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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking Back [Updates in Progress]

I've been back in Philadelphia for twenty-four hours.
The first thing I noticed was how green is Mt. Airy, even with the summer heat waves: there is so much grass and so many green trees in comparison with the rocky landscape of Jerusalem punctuated with tropical plants and flowers in every color.
I've been back more than fifty hours now. As I walked in Valley Green Park along the Wissahickon, savoring the intense woodsy greens so different from the more spare, often succulent, tropical greens and burst of color in Israel. I also considered the local bedrock; it is deep grey and black and shiny with mica. The houses here are also dark - I never noticed how dark. I like brown and grey stone. But there something about the golden stone of Jerusalem, from earth red to creamy white, with chunks of chocolate obsidian and flint. The earth and stone in Jerusalem reflects the colors of the skins of all the humans who are said to be created from it. I imagine the people indigenous to the forests here have different stories...
I've been home more than a week now. I have only one word to describe Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine and my experiences there: complicated.
I am still regularly deeply concerned about the state of affairs in Israel and Palestine.
I am also still deeply hopeful and prayerful. 
As I close this blog I leave a link to a site whose photos take me back: the Jerusalem Photo Archive.
Thank you for traveling with me. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Immahoth (Our Mothers)

More sculptures from the Mamilla Mall outdoor gallery:


Hannah - a praying woman

Rachel Immanu (Our Mother)

Tzakat Rachel (Rachel's Cry - for her missing children)
This one is so powerful for me, Rachel's now-empty womb has formed its own tongue and is shrieking.

Devorah under her palm tree

Miryam with what should be a hand drum

These images bear witness to the power of these sacred stories to transcend time, space and culture, to reveal old and new Torah, again and again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

St. George College, Parish House, Cathedral and Grounds

The Cathedral and grounds of St. George are home to a Pilgrim Guest House, College (that offers pilgrim courses), the Cathedral, a Parish House, Diocesan Offices, Bishop's House, museum, gardens and more.

It is a great privilege to live in community here for my final week. Each day is bound with prayer and/or Eucharist. The emphasis on pilgrimage here (as opposed to tourism) means constantly discerning for God's guidance in setting out each day and in reflecting on the sights, sounds, conversations and experiences. My fellow pilgrims are a source for discernment and inspiration as well. The Cathedral congregation is fluid and welcoming. Those of us who pray Evening Prayer are few but faithful.
The Parish House above: look for the stained glass windows in the slideshow at the very bottom.
The property is beautiful and the appointments are exquisite. It is a lot like living in a castle!

The College of St. George (sitting room pictured above) has become one of my favorite places.
Look for pictures of its chapel and grounds, and more of the interior in the slideshow below.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Calvary: Walking in the Way of the Cross

Today I walked the way of the Cross. I walked the Via Dolorosa.

In truth, I had not felt the call to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the past seven weeks. Today I thought I would just stop by and visit, like an old friend. But when I got to the place where I could first see Calvary's Cross (the cross on top of the Golgotha Chapel), my breath caught in my throat and I felt the holiness of the place, in the midst of the street, in the middle of the market as I looked up at that cross and began making my way towards it, as had generations of pilgrims before me, walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is an overwhelming collection of churches and chapels enfolded under one massive structure.
For me the most holy place there is the double chapel formed by the intersection of the Calvary (Crucifixion, Golgotha) Chapel and the Place of Nailing (where Jesus was nailed to his cross). The intersection, an arch leading from one to another, has the words Stabat Mater, "where his Mother stood." (I did not get a good shot of the mosaic inscription.)

The Calvary Chapel also has some of the old bedrock from the Golgotha Hill. The rock of Jerusalem is the enduring image I am taking with me from this trip: the rock on which Ibrahim/Abraham bound Ishmael/Isaac and from which Muhammad ascended, now in the Dome of the rock, the stone walls of Jerusalem - old and new, the surviving wall of the temple in which the Living God resided, and the rock hill on which God-in-human-form shed his blood and died. These rocks speak to me. They are the bones and soul of this holy city.

