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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A gift

During the last several years, as our daughters have become young adult women, our Christmas celebrations and gift exchanges have changed dramatically.  There are fewer gifts, the drama surrounding them is much less and we have begun to make some sort of family outing or experience our primary family Christmas gift.  Also, since we are in the middle of a relatively dramatic remodel on the main floor of our new-to-us home in Concord, David and I are getting a new kitchen for Christmas, so there will not be many gifts under the tree for us to open this year. 

With all of this being said, I have to admit that I still do really like presents.  I like finding the perfect gift for another person, giving gifts and unwrapping and receiving them.  I like to savor the experience of revelation of what is under the tree.  I enjoy seeing other people's gifts as much as unwrapping my own.  Over the last several years I have tried to curb those insatiable desires to buy everyone I know multiple gifts and to reduce the amount of consumerism in my life.  Two years ago I gave charitable donations in honor of all the people on my list and tried to have the charities match the lives of the recipients (i.e.  I gave a donation to George Mark's Children's House in honor of our preschool director and to the Mount Diablo School District music program in honor of our church's Music Director). 

Today, I was in the church office and attempting to put finishing touches on three or four different worship services for the upcoming days and weeks, and a whole assortment of things that pastors do during the week before Christmas.  Gift giving and receiving was the farthest thing from my mind.  In the midst of my routine,  I picked up the day's mail and was surprised to find an envelope addressed to me from the Deputy Consul General of the Israeli Consulate.   In the early fall, David, a local Jewish man who is interested in interfaith conversations,  contacted me to request a meeting with some progressive Christians and some Jewish representatives from the Israeli Consulate.  I was dumbfounded as to why he would contact me (later found out he had reached out to a number of local pastors and I was the only one who responded to his request!).  As is my style, I suggested we meet face to face for coffee.  He and I spoke for a while and then we found a way to eventually invite several pastors in the area to a meeting at a local synagogue.  I did not leave that meeting with any particular sense of accomplishment nor did I think it was a meeting that was useless, but I generally feel inadequate to the task of sorting out deeply complex personal, political, theological knots between people who do not even begin to see eye to eye.  However, since I was about to embark on a pilgrimage to the Middle East and be a guest in Jerusalem, Galilee, Bethlehem and Nazareth, it seemed important for me to participate.

So, back to the envelope.  It turns out it wasn't just a card, but I could tell there was actually something inside the envelope.  Well, much to my surprise, the envelope contained a Christmas greeting from Gideon, the Deputy Consul General, and a CD.  So, I opened the CD and discovered that it was by an ironically named group, My Favorite Enemy.

 I opened the program notes and found that this group of musicians is a part of a larger organization, The Middle East Program, founded in 2002 with a vision to "build meaningful, long-term relationships between leaders from all sectors of society."  I have no way of knowing if this organization is the real deal or not, but I was deeply moved by the music and the spoken intent of the music and the organization behind it.  I was filled with gratitude that someone I don't really know well and who sees the world differently than I do thought enough to send me a gift.  I'm praying that some of the bigger gifts on my list that don't involve packages, material goods, wrapping and bows, might start to be revealed, the way this simple gift opened me. 

In peace, joy, hope and love, I wait and I watch for the lasting gifts.  Thanks, Gideon, for reminding me that they come from the most unlikely people and places. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the face of grief, make music

Since I'm not sure this will make the cutting floor of the WomenSing website, I thought I would go ahead and post it for those of you who follow me or read my blog from time to time.  It was all I could come up with as a response to the earthshaking events of the last week.

Blog Post #3 – a retrospective on Sing an Endless “Ave”

It is with a heavier heart than I had last Wednesday evening that I am finally addressing the computer and bringing some reflections to what it was like for me to sing in my first concert with WomenSing.   I was lifted high by the beautiful churches in which we sang and the gracious hospitality of the hosts/hostesses and the audiences who came to hear us sing.  I was humbled by the preparation of sitting in a room trying to take it all in.  I was shocked at the speed with which the program progressed.  I was in awe the talent of the percussionists, our vocal soloists and ensembles and our outstanding artistic staff.  And I was sad that I was not as prepared for it all as I wanted to be, while heartened that next time I will know more, be more relaxed and continue to improve (art making is not an instantaneous gratification event!)

