Posted on December 31, 2008 by Mark
My mother had heart surgery on December 23. I have been mostly staying at my parent’s house while she recovers; so I haven’t posted anything in the last week.
My friend Charles sent this story about a group called Sojourners who visit persons detained under very bleak circumstances while appeals for asylum are being investigated. The group of visitors is from the Riverside Church, a church with a famous history in Manhattan.
Here is a brief excerpt from the story:
Curley tells them that they have seen the worst of America, and she apologizes for that.
No, they say, smiling. They have seen the best of America.
Because in their darkest moment, when they lay on their bunks in the detention center despairing that even God had forgotten them, a miracle happened. A stranger walked into their lives. She would lift their hearts with her weekly visits.
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Posted on December 21, 2008 by Mark
The history behind Hanukkah starts with a ruler who wanted to unify people by abolishing religious distinctions. He was not entirely opposed to all religious observance, he just wanted to abolish religions he considered primitive and superstitious, such as Judaism. Antiochus was convinced that Hellenism, the Greek way of life was superior to all others; and he thought it his duty to enlighten the city of Jerusalem.
Many of the leaders and people in Jerusalem went along with the program of Hellenism, to a point. But for Antiochus, it was not enough that the youth of Jerusalem learned to speak Greek, study philosophy, and exercise in a public gymnasium. He wanted them to renounce and totally abandon the faith of their ancestors.
Antiochus was especially against the religious identification of children. He banned, under penalty of death, Jewish parents from marking their children as belonging to the covenant. He also banned the Torah and adherence to its precepts–especially the “superstitious” rules about food.
The Macabee brothers rose up against Antiochus and, against all odds, defeated his armies. The Jews celebrated the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus. They found only one small container of oil that had not been defiled by Antiochus–enough to light a lamp for one day.
It took a week to find and crush new olives to prepare new oil–but miraculously the oil from the one jar burned for a full eight days.
Eight candles are now used to celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah (Hebrew for dedication), plus a ninth candle in the center to light the other candle.
Filed under: freedom | Tagged: Hanukkah | Leave a comment »
Posted on December 20, 2008 by Mark
Our political climate is intolerant of compromise. Two people who tried to bring people together are finding out how hard it is to do.
Richard Cizik tried to lead evangelical Christians to compassionate action on a broader range of problems than abortion and traditional marriage. For example, he believed that if Christians believe in creation, they should be more concerned about preserving God’s good creation than in trying to caluculate how long ago the world was made. He also led in efforts to fight AIDS and human trafficking.
Some of his critics thought he was leading the faithful away from “moral issues”–as though issues that effect the life, death, and dignity of all people are not moral issues. Two years ago they tried to oust him from his job as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals due to his embracing of “Creation Care.” The plan backfired. It turned out most evangelicals are fond of this planet.
This week, they finally got him. On an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, he said he was opposed to same-sex marriage–but maybe civil unions weren’t a bad idea. His enemies demanded–and got–his resignation. Nicholas Kristoph called Cizik a “huggable evangelical” and said his resignation made for a sad day.
On the other side of the fence, supporters of gay rights are furious with president-elect Obama for asking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Why? Because Warren is opposed to gay marriage and abortions that are not medically necessary. Obama’s stated position is that he does not favor same-sex marriage, but he does favor civil unions.
Rick Warren has raised millions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa, and has encouraged the faithful to support progressive causes. In fact, he helped get Obama elected when he invited both candidates to a forum at his church. The president is returning the favor and strenghtening the personal friendship and political alliance he has made (more). What some would call compromise and bringing people together, others would call betrayal.
Filed under: critical thinking, faith, politics | Tagged: AIDS, compromise, evangelicals, Obama, Richard Cizik, Rick Warren | Leave a comment »
Posted on December 18, 2008 by Mark
I am stuck between two generations. Many people of my father’s generation cannot comprehend why anyone would approve of homosexual relationships–and many of my kids’ generation cannot fathom why anyone could possible be opposed to two people loving each other just because they happen to be of the same sex.
The Film “Trembling Before G-D” is a documentary about orthodox Jewish rabbis caught in this same bind. They are trying to remain faithful to their binding traditions and laws; and at the same time to give compassionate spiritual guidance to gay members of their congregations.
Their Holy Book–the book of Leviticus in particular, the central book of the Torah–is responsible for the prohibition against “a man lying with a man as with a woman.” They can’t deny the teachings of the Torah without denying their faith; nor can they deny their responsibility to teach the Torah in a way that enhances life and affirms human dignity.
They various rabbis struggle with multiple possible answers, none entirely satisfactory. Two of their answers in particular intrigue me. One said to the man he was counseling,
Everything you do throughout the day for your partner, acts of kindness, taking care of him, being faithful–that’s all good, it’s mikvot. It’s just that one thing you do that’s forbidden–
The other rabbi said,
“A woman comes to me with a question about a chicken. I first say to her, ‘Tell me about your family.'”
I assume the question is whether the chicken is kosher, whether she can serve it to her family. Maybe it fell out of a grocery bag into the street or something. But his questions about her family mean his answer must be tailored to her needs and circumstances. If her family is wealthy enough to buy another chicken, maybe he will counsel her to give it to a gentile neighbor. But if her family is poor and her children need the nourishment, he will find a way to make the chicken kosher.
[Disclaimer: I saw this film over a year ago; the quotes above are from memory, and may not be verbatim. See it yourself and tell me how close I got!]
Filed under: critical thinking, Historical Interpretation, justice, Torah, tradition | Tagged: compassion, gay rights, orthodox judaism, Trembling before G-d | 1 Comment »
Posted on December 16, 2008 by Mark
Klint sent this picture from Iraq. The moon was the closest to earth that it has been in several years last week. We made sure our grandson got a good look at it. He has been a fan of the moon since he was one year old.
Filed under: family | Tagged: full moon | Leave a comment »
Posted on December 13, 2008 by Mark
- Here are a couple of selections from Sundays Readings:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
- The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
- because the LORD has anointed me;
- he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
- to bind up the brokenhearted,
- to proclaim liberty to the captives,
- and release to the prisoners;
- to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
- and the day of vengeance of our God;
- to comfort all who mourn;
- to provide for those who mourn in Zion-
- to give them a garland instead of ashes,
- the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
- the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
- They will be called oaks of righteousness,
- the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
- They shall build up the ancient ruins,
- they shall raise up the former devastations;
- they shall repair the ruined cities,
- the devastations of many generations.
The Song of Mary Magnificat
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
From the Lectionary Page.
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