Here is a slide show:

What's in a Name?

Haram Al-Sharif or Temple Mount?

Professor Amina Wadud reminded a group in a talk I heard some years ago that to speak a name is to invoke a single tradition when that name is allied with one and only one tradition. She spoke of and to those of us who were engaged in inter-religious discourse who talked about Hagar and Abraham rather than Hugr and Ibrahim.
The professor who guided us through the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday explained to us that Al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif (meaning "the Noble Sanctuary") was the Arabic name for the site and that he and many other Muslims heard in the Jewish traditional name, the Temple Mount - also used by many Christians - an erasure of Muslim presence, history, culture and religion. The Jewish temple has been gone for almost 2000 years. The mosques have been there for more than 1300 years. In any tradition, the holy place is a noble sanctuary.
I also know that  many people still mourn the loss of the Temple and treasure its remaining Western wall. I count myself among them. For some, the absence of the temple is compounded by the presence of other religious sites on the same contested ground. And I understand that the words "the Temple Mount" are an essential reminder of  sacred history and lineage. And there are some who seek a third temple in place of the mosques - I am not among them.
The language seems to force the speaker - even the peace-loving and seeking speaker in an inter-religious conversation - to choose a side, a polarity in the binary. Of course I am a "both/and" woman.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Holy of Holies

The Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock (and Mosque of Omar) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque

These are some of the holiest places on earth. They are also some of the most hotly contested. It was a real privilege to be admitted to the mosques. Tourists are no longer permitted. We were admitted because we are part of an educational institution.

Inside Al-Aqsa is a case displaying the material violence that plagues these holy places, tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and other projectiles fired into the sanctuary. (All those on the top shelf were made in the USA - in PA.)

An unimaginable contrast with the beauty of the mosque:

Here are (more) images from the Al-Aqsa Mosque:

Here are images from the Dome of the Rock which is undergoing renovation for the next 18 months or so. There is also an image of the cave under the Rock:

Our Lady of Hope

Today I stumbled across a gorgeous Armenian church with some of the most beautiful Iconography of the Blessed Mother inside and out. First, Our Lady weeps (I believe for Jerusalem) on the mosaic on the outside of the sanctuary:
  And then in the grotto chapel a mosaic of the Mother holds - instead of the traditional iconic representation of the Christ child - the Blessed Sacrament - for the devotion of the faithful and transformation of the world.

Here is a gallery of images:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gospel Pearls

Today's post is a string of thoughts from the past few days organized under some themes from today's Gospel lesson:

The realm of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls who when finding a pearl of great value sells everything and buys it. Matthew 13:45-46

Is God the merchant here? If so, what and where is the realm? From whom does God buy it? Are we, God's children, the realm in that we will one day populate it? Is the transaction redemption? Or are we the merchant? Are we to sell everything for the sake of the realm and reign of heaven? And then do what? Buy our way in?

The realm of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Matthew 13:31

Here Baker-Woman God is creating the heavens with her bare hands. Here in Jerusalem, this text can be heard with specific regard to the Christian presence and ministry in the Holy Land, (as suggested by the preacher this morning). There are only about 8000 indigenous Christians in Jerusalem, a city of some 500,000. Yet like yeast, the work that Christians do here permeates the city and beyond, changing the surrounding world, for good. The preacher reminded the congregation here that the Diocese educates nearly 9,000 children, many if not most are Muslim. And our hospitals provide care to  many thousands more. Our work for the realm of God is not hindered by our numbers.

Other pearls on the string:
Jerusalem is Israel's largest city and the religious center of the nation and the religions that call it home. Jerusalem is also a prism through which the rest of the country is seen in one light, apart from which the rest of the country can be seen in other lights. The religious complexity and intensity that characterizes Jerusalem does not exist in the same way in other parts of the county. Tel-Aviv is visibly distinct from Jerusalem in the virtual lack of ultra-Orthodox families as a visible presence. There are also significantly more African Israelis in Tel-Aviv. Haifa and Netanyah also have their own characteristics. (Not to mention the Galilee region.) It is easy to forget how much else there is to Israel when based in Jerusalem. Some times the world to come is described in terms of a new Jerusalem, other times in terms of a whole new creation. There are days here when a whole new start sounds like just the ticket, and others when I would like to think that we can change the world with God's help, even here.

