last …and, gathering "the first fruit of the ground," might we then give thanks for the end of all our pilgrimages?


I'm writing a sermon for Sunday about Kairos - God's eternal time.  In its ancient Greek meaning, Kairos also has another meaning – the right or opportune moment.  It is the ever-present breakthrough moment in God's time that must be seized in times of moral crisis to act in history as God demands.  Such was the moment of Christ's birth.  But there are and will be others.   The German theologian Paul Tillich described Kairos in this way – " a very special time fraught with decisive consequences for good or evil when momentous things are happening, new possibilities arise, more degrees of freedom emerge, and the opportunity to seize the moment appears."

I should be working on that sermon about Joseph, dreams, and Kairos moments, but last night I had a dream about an ultimate global Kairos moment.  And this morning I find myself thinking about what to do about it.  For I do believe that God speaks to us in dreams - not just to Joseph - and that, in those dreams, a path sometimes beckons. So it is this morning.

I'll spare you all the details, but in my dream I had been posted – not clear if by my old State Department or the Church – to a prestigious American think tank (I had once, to Carnegie).  Almost immediately I was sent  to an even more prestigious global think tank on – of all places - a tropical island.  There I joined a team of much brighter folks and we talked about our specific projects for each of which the others were especially well suited.  I wanted to study China, but had no appropriate academic background or language skills.  I would, I thought, have to think deep thoughts about Germany.  Then we were informed that we were to think even bigger thoughts – outside the constraints of our academic boxes – about the world which was facing a global transformative challenge – a Kairos moment.  As the morning the morning light began to wake me, I focused on the bright ocean horizon.

Wide awake, I found myself thinking about of the nature of the global Kairos moment that indeed faces us.  I thought of how I had gone to sleep with a phrase in mind – Occupy the Vatican!  Occupy the Church!  I thought of the anarchist critique in The Coming Insurrection and the nature of the transformative moment...the end stage of a no longer sustainable capitalism bereft of any concern for community, the greedy few feeding now on the engines of their prosperity – the very antithesis of Shalom; the fading power of Western civilization, its moral underpinnings crumbling, its creativity sapped, relying now on brute force, and finding even that insufficient to the moment; the hollowing out of the moral and political institutions of that civilization and the futile efforts of their leaders to preserve the facades of their Potemkin villages and the trappings of their power, as more and more people laugh at the lack of clothes on politicians concerned only with polls and campaign funding and pastors concerned only with "church growth," careers, and rules and regulations.  And then I thought of a leader - a churchman, at that - a man named Francis, seeking, it seems, to seems, to seize the moment, to rescue us from its grayness, to show us the possibility of a brighter dream.  I read his message for the January 1 World Day of Peace ( - brought to my attention by a rabbi - and, having just re-read his longer exhortation on "The Joy of the Gospel" (, I can again feel hope these closing days of Advent.

Surely this is a Kairos moment calling for creative thought and dramatic action, lest we continue to sleep walk through the bad dream of our reality.  Is it possible to wake from that reality to the brighter dream just beyond the horizon?  What lies there?  What is possible?  Pausing, I think of that closing hymn yesterday – "I want to walk in the reign," of Soweto, Gdansk, Tienanmen, and the Bronx behind us, of a God beside us bringing justice and healing .  I think of how we walked out the door of our little walled church yesterday afternoon, beyond our once narrow horizons, to a world that needs justice and healing…and how I felt God there beside us as we brought a measure of each to those who need it…including ourselves.

Does God talk to us in dreams?  Yes, I believe God does.