However,  since that evening and those initial reflections, the country has been reminded once again of the terrible toll violence can take on a community, and this time the violence found itself on the doorstep of a school with teachers and very young children.  I will not write any opinions or give any quick or vapid solutions to this tragedy, but I will admit that for a time, it made the exhilaration and thrill of making music fade somewhat into the background.  The concert became a sub-paragraph to the larger essay of life. 
However, the more I have thought about it, the more I believe that there should be an exclamation point next to music making and the role it can have in making our world a better place, and making us better people.  I know that some of you may be wondering what kind of Pollyanna life I lead or how I could be so na├»ve as to think that might even be possible.  But let me explain myself.

Our program this winter was an eclectic mix of movements from various Latin American and Canadian masses, some traditional carols and some less traveled songs by the likes of Derek Holman and Benjamin Britten.  So, for starters, regardless of one’s faith background, who could help but be moved by a Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) or miserere nobis (have mercy on us) or Dona Nobis Pacem (grant us peace)?  I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the music is still singing through me and in me, even though the concerts concluded nearly a week ago.  And isn’t that what great art should do?  These are ancient words and texts and carols and songs, and they spoke volumes in those two venues last week, and even more loudly to me in the news of a tragedy in Newtown, CT.

Also, this wonderful choral organization of WomenSing does more than put on performances, but it gives back to communities and individuals through programs like Youth Inspiring Youth (http://www.womensing.org/).  Additionally, earlier in the fall, several members of WomenSing took lunch to a group in San Francisco called Singers of the Street (http://www.singersofthestreet.org/), a choir of people whose lives are impacted by homelessness.   And what else could we do that would support communities locally and even worldwide to the gift of making music that challenges the mind, enlarges the heart and opens hands to a more generous and kind way of living?  In the words of Leonard Bernstein, "This will be our reply to violence: To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

(Addendum:  for one more story about music as activisim, go to
 http://thisweekinpalestine.co/details.php?id=1189&ed=97&edid=97 to read about the Palestine Bach Festival.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I am normally a person who can handle a lot of activities at one time.  I multitask with the best of them.  I sometimes live by the principle of "I'm sure I can handle just one more thing."  But sometimes, I hit a breaking point.  Today is one of those days.  It mostly comes in the form of realizing that I am so far from practicing what I preach that it is downright embarrassing.

As a minister in the Christian tradition, I am supposed to guide the people through Advent toward this very important time in the Christian year and calendar:  the birth of Jesus!  Advent is a hopeful, quiet, pregnant with anticipation and meaning time.  It is a counter-cultural time.  This is evidenced by the attempts to hold off the white and gold by adorning our sanctuaries with purple or royal blue.  Some churches don't sing Christmas carols until Christmas eve.  This is not a time that tells the stories of Black Fridays of long ago, gross national product, or economic recovery.  It also is not even a time to journey up the mountain to procure the largest and most elegant fir tree to grace our living room windows.  There is no gospel of Martha Stewart's Christmas and the shepherds don't herald free gift wrapping or amazon.com free shipping and arrival of gifts just in time for the unwrapping frenzy.  Instead, we are waiting on a baby.  In the words of Ricky Bobby, maybe an " 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, don't even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent" baby Jesus. (thanks Adam Walker Cleaveland for reminding me!) 

But maybe that isn't it either.  I'm thinking that what I'm supposed to do and be during this Advent could not be further from the person I am.  Frankly, I'm a ball of frenzy focused upon all the wrong things.  When will the house get decorated for Christmas?  How will I get the gifts wrapped in time?  Where will our extended family gather for Christmas Day if my house is still a mess of construction dust, mis-matched furniture and a garage full of things that no longer fit in a down-sized property?  Oh and this is just on the home front.  Let's not even start to talk about the church and work.  Upcoming services, end of year budget process, new officers and training, and and and....  

So what will make it all stop?  What can get me in the right frame.  Well, today, for some reason, I stopped and took a picture of a piece of "art" that I have had in my home and now in my church office since the first or second year I have served as a minister of a congregation.  There was this amazing woman in that congregation, Dorothy, who was over 90 years old.  She came to the Senior Center and taught bible study because the "old people" needed her!  She had cancer but did not let it stop her.  She loved to talk about deep and important matters of life and death.  Her conversation often turned to the baby Jesus and the grown up Jesus, and the Jesus that lives incarnate in each of our hearts.  For some reason, today it just hit me how much I miss her.  I bet I have not really thought about her for at least a couple of years.  It was as if she was the one telling me to stop and pay attention to the really important matters of life and death.  