$18,000 a peice
That is the figure that peace activists here cite as the combined US contribution to Israel on an annual basis in soft and hard money. Even if the sum is apocryphal or inflated, it is a starting point for reflection and discussion. We are wrestling with our own debt issues and supporting governments around the world in small and in significant ways. As we honor previous commitments and make new ones are we willing to target our investment in ways which reflect our own values? Should our aid be completely disconnected from the peace process? Do American citizens know or even care what governments and what governmental policies we support with our tax dollars? Particularly when we are cutting education, social services, fire and police and libraries on the local level and services for the poor, indigent and elderly. What are we doing with our pearls, our treasure, and why?

Voice and Vote
While there is no single group in the US who speaks with a single voice on any one issue, some voices are louder, better funded and have greater access to policy makers than others. Are Americans so jaded by our political system that we just let folk make decisions for us, in our names that do not correspond to our views because we don't want to - or don't see how we can - take on a political behemoth? In our system of government, our votes are as precious as pearls. Yet so many squander them.

Christian Zionism
Christians have contributed to the shape of community, government and discourse in Israel since the Virgin brought Jesus to be circumcised and dedicated in the Temple. Some of what Christianity has done here in the Name of Jesus has been despicable. And one does not have to go as far back as the Crusades to find examples. Christians have helped contribute to the xenophobia that lurks behind every stone here, augmenting the xenophobia of some Orthodox Jewish communities calling for the eradication of the Arab presence in Israel by any means necessary. The irony being that for these Christian Zionists, the next step is the eradication or conversion of the Jews for the second coming of Christ. Even with that caveat, there are Jewish agencies that take their money. It is hard to find a gospel pearl in all of the muck that is passed off as a shared treasure in those conversations.

The Gospel lesson talked about a single pearl of great price that stood out among the all of the very fine pearls. I've been ruminating on a string of pearls assembled from my experiences and reflections here in the past week. Having found or acquired the pearl treasure of knowledge or experience or any other thing, what does one do now?

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Day at the Beach

I spent the day with a friend in Tel Aviv. Outside the sanctuary of our beach umbrella it was sweltering. Once the heat broke - more bent than broke - we had a lovely time in Tel Aviv and Yaffo (Joppa).

The Tantur Ecumenical Institute

A glimpse of the ministry here:

Next Door Neighbors

Across the street (Derekh Hevron) from the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where I am staying is a gorgeous Arab Israeli neighborhood, Beit Tzafafa.

The houses are made out of gorgeous Jerusalem stone and many have an icon of the Dome of the Rock integrated into the design. Many also have wonderful gardens.

More than a few tour bus drivers live there and park their buses there; for some reason Hawaii is a popular theme.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Stakes of Hermeneutics

Last shabbat I spent time with former LTSP-RRC students from the Jewish-Christian Encounter course, in which seminarians from RRC and LTSP were paired for guided text study by myself and Rabbi Melissa Heller. The texts always included a portion of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and other texts brought by each student: New Testament, Talmud, hymns, poems, writings of the Church Fathers, other rabbinic literature, etc. Teaching this course has been one of my most rewarding experiences. RRC also holds that course with Palmer (formerly Eastern Baptist seminary) and with Muslim graduate studies.
An alumna of one of the three course that I have co-taught with Rabbi Heller led the Shabbat service that I attended. While we discussed some of my experiences here I mentioned some of the contested discourse that I had been reading in the opinion pages of Ha'aretz, one of the major Israeli newspapers. That discourse was over the theory that Jews have no religious or ethical obligation to save the life of a non-Jew, counter to the articulation of Jewish tradition by many, many Jews around the world.
My former student and now friend, said some thing that has stayed with me: "The hermeneutical stakes are so high (in Israel)." The luxury of idle speculation and philosophical debate without consequence does not exist here. That conversation came rushing back as I read the following article on the BBC about the text that is at the heart of the debate.

