Friday, May 30, 2008

Jesus' Family Values: From Clan to Cosmos

What are the real values of the unmarried, radical social reformer who urges us to "hate father and mother" (Gospel of Luke) and "love parents as I do" (Gospel of Thomas)? An odd poster-boy for right-wing "family values," Jesus challenges the narrow confines of clan and tribe in the name of a larger humanity. In this interactive class led by Interweave Director Robert Corin Morris and guests, we'll look at different manifestations of family in the Bible (polygamy, monogamy, and monasticism among them), and explore the shifts in "family" in our own day.

Jesus' Family Values: From Clan to Cosmos

4 Wednesdays beg. June 4, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

$60 ($50 Interweave Members)

Christ Church, 66 Highland Ave., Short Hills

Register at 908-277-2120 or online at

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Memorial to GLBTQ killed in WWII

Der Spiegel reports on a memorial in Berlin to murdered GLBTQ people in WWII. Meantime, the NY Times reports that Gov. Paterson has directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada. And (barring legal action) June 17th is D-Day in California.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

James MacMillan's "Seven Last Words from the Cross"

The May 25th program last Sunday of BBC Radio 3's The Choir has a rare interview with the Scottish composer James MacMillan with excerpts from some of his pieces including the third movement of his "Seven Last Words from the Cross," namely, "Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise." The program is available for a week. Its theme is the influence of plainsong on modern music.

Prayer as Showing Up (and other things)

Speaking of Faith this week with Krista Tippett is on Approaching Prayer in different traditions with Roberta Bondi (now emeritus professor of Emory University--when did that happen???), Stephen Mitchell (translator) and Anoushka Shankar (musician and singer of Sanskrit chants).

At the outset, Anoushka Shankar links prayer and music and gives useful tips on the OMMMMMMMMMM chant and cleansing vibrations. Sanskrit prayers often end with OM and Shanti (peace).

Stephen Mitchell speaks of non-religious prayer (prayer as concentration and intense activity) and Roberta Bondi talks of praying with the desert fathers and mothers. She points out that there is no right way to pray: you have to find your own way. She tells a wonderful story about studying the Ammas and Abbas as an academic BEFORE praying with them at a point when she was worrying about her husband.

Prayer is our end of a relationship with God so showing up for prayer is important. In another story she relates how she came home from teaching at the end of the day to be met by crises of the family: this is showing up every day, not turning away.

The focus of the program is individual prayer. One commentator pointed out that the program doesn't mention corporate prayer in any religious tradition. The music is however chant.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Visions of the Virgin Mary in California

From the San Francisco Chronicle comes a report of visions of the Virgin Mary. On the 13th of every month, they say, the Virgin Mary appears and speaks to a woman named Maria Paula Acuna. Crowds have gathered here, about 10 miles north of California City, for nearly 20 years.

Scholars who have studied the phenomenon see a pattern: Publicity draws the curious and faithful, but the excitement quickly fizzles. Rarely is a lasting community forged, said Lisa Bitel, a professor of history and religion at the University of Southern California who is co-writing a book on Our Lady of the Rock.

That the BVM would appear in California is a notion I find strangely warming...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Black Clergy supporting same-sex marriage

From the LA Times' Jasmine Cannick:-

Nationally, the list of prominent black clergy supporting the right of lesbians and gays to marry has grown exponentially over the last several years to include Sharpton; Unitarian Universalist Assn. President William Sinkford; Harvard University chaplain Peter J. Gomes; Georgetown University's Michael Eric Dyson; his wife, Rev. Marcia L. Dyson; and Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

Yes, that's right. The pastor whose comments were inaccurately portrayed by the media as being unpatriotic --and then were used by presidential candidate Barack Obama's opponents to distract voters -- is and has been a supporter for equal rights of lesbian and gay couples. The media somehow missed that in all its criticism of Wright.

Something to think about...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jesus' wife, Anastasia?

