Friday, December 29, 2006

Learning to love the questions

I am appreciating the deep and wide discussion going on over at "On Faith" about atheism. Though I was raised in a fairly religious family I attended a liberal arts college where expressions of faith were rare and most often viewed with concern. I miss the regular late night discussions full of passion, humor and dare I say love (agape).

Fortunately, I have been blessed with friends old and young, religious and not who also "love the questions" as the poet Rainer Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet. I know that God is present in the midst of those discussions. At best the Episcopal Church is a community where people (those who are sure and those who are doubting) may find a place to discover the gifts of faith and community. Where the big and small questions are respected and truth is pursued with humbleness.

Here's what I had to say about Katharine Jefferts Schori's post at "On Faith".

Thank you Bishop Schori for articulating a strong yet respectful way of bridging the gap between believer and atheist. I am particularly grateful for this sentence,

"People of faith understand compassion to be rooted in God, but that understanding is not necessary to its expression in caring for one’s neighbor."

So often those who reject religious faith do so because of the hypocrisy and arrogance displayed by adherents. Rather than bashing nonbelievers, our focus as people of faith ought to be on being (and bringing) good news to the poor by living lives of compassionate service, justice and mercy. For too many the old hymn, "they will know we are Christians by our love" fails to describe nonbelievers experience of many Christians. As the Hebrew prophet Micah said of what the Lord requires "do justice, love kindness...walk humbly with your God." My close friends who question rigorously the existence of God are passionate about justice, are kind, gentle and humble in their living of the questions. May we Christians learn from all those (religious or not) who embody compassion.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Words & Witness in Bethlehem

While on a pilgrimage to the town where Jesus is believed to have been born, the Archbishop of Canterbury said some important words. For more on the wall the Archbishop is describing click here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Remarks at the International Peace Center in Bethlehem
Anglican Communion News Service
December 21, 2006

Your excellencies, dear brothers and sisters we are I think a little overwhelmed by the welcome that we have received here. And although we are used, we have visited here before to be welcomed with this generosity today has been exceptional.

We are indeed here to say to the people of Bethlehem they are not forgotten. We are here to say that what affects you affects us. We are here to say that your suffering is ours also - in prayer and in thought and in hope. We are here to say, in this so troubled, complex land, that justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another. We are here to say that security for one is security for all. For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all.

The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a sign of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself. That terrible fear of the other and the stranger which keeps all of us in one another kind of prison.

In one of the hymns which we sing in English during the Advent season we sing about Jesus Christ as the One who comes the prison bars to break. And it is our prayer and our hope for all of you that the prison of poverty and disadvantage, and the prison of fear and anxiety will alike be broken. We are here on pilgrimage because we trust that 2000 years ago an event took place here which assured us that these prisons could be broken, broken by the act of a God in whose sight all are equally precious: Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian and Moslem. A God for whom all lives are so equally precious that the death of any one is an affront to all. That is why we are here.

We are not here to visit an ancient and interesting site. We are not here to visit a museum and we are not here to visit a theme park. We are here to visit a place and people whose very existence speaks of the freedom of God to set human beings free. That is a truth which remains day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium. It is that good news that has driven us here. It is that good news which has teaches us not to despair even in the terrible circumstances in which so many of you now live.

Thank you once again for what you have done to make us feel at home here. We who are now fellow citizens with you here in this place. Pray for us in the western world, for us in England, that our faith may be strengthened by yours. That you are a gift –- remember -- to us. Unlike the wise men who came from the East 2000 years ago, we not very wise men from the West have not come to pour out our gifts. We have come to receive the witness of your faith, your endurance and your hope. To receive the gifts of God from you. So pray for us. Pray that we may be strong. Pray that we may be loyal friends to you and to all the peoples of this land and we shall pray for you also.

For more on the Archbishop's visit click here.

-- Canon James M. Rosenthal is director of communication at the Anglican Communion Office in London, from which the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) is published. He wishes all a "Merry Christmas from Bethlehem."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sweet Christmas Music

There's been a lot of change in my life recently --- a new job, new city, new coast. So this Christmas, as something familiar, I'm playing an album that brought me joy and comfort at Christmas last year --- The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. My favorite is Rufus Wainwright's "Spotlight on Christmas" and his sister and mother's cover of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus".

