Service Sermon for the Victims of the Orlando Shooting

2 Comments
Kintsugi

Kintsugi of The Heart

June 15, 2016
Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA
The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton

We have come together this evening, a composition of the diversity of American culture and identity – united by a shared grief and a common comprehension that prejudice creates an intolerable dissonance within a nation founded on principles of freedom, equality and justice for all.

There have been many early responses over the past few days since the lives of 49 people were taken and 53 more people were left injured and bleeding in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando early in the morning on Sunday, June 12th. Some responses have been predictable, because – unfortunately – by now in our national life, they are all too familiar.  In some ways, as The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert, observed, “It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. And I think by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time. With nothing changing.”

Indeed, nothing can change when people are drawn into a cycle of violence that leads to fear and scapegoating that leads to more violence, fear and scapegoating.  Hate is like using a hammer to fix cracks in a precious ceramic bowl. Violence only further breaks what we would repair.  The only force that can bring healing, to a world, a nation, a community, a family, a person, or even a bowl is a mind motivated by love.

Kintsugi is a Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery with gold.  Translated as “to repair with gold” or other precious metals, the philosophy behind Kintsugi approaches breakage and repair as part of the valued history of an object, rather than something to disguise. It embraces what is flawed or imperfect, cherishing marks of wear made by use. Using gold resin to rejoin the broken pieces has the effect of highlighting or illuminating the repaired cracks as an historic event in the life of an object.  The bowl is not simply thrown away.  Rather, Kintsugi resurrects or empowers the bowl to continue its usefulness, with even greater beauty added to its vulnerability.  The ability of the bowl to be of service to the needs of others does not end at the time of its damage or breakage.

Like Kintsugi, our conversations and interactions – both in our personal lives and in our national life – moving forward from the tragedy in Orlando must realistically highlight our social fractures, while also being compassionately committed to repairing what is broken. We must not hide or minimize our wounds but work to fuse one community to another with the gold that abides within each of us – our ability to love.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda summarized in an original sonnet he shared with our nation at the annual Tony Awards on Sunday night:

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.”

I believe that this is the summary of Christian faith for our day. The fact that this Gospel comes from an inspired American (born in the northern Manhattan) and of Puerto Rican heritage causes me to hear the echo of the voices of those who died in Orlando within the violated sanctuary of Pulse Nightclub.  They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, somebody’s children, friends, committed partners, lovers, dreamers, and artists. At least three same-gender couples died together, and one of these couples will be buried together in death (Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and his 32-year-old boyfriend, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen), because they were not able to be married in life.

Within the divine work of loving one another, it must be stated clearly here in this sanctuary space that peoples of all faith traditions – most particularly the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – must challenge those within our respective religions who attempt to justify the alienation, discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ peoples or any minority in the name of God.  We must refine our hearts into the gold that we need to be, in order to be repairers of the breach that we helped to create within the history of human civilization.

As many have said, prayer alone is not sufficient for the work we must do together. Jessy Briton Hamilton, a school teacher and advocate within LGBTQ community, is also a member of The Episcopal Church.  He writes, “I believe very strongly in prayer, but the point of prayer is not to persuade God to grant our wishes, but to move us to action. Prayer’s power is in its ability to move us to change; to transform us. If you’re waiting for God to stop gun violence, terrorism, or homophobia, then you’ll be waiting awhile. You’ll be waiting until you wake up to realize that you are the only hands and feet and voices God has in this world. So keep praying, but don’t expect anything to change until we all come together to DO SOMETHING.”

The American Muslim community has reacted with an outpouring of love and support in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The support came in the form of fundraisers, blood donations, and public statements that firmly condemned the violence. Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-Florida [Center for American-Islamic Relations], called for unity in a Facebook video, saying that it was important not to allow politicians to use this attack to “promote fear, division and hate” within America. “America is one of the best places in the world to be a practicing Muslim,” said Shibly, “To be Jewish, to be Christian, to be atheist, to be whoever you want to be, it offers us more freedom to practice our religion than almost anywhere else.”