This is the piece of "art":
What a very odd stop sign.  This picture is made out of those very old Christmas cards and it belonged to Dorothy.  She had brought it to the church to be sold at the annual Senior Center Craft Fair.  No one bought her and the clean up crew was ready to toss her.  I think I paid $5 for her and said it was a good cause.  There are so many things I love about it.  First, it was Dorothy's!  Second, it is made of recycled products.  Finally, I've always just been fascinated by the story of Mary, the annunciation, the birth and her role in Jesus' life.  As a Protestant minister, I have often thought that we let the Roman Catholics steal her away or that we have rejected the adoration of Mary to a point that we've rejected all the goodness that can be found in her.  For today, I want to remember how she prepared like every other pregnant woman in the world to birth an 8 lb 6 oz wonder and how all that preparation and the shock of it all must have made her slow down and even stop from the fear, the pain, the confusion and whatever else was occupying her.  

So, I best get busy, but not with the stuff of everyday life, but with the deeper parts of living and sharing and listening and loving and knowing.  To all a blessed Advent. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

What is Holy?

This past Sunday I concluded an impromptu three week sermon series in which I used my time in Israel and the West Bank as my jumping off point.  I abused the congregation with a longer than normal worship service (totally unintentional) and I showed slides...100+ of the 2500 some pictures that the 4 of us took in 2 weeks.  My goal was to reflect upon the meaning of "holy" and to ponder what it is that makes a place "holy.  I am rather embarrassed to admit that after a week of reflection, 20 some hours of pouring through photos and asking myself this question, I'm not sure I am any closer to the answer.  

I showed a variety of places and shots and continued to ask the question, "is this a holy place?"  I showed some places that at least on first view would seem to be the antithesis of holy.  Here are just a few of the pictures that I shared:

And then, I started to look up....

 and out...

But still, this somehow was not capturing it for me.  Then I started to look in.... and I realized that what made a place holy on this trip was welcome, hospitality and worship.  And the first two came in unexpected places from often unexpected people.  The Israeli at the restaurant in Rosh Pina, the coffee shop owner in the Old City, the guide in Nablus, the family at our friend Debbie's apartment, the pastor at the little church in Beit Sahour and on and on it goes.  The supposed holy sites were often not that welcoming at all, but instead were crowded and restrictive.  There was an aspect of history and awe at the fact that Jesus might have been there or somewhere near there, but clamoring, sweaty, pushy, overcrowded spaces can suck the holiness out pretty quickly.  Also, because we were Protestant, women, and pastors, there were a lot of places we could not worship or lead worship. The extent of this exclusion was punctuated as soon as I got on the plane in NY to Tel Aviv, when I had to be moved because I was seated next to Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who would be rendered unclean if they sat next to me.  This was a wake-up call that I was truly embarking on a culture shock sort of pilgrimage.  When we went to the various "holy sites,"  I found myself jealous of the people who could pick up mass at least once a day if not multiple times per day.   All of these churches lost something for me when I realized I was unable to worship in community, with music and some of the basic structures of what is familiar to me in the act of worship. 

So, I ask you, what is holy?  What makes a place holy?  I need an answer, please!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Early Advent

While most of you are pondering Thursday's menu, are in a turkey induced tryptophan coma and are contemplating whether or not to brave the Black Friday shopping crowds, pastors all over the land are deeply into their plans for Advent, Christmas and beyond.  Last week, I was writing services for Advent and Christmas, writing my cover article for the December edition of our church newsletter, and completing a submission for the San Francisco Theological Seminary online devotional.

So that you don't feel left out, or think that we pastors are all that special, I thought I'd go ahead and give you a preview to what I wrote for my seminary alma mater:

Micah 5:2-6 (from the Message)

2-4 But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
    the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.
    His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes
    until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come back
    home to the family of Israel.
He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God’s strength,
    centered in the majesty of God-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
    for the whole world will hold him in respect—
    Peacemaker of the world!

I beg all of you to not assume Jesus Christ as you read this passage of scripture.  Please please please, wait and read this as if you had never heard of the one who was to be born in Bethlehem.  Wait just a few days longer for the unexpected coming of the Prince of Peace.  For now, sit in the wonder and expectancy of what has not yet been born.   