Here is the discussion of the text that I and many here in Israel (including the Israeli police) find most troubling:
Hundreds of right-wing Jews have taken part in demonstrations outside Israel's Supreme Court over the brief detention of two prominent rabbis in the last few weeks. 
There were clashes with police on horseback on the nearby Jerusalem streets and several arrests were made.
Rabbis Dov Lior and Yacob Yousef had endorsed a highly controversial book, the King's Torah - written by two lesser-known settler rabbis. It justifies killing non-Jews, including those not involved in violence, under certain circumstances.
The fifth chapter, entitled "Murder of non-Jews in a time of war" has been widely quoted in the Israeli media. The summary states that "you can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save the lives of Jews".
At one point it suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat.

It is my contention that in a place where lethal violence has been used as a political and religious tool, this is no mere philosophical discussion, as has been claimed by those who protest the state action against the rabbis who are circulating this text. I was particularly disheartened by the accounts of those who protested in favor of the rabbis and their text, who hadn't even read it.
In the United States and around the world we are dealing with the limits of religious speech sanctioning violence. Muslims (and those who appear to be Muslim or Arab) are under particular scrutiny in the United States and in Israel. I applaud the Israeli police for investigating this text and its dissemination as potentially inciting violence.
The policies of the State of Israel with regard to its own Arab citizens and the Palestinian Muslims and Christians over whom it holds power are beset with their own difficult rhetoric and history of violence. Yet the two communities are engaged in talks that might bring about a just peace, stability and security for all in this region and many beyond, if no one loses sight of the basic human dignity and right to life of each Palestinian and Israeli person, Musim, Christian, Jew, or Druze, secular or religious.
We - humanity - cannot afford death-dealing rhetoric under the rubric of free speech in civil religion or even religious freedom.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Renewed and Reconstructed

It is Shabbat. And I am on my laptop. And it's beseder, (ok) because I am a Reconstructionist (Episcopalian). I'm also a daughter of Zion as we (some of us) say in the black church. And I just can't keep it to myself. The good news.
And I have heard a lot of bad news. I have been just sick over the stories my Palestinian sisters and brothers in Christ, Muslim sisters and brothers, hosts and new friends have been telling me and what I have seen and felt and experienced at the Bethlehem checkpoint and in an orthodox neighborhood one time when I was lost. And the words that have been seared into me, that having been read cannot be unknown - that there are some rabbis here who say the highest ethical principles in Judaism, to save a life, love of neighbor, welcome and respite for the stranger do not apply to non-Jews. I heard these words as heretical, counter to the Torah I know and love and as an inversion of the Rabbinic tradition for which I have so much respect and in which I take so much delight. Of course there are always other voices saying that is not the Judaism they know, love and practice. But seeing those words (in the comment section of an editorial advocating peace and justice, countering the opinion being offered) wounded me. I experienced them violently. As a RRC seminarian told me today, "the hermeneutic stakes are so high here." These words can sanction (more) violence, the last thing this holy hurting place needs.
I write all of this as preamble, so that you will know how conflicted I was over my love of Israel and Judaism and my place b'shareka (with in your gates), and on the margins. And as I was wrestling, I spent time with former students, now friends, and we went to services. First the Kabbalat Shabbat service at Nava Tehila. It was the monthly service in the Renewal tradition.
And it was exquisitely beautiful, passionate, holy, welcoming and healing. For the first time in Jerusalem I experienced the sukkat shalom, the canopy of peace. Her wings spread over that assembly welcoming all from every ethnic, national and religious background as integral to the prayer space.
 The very first prayer-song, yadid nephesh, (Beloved of the Soul) was a gorgeous Spanish guitar arrangement, that my soul is still singing.