Joshua Friedes, Director of Rabbinic and Synagogue Engagement at J Street in Seattle shares, “I am, like so many, profoundly depressed by the violence in Orlando. Forty-nine predominately young LGBT Latinos were robbed of living in a changed America, a country where the overwhelming majority now embrace gays as part of the fabric of our imperfect but nonetheless great nation….  As a middle aged White Gay Jewish man who has lived most my life in a virulently homophobic society… I am realizing the America into which I have become equal is not the America I want, even while it is the nation I love. America is a great nation. We must understand that our diversity is our superpower.”

Indeed, in the wake of the shooting in Orlando, many people – from many communities, ethnicities, faiths, and orientations of love, from both sides of the political aisle and across the economic spectrum are taking collective action.  President Obama, who has been confronted with addressing our nation no less than on 18 occasions of mass shootings prior to Orlando, shared the reminder that, “Regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”

The largest medical organization in the United States, the American Medical Association, passed a historic resolution this week in response to the weekend’s mass shooting. After years of tiptoeing around the topic of gun control, AMA leaders voted to officially call gun violence a public health issue — and respond accordingly. That means flexing the organization’s powerful political muscle on Capitol Hill to refocus federal funds toward studying gun violence.  To see this through, however, Congress would need to lift a 20-year-old ban that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding any research related to gun violence. However, the AMA, with one of the largest political lobbying budgets of any organization in the U.S., appears ready to fight for all of us.

The solutions to the complex set of interrelated issues that contribute to mass shootings in America will not be easy to achieve. The challenges involve several issues – such as mental health care funding and provision, immigration policies, gun legislation and regulation, discriminatory laws that reinforce old social patterns of prejudice and privilege, racist attitudes and beliefs towards immigrant populations and LGBTQ peoples, and fear-based assertions about the Muslim faith – just to name a few.

Yet, there is much being spoken, shared and enacted in response to the Orlando shooting (as added to a history of loss in our nation) – upon which we can base a reasonable (and holy) hope.

The Republican Lt. Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, addressed the vigil held in Orlando on Monday night (on June 13th) to honor the victims and survivors of the shooting.  He confessed that his thoughts and beliefs about LGBTQ people had changed and that he had needed that change.  However, he also acknowledge the challenge remaining of changing the hearts and minds of many more who continue to think and legislate from the type of discriminatory beliefs that he once held.

“But just because an easy solution doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” he said to the diverse crowd gathered at the vigil, “The greatest generations in the history of the world were never innately great. They became great because of how they responded in the face of evil. Their humanity is measured by their response to hate and terror.  I truly believe that this is the defining issue of our generation. Can we be brave? Can we be strong?… What our country needs more than ever is less politics and more kindness. If nothing else, as we can see here tonight, this tragedy has the potential to bring us closer than ever before.”

Finally, over the last three days, more than 20 Hispanic organizations have formed a coalition called “Somos Orlando,” which is offering assistance to the victims’ families. While the United States offers a bit more stability, Puerto Ricans and Latinos in central Florida still face a number of challenges—ones that make it complicated for shooting victims and their families to access resources. For example, many families have not come forward because they are afraid, based on past experiences of their community involving immigration policies and practices.

Even though many groups have come out to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community after the shootings, this kind of tragedy is particularly difficult because of the lack of acceptance for LGBTQ people among some Latinos.  The loss of so many of their promising young people has caused a level of conversation within their communities that will challenge their traditional cultural understandings of gender and identity. However, they are certainly not alone in addressing such challenges.  A diverse spectrum of hearts and minds must engage a journey of socio-cultural and personal transformation.  Our commitment to be in relationship with one another is vital for our mutual success.

In many, many ways, then, the deaths of 49 beautiful men and women, who were simply being true to who they were, will continue to inspire the positive actions of thousands – bringing together the many pieces representing diverse communities and governance structures that have been living in a condition of isolated fear.  The love that these 49 people felt and shared and incarnated through who they were is the gold that is even now illuminating where we need to come together – uniting us across many differences so that we can be both imperfect and more beautiful, stronger than before and broken no more.

Edward R. Murrow Vs. Donald Trump

Leave a comment

Murrow quote

American broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, was an astute observer of the media realm in which he worked.  Murrow shared, “We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

The book, Mockingjay, recently made into a trilogy of movies under the title, Hunger Games, tells the tale of a world (and people) so thoroughly shaped by media, that society is governed (and experiences revolution) through the manipulation of message and image.  Within the scenario, the wealthy government controls media, and success of the people’s revolution includes strategies of gaining control of the communication assets as well as control over the messaging. When the rebellion’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, realizes that rebel leader simply intends to maintain an oppressive status quo while hiding behind Katniss’ heroic image, Katniss assassinates the rebel leader.