As you let these words fall over and around you, imagine what the people in Bethlehem are hoping for today.  What is the desire of their hearts?   What pregnant possibility is waiting to be born in us this day?  What labor pains might be lifted by our prayers and our works?  I returned from two weeks in Bethlehem in mid-November, and I am flooded with memories and images as I read this passage.  The separation wall, a Palestine baby boy dedicated in a worship service in Beit Sahour, the unemployed men wandering the streets at all hours, the 100s of workers lined up outside the wall at 6:30 a.m. waiting for rides to work ( a process that can take 1 to 2 hours), the faithful Orthodox, Muslims and Christians each taking seriously the acts and devotions of their traditions, the numerous checkpoints and incredibly young soldiers, the lack of infrastructure in Palestinian territories, the 2000 year old olive trees on the Mount of Olives, and many, many more.

It seems the prophet Micah speaks just as clearly today, and that the plight of Bethlehem and the ways of the world have changed drastically and not at all.  So, don’t jump to Jesus, but jump to prayer.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not home yet, but then again, maybe I am.

"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." - T.S. Eliot

So, I am writing you from a 42nd floor room in the Doubletree Suites Hotel in Times Square, New York City.  For those of you who have followed the two week journey/pilgrimage/torture?/adventure, from SF to Tel Aviv to Sea of Galilee, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem and back again, you know that I am not yet where I am supposed to be.  We were supposed to have been on a flight from JFK to SFO and arrive home last evening at 9:10 p.m.  Ah, but we make plans and God laughs, as the quote goes.  At this point I would say that on this trip God's Facebook post re: our plans would be more along the lines of LMFAO!

When our day began in Bethlehem at 4:30 a.m., I believe we had more anxiety about the hassles we might receive in passport security and customs.  We sailed through and had plenty of time to eat breakfast and prepare to board our 9:40 a.m. flight from Tel Aviv to JFK.  While it was not a pleasant flight (terrible service, many screaming and crying newborns, infants, toddlers and children, loud and obnoxious adult travelers), everything was on time and seemed to be going according to plan.  We also had checked weather in NY and the forecast was for temps in 40s and some rain/wind, but it did not look insurmountable.

We arrived on time to JFK, about 3 p.m.  As we were approaching, the pilot came on and said that it was just starting to snow!  By the time we got our bags, went through quick customs checkout (not quick at all!) the snow was coming down HARD.  Our friend Jeannie has flight status checker and our flight was still scheduled to be on time.  However, once we had gotten through secuirty, she checked her iphone again and the status had a huge, flashing, red bar across the top that said CANCELLED.  Once we got to the flight status board, we discovered that nearly every flight out of JFK was CANCELLED.  So, we treked up to the ticket counter and re-booked for a flight today.  We also discovered that every hotel near the airport was already sold out and we had to go to either Brooklyn (a one star seedy hotel) or Times Square.  We opted for Times Square, being 3 jet-lagged, women traveling alone in a weary and less than patient state.

In many ways, it felt as if we were so close to home, and yet so far away.  However, as we took a cab ride that was supposed to be about 25 mintues in normal traffic that took us over 90 minutes, and we approached the lights, the skyscrapers and the onslaught of media and marketing, I felt my energy shift to excitement and a strange sense of peace, calm and sense of being at home.  Call me crazy, but nothing lights up my heart like urban-ness.  Its as if the blood in my veins begins to course more rapidly and with more life.  I loved every minute of my time in Israel, Palestine and all the holy places we saw and the people we met, but being back in the US and being in NYC, the city that never sleeps, I finally felt that I was back home.  Now, if we can just make the rest of that part of the journey complete, I can squeeze my dear sweet husband, crawl into my warm bed, and arrive back at the place I began, I will know that I have truly arrived at home.

So, for a few more hours, I am not where I am supposed to be, but then on the other hand, perhaps I am exactly where I need to be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Going Home

On the eve day of our flight home, I am having some luxurious time to myself while my 3 traveling companions go to Jerusalem to buy last minute gifts and have lunch.  I stayed back to pack, think about Sunday's sermon and prepare myself (plus prevent myself from spending more money on gifts!) for the journey back to the Bay Area from Tel Aviv to JFK to SFO to Concord.

I have both a heavy heart to be leaving the places that have made an imprint on my soul, while at the same time a light-hearted longing to be reunited with my family, friends and church.  I recognize that I have been changed by all the things that we have seen, but much more than that, by the varieties of people we have met and observed.  Our pilgrimage has been marked by laughter, food, frustration and getting lost a few times.  There have been stones, valley, mountains, rivers, seas and churches, lots and lots of churches.  We have experienced numerous check points, walls that divide, walls for prayer, ancient walls and invisible walls.  We have wondered at the hospitality extended to 4 bumbling US Presbyterian women pastors - sometimes an odd sight and often a minority.