Here is that same arrangement, recorded on another (not Shabbat) occasion.
(In case the embedding does not work here is a link.)
And as we prayed that prayer: Blessed be the One who spreads her shelter of peace over us, and over all her people Israel, and over all who dwell in the world and over Jerusalem, I was renewed and healed.
And in the morning, we went back for the monthly Reconstructionist service. I felt as though I had come home (as I did when I first went to St. George.) It was the service I knew with the prayerbook I knew and so many connections to Philly and RRC, and such wonderful conversations.
It was Shabbat Pincas (which I thought I had drashed last year, but was actually two years ago). I have been working with this text in which there is so much religious violence for my new book, and was overwhelmed with the intersection between religious and political violence. But the same parsha includes the genealogies of Serach bat Asher and Hoglah, Mahlah, Milchah, Noah and Tirtzah, the daughters of Tzelophehad, and their story in which the Torah is literally reconstructed.
I left on eagle's wings, redeemed from the rhetoric of violence. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bethlehem Hotel InterContinental

I went back and the crowd was thin enough for a friend to take these:

Today I had a lovely day swimming with friends at the gorgeous Hotel InterContinental in Bethlehem.

I decided not to take (close) pictures of the pool area because there were so many families with so many different manifestations of modesty. There were women wading in the pool up to their knees in trousers and long sleeves and veils with their babies, teen girls in leggings and t-shirts, women and girls in swimsuits with and without shorts over them, with and without t-shirts over them. Little kids in swimsuits and water-wings. Men and boys in swim shorts, mostly without shirts. At least one European tourist in a Speedo.

The hotel is lovely and the grounds are amazing.

And then there was the ride home. One of the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint decided to make me and another woman get out of our friend's car and walk. They sent the driver through the checkpoint without us. Then they delayed opening the gates for a while. And when we got to the last security booth, the soldier was taking a private call and ignored us. After a while he yelled at us to get out. It was annoying and disappointing, but nothing compared to what our Palestinian friends have to go through every day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sarah and Hagar

These two images were in the Mamilla Mall outdoor sculpture gallery. I think they are by different artists. Look at the differences between Hagar and Sarah.

The contrast that these two pieces illustrate so clearly for me is the one between their respective ages. Sarah is old enough to be a grandmother, a great-grandmother even. Hagar is young enough to be presumed fertile, possibly just post pubescent.
And while the Sarah here is laughing (perhaps at the notion of experiencing the delight of conceiving), the sorrow of Hagar is palpable.
The two sculptures are quite a distance from each other on the promenade, but placing them together speaks volumes to me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mamilla Mall Scuplture

On one of my night forays into Jerusalem I walked down the Mamilla Mall promenade. It was twinkling with lights and underneath them was an outdoor gallery of biblically themed sculpture. I did not have my camera, so I went back today after church. Here is a sampling (other than the menorah, I don't remember what and who these were):

A favorite theme was Eshet Lot, Lot's Wife:

More to come...

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Priest and A Rabbi...

Updated with Rabbah Berger's reflections in blue italic.
Today I had the privilege of walking the Old City with my former student, Rabbah Arlene Goldstein Berger. She took the very first Hevruta class offered between RRC (the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) and LTSP (The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) in which individual Jewish and Christian seminarians were partnered to study bible and other sacred texts together. It was a wonderful class, happily repeated two more times, each time co-taught with Rabbi Melissa Heller. Those courses were the vision of Rabbi Doctor Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer who invited Arlene and I to write an inter-faith reflection on our time together for her blog, MultiFaithWorld.

Arlene and I had a series of wonderful, rich conversations and a number of "interfaith moments." The two that stood out to us were our time in the Arab Quarter buying her a Palestinian thobe (traditional dress) that she could lead services in and our time in the (Lutheran) Church of the Redemption.

A priest, a rabbi and a couple of Arab salesmen... 