Acts 17:18 reports the reaction of philosophers in Athens to Paul's preaching of Jesus and the resurrection: "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities." Since "divinities" is plural, Jesus and the resurrection must be the subject. The Greek word "anastasis" is feminine, hence Jesus and "anastasis" or Anastasia must be the "divinities." All of which indicates that one is responsible for what is perceived as well as what is preached.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Jesus and the Family

I'm conducting a two day class on Jesus and Family Values today and tomorrow and will be able to include mention of Jeff Sharlet's new book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Especially when I will have read it tomorrow.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We are fortunate enough to have generations of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks on our feeders in Maine. (The link gives you a recording of their song).
Here's the new generation this Spring whom we try to identify (perhaps erroneously) by the rose breast markings. In the background you can see a hairy woodpecker (?) at the suet.

UPDATE: here's a visitor this afternoon! A pileated woodpecker!

Amal Soliman, "maazuna" in Egypt

Womens ENews reports that Egypt has appointed its first female official, Amal Soliman, to certify marriages and divorces.

Soliman, a 32-year-old mother of three, applied for the position when it became vacant after her father-in-law (who had held the position in her village) passed away. The job is not inherited, and there are hundreds of maazuns in Egypt, one for each local district.

"I didn't really think about the gender issue when I applied for the job," she says. "It was close to my house and I needed something so close by so I could still be at home for my kids."

Ten others, all men, applied to fill the vacancy. Soliman had a master's degree in law from Zagazig University as well as law and criminal justice diplomas and had the highest qualifications.

Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei has sought to relieve tensions among Egypt's powerful Islamic scholars, saying that Soliman's nomination was based "on her abilities rather than on her gender." A year ago, 30 women were appointed as judges in response to activists' complaints that Egypt lagged in female participation in the judiciary.

No religious texts ban a female maazun, says Sheikh Fawzi Zefzaf, deputy director of Al-Azhar University, an influential center of Sunni Muslim theology. "But when a woman is menstruating she must not enter a mosque or read Quranic verses and that will affect her job, so for this reason we say it is not advisable to have a woman maazun," the sheikh said in a statement from his office.

The manner in which some scholars are downgrading the maazun's importance is disconcerting to Aida Seif Al Dawla, a leading activist. She wonders "why was it all over the press" if Soliman's job is inconsequential.

"This is a precedent for women in Egypt no matter what anyone says," Seif Al Dawla says. "Since when has getting married not been important? I say good for her for taking this step."

Soliman says a female maazun is more likely to be readily accepted in Cairo, where people are "more open" than in her own town. But the time has arrived for women to enter the profession.

More commentary from Egypt Today.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

One of the highpoints of the last few days made entirely possible by GTS staff who placed me next to Sarah Coakley at the Baccalaureate Dinner....thanks to them and to Bruce Parker our Director of Communications for the image.
With hundreds of people I attended the memorial service for Krister Stendahl at Harvard Memorial Church yesterday. The remembrances were given by people at HDS, Jews and Gentiles, clergy women from the Church of Sweden, his family and finally, Peter Gomes. Putting the remembered one front and center requires attention. We sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"a capella. The community spirit was strong. What will the legacy of that kind of a person be? Is there even a place for a blend of scholarship and ecclesiastical commitment? Here is a link to a page on the HDS website remembering him.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"A Peace that is not as the world gives" Sermon by Sarah Coakley

One of our honorary degree recipients yesterday was Sarah Coakley. Here's a sermon of hers preached at the SSJE in May 2006.

‘I do not give to you as the world gives’, Jesus promises. We tend to think of peace simply as the cessation of hostilities, the ending of pain or sufferings, and we wait for it anxiously, wondering why it never comes; but that of course is the ‘wordly’ way of peace. It is hard to see, except when an unacknowledged saint so unexpectedly makes us ‘feel better’, that Christ’s transcendent peace is already given in hostilities, in pain and sufferings, here and now in the chaos and muddle and sin and physical frailty of this world. It is hard to see, in our rightful human struggles for worldly peace and justice, that even that worldly peace and justice, if we could ever attain them, would mean nothing without the unworldly peace of Christ attending and suffusing them. It is hard to remember, let alone understand, that the peace which the world cannot give is ever on offer, elusive as it may be, pressing amongst us now in the body of the saints which is the ‘church’, often most paradoxically held out to us by those in the greatest internal anguish themselves, yet enabling others simply to ‘go on’.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Today is Commencement for seniors as they begin their new ministries. Blessings on them!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tonite at 7pm at the Center for Jewish History