I am certain I will never read a passage from any scripture in the same way as I did before coming into this land.  I am still musing on what is holy, what is just and what is right.  My head is filled with as many pictures as the 1500 or so that I actually took.  My heart is overflowing with compassion, gratitude, and faith sprinkled with some anger and bemusement.

As my bags are nearly packed and I know that I will be making the long journey back to SFO tomorrow, I am also quite aware that I am not leaving nor is what I have done, where I have been or who I have seen, leaving me.  It's the great thing about faithful pilgrimage, it stays with you forever and with any good fortune, I can stay in it for a very long time.

Peace, Shalom, La Paz, Der Frieden, Pace, Pax and Salaam!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Unexpected meeting

On Wednesday, after we had traversed the Via Dolorosa, and wandered the streets, we were preparing to attend a Reformation Day worship service at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lutheran in the late afternoon.  We had gone to the church to meet one of the pastors, and found is life and pacing not to be unlike that of a pastor in the United States.  We gave him the space and time to go prepare for worship and went in search of coffee.  As we were walking down one of the many walk ways in the Old City, I looked up and said to my friends, "I think that's Nadia Bolz-Weber."  Now, if you know Nadia at all, you know what a ridiculous statement that is!  Of course it was Nadia.  While I am generally a pretty bold person, I tend to shy away from more public figures by thinking they are too busy, too popular or too famous to want to be troubled with an intrusion, but my friends urged and Wendy said "Let's go after her."  So, we called after her and she turned around.  We stood in front of the doors to the church and briefly introduced ourselves.  Before long, she was telling us of the sad story of being without bags for several days, being separated from her traveling group and the general road weariness that occurs in international travel.  It felt a bit like a provision.  We took her to one of our favorite coffee shops, exchanged stories about ministry and women and the church and went back to the church to partake in one of the most glorious times of worship I have had in a long time.

First off, the Lutherans just really know how to do worship!  This is always evident from the very beginning.  They process!!!  Bible, processional cross and lots of pastors in liturgical finery.  This particular service was in Arabic, English and German (the church has worship in all three languages every single Sunday).  There was a lovely balance between the three and they had printed the entire liturgy in all three languages so there was a sense of unification even in the parts that were spoken in languages unfamiliar to me.   There was a limited amount of translation required.  It was also one of the first places we went where as women and Protestants we could actually participate in the worship service and even partake of the Eucharist.  The sermon was about freedom.  The children's choir from Ramallah was unable to come to sing in the service because they could not get the permission to travel across the boundaries, borders and checkpoints.  Their absence was heartbreaking.  I am actually not entirely sure why this service held such meaning and depth for me, but perhaps it was the fact that I felt I was welcome, I was a participant and I was at home.

To finish my opening story, Nadia accompanied us to a couple of sites on Thursday and crashed in our room, and used our hotel as home base for the delivery of her bags.  We discovered today that her bags did come and the hotel helped her sort out the final hand off and transportation to join up with her tour group.  I am grateful for the unexpected meeting and grateful that the detour on her path has ended for this time.  I also pray that my own life would be filled with more of these encounters and the ability to meet the unexpected with acceptance and grace.

Friday, November 2, 2012


My covenant group, gal pals, women of the green stoles, pastor pals, collegial friends, whatever else one might want to call them, have developed a tradition of one of our members which is to answer the question "For what are you grateful?" as our table grace whenever we break bread together.  Today, as I wandered the streets of the Old City (and outside the Old City when I got hopelessly lost and somehow swept into a crowd in the Muslim Quarter which was completely too much for me!) I had the opportunity to reflect more deeply upon the moments of gratitude so far on this journey, pilgrimage, trip of a lifetime.  These are just a few of them:

* Safe arrival
* The hospitality and kindness of our friend and colleague, Debbie Whaley
* The simultaneous breathtaking expanse and yet relatively small Sea of Galilee
* The ability to be lost, seemingly hopelessly lost, and then to find our way once more
* To walk in, around and near the places that Jesus might have been
* The laaandddddscape
* Falafels
* Shashouka
* Worship on Reformation Day at Lutheran Redeemer Church in Jerusalem
* Freedom
* The welcome and graciousness of every Jew, Muslim, Christian, Palestinian, and Israeli that I have met
* Running into Nadia Bolz-Weber in the most unlikely of places
* The Giants won the World Series!!!! (I know that has nothing to do with Jesus, Jerusalem, Palestine or anything holy, but I still care!)
* Study leave/vacation from Clayton Valley Presbyterian, the grant from PC(USA) that allows us to be here, and a very supportive husband who understands the value of this excursion
* Stories that take your breath away
* St. Anne's Church - acoustics to die for
* The chance to become more familiar with who I am in the midst of foreign and unfamiliar people and places