In an interview with the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins, it was noted that the series “tackles issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war.” Collins replied that the inspiration for these themes was from her father.  A veteran of the Vietnam War, Collin’s father made sure that his children understood the consequences and effects of war.

All too often, the ideals that inspire military service are challenged by a reality that falls far short of those ideals, and soldiers become casualties of moral harm and the effects of emotional ambiguity, as well as physical injury.  And yet, those who have served and returned home can, perhaps, best appreciate Murrow’s insight, “Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.”

Throughout Collin’s novel (and subsequent movie trilogy) a central question of “Real or not real?” is asked repeated by the character Peeta, who has suffered the effects of torture and post-traumatic stress.  Within the context of a war, loyalties are unclear within a reality that destroys illusions even as it destroys a populace and the lives of those who fought in the war. Media communication has a long history of being used as the tail that wags the dog, and those who can best afford to manipulate the resources of communication can insulate the populace from truth by providing a more appealing alternative in its place. Rome burns, but Nero plays his fiddle.

Recent changes in the news programming of a local television station in Seattle have concerned me a greatly.  Since February of this year, I have observed significant changes in the production and messaging of what is categorized as “news.”  Women evening newscasters have gone from previously wearing business attire to wearing a shared uniform of figure-fitting dresses and high heals. Accompanying the visual of professional to vapid, appears to be a correlative change from investigative journalism to sharing opinions about large cookies and small dogs.  Meanwhile, priceless works of art are at risk of flooding in Paris and nearly 600,000 people are besieged in 19 different areas in Syria, with two-thirds trapped by government forces, the rest by armed opposition groups and Islamic State militants.

Admittedly, topics of Climate Change and global war are challenging to cover, analyze and present to the public.  They are also hard sells to sponsors who want to sell gas-fueled cars and network owners with ties to corporate global interests. However, it’s really not possible to single out producers of news media as the source of our social ills. Rather than stepping on their heads, I’m aware that I actually feel a great deal of empathy for journalists and broadcasters.  The public consumer is an important partner in shaping what they prefer to consume – in both subtle and not so subtle ways.

I have a similar challenge when preparing sermons.  I consider impact as well as content, because even if I believe that what I’m saying contains important truth, the reality is that the financial bottom line of our congregation can be impacted by who may be unhappy with what I’m saying.  That doesn’t necessarily keep me from speaking, but I am aware that I engage in the phenomenon of “choosing my battles,” a self-inflicted censorship which at times serves to preserve some other good – my parish budget, my relationships with parishioners, or my own mental health.

Now, with all of this said, there is one word – one name – that I will share here and which will not be spoken by me within any sermon, and that name is, “Trump.”

I believe that the phenomenon of Donald Trump in our current presidential race is a direct result of a collective failure to speak the truth, and thereby break bullies and stop a social/political process of the objectification and persecution of the marginalized “other.” There is, by this point, no minority or underprivileged group that Donald Trump has not held in contempt or denigrated in thought, word or action.

This past week, our nation and our church recognized Memorial Day – an occasion in the United States to honor and remember the people who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. This Memorial Day, I could not help but remember another quote by Edward R. Murrow, “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”  As citizens, whenever we fail to defend any instance and every insult inflicted on the diverse peoples who call this country home, we fail those whose lives were given to defend what they gave their lives to preserve – the opportunity to be a better world for all people.

As people of faith, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to call out every bully, whether that bully be in a house of government or in a house of God.  We must renew a quality and practice of moral courage that the world and our country have engaged before in our history under the persecution of Senator McCarthy. In Murrow’s words, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular…. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”

“No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices,” said Murrow then, and we must not be accomplices now.

What Donald Trump lacks in social empathy, moral character and global awareness is precisely what our country and others must uphold today if we – all of us – are going to create together a world in which future generations will thrive.  Through mutual understanding, collaboration and commitment to shared principles of governance, that all people – being equal before God – “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

About the nature of the American politician, Murrow has said, “The politician in my country seeks votes, affection and respect, in that order. With few notable exceptions, they are simply men who want to be loved.”  The ego of Donald Trump is such that he is bottomless pit of narcissistic need which we – as citizens of this country – are under no obligation to meet.  We will love him best by being tough with our love, by holding him accountable to the basic principles upon which this country was founded; by holding him accountable to those we have sent to war in every age and who have not returned; by holding him accountable for the utter lack of compassion which he inflicts on every other person but desires most especially for himself.

By holding him accountable, we do our most basic duty as citizens – whether we are journalists and reporters or whether we are teachers and preachers.  Donald Trump is only aided by our silence.  Therefore, let us not be silent.

If this were a sermon, I would conclude here with the words, “In Christ’s name – Amen.”  If this was a homage to Edward R. Murrow, I could end with, “Good night and good luck.”  However, my friends, I feel strongly that this time in our life as a country requires great things from all of us, and there is no easy blessing to give for the work we must do.

Let us  courageously create the world that we would have come upon the earth, the world that has not yet come but which is relying fully upon us alive now to make possible.  Love and hope must dare today and every day to compete with hate and despair in the market place and in the political forum. Let us speak again and always of the value and imperative of truth, and let us absolutely insist upon it from those who would lead this nation.

Murrow quote 2

On Marriage, Divine Love and the Anglican Communion

3 Comments

I love weddings. Relationships built on love knit the human community together as a species – ever growing through the generations into a unifying, woven tapestry of diversity.

The Episcopal Church has a broad understanding that the tapestry of humanity woven together through love is the Body of Christ.  Selfless love – an ideal lifted up through the self-sacrificing nature of marriage – serves as the metaphor of Christ’s union with the Soul and his eternal commitment to the Beloved.  The power of weddings to unite people across divisions of culture, race, religion, nationality, time and orientation of love makes John’s story of the wedding at Cana a very appropriate setting for Jesus’ first public sign of the inward grace of God within him.

The Sacramental Union of Christ with the Beloved human soul within the mystery of God should not be confused with the socio-culturally applied term of ‘bonds of affection’ – frequently used to describe the relationship between member churches of the Anglican Communion. The following statement is shared from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s web page:

The Anglican Communion is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships—the “bonds of affection”—between its members worldwide. These are strengthened when Anglicans meet, informally and at such formal gatherings as the Instruments of Communion. President of these Instruments is the Archbishop of Canterbury who acts as a unique focus of unity.

When the Primates of the Anglican Communion met in January, they did NOT seem to be acting out of either a generous theological understanding of marriage or even the simple hospitality that Christ asks of his followers in loving their neighbors.  Despite claims of a shared commitment to be in relationship, it’s clear that the Primates have upheld an “us v. them” mentality when it comes to The Episcopal Church.

In a room full of heterosexual men – as the gathering of Primates was – it appears that the term “bonds of affection” is intended to apply only to a select subgroup of the Communion  worldwide.  For example, for many of the Primates, “bonds of affection” are not meant to include women in leadership, gay men (much less lesbians), and transgendered persons.  “Bonds of affection” in the Communion are meant to be non-sexual as well as non-spiritual and are, therefore, virginally academic.

Actually loving one another into becoming the Kingdom of Heaven is very difficult work.  It requires the courage to embrace differences as God-given, allowing mercy and truth to meet, witnessing peace and righteousness kissing one another unashamedly, and getting between the sheets of our own vulnerabilities in order to create a greater strength together based in Christ’s passion and love.  Anything less is just a bad date.

The wedding at Cana invites us all to drink deeply of an infinite cup of salvation extended to all people – not because they deserve the best vintage but because God is a generous host and God’s Son is a loving husband to us all, regardless of our gender. For, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female – we are all one. We are – all and each of us – the Bride in the wedding at Cana. However, I am unwilling to, “Lay back and think of England,” as the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be asking The Episcopal Church to do.

We are – all and each of us – additionally called (as followers of Jesus) to emulate the work and sacrifice of Christ’s life on behalf of the marginalized in human society. On this Earth, we are called to do the preparation work of the Groom by building Our Father’s House of many rooms on Earth.

