dimanche, octobre 28, 2018

Please don't make me choose

This morning I went to the church where I have worshipped and worked on and off for the past twenty plus years, and I was lost. 

Not physically lost, of course. The contours of the sanctuary are so familiar I could probably give a tour to a stranger who wandered in.

Instead, unexpectedly, today I felt as if I was the stranger.  I didn't like the sensation at all.

It wasn't for lack of affection given or received. Part of what I love about this congregation is how motley it is, embracing an array of people with diverse beliefs on everything from liturgical practice to same-sex marriage. Attend the eleven o'clock in the original sanctuary and hear a traditional Episcopal Rite II serve, complete with choir. Walk over to the newer church and experience a less formal service and a lot of folks praying with raised hands and lustily singing praise music

Normally I'm one of them.

But I was raised in a Jewish home.  My cousins on both sides of the family (some, anyway) are still observant.  And even if they aren't observant, they are still Jewish.  So even though I converted many decades ago, and "pass" as a devout Christian, my Jewish roots go deep. Perhaps as deeper. Maybe deeper.

The men and women murdered in Pittsburgh yesterday died simply because they were Jewish, worshipping on the Sabbath. The visceral grief and fear I felt today was probably shared by people all across America - but especially by those who have observed the spike in anti-semitism over the past two years with concern and now with horror.

Jesus was a Jew.  Christians don't engage that messy truth very often in church, but there is no indication that he renounced his ethnic identity or beliefs - he came to fulfill the law, Scripture tell us, not to abolish it.

I sat on the hard pews. I stood. I watched. I prayed. I wept.  I have rarely felt so isolated in the midst of a friendly crowd. 

With increasing anxiety, I wondered - does anyone here really care that much? Or is it, for them, a passing tragedy, to be noted and then forgotten?

I don't have an answer. It's not fair to expect that non-Jews will experience the Pittsburgh synagogue slaughter the same way Jewish person might (and there is no one way or a right way). Perhaps I would have done better, today, to attend a vigil service with those gathered purposefully to mourn and celebrate the holy lives lost yesterday.

"Today we are all Jews," said Maura Healey at the Boston vigil to mourn the dead and support the living who need to find ways to go on.

I hope many of you will be Jews (or blacks, or high school students, or gay or immigrants) tomorrow, too.

Heaven knows, we need you.

jeudi, septembre 13, 2018

Who is affected by the opioid crisis? The person in the pew next to you.

If your pastor isn't talking about the opioid addiction crisis - ask them why not.


samedi, septembre 08, 2018

Our little town

Less than half-way through Community Day, the skies opened (actually, they re-opened).

I knew it was still happening, though, because I heard the Glenmoore Fire Company sirens. The Fire Company, staffed by locals, is an integral part of pretty much every event we have - and their open house is a community occasion.

Stuck at home answering emails about a story, I didn't actually leave the house until Community Day was almost thirds over.

Having parked my car behind the Firehouse, I took off down our Main Street (otherwise known as Route 282).  Even in the pouring rain, the Victorian houses adorned with gingerbread trim and other decorative flourishes looked lovely. Some seemed to have gotten a more recent coat of paint than did others. Bikes crammed some porches, others were a visual feast of hanging flowers and plants.
Before I had gotten too far, a friend stopped and offered me a ride. Grateful but determined to appreciate a street I often view without truly seeing,  I pushed on.

Prosperity has certainly touched Glenmoore with its golden cloak.  Try hard enough, and you can find homes (with starting at $750,000. People with acreage could sell it to developers and become multimillionaires. Generally, they don't seem to want to do so.

But there aren't too many of that homes on Main Street. Cars aside, it is still possible to imagine it was it was 100 years ago.

And when I got to Wagenseller Park, residents were chatting with each other and enjoying the band, and the chicken barbeque sold by the Fire Company as a fundraiser pretty much the way they might have in 1918.

Only we didn't have women running for the PA House and Senate in 1918, did we? The 19th Amendment to the Constitution wasn't even ratified until 1920.

We love our little town in part because time seems to pause if not stop.  But not enough to turn back the clocks that far - do we?

dimanche, mars 25, 2018

What IS truth? asked jesting Pilate...

There are few subjects that divide Americans today, and Christians in particular, as the way we determine what is true, and what is not.


samedi, mars 24, 2018

The invisible price of Parkland

It wasn't until I got home, in the privacy of my living room, flooded with the light of early spring, that the tears came.

Though it was conceived in response to a tragedy, the rally in front of the West Chester, PA, the courthouse had an outspoken, defiant edge to it. It almost felt like a pep rally, of a piece with the surge of women running for elected office and the string of victories Democrats have notched up in close elections this past year.

But it's not.  It's not.

To the speaker after speaker who urged regime change for NRA-funded or supine politicians, the crowd (estimates ranged as high as 2,000 attendees)  would respond loudly: "vote!" or "vote them out"!

"I would die to protect my students but I shouldn't have to" read one sign.  Another held up by a marcher near her was even more chilling: "I should be writing my college essay, not my will."