I had a difficult time expressing my gratitude at last evening's dinner, and perhaps that is because there are just too many things to name.  I do give thanks, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Death must die

Today we began our day walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.  We took a pilgrim's question with us, which was to consider what it is that needs to die for us.  As I walked the stations I was praying intently upon this question and I thought of a lot of things that could die.  Most of them were fairly common to the human condition:  selfishness, greed, complaining, injustice, materialism, and even mundane things like complaining or overeating.  However, as we arrived at the final 3 stations, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reflection on what needed to die shifted for me.

First, let's be clear, I was not even sure we were at the Church.  We entered thru 3 old churches that felt a bit like seedy bars, and then emerged into an open courtyard.  It has been relatively hot here and I am a sweat-er, so I was drenched and told one of my traveling companions that I was going to wait outside.  As I sat quietly outside and prayed and waited, the question and the answer to my prayer "what needs to die" shifted.  I got a very clear declaration that death needs to die.  I know that may sound overly dramatic and way too Christian for some.  However, it was my word, my reflection and my prayer.  I think it rings true in my own life, because in the last year, there has been a lot of death in my life both personally and vocationally.

Also, as I traverse this Holy Land (not really sure what makes it holy, and that will be a topic for another blog entry for sure), I am keenly aware of the constant threat of death that lies just underneath the surface.  One can palpably feel the tension that penetrates the landscape as a result of generations of conflict,  a political and personal and religious milieu of tensions that have resided in this place for generations and centuries.  There is a history of religious, political and cultural claim to land and sacred places.  Oppression has ebbed and flowed and shifted from one people to another, for ages and ages.  It even exists within "similar" religious groups, as our friend Debbie related the story of the conflicts over the primacy of various Christian religions over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It is dramatically evidenced by a ladder that stands up on a terrace above the doors to the church.  It stays there to this day because no one can determine whether the ladder belongs to the the Orthodox Orders or the Roman Catholic (just go to Wikipedia Immovable Ladder and read).  All of this is death that needs to die.

While I am here seeing sites, talking to people from all over the world, and having my world and theological views turned upside down,  I am also seeing the reports of Hurricane Sandy on CNN and feeling very removed from the deeply destructive and deadly reality that has impacted many parts of the East Coast.  A cyclone hits India.  A large earthquake hits Canada.  Acts of God, they're called, but they wreak havoc and I want to cry out stop the death.

I am also hearing what sounds like gun shots in the distance from my hotel in the Old City.  The news reports of conflict or brewing unrest come from Syria, Damascus, Turkey and elsewhere.  Violence and conflict.  Death and threat of death. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.  That is just more evidence to me that death needs to die and we need to be free of that which cuts off life from ourselves, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters and yes, even our enemies.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I am so confused

Yesterday was a whirlwind day.  We checked out of our lovely Roman Catholic guest house, and got on the road to a few more sites and then to our lodging for the next several nights.  In the span of about of roughly twelve hours, we road a boat, climbed a hill, saw another ruin, ate a fabulous lunch, crossed cultures numerous times, drove miles, got lost at least 3 or 4 times, and finally fell into our beds at around 11:30 pm.

I fear that the only way I can express this cognitive, spiritual and emotional dissonance, is to expose you to a poem in its raw and unedited form:

Many and Varied
Joy and Sorrow on rocky landscape
Don't know where to begin or where to stop

Full and Overflowing
An assault to my senses
So many questions and so few answers

Tastes and Seasonings
A colorful palate of cuisine
A terrible place to diet or deny one's hunger

Devout and Evident
Nearly humorous caricatures of traditions
Altogether serious and sometimes frightening

Who and What
Cannot begin to sort it out
Complicated beyond all comprehension

Rocks and buildings
Journey to the places of significance
Honor the faith of those who have walked ahead

Nearly every word and phrase here has at least a double meaning for me, if not more.  If any of you can figure this out, please enlighten me!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jeremiah 6:16

"Thus says the Lord:  Stand at the crossroad, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."