As an “instrument of unity” of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby seems more concerned with keeping his Primatial gentleman’s club in good order than in bringing restorative justice to LGBTQ people.  He is, “Deeply sorry for the pain that the church has caused LGBTI people in the past – and the present – and for the love that too often we have completely failed to show in many parts of the world, including England,” but he is not sorry enough to stop the abuse within the Communion.

As in many dysfunctional systems or families, the member who presents that there is a problem is usually the one who is alienated and punished, while the abuser remains in place and even claims the moral high ground.

Characterizing the Primates Meeting, Welby writes, “We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organize ourselves.”

Go ‘should’ on someone else, Archbishop Welby.  TEC is not the problem in this situation, but the blackballing of TEC by the Primate’s Meeting is far out of bounds in all the many ways that there are of maintaining bounds.

Here’s the thing about the Primates Meetings in general – a Primates Meeting as a body doesn’t have any authority to make binding statements of any kind about anybody or anything within the politics or beliefs of the Communion. Not even our own Primate has the authority to make binding statements on behalf of or to The Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope, and the Primates are not a curia.

As Rev. Mike Angell has well summarized, “The [Primates] gatherings began in 1978 at the invitation of Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for ‘leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.’ They did not begin with, nor have they ever been given, any sort of legal or canonical authority. They were created to be a bit of a retreat and a place for bishops with a great deal of responsibility to share life and experience.”

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) would have to voluntarily agree to what is being requested by the Primates Meeting. Furthetmore, TEC has representatives on the ACC, including Gay Clark Jennings, President of TEC’s House of Deputies of The General Convention.

The Anglican Communion is in the midst of the work of transformation within the backdrop of a greater historical period of global, social change. However, as Presiding Bishop Curry has said, “It may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.”

In a sermon that I gave on January 17th (Epiphany II) following the Primates Meeting, I offered a reflection on the events, within the context of marriage customs of First Century Palestine. (The sermon is available here on YouTube). Among other wedding customs, after the formal engagement of marriage, the Bridegroom would leave the care of the Bride to her family in order for to prepare a place in his father’s house for his Beloved so that when the wedding ceremony was completed a year later, the Bride could be brought to a home prepared to welcome her.

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are challenged by Christ to make room in Our Father’s House for all who hear Christ’s call of Love.  For some time, TEC has been spiritually building a place for our LGBTQ members. My parish church and many of our Episcopal churches are (even now) rooms in the house of God where Christ embodied in the community welcomes them.  The water of our Baptism is not intended for upholding old ways of doing and being, purity codes that enforce an exclusive priesthood or closed community of “chosen” believers.  Rather, like the wine at the wedding at Cana, our Baptism is meant to transform us into a community of celebration, in union with Christ and witnessed before God – for all people.

For as challenging and painful as it has been at times, I am very grateful to God for having the opportunity in my life to: advocate for marriage equality in the State of Washington; sign my name to General Convention resolutions last year that literally ‘made room’ in our language around marriage for recognizing same-gender union as marriage; and for presiding at same-gender marriage rites in the Church. I am the one that is transformed with the blessing of every couple. What I see standing before me is the story of Christ’s love and God’s abundant Grace that is freely given.  Such grace is not for me to constrain or to condemn in favor of institutional bonds of affection.

Our relationships as the Anglican Communion are worth preserving only insofar as we are mutually committed to building up the Kingdom of Heaven by adding rooms onto God’s House in every generation.

Healing the Legacy of Wounds

4 Comments
Thanksgiving Moon Set

The Harvest Moon Sets on Thanksgiving Morning, Puget Sound, WA – 2015

I have inherited spiritual wounds from both my mother’s and my father’s side of our family.  I call them ‘spiritual wounds,’ because I have come to believe that their particular historical traumas injured their ability to feel connected to the Sacred (to others) and live lives that are at peace with mystery. For very different reasons, both my colonial and Native ancestors have handed down to my familial generation a genetic passport stamped with their profound experiences of anxiousness, fear, danger, loss, grief and abandonment.  My own journey is to heal what has gone before so that All My Relations may know the peace, harmony and beauty of life.

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA.  This means that certain genetic variations are caused by external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells read genes (instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequence).  In other words, a traumatic event that affected your grandmother can trigger certain genetic changes that can impact the psychology and physiology of the family generations that follow.