Arlene’s Comments – We had so much fun in this shop. Imagine two women in an American suburb go shopping at the mall, find a shop where all the salespeople are men, proceed to try on clothing while the men try to guess their ages (totally incorrectly of course),  try to sell them more than they want to purchase (but not too strenuously), and then a conversation ensues that reminds one a bit of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.    
    Except… the two women are shopping in the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, speaking to each other in English and a bit of Hebrew, and throwing in a bit of pigeon Arabic when entering the shops. With the male shopkeepers (of course the shopkeepers are men  - who else would be selling women’s clothing in the shuk?) we begin to play a game of comparing words in all languages.
    I’ve forgotten the majority of the little Arabic that I once knew – but I retain enough to smooze.  I especially like talking with Arab shopkeepers about how my children both have been learning Arabic for years (okay, my daughter for many years, my son for just 2) at their Jewish schools. This opens a conversation about children and family and values and peace.  Somehow I manage to have these conversations without dredging up too much anger or too many judgments -  just longing and wonder for and about peace – for us, for our children, and our children’s children.
    And when they learned that we weren’t just ordinary women but a Priest and a Rabbah (to be), things got even more interesting.  Where Nike and James Brown come in… I recommend that everyone take their own shopping trips, for the products to be sure but mainly for the conversation.  Words are the first step toward understanding.)

Our eyes caught the same thobe on the same mannikin at the same time. We went into the store and had a grand time oohing and aahing over the beautifully embroidered thobes. She tried on the one we both liked but it was too big. They had a smaller size and yoffi! (It was beautiful!) She spoke a little Arabic with the merchants and we all had a lovely time talking tennis shoes - New Balance - and music - James Brown and Frank Sinatra.

A Rabbah and a Priest Pray...separately, together.

Arlene and I went into the Church of the Redemption. It is a beautiful, quiet, open, light, inviting place. I said the Hail Mary and the Sinner's Prayer for Mercy and she said Ashrei (a prayer based largely on Ps 145). We sat and talked and shared. And when the other pilgrims and pray-ers had left we took some pictures.

Arlene’s Comments – When I was little I knew with the certainty that only young children have, that if I prayed in a church – if I even walked into a church - I would be struck down and sent to the hell that I was taught that we didn’t actually believe in. And I believed it! For a while anyway. Then I eventually went into churches but I wouldn’t pray, because, well just, because.
    Now, decades later, I will pray whenever and wherever the mood strikes me, in whatever format feels appropriate to me at that moment. For, as I wrote in a post back in February, it is up to each of us to make a Mikdash M’at, a small sanctuary, of ourselves. It is up to us to turn our bodies which are gifts from G-d into containers for the eternal flame of our faith/inspiration and our soaring neshamot/souls.  So on this afternoon, I sat in the back of an amazingly beautiful and peaceful holy space with a good friend who is a teacher of another faith and said the appropriate prayer for my faith’s time of day –– Ashrei Psalm 145, the first prayer of Mincha, the afternoon service.  Devekut can happen anywhere.
    A few lines really jumped out at me:

‎ט To all Your creatures, goodness flows, on all creation, divine love.צ You are just in all Your ways, loving in all Your deeds.
‎ק You are near to all who call upon You; to all who call upon You in truth.
‎ר Responding to the yearning of all those who fear, G-d hears their cry and comes to rescue them.
We will now praise the name of Yah, now and always.  Halleluyah! 

    We ended the day by spending time at The Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies where Wil is staying. It is located on the main road between Jerusalem and Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). It’s a quiet, tranquil space perfectly set up for contemplation with nice rooms, open spaces and delicious healthy organic vegetarian food (according to Wil).  
Wil and I shared conversation about G-d, faith, being a woman clergy-person, what it’s like to work in congregations, in schools, in community, general things about our lives. Two woman.  A Reconstructionist  Traditional Jew in dialogue with Halacha and an Episcopal priest  who is a member of an historic African Episcopal Church as well as a Reconstructionist minyan.  Two women comfortable with G-d. A Rabbah and a Priest….

Next week…. A Rabbah (or 2 or 3) and A Priest go to Kabbalat Shabbat Services on Friday night and Reconstructionist Minyan on Saturday morning (we hope!)

Baruch Hashem – Blessed is the Awesome One, for giving us such amazing opportunities.

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Worship Space at Tantur

There is a lovely chapel here graced with icons in the tradition of our rector, Fr. Tim of the American Orthodox Church.

Here are some images in and around the chapel: