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My Freak Flag

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There was never a single Hebrew religion anymore than there was ever a single Christianity, despite the prevailing myths in both traditions. Jesus taught in an age when there were many sects and divisions among his people, not only the traditional divisions between tribes, but also theological differences and differences of opinion about how to deal with the Roman Occupation, that brutal colonial power making things a living hell for so many Jews.

The Sadducees, a group that included most of the Levites and the Aaronite priesthood, were still fairly safe and well off under Roman rule, lived in a bubble of social and economic privilege, so they decided that the Romans weren’t all bad, that the thousands strung up on crosses must have done something to deserve it, and figured, “Hey, it is better to work with the Romans, right?” Continue reading →

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Covenant

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The English call deep-fried sticks of potato “chips.” Yeah, I know. But this is important if you ever go to England, as many of us have, because deep-fried slices of potato are called crisps, not chips, the name we use here, and the English certainly don’t call chips “French Fries,” which is just as well, as they appear to actually be Belgian in origin, at least from the French-speaking portion of what is today Belgium, where they are called “pommes frites.”

The English of the late 15th century would have been disingenuous if, in the middle of yet another dispute with France, and there was always a dispute with France, they had taken to calling chips “Freedom Fries,” what with there not actually being anything like freedom in England at the time. After all, the Magna Carta, over 250 years old even back then, really only created a type of freedom for the nobility. Continue reading →

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Phoenix Affirmations & Reformation Sunday

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Globalization was well underway. New technology allowed ideas to cross borders and social classes, information more available to more people than ever before. Science was starting to challenge superstition.

The institutional church looked increasingly out of touch, disconnected from every day reality, more concerned with wealth and power for the few than with anything a poor itinerant rabbi from Galilee, committed to reforming his faith, a man that was executed by those with wealth and power, might have taught.

But really, that rabbi’s follower in those changing times centuries later didn’t intend to start a revolution. He just meant to open a debate about one particular practice, to pursue reform from within. The more effort they put into quashing him and his ideas, the further they drove him out. What started as a debate on 95 theological points about paid indulgences ended with the Lutheran Reformation. Continue reading →

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Statement of Faith

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I suppose pretty much every immigrant community ever has worried that younger generations would lose their culture and their language. There is some basis for this concern.

I mean, we can challenge the notion of an American Melting Pot. We can look at a clear history of discrimination and oppression. After all, Columbus wrote is his journal of 1498 that “From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold …,” beginning a long history of terror, a red, white and blue of hatred… blue cavalry hats at Sand Creek, white hoods at the lynching tree, red baseball caps chanting anti-immigrant slogans. Continue reading →

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On the Barmen Declaration

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It took a lot for me to learn to love Paul.

He was a persecutor of Jesus followers before his conversion, even participating the extrajudicial execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He became a dynamic apostle. The texts traditionally attributed to him often contradict themselves. In his letters, he is abrasive, passive-aggressive at times, and not-so-passively at others. His ego seems to have been easily bruised. He never knew the living Jesus, and in many places he seems to miss the point entirely, placing too much emphasis on the cross as a sin sacrifice, ignoring the actual hands-on ministry and social teachings of Jesus that we find in the gospels. It is easy to see him as a poor lens distorting the pure light of Christ. Continue reading →

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Changing Lives

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There is no fight quite like a fight between siblings. Not that I ever fought with my siblings, of course. But I hear, second-hand, of course, that sisters and brothers know exactly where to hit you, know where all of your buttons are located, because they watched as they were installed, had their own buttons installed by the same craftspeople. Proximity produces ferocity.

And while all war is terrible, civil war seems particularly vicious. Not at all civil, but rather a war within the civitas, Latin for “the body of citizens,” civil war has produced the Reign of Terror, the Killing Fields, Guernica, the Republic of Suffering. Continue reading →

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Continuing Testament

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Misogyny is a word that means exactly what you would expect given the root words, hatred of women. Anti-semite comes close, even though the root word, Semite, really covers a larger ethnographic group and includes Arabs. Islamophobia, fear of Islam and Muslims, parses well. Homophobia, not so much, because, those who hate and engage in violence against the LGBT community aren’t exactly afraid. Then there is racist, at one point the term was racialist, which kind of means nothing, but has come to mean the hatred of other humans based on physical and ethnic traits. Never mind that genetic research has proven that race itself is a human construct with no basis in science, for constructed or not, it is powerful and pernicious. Continue reading →

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Tea Leaves

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I’d say that it was an unusually difficult week, but every week seems to be one of those weeks recently, a week when the country is divided over some public statement or public action, a week when the meme wars rage, the comments section is on fire, and that brother-in-law puts something on Facebook that makes your blood boil. We are as flammable as the California hills, anything can spark the inferno.

This week it was Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who chose to sit during the national anthem, protesting the racism that is so evident in our politics and in our policing, so obvious if you look at the data. His action was meant to provoke, was meant to push, because what good is a protest if no one notices? And people noticed, sort of like that provocative someone we claim to follow, always challenging false gods, false values. And questioning what passes for patriotism is patriotic, is Christian, for many of us, many who love this country, have come to see how the flag and other motifs of patriotism have been co-opted, false idols for the cult of Americanism. Continue reading →

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Total Perspective Vortex

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Last week I suggested we explore some new forms of sabbath, sabbath as resistance to systems that are no longer working, systems that are tearing at our souls and at the fabric of our communities. As many of you know, one way I’ve chosen resistance, chosen sabbath, is by not getting cable television. I miss watching sports, but I can get my news elsewhere, and I am not exposed to television commercials, endless pharmaceutical ads, not to mention the flood of political attack ads from both sides that are carefully crafted using all that is known about the subconscious and subliminal messaging to leave us as angry and anxious as possible.

That I have opted out of this cycle of manufactured desire and manufactured fear does not mean I have opted out of television, of the many ways we use narrative to entertain, to inform, to make meaning. Telling stories is important, is human, and television and films are great formats for telling stories. Streaming services give me access to the work of brilliant and creative artists.

So it was that in recent weeks I watched the Netflix original series “Stranger Things.” The show, by the Duffer brothers, has been a breakout hit, something that might have never made it on a regular network. Only eight episodes long, it is an homage to the 1980’s, a mash-up of sci-fi and horror that stars Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, both actors starting their careers in that decade. Continue reading →

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Sabbath Resistance

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Eating is a social act, and I don’t simply mean because we so often eat in family units, prefer to break bread with friends. Eating is a social act because in advanced cultures, technology allows a small percentage of the population to produce a surplus, so that others might take on others tasks, if we are lucky, the arts, if not, war. This was one of the key challenges for the ancient Hebrews, for they lived on marginal land, while the rich river valleys to their northeast, the Tigris-Euphrates, and to their southwest, the Nile, produced enough to support large armies, making the Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians a perennial threat despite the defensible terrain in Canaan.

In advanced cultures, like those in the ancient river valleys and like the one in which we live, food then becomes part of the system we call economic activity, the exchange of goods and services, and what you eat very much reflects the values and stratification of the social system, generals and admirals feasting while soldiers and sailors eat hard-tack and ship’s biscuit.

This is true in America today, where the urban poor often live in food deserts, areas where there are no grocery stores, no fresh produce, nothing but the highly processed foods – powdered donuts and sugary drinks – found in bodegas. For many, if you want fresh healthy foods, you have to take a long bus journey to the suburbs, where you can buy only as much food as you can carry, especially hard on the elderly and disabled. Continue reading →

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