The Roman Empire and the Rabbis in Pre-Christian Palestine.
Natalie Dohrmann, University of Pennsylvania Part of the series: "Beginnings: Jews, Christians and the Roman Empire"

A superb speaker conjures the cultural and political atmospheres in which modern Judaism unfolded...
Late Antiquity--the world which is defined in and by the vast and changing power of the Roman Empire--is one of the most significant eras in Western history, marked by the emergence of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, and the forces that lead up to the dramatic appearance of Islam in the early Middle Ages. This lecture will give an overview of the era, with special focus on the questions animating the current study of the period stretching from roughly 200 C.E. to 650 CE. We will imagine the complex and perhaps unexpected world shared and shaped by Jews, Christians, and Pagans.

Centro Primo Levi
Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MAY 12
7:00 pm - lecture
Q&A to follow
for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York City
General admission:
$15, students: $5
(212) 868-4444
Information: 212-294-8301 ext 8202

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The new Rough Guide to England says it is a nation of "overweight, alcopop-swilling, sex- and celebrity-obsessed TV addicts" and that no other country is as "insular, self-important and irritating".

But in turn none is more "fascinating, beautiful and culturally diverse", with such "an unparalleled range of historic buildings, monuments and landscapes".

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Bible and Motherhood -- Dr. Billy Graham

This kind of article is marvelous. Dr. Graham is (ostensibly) advising a woman, soon to be a mother. It assumes the Bible is a model for behavior--that there's no gap between one ancient text and another, and between any biblical text and our own time. I understand the Bible to be authoritative but I don't expect that it will tell me how to behave.

So what does the Bible say about motherhood? Two quotes are given: "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you" (Deuteronomy 5:16). And, "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8).

Take them at face value. What do they say to you? Both mention the parenting of father and mother. One is a command, the other a piece of advice. God's command to honor father and mother is non-negotiable; the other passes on something that will help you get along as you grow up. Jesus would have known both passages and would have kept the 10 Commandments. As we know from the gospels, he discusses application of this command in Matthew's gospel. What is being discussed are the ways to honor parents. If you take both passages together, the latter is the pragmatic benefits of the former.

Nothing of this is evident in Dr. Graham's arguments: The first text undergirds the notion that "motherhood is one of God's great gifts to the human race." And the second supports the assertion that "mothers especially are equipped to comfort and teach us."

To me, this is a great example of making the text say what one wants it to say (in this case about mothers) rather than taking the text at face value. Then the larger question is, does the Bible actually say anything specific about mothers? Does it in fact ascribe to mothers at any time and place particular roles?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Give us this day" Vasari Singers, Anthems for the 21st Century. Worth every penny of the .99 download from ITunes. Ward Swingle composed the setting. He says:

I was lucky to have a poem written for the occasion by Tony Vincent Isaacs. Tony had previously put words to the music of Scott Joplin for the Swingle Singers ‘Rags and all that Jazz’ album. For this new poem, called Give us this day, I’ve written a very simple four-part setting so that the words (and their important message) are quickly understood.

Scudding clouds of crimson flush
Skim the azure
Evening sky
Boding well the morrows dawn
To a cloudless glowing morn
Neon’s treasure
Strafes the pool in summer’s hush.

Give us this day
That we may see
The beauty before our eyes
Give us this day
That we may cherish
The earth before it dies.

Curfew closing on the light
Pungent woodsmoke
Curling by
Autumn leaching summer cold
Breathing out in red and gold
Flocking high
Over tall oak
Storks migrating full in flight.

Give us this day …

All along the trestle bough
To the touch
Icy chandeliers ablaze
To the suns retreating rays
In the clutch
Of the northwind’s bitter vow.

Give us this day …

Morning creeps upon the day
Stars pay homage
To the sun
Tumult in the swelling bud
Ripening with verdant blood
Surging through
Winter’s damage
Weaving tendrils on its way.

Give us this day

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I did an interview today with Reuters on Bloodline, a movie by Bruce Burgess about the bloodline of Jesus focusing in particular on a Templar grave in the south of France and artefacts found therein. Perhaps the piece will be picked up. Perhaps not.

Update (May 10):- Here's a link to the video.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is life in Kenya getting better? Jeffrey Gettleman reports in today's NY Times that formerly relocated people (mostly Kikuyu) are returning home.

Kenya’s leaders face a growing economic and food crisis, and they decided that, ethnic tensions aside, now is not the time for miles of productive farmland to go to waste. As part of Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Return Home), the government is promising food, tools, new houses and even cash for those who return to their farms.

To make its plan work, the government has said, there must be genuine ethnic reconciliation. Over the past several weeks, local administrators have held meetings, seminars and soccer games to build trust between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin.

“It’s a process,” said Katee Mwanza, Molo’s district commissioner.

And that process may be bearing fruit. Some Kalenjin elders, who just a few months ago had insisted that Kikuyus leave the Rift Valley, came to the Molo police station on Monday to welcome the Kikuyus back home.

Even this article points out problems:

But are the leaders really working together? Mr. Kibaki, who was declared the winner of the election despite widespread evidence of vote rigging, finally named a unity government in April, appointing his top rival, Raila Odinga, as prime minister. But the government’s first joint exercise, a tour of the turbulent Rift Valley, was marred by protocol wars centering on who was more senior, Mr. Odinga or Kalonzo Musyoka, the vice president and a Kibaki ally.

Serious criticisms are evident in commentary from local newspapers like the Daily Nation.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Getting from A-B in NYC is NEVER the same!

Today was the 2008 Five Boro Bike Tour of 40 miles which I saw flying by on my way to Trinity to finish a marvelous series of Christian Education classes. The bike tour prevented some people from moving around the city. I took the E to the WTC without a problem.

Last week it was raining but I got a ride south to Trinity with J on her way back home. The week before the Pope was visiting Ground Zero so the whole area was out of commission. I walked to Union Square and took the 4 South to Wall Street. The first week, the subway stopped at Chambers Street for no apparent reason. We all got out and I walked to St Paul's and then further south to Trinity.

How do tourists manage to get around the city when they are visiting for the first time??

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Religious Sites of Flushing, Queens

From yesterday's NY Times, comes a video report by John Strausbaugh of the extraordinary religious diversity of Flushing. Here's another link to the article.
Fleeing persecution in England, members of the Society of Friends (also known, at first derisively, as Quakers) had begun to arrive in Flushing in the 1650s. Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland, saw them as dangerous radicals and forbade anyone in the colony to consort with them.

On Dec. 27, 1657, 30 citizens of Flushing, not Quakers themselves, signed a remarkable letter to him, now known as the Flushing Remonstrance. They refused to “stretch out our hands against” the Quakers, “to punish, banish or persecute them,” and reminded Stuyvesant that under Colonial law freedom of religion extended to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians” and “Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker.”

Here's a taste of present diversity:

Today, across Northern Boulevard, on a single block of 33rd Avenue between Union Street and Parsons Boulevard, you can get a sense of how many different religions are practiced in Flushing.

There’s the small B’Nai Abraham synagogue on one corner, the Korean St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Roman Catholic Chapel and Center around the other corner, the Evergreen Presbyterian Church in the middle of the block, and, right next door, the blue-topped dome and minaret of the Hazrat-I-Abubakr Sadiq mosque, opened in 1999 by the Afghan Turkistan Islamic Foundation in America.

Two blocks up Parsons Boulevard I turned right on Bayside Avenue, another leafy, almost suburban thoroughfare. There among the large, comfortable-looking single-family homes I came on the startling apparition of a soaring pagoda-roofed Buddhist temple still under construction. It’s being built by the Korean organization Hanmaum Seon Won, founded in the 1970s by a Buddhist nun, Dae Haeng Sunim. It’s typical of Flushing that a Christian Science reading room sits right next door.