Here are the lyrics to Rufus' Christmas song:

People love the working man
Who does the best that he can
But don't forget all the horses and toys
Never could fix the poor little rich boys
People say they love the maid
Who sweats and toils just like a slave
But don't forget all the diamonds and pearls
Never could fix the poor little rich girls

You can measure it in blood
You can measure it in mud
Let us say for these twelve days
Put the measuring away

Cause it's Christmas
And the spotlight's shining on Christmas
And the spotlight's shining on us

People love and people hate
People go and people wait
But, don't forget Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Once were a family poor but rich in hope, yeah
Don't forget Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Running from the law, King Herod had imposeth
And they were each one quite odd
And mensch, a virgin, and a God
But don't forget that what kept them aflow
Floating through the desert doesnt take a boat no
Don't forget that what kept them above
Is unconditional love

And, you can measure it in blood
You can measure it in mud
Let us say for these twelve days
Put the measuring away

Cause it's Christmas
And the spotlight's shining on Christmas
And the spotlight's shining on us
And the spotlight's shining on Christmas
And the spotlight's shining on

People love the working man
Who does the best that he can
But, don't forget all the horses and toys
Never could fix the poor little rich boys

You can also watch Rufus singing this on YouTube.

Episcolypse Now

Jon Stewart mentioned the Episcopal Church recently on the Daily Show. Sad but funny. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Peace is at the Heart of the Christmas Story

Jesse Jackson's inspiring Christmas message:

"What is Christmas about? It is about an oppressed people praying for a Messiah, a mighty warrior who would conquer their oppressors. He would come, they thought, assemble a great army and conquer the Roman legions. The expectation grew so high that even Herod grew uneasy. But when the Messiah came, he came as the prince of peace, not the marshal of war. He taught love and hope and charity, not violence and vengeance. He was the greatest liberator of them all, but he carried no arms, and provisioned no army. His army would transform the world, but it consisted of the legions of the faithful struggling to follow in his path."

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

provocative voices of faith

Just listened to a wide-ranging discussion on NPR with Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. She's the first woman to hold that office. She started out as an oceanographer. Listen to her thoughts on science and faith and other contemporary challenges the church is facing.

While you are visiting NPR's website you can also listen to (or read) a wonderful Franciscan theologian and activist Richard Rohr. My Mennonite aunt has been sharing his books and articles with me for years. Rohr's written a lot of books on spirituality and has worked with the progressive Christian organization Sojourners.

If intersection of science and religion is your thing, you might appreciate exploring "A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding" which was put together by the Episcopal Committee on Science, Technology and Faith. There are also wonderful programs on this topic at "Speaking of Faith".

Friday, December 15, 2006

speak ye peace, thus saith our God

Advent is a season in the church year that is full of amazing hymns --- the one that is feeding my journey the most this year is "Comfort, comfort ye my people". I'd love to hear a version with drums and flutes (perhaps Sufjan Stevens could do a version) but you can get a sense of it at this link.

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning 'neath their sorrow's load;
speak ye to Jerusalem

of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald's voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tings Dey Happen

Just returned from an amazing one-man play about Nigerian oil politics written and performed by Fulbright scholar Dan Hoyle. Hoyle’s girlfriend Lyra, with whom I am working on a young adult project, invited me to attend a preview at the Marsh Theater in the Mission. “Tings Dey Happen” is an ambitious play that transports the audience to Nigeria, where one meets an array of international characters ---- warlords, oil company workers, ambassadors, and activists. The haunting and delightful stories Hoyle tells “stay with you after you leave the theater.”

