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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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Pastors, Politics and Pot (Oh My!)

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I was recently asked if a line in a sermon, referencing “egos swimming in a sea of privilege,” was about a particular political candidate. As it happens, I served on Long Island for the last several years, with a constant stream of news stories about sociopathic excess in the Hamptons, and that was what I had in view as I wrote. In the same way, this Sunday’s references to misogyny had nothing to do with the fact that we have the first female presidential candidate in our nation’s history, and everything to do with the fact that I am a feminist, something you will also have noted in my use of inclusive imagery for God.

This raises an important set of questions, especially in an electoral season that seems more divisive and fraught than any I have experienced in my lifetime. Many a pastor has been accused of politics (defined as anything about which a particular congregant disagrees) or been informed that being political in church is “against the law.” This bears some exploration. Continue reading →

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Want to be

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Many years ago I was interviewing Glen Phillips, lead singer of the once popular and newly resurgent band Toad the Wet Sprocket. I noted that many of their songs dealt with the mistreatment of women, and that this seemed unusual for a group made up of four young men. His reply, not completely suitable for the pulpit, boiled down to the fact that he knew few women who had not suffered at the hands of men. This theme continued to appear on his solo albums, including the poignant “Men Just Leave,” a bitter pill wrapped in a confectionary beat on his 2001 release Abulum.

I don’t know his story, don’t know why he is so awake when it comes to the misogyny that permeates our culture, don’t know why I am awake to the misogyny that permeates our culture, but I am, and am committed, like Glen Phillips, to naming it where I see it. And so it was, in 2006, that I had my encounter with Jake. Continue reading →

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Living: July 31, 2016

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It is a long road from being a black teen beaten by the cops to being the Borough President in what the musical “Hamilton” calls “the greatest city in the world.” Eric Adams joined the NYPD dreaming that he might be a part of much needed reform, and served for 22 years before entering politics. Today he leads the newly fashionable hipster-haven of Brooklyn, and was recently interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, tackling the tricky issue of policing and race, a subject he knows all too well. In response to a question posed by Terry Gross, Adams responded “Who would have thought that Steve Jobs would have such an impact on policing in America?” Continue reading →

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