Friday, December 13, 2013


As I write this, I am listening to the news from Colorado - a new school shooting, another gun death, another school name in a growing roster - Arapahoe High School.  Tomorrow, of course, is the anniversary of the massacre of so many innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  As of this morning, 33,018 Americans, 195 of them children, have been killed by guns since the date of that massacre.  Meanwhile the profits of Cerebus Capital Management, the parent company of the manufacturer of the Bushmmaster XM-15 used at Sandy Hook have risen 52%.  And we have done NOTHING to better control guns, to treat mental illness, and to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  Indeed, this morning the NRA is lobbying to kill a congressional bill that would ban plastic guns that can evade metal detectors.  This is obscene!  How long will we continue to sin by what we have not done.
For Christ's sake - and ours - do something!
What you ask can we do?  Might you take a moment to read the letter to Congress from the 54 national religious leaders of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence (Read it HERE)?   Might those of you who have a pulpit preach about this on Sunday December 15 or December 29, the day after Holy Innocents?  Might you make the letter available to your parishioners by including it in your newsletter or posting it on your bulletin board and drawing the attention of your parishioners to it?  Might you urge your parishioners to urge their senators and representative to pass - AS A MINIMUM - the Mancin-Toomey bill (Amendment to S. 649)/King-Thompson bill (H.R. 1565) which would close the "gun show loophole" and expand background checks.  Might you join the efforts of EPF (, the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence ( , Mayors Against Illegal Guns (, Gaby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions ( or similar organizations to enact more forceful regulation of guns?  Might you lobby locally and nationally for better care and treatment of our fellow citizens who are mentally ill?  And might you, my DioCal friends, publicize in our churches and communities the two resolutions relating to guns that were passed by our diocesan conventions in 2010 and 2013?
Do something!

Monday, December 9, 2013


Rabbi Arthur Waskow walks in the prophetic footsteps of his late friend and colleague Abraham Joshua Heschel. 
Today ( he touched upon one aspect of the relationship between "mainstream," "official" Jewish organizations and Nelson Mandela.
Let me raise another - the role of sanctions in fostering moral and wise political action.  Over the past few days, we have heard much about how important economic sanctions were in freeing Mandela and South Africa.  And, over the past weeks, they have also been important in bringing Iran to the negotiating table.  Is it not time to begin implementing sanctions aimed at bringing about an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza.  Two days ago, in response to that oft-asked question "Where is your Mandela, Palestine?", I asked elsewhere "Where is your de Klerk, Israel?"  Fact is, we know who Palestine's Mandela is.  He is Marwan Barghouti and, like Mandela, he has been in prison incommunicado for eleven years.  Trouble is, we're still searching for the Israeli de Klerk who will free Barghouti and the Palestinians from their physical imprisonment and, in doing so, free the Israeli people from their spiritual prison of fear and hard-heartedness.  And there are a growing number of Israeli and American Jews who feel that the time has come to use sanctions to speed up that process and break open the prospects for peace in the Holy Land. 
Why are Christians so reluctant to join them?  Rabbi Waskow referred to "the 'sha shtill' syndrome – 'Keep quiet! – [that] still afflicts some major elements of American Jewish life."  Unfortunately, it still afflicts Christian churches, most especially my Episcopal Church.  Isn't it time for us to grow up spiritually and display the wisdom of a Heschel, the courage of a Mandela? 
Just asking?

Friday, December 6, 2013


Several parishioners of Christ the Lord Episcopal Church, where I preach once a month, had urged me to make those sermons more broadly available.  My first response earlier this year was to publish several in a book Troublemaker: Troubling Words for Troubled Times which is available at
In response to their continued expressions of interest – and hopefully yours – I've decided to resurrect this long-dormant blog and post not only my sermons (the last four of which will follow shortly) but occasional essays, reflections on issues of peace and social justice.  Hopefully, they will stimulate conversation on the mix of faith and politics and the role of the church in the world…what some might call applied theology. So, here goes.  I look forward to your reactions and can be reached at  
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Unlike Moses, South Africa's Nelson Mandela grew up in his own land, but, like Moses, he could say "I have become an alien in a foreign land" [Exodus 2:22].  Internally exiled, first to a Bantustan and then to the infamous prison on Robben Island, he watched from that prison, while foreigners – the Afrikaners – ruled the land.  All the while of Mandela's imprisonment, a very biblical forty years, the Africans of South Africa "groaned in their slavery and cried out" [Exodus 2:23].
But "God heard their groaning" [Exodus 2:24] and spoke to Mandela, not through a burning bush, but slowly, softly during the long, quiet hours that marked Mandela's four decades on Robben Island.  There were, I'm sure, probably many moments – those dark ones at night – when he, too, cried "O, Lord, please send someone else to do it" [Exodus 4:13].  How similar that plea is to Christ's on that darkest of night's – "…take this cup from me" [Luke 22:42].  While "Mandela's own faith [remains] a matter of much speculation," he underwent a transformation on Robben Island that was "essentially religious" [Anthony Sampson, Mandela, p. 230].  Indeed, toward the end of his imprisonment, Mandela's "capacity for forgiveness…amazed visitors," and one visitor, Frieda Matthews, "found him positively Christlike" [Sampson, p. 230]. 
To Matthews' observation, a literalist might object that it borders on blasphemy.  But aren't we all called upon to imitate Christ and to bring forth in our lives the Spirit that is within us?  Didn't Jesus say "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you"? [Gospel of Thomas in Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, p. 126].  Wasn't that what a doubting, hesitant Moses was called upon to do, to bring forth the prophetic qualities of leadership which God promised would be there when needed.  "I will help you to speak and teach you what to say….and will teach you what to do." [Exodus 4:12&15].  One must always have faith that God will provide adequate tools to do what he asks of us.
In Mandela's case, God brought him to this realization only slowly, not as one of those "Aha!" moments.  God is unchangeable but acts in our lives in different ways befitting who we are and what we do.  Like Moses, Mandela had reacted initially to the injustice around him by striking out violently.  Moses killed one Egyptian; Mandela's African National Conference (ANC) killed many Afrikaners.  Indeed, that, purportedly, was why Mandela was imprisoned.  But I do not find the slowness of Mandela's conversion at all surprising.  For, as Elaine Pagels notes, "Such insight [as that in Thomas' Gospel] comes gradually through effort." [Pagels, p. 126].  Not being a literalist, I am inclined to believe that God worked his way on Moses in much the same way.
In some ways, prison was for Mandela what life in Pharaoh's palace was for Moses.  They had time and occasion to learn their slave masters' ways.  God was equipping them for the task assigned.  "Mandela," we are told, "was developing a special interest in the Afrikaner mindset.  He urged the other prisoners to talk with the warders in Afrikaans…to understand more about their psychology and culture." [Sampson, p. 226].  "I realized," he said, "the importance of learning…how they are indoctrinated, how they react." [Sampson, p. 226]. 
He also befriended the Dutch Reformed prison chaplain, the Reverand Andre Scheffler, and found himself in agreement, when Scheffler "warned the prisoners against blaming everything on the white man." [Sampson 229].  Scheffler, in the event, was banned from conducting services, when he preached about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  How clear a parallel do we need?
But Mandela's task differed in the particulars.  It was not some geographic exodus to some promised land.  His people were already in their "beloved country."  The task rather was to lead his people and their tormentors on a spiritual journey to freedom.  And, as a subsequent Anglican chaplain, a Reverend Hughes, insisted, that could only be done with reconciliation on both sides [Sampson, 229].  Thus, Mandela resolved to call Africans and Afrikaners to reconciliation and forgiveness, to free the former from their physical slavery, the latter from their spiritual slavery.
In this, he had powerful helpmates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who spoke to the conscience of the ruling whites, Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk, an erstwhile apartheidist,  who appealed to their reason and self-interest, and a God who equipped both Mandela and de Klerk to persevere and to work together in leading all South Africans to a better place.  In this, they, too, were afflicted with the grumbling of the "hardhearted" – the extremists – among them.
But persevere they did.  God had taught them well what to say and what to do.  Mandela got to see his "Rainbow Nation" – talk about covenants honored [Genesis 9:16] – and both justly shared a Nobel Prize for Peace.     

Friday, March 22, 2013


What a country!
How many times?  How many deaths?  Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown; the 2,519 gun deaths since Sandy Hook; the 30,000 every year; the trail of blood in Chicago, Richmond and Oakland.  And, once again, we sit in stunned silence as our elected officials ignore our wishes, wait us out, and now, as the item below illustrates, run away as fast as they can from any meaningful action to control the 300 million guns in our country.      
Witness, the AR-15 wielding senator from South Carolina who declares "there will be no assault weapons ban," his Oklahoma colleague who seeks to gut the expansion of background checks, Harry Reid who caves to the NRA, and the fading hopes that anything meaningful will make it through the House.
Against this background, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops said March 12 that they are "outraged" by the "daily massacre of our young people in [our] cities," adding "this carnage must stop"  and calling all Episcopalians "to pray and work for the end of gun violence."
Well, this Episcopalian has prayed.  Let me now work and ask you all to call your congressmen and senators and Mike Thompson (202-225-3311), chair of the congressional task force on gun violence, and tell them we need a ban on assault weapons and large ammo clips and meaningful background checks that include a permanent data base.
Don't let this moment pass us by again.
March 22, 2013