And there's probably more diversity than is represented here!

Friday, May 02, 2008

UMC Anti-GLBTQ resolution upheld BUT the Spirit is moving

After a long and emotional debate, the 2008 General Conference voted April 30 to retain statements in the Social Principles that the “United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

However, in an act of witness in front of delegates to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, more than 200 people declared that the denomination's policies and practices against homosexuality are "sinful" and that "sexuality is a gift from God."

Primarily dressed in black, demonstrators walked onto the legislative floor at the Fort Worth Convention Center, formed a two-lined cross around the communion table located in the center aisle and draped it in a black shroud to witness against the church's stance on homosexual practice. They entered silently, but once all demonstrators were in place, they sang, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?"

The black shroud and the black worn by the demonstrators to "recognize our brokenness" and "to acknowledge that the body is broken," said Audrey Krumbach, who read a statement during the witness.

The 15-minute demonstration was in reaction to the April 30 decision to retain the denomination's decades-old proscription in the Social Principles and other parts of the Discipline describing homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Delegates voted 501-417 to keep the stance and also passed a resolution against homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."

Among those who came forward was retired Bishop Melvin Talbert. Referring to the creation of the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction in 1939, Bishop Talbert said, “That action was a sin against God. In the name of Jesus Christ, we have taken an action that is wrong. Those in the Central Jurisdiction remained in the church and worked out our relationship. But we leave out these LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
“General Conference, General Conference, this is wrong. I invite you to reconsider your action.”

“We have agreed to love, serve and lead all United Methodists, to preach the gospel and to live out the ‘three simple rules’,” Bishop Palmer said. “We’re inviting the whole church to be in conversations.” [The “three simple rules” refer to John Wesley’s instructions for Methodists to “Do No Harm. Do Good. Stay in Love with God.”]

Also speaking during the press conference, the Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, noted wryly that “today is better than yesterday.
“We were in shock,” Plummer said. “We were hurting at the harsh actions taken by General Conference on membership. We thought we’d have to have civil disobedience in order to be heard. Instead, the trust we’d built through our conversations with the Council of Bishops before and during General Conference saved us. We were able to tell the Good Friday story, to tell of the church’s brokenness.”

Plummer said the actions taken April 30 were so shocking because Common Witness observers had heard so many “holy conversations” around petitions relating to LGBT issues during legislative committee meetings.

Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) said he joined the conversations May 1 in response to a plea for volunteers from the Council of Bishops from Bishop Sally Dyck, one of the negotiators. He emphasized that “holy conversations” are difficult to sustain amid the legislative context of General Conference.

“Holy conferencing requires time, small groups and building trust,” he said. “How do you do that with 1,000 people in only 10 days? You’d need a month-long General Conference.”
Bishop Dyck (Minnesota Area) said the conversations between bishops and LGBT leaders on the last day of General Conference probably will focus on next steps in continuing the dialogues.

“We have no idea where this will go,” she said. “We’re building this bridge as we’re walking on it.”
The reading from Ezekiel 1 at Evensong last night for the feast of the Ascension resounds with analogy. This is how it concludes: "Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD." What are we to make of the language of reticence?

The location is Babylon. First Ezekiel sees a cloud out of which comes a fire and in the middle of the fire, "something like gleaming amber" or "a gleam, as of amber." The NRSV repeats "something like" as a refrain: something like four living creatures; something like a wheel within a wheel; something like a throne; something that seemed like a human form seated on the throne; something that looked like fire enclosed all around and finally the conclusion quoted above.

Ezekiel uses language of analogy indicating human authorship of the text. The unseeable is described by similies. This is not a direct but an indirect vision. These are not meant to be literal representations. That this language indicates human authorship not divine speech (as in other prophetic oracles) makes it distinct.

Podcast Conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education

 Just thrilled that our podcast conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education are available here: https://podcast...