By the same token, it follows that positive experiences of love, nurture, communal caring, safety, joy and friendship can also impact the legacy we leave to our families.  In some real ways, how we respond to the challenges of our lives and of our world will determine what our descendants will either overcome or celebrate.

Though the early Christian community knew nothing of epigenetics, they seemed to have appreciated the importance of gifting the future with the qualities of hope, endurance, reliance on one another and the ability to trust – even in the face of great persecution.  The DNA of the Christian faith – perhaps of all three of the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) – is informed as much by trauma as by blessing. However, just as we must discern as individuals how we live with our inheritance and make choices for change, the Abrahamic faith traditions of the world are in a time of discerning whether we will collectively create a global legacy of trauma or of blessing.

As the church year turns and we enter another precious Advent Season, we find our world experiencing a new kind of turmoil, a crucible of social and global ideas around race, gender, economics, beliefs, science, and the environment.  The world most of us grew up in is undergoing a critical time of great social change.  In times like these throughout history, we have seen both great violence and tremendous innovation that change the way people think, live and do business. My Native family experienced the devastations of genocide even as my colonial family experienced new freedoms and opportunities – both experiences are part of this country’s cultural history and ethos.

If we now close our doors to immigrants fleeing from chaos and certain death, we risk losing the next crucial step in our growth and innovation as a nation.  They will change us, yes they will. However, having taken previous steps in our national history always towards greater inclusivity, equality and opportunity, shall we turn back now?  Or shall we live more fully into realizing the values of justice and freedom for all?

In his time, Jesus brought ideas so innovative that the new world of which his followers had even the merest glimpse was the one which they lived (and died) to realize.  In the midst of a world based on violence, Jesus taught them that God’s salvation of the world through peace, healing and truth was their life work as a legacy of his own.  No earthly kingdom, with its own interest in mind, can make world peace.  Rather, only when social and national divisions of all kinds are overcome by a mutual commitment to the respect and dignity of all peoples, can the Kingdom in which Love reigns be realized on earth.

In all nations, as in all families, I believe that the task of our generation is to heal the wounds of the past by living to bring truth and hope with us into the future. Jesus’ death was devastating to his followers and they were deeply confused by his loss, but the story does not end there – their hope became ours to carry, their work became ours to do.  In the same way, the loss of her home and land broke my Native grandmother’s heart and took her life, but the story does not end there – I am a living chapter of the promise of life to come.  I am living proof that from experiences of cultures and societies at war, life emerges full of hope all the same. Every day, I choose NOT to live solely from a legacy of grief, pain and loss, because I believe that to do so would not honor the sacrifices that have been made on both sides of my family so that I can live.

Life is God’s legacy.  This Advent, we prepare again to welcome the birth of the One who gifted life to the world.  May each action we take and word we speak during this season embody our commitment to nurturing, sustaining, healing, creating and cultivating life – every life that God has made. To the face of trauma, a blessing is like a kiss. Through our care and compassion for one another, God would cover the world with kisses. And so, may we be blessings in a world much in need of God’s Love and ours.

 

 

On Being Discovered – A First Nations Theological Reflection on the Doctrine of Discovery

1 Comment

Many of the stories were lost when the wooden masks were burned.  Each mask told a unique story, but European missionaries didn’t like our stories.  They didn’t like our dances that were our way of telling each story, and they definitely didn’t like our medicine people who told the most sacred stories – who wore the masks of the Spirit People and told about how Creator made them and why. The fire we once danced around in celebration became a funeral pyre of stories we no longer remember.

Some masks escaped the flames, when European traders found some that were buried for protection or bought them in exchange for guns, alcohol or even just food. Some masks they simply took. They sold the masks to museums and collectors.  Now some of our most ancient stories are locked away in museum collections, scattered all across the world – their carved and painted mouths are mute and waiting for the next dance circle that will not come. The elders say that it takes a medicine person to heal the divide between the Creator and those who have not honored Creation. This is why I know that if Christ walked the earth today, he would be Native.

In our tradition, masks of the Spirit People have some traits in common, which is how you can tell that they are sacred texts and Creator stories. The central face of the mask is a familiar animal, one that we traditionally rely on for food or clothing – a beaver, a bird, a deer or a fish, for example. The face is then surrounded by two or three concentric hoops that are spaced apart.  The outmost hoop will have two small human hands, one protruding from each side.  The hands have holes in the center of each palm – these signify Creator’s hands. The Creator is, therefore, understood to be dressed in the animal form depicted in the center of the mask.