The play has gotten me interested in learning more about the situation in Nigeria, especially since a few Episcopal congregations in the United States are attempting to link up with the Diocese of Nigeria. The former Rector of Truro Church, The Reverend Martyn Minns worked for Mobil Oil prior to becoming a priest. Mobil began its work in Nigeria in the late 1950's. Nigeria has a horrible human rights record and Martyn Minns (now a Bishop in the Church of Nigeria) claims to be close friends with Archbishop Peter Akinola who is purported to support a bill that would jail gay people. What exactly is going on? I'm no Fulbright scholar but I've got a lot of questions.

Martyr in Honduras

Brian McLaren recently posted a troubling story about Dionisio Diaz, a "lawyer for the poor" who was murdered last Monday, December 4. Please read the Association for a More Just Society press release and share this information with others.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Lady & Revolution Church

I woke up early this morning (4:00 a.m.) to attend a packed service to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe complete with a mariachi band at a Catholic Church just down the street from my new friend Sara's house. When I got home I turned on my computer to read the news and check out some of my favorite blogs. I think it was at God's Politics that I saw an ad for a new television show called "One Punk Under God" on the Sundance Channel. The show sounds pretty interesting, a documentary series about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's son and the church he started that meets in a bar. You can watch a story about this from MTV news here.

These two widely different examples of contemporary Christianity remind me how immensely diverse and complex this faith really is --- so often the image of Christianity portrayed in the media is monolithic yet mornings like this one give me such hope, inspiration and excitement.

UPDATE: Also on my morning check through the news, blogs and websites I ran across a story about the wonderful Guadalupe Art Program which seeks to empower young Latinas at St. Paul's Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, read all about it here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Also Arrested

On Thursday, Father Louis Vitale, OFM was arrested along side Quakers, Episcopalians (myself included). I first met Father Vitale when I was doing my three months of chaplaincy during seminary at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco. Father Vitale has embodied the Franciscan way of life through practicing solidarity with the poor and nonviolence for many years. Father Vitale has participated in direct action at the School of the Americas and helped open the doors of his parish in the Tenderloin to the homeless. Please read more about this inspiring man of faith here and here.

Also, if you are looking for more information about Christian nonviolence please read this excellent article by Christian theologian Walter Wink. Also helpful resources can be found here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Episcopal bishop arrested in protest over war in Iraq

Northern California's Episcopalian leader, the newly elected Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, was arrested Thursday afternoon for blocking the front door of the San Francisco federal building to protest the Iraq war.

Andrus, carrying a shepherd's staff and singing "Down by the Riverside,'' was among about 200 protesters who had marched from Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill to join the weekly anti-war rally on Golden Gate Avenue near City Hall.

Read the whole from San Francisco Chronicle story here.

More photos available here.

A great interview and story is available from the Episcopal News Service here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

being peacemakers

Diana Butler Bass has been at it again --- bringing faith, reason, and compassion to the complex issues of our time. Author of Christianity for the Rest of Us, Bass recently posted a profound statement of solidarity with Lisa Jensen, the peace wreath trouble-maker in Colorado on the God's Politics blog. Just today, Bass participated in a live discussion at on current challenges within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. (Definately, read the transcript here.)

As I prepare for tomorrow's witness for peace and rememberance of all who have died in Iraq, I am grateful to be part of a tradition that seeks to embody reconciliation. The Diocese of California's new Bishop Marc Andrus (a "progressive pilgrim" Diana might say) at the last convention received a standing ovation when he said the following,
"The other area I need to mention regards being peacemakers. The writer, Arundhati Roy, who wrote the beautifully crafted novel, The God of Small Things, is also a political essayist of great incisiveness. She has commented that the non-violent movement today is paralyzed in a crisis of how to move forward when the great political leaders of the world powers have learned that they can ignore and sideline mass non-violent protest effectively.

I believe she is correct in this assessment, and I feel a frustration that I think she shares, bordering on desperation, as I look at the reality of the war in Iraq, which I strongly oppose. I want you to know that I will be looking for ways, as the bishop of this diocese, and as an individual Christian, to oppose this war in more effective non-violent ways. It is only fair that you know this." (read the whole thing here)

For more information on tomorrow's (Thursday's) event please click here. If you are far away from the Bay Area please join us by praying for all those who have died and for peace.