I am told we will do a lot of walking in our 14 days of pilgrimage.  I am already enjoying the pacing and the stories of each place we visit.  Today, as we went up to the Cliffs of Arbell (not a Biblical site, but a wonderful spot to be oriented to the geography of the Sea of Galilee and the communities all around), we read this passage and spent some time reflecting by ourselves and walking around the top of the cliff.  Just parsing this short verse could take up volumes of journaling and hours of prayer and reflection. 

For starters, whenever I am at a crossroad, I am generally so preoccupied with where I should turn, that I seldom spend time looking, let alone asking questions.  And for heaven's sake, why would I ask for an ancient path?  Shouldn't I be concerned with the new, the innovative, the unique and original, the solution that will unlock the doors to success, growth, prosperity and institutional survival?  Pshaw, what do ancient paths have to tell me? 

We had lunch in the town of Tiberias and it is a fascinating mix of ancient and very modern.  It is also a city of mixed culture, race and religion.  I found it a stimulating place to be.  Now, back to the passage.

For sure, the paths here are ancient.  I find so far that the link to the ancient is more significant to me than whether or not it was ACTUALLY the place that Jesus did this or that, but that millions have trod for centuries over this ground, have stuck prayers in between rocks and have dipped their toes in the Sea.   Yesterday we dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea and on Saturday morning we will take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Then, in asking and looking, it says the good way will be found.  I also find myself wondering if the good way is a way that is good or if any way can be good.  Is it what we make of whatever way/path that we are on?   Too much deep thinking for someone who is still somewhat jet lagged.  I am not really given to such introspection on a daily basis.  There must be a pacing, an intentionality and a consciousness that is far more attuned than I am ordinarily on any given day.  It takes so much more time and energy to slow down than it does to go the pace of all the world around me.

We were in three different churches this afternoon...St. Peter's Primacy, Tabgha (The Church of the Loaves and Fishes) and a Greek Orthodox Church that we just happened into at the end of our day.  Each one of them brought delight, insight and beauty into our day.  Each one of them, in their own unique way, were restful places, despite the throngs of tourists surrounding us!!!!!

Finally, the passage ends with "you will find rest for your souls." I know that I entered this time of pilgrimage and this journey to holy places in a pretty dry and parched and weary state.  Weary from selling a house, weary from buying a house and moving, weary from grief of death in the church I serve and the death of my own mother, weary from the mundane and the extraordinary.  I trust and I pray that no matter where I am on this journey of two weeks, or this journey of a lifetime that God has gone ahead of me, God meets and receives me and God follows after me, even if at the end of the day, I respond with the final phrase of the passage that we chose NOT to read in our reflection....

16 This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,    and you will find rest for your souls.    But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Are Going....

To truly be on a pilgrimage, one must be ready for the unexpected.  I and my traveling companions learned that in spades yesterday!  And the fun continues today.  We learned that everything on pilgrimage does not happen in the time frame in which one expects that it might.  Consider that we were to fly at 9:40 a.m. yesterday from SFO, and to arrive today at 1:15 pm Tel Aviv time.  Well, as I write this entry, I'm still in the good ol' US of A.  Sitting in New York's JFK Doubletree Inn (thanks to American Airlines).  To that end, we also learned that we may not end up where we thought we were going to be either.  Our original route was taking us to LAX and then a direct flight to Tel Aviv.  Instead, we are now in NY and will fly to Tel Aviv this evening at 7 p.m.  However, these are all things that happen to all people who travel with any frequency at all. 

What distinguishes a pilgrim is what that disruption and surprise creates within one's soul and what one notices while all of these snafus are occurring.  Yesterday, we learned over and over the graciousness of those who were trying to get us on our way.  One of our traveling companions was without cell phone in the airport, while waiting for the two of us to arrive.  She was able to borrow cell phones from perfect strangers who smiled at her and generously allowed her to use thier phones so that she could contact us and our travel agent in Decatur, GA.  Stacey was wonderful and gracious and sympathetic to our dilemmas.  She guided us to the next steps. 

Then we met Jackson, the AA ticket agent who spent time helping us along.  I also noticed people ahead of us who were certainly not carrying a pilgrim attitude.  It seems to me that when one takes all this in stride, the responses are much more accomodating.  Jackson helped us and we offered prayer for her and her colleagues. 