The hoops represent the ability that souls and Creator have to move between the spheres of the human world and the realms of the sacred. It is said that both the souls of the animals (i.e. Spirit People) and Creator observe humans to see how well animals are honored when they have been hunted and to see how well resources are distributed among the human community. If the Spirit People see that they have been treated well, they return to earth (through spiritual rebirth) in the next hunting season so that they can provide for the human community again.

Creator is responsible for the lives of all the Peoples, of the various animal and insect peoples as well as the human community. The holes in Creator’s hands employed on the mask signify divine generosity. We are to understand that while Creator holds all life in divine care,  Spirit Beings have the freedom to give their lives so that humans and other animals may live – they can choose to leave the Creator’s hold through the holes in Creator’s hands so that they can give their lives to support other Peoples.

In Shackan Native cosmology (and that of other indigenous peoples), there is a sacred collaboration or reciprocity between all beings as well as between the earthly and heavenly realms.  Creator masks tell the stories of human relationship with the divine – they speak eloquently of the sacred relationships on which we depend and of which we must take care to maintain.

In contrast to the Shackan image of God, the Christian immigrants, who came from Europe to the shores of this land, brought with them an image of Creator that was very different from ours:

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1:26)

When the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land, they did so with varying degrees of war and assimilation of indigenous Canaanite civilizations in order to gain that land, which was no more vacant than when Europeans immigrated to the shores of this country. The Israelites and the Europeans – though separated by time and cultures – shared a common image of God as a dominating being with whom they had an exclusive contract, a relationship the quality and guarantees of which no other human community or creature could possibly have.

Over many generations and across the Native world, the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery has brought death to indigenous peoples and societies in the form of a pyramidal cultural cosmology.  In stark contrast to a circular hoop of spiritual equality and recognition of interdependence, the pyramidal domination system is one in which God is depicted as an exclusive, entitled narcissist. It should not be surprising, therefore, that those who believed that they were created in this image of God behaved like exclusive, entitled narcissists. Unfortunately, this particular image of an elitist God seems to continue to inform social elites today.

However, I am fairly certain that the first century reform movement initiated by Jesus of Nazareth was meant to offer an alternative image of God. For example, the first thing I note about the risen Christ is that he has holes in his hands.

By the holes in his hands, Christ grants freedom and choice to all beings; he understands and respects the nature of self-sacrifice so that others may live; and like a mask of Creator, he is a being that the human community can see and touch and that can bridge the spiritual world to the human by the sustenance of his body and blood. He reconciles all of Creation to the Creator.

Is Christ not the Lord of the Dance and did he not have many stories he shared about God and heaven? Are we not called to gather around the Light of Christ, who gifted us with the Spirit – an eternal fire at the center of the Community, around which all Peoples recognize their language and way of being and are called to share of their unique expression?

From the beginning, Christ was with the Creator and came to teach people how to live in a good way, how to care for one another and not to measure their worth by things but to aspire to other values — of courage, generosity, compassion and love. This image of God is one that I recognize, for he has been with my people from the beginning of our generations.  The Europeans did not bring him to us – he was already here.

However, this image of Christ looks like us. So, perhaps it was hard for some to recognize him in our mask.  Perhaps, this truth is what many still need to discover.

Modern Yupik Dance Mask

This modern Yu’pik dance mask by Phillip John Aarnaquq Charette  shares much in common with lost masks once depicting the cultural cosmology of the interior British Columbia Shackan people

A New Spiritual Discipline of Food: Replace Fasting with Food Sovereignty

3 Comments

Organic Flowers and Vegetables

Many religious and spiritual traditions include seasons and occasions that practice abstinence from food and drink for periods of time or deferring meals until the end of the day. Fasting is often considered an important spiritual discipline, calling for mastery over one’s own will in order to make one’s self sufficiently receptive to or focused on the Sacred.

Within a faith context, humanity’s relationship with food is understood both figuratively and literally as epitomizing life’s dependence on God. As essential as breath and water, without food – without sustenance – life dies. So, when people (acting from spiritual discipline) fast from food, they are engaging an ancient trust that God will sustain them nonetheless.