Politely but firmly, the students who spoke rejected the notion, proposed by some adults, that showering kindness on alienated students might stop the next shooting.

After reading the list of names of those who had died at Parkland, one local student said: never again. Enough is enough."

"We're done feeling like targets in shooting gallery," said one West Chester area 17-year-old forcefully.

It feels good to finally stand up to a bully: and that's what the gun lobby has evolved into over the years.  The NRA is a dark, dystopian, never-ending source of fear, demanding that we all live in a world in which we can only engage strangers (and sometimes friends) at the point of a gun.

It feels good to tell the marionettes in the Republican ranks and some Democrats, that they need to be responsible to the vast majority of Americans who want reasonable limits on firearms or get the heck out of Washington.

But the huge event in D.C. reminded those of us who have suffered the loss of a close friend or a family member through violence an inescapable poignancy - and a deeper, darker reality.

I have been to these marches before.  Decades ago, I lost my brother to a much more common form of gun violence: suicide.

Mercifully, I don't remember as much as I did about that terrible time. I recall snippets:  the hours we waited in our Brooklyn brownstone for his arrival.

The decorations on the magnificent tree in the piano room, taken down, never to be put up again in that house.

My father's wracking sobs, late one night awakening me when he learned that the gun my brother had purchased to end his life had then been banned in California, where he had been living).

We admire the sheer bravery of these young students, their audacity, their determination.  We cheer them on.

Here is what the young women and men of Parkland don't yet know.

The hours in which you revisit the scene of violent death in your mind, over and over again, whether you have seen it personally or not, wondering about those last minutes.

The brokeness of the days and hours ahead.

The loss of the feeling so many of us take for granted - that the world is benevolent place.

Your old self - that person died in a hail of bullets.

Like somebody who has lost a limb in an accident, you must learn, moment by moment to navigate your days until these losses don't define you.

This process of healing and evaluation takes years - in fact, it never really ends. Inevitably, you find what solace you can with others who have had a similar experience.

Look around you, and you will see a gun-culture society in which resignation has usurped hope, carelessness makes tragedy more likely, and there are no real adults in the room.

I am awed by the young men and women of Parkland, and the other victims of gun violence who have shown extraordinary bravery.  Let them lead us for a while.  It's not like we have done a great job of battling the kingdoms and principalities of this world.

But the price they are paying, already terrible, is, or ought to be,  a reproach to those of us who accepted the status quo.

When they needed us, we were nowhere to be found. When they cried out, we made excuses. When they were in danger, we ducked.

What does that say about us?

mercredi, mai 03, 2017

When extreme positions win, we all lose


dimanche, avril 09, 2017

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

After a warmer than normal February and a March that featured the only substantial snow of the winter, we have been gradually working our way towards spring in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Today held the promise of temperatures in the upper sixties, abundant sun, and a plethora of daffodils, grape hyacinths, and trees bold enough to show more than a little bud at last.

Of course, it was also Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year, marked by Christians all over the world.  This year, as a friend told me last night,  Orthodox Christians marked Lent and will celebrate Easter at the same time.

Palm Sunday, the commemoration of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, should have been marked with palms, chants, and triumphant songs.

But we learned, as we awoke and got ready to make the drive to church, that in Egypt, for Coptic Christians, it will be remembered today for violence, sudden death, and desecration that had all the hallmarks of the terror group Isis (they later took responsibility for perpetrating the two bombings).

Isis has a particular hatred for Christians. Strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had told Christians in Egypt that he would protect them.  As in Syria, where many Christians have allied themselves with Assad for roughly the same reasons, such promises turned out to be no bulwark against a remorseless enemy whose agents are willing to blow themselves up to cause maximum destruction.

This week also featured a hideous attack, likely by Assad, on his own people, first with banned chemical weapons, then with barrel bombs.  While the victims were probably not Christians, they are, men, women, and children, just as dead.

As we gathered outside the sanctuary of our peaceful church,  children stood next to their parents, friends near friends, couples singing cheerfully in the warmth of the late morning sunshine.  The spectre of violence that haunts so many communities that morning was not generally within the realm of our experience.

But as our rector reminded us in his sermon, safely tucked into our pews once inside, suffering is at the heart of the Christian message. There is no way but through it.

Yet it seems, often, that though we may experience great pain as individuals, the suffering of Christians in America is an echo of the horrors visited upon other nations.

In a larger sense, we are all part of the same community - to forget the Coptic Christians of Egypt in the ruins of their churches and the glassy-eyed children of Syria would be to betray the message of l0ve and empathy that is at the heart of the Gospel.

Of course, betrayal is also part of the journey of Holy Week. I hope that we do not forget, when we arrive at Easter morning, that our joy is only authentic if it includes a tireless determination to work to ease the suffering of those who cannot, and will not, rejoice next Sunday.  This battle is so fierce - today we heard, if we were listening, the echoes of the warring arms of the night, with morning just a promise away.