Then, when boarding this second arranged flight, I was alone in the final boarding group and met a young girl and her mom.  The little girl kept repeating, "destination, destination, destination."  Obviously parroting what one of the agents had announced to us over the intercom system.  I giggled to myself as I wondered if she was taunting me, or was it a mantra? as destination seemed to be such an elusive "place" in which to arrive.  Or is destination more of an attitude?  There seeemed to be no movement.  We weren't GOING anyplace or getting anywhere near our destination.  But what is that for me and for us?  It is said in pilgrimage that the journey IS the destination.  What happened and where we were yesterday was what was necessary, whether planned or even pre-ordained or not, it happened and we did not have a lot of control.  All we could do was respond.  Couldn't get there faster by being angry, upset, yelling at people or stomping our feet up and down.  Perhaps I need to carry this attitude with me EVERY day, not just when going on a trip halfway across the world! 

This reminds me of an old lesser known Simon and Garfunkel song, "Woyaya."  It just dawned on me that this must be some African tune.  If anyone knows the origin, please share:

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We'll know we're there.
We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we'll get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We'll know we're there.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A journey

Tomorrow at this time, I should be on a flight from LAX to Tel Aviv via El Al Airlines.  There are so many parts of this that are new.  I've never been to Tel Aviv, Israel, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, etc etc.  I've actually never been out of the country except for across the southern border to Mexico, and the last time I did that, one did not even need to carry a passport to go there!  I've never flown in an aircraft for 14+ hours.  I've never traveled this far or this long with someone other than a family member.  I've never done something this monumental and felt so unprepared.

I preached this morning on the concept of pilgrimage and journey, with Jacob's journey to Haran and his dream revelation.  We sang songs about journey and God's accompaniment.  We reflected on our own lives and journeys.  But  most importantly, we acknowledged how God is present, protecting us and guiding us home, whether that be in far away lands or places we've traveled so many times that they no longer feel like place to us at all, but instead are the locales that have become so familiar that they are woven into the very fiber of our beings.

I have so little idea of what to expect in my time on holy pilgrimage to holy sites, but I do expect that I will be encountering God in and around every nook and cranny and cafe and church and face, whether a traditional monk or priest or neighbor or friend or IDF agent, but mostly, I hope to rediscover God at the very core of my own thoughts and prayers and dreams.  Then, like Jacob, I'll be able to declare, "Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Tea Shop that felt like Church

Several weeks ago, I was in Louisville, Kentucky for a meeting at the National Offices of the Presbyeterian Church (USA).  I had an extra part of a day before traveling on to Kansas to visit my mom, so I thought I would explore downtown Louisville on my own.  In the midst of forced introvert time (emphasis on the word forced), I discovered "Christian" hospitality in the most unlikely of places - a tea shop called hillbillytea.com.
I entered on a whim as this shop is located on what I would call a side street and I wasn't looking for tea or even planning to make a stop.  But there was something intriguing and inviting about the locale.  So, I entered and found myself looking around at the unique displays and the menu.  Very quickly, a young woman asked to help me and I always feel obliged to buy a "little something" when I have entered a small store such as this, and so I ordered a glass of iced tea.  I proceeded to sit down at a table.  Before I knew it, the young women started to engage me in conversation.  Then I asked her about her life and she shared with me that she was a recent Master's Degree graduate in Southern Studies (lawd, chile, I had no idea such a major even existed!) and her passion is to learn about and preserve the traditional ways of making things Southern style (this is an inelegant and inexact description of her major), particularly food and she is even doing a consulting project on the oldest ways of distilling bourbon.  Did you know that only two men are still alive with that knowledge and one of them is in his late 90's and the other is 100 years of age or more!?  I found it remarkable that this young, at least very young to me, woman, was interested in such matters.  I also mused to myself that in some years to our future, there might be some MDiv graduate in a library or bookstore or "church"  or museum with the same sort of dilemma.  Who will preserve the knowledge former faith communities?  Who will care? 

Then, we started to talk about the teas.  Where the tea leaves are grown, the different varieties and a bit about the owner of the shop, Karter Louis.  Once again, to my surprise, in a little while, the store clerk brings over a man and introduces him to me.  It's Karter.  We talk about all the places he has lived, what to do when one has a few hours to kill in Louisville, and even an anecdote about his college friend, Jamie Foxx!  Now, it is not lost on me that there is an economic and retail reason for the kindnesses and schmoozing that was being laid at my feet, and I also know all the blah blah blah about Southern hospitality, but this was over the top.  There was a genuineness and a sort of welcome that I often find missing at denominational gatherings.  As I get to the end of this post, I'm not even sure of what I'm trying to say, but I do know this:   If and when I go back to Louisville, Kentucky, I'll definitely go back to Hillbilly Tea.   Other destination points:  TBD