In a way, fasting is a re-enactment in miniature of agricultural famine – something usually very much beyond human control. Fasting, as a spiritual humility, is actually very much within the practitioner’s control as a type of self-sacrifice offered for the sake of greater wisdom or more intimate connection with the Divine.

In actual practice, then, fasting is really only a spiritual discipline for those who have the ability to acquire food readily and eat it whenever they want. Fasting is, by definition, a choice. People who are genuinely without access to food, who suffer hunger and poor nutrition on a daily and protracted basis, don’t have that choice. They go without food, because there is no other option – there is no sustenance. Prayers go up, but no manna comes down.

The sad reality is that not only do we have issues of hunger in the United States, most of us aren’t actually eating food – healthy, natural food that can sustain our health and our world.

I propose that rather than practicing fasting (which impacts an individual life, that of the practitioner), those seeking a spiritual discipline around food make choices in consumption that will enhance the quality and freedom of all life on Earth. Eat, but eat to empower others – even other forms of life and lives in other countries.

In the global landscape of agriculture, the United States is the number one producer of both corn and soybeans. The USDA estimates that in 2014 alone, the US produced a record level of 14.4 billion bushels of corn for an average of 171.7 bushels an acre. In 2014, the US also produced a record level of 3.91 billion bushels of soybeans for an average of 46.6 bushels an acre. However, 90% of US corn production is made up of genetically modified corn, while over 95% of US soybean production is made up of genetically modified soybeans.

Sixty-four countries around the world have banned the import of Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs] and require consumer labeling of GMOs, so that consumers have an informed choice about what they are consuming. The labeling is required, so that consumers know when they are consuming the chemicals that are genetically bonded to genetically modified corn and soy, which cause the crops to be pest resistant. Additionally, over 99% of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season.

GMO systemic insecticides include neonicotinoids (neonics) which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies and birds. Two neonics in widespread use in the U.S. are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees, while ever-increasing amounts of older much more toxic herbicides like 2,4 D and Dicamba are being sprayed on GMO crops in the US, along with huge volumes of Glyphosate to deal with the superweeds which have arisen and are GMO resistant.

The main chemical companies involved in GMO production are the US firms Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer and Dow Chemical, as well as Germany’s Bayer and Syngenta of Switzerland. Also, the Rockefeller Foundation is heavily invested in genetically modified organisms, having created the ‘gene revolution’ with over $100 million invested in GM science since the 1970’s.

Unfortunately, genetically modified corn and soy are not only involved in direct human consumption, they are included in the majority of livestock and poultry feed in the US. Additionally, 60-70 percent of processed foods have ingredients derived from GMOs. It’s no accident that each of the chemical companies listed above are stakeholders in multiple grocery manufacturers that produce the vast majority of processed foods, household cleaners and personal cleaning products on the market.

In order to better control non-GMO competitors in the market place, the big players have bought up conventional/heritage seed companies. For public sector breeders, who used to produce most of the seeds that farmers used, government funding has been reduced under the pressure of powerful GMO lobby interests. Furthermore, cross-pollination of conventional fields by GMO strains has become so widespread it is difficult to produce “pure” seeds that are not contaminated. Farmers whose conventional crops have been accidentally crosspollinated with nearby GMO fields are taken to court by Monsanto for violating proprietary laws, while the farmer’s crops are burned.

The problem of GMO crosspollination is so bad, that Bill Gates is spending $30 million in a remote island called Svalbard (located approximately 1,100 kilometers from the North Pole) to build a heritage seed bank. Corporate moguls such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Monsanto Corporation, the Government of Norway, the Syngenta Foundation, and Dupont/Pioneer are building a ‘doomsday seed bank’ officially named the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard island group.

Ostensibly, these groups are saying that they want to assure that, “the genetic diversity of the world’s food crops is preserved for future generations.” I can’t help but wonder exactly which parts of whose populations will benefit from the seed lockers of the wealthy and those who have profiteered from the environmental Armageddon they created.

In her seminal work, Silent Spring (1962), Rachel Carson wrote, “A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

Writing thirty years prior to the US dominance of GMOs, Carson seems to have anticipated the use of the herbicidal chemicals developed for war time use on the jungles of Vietnam as they would be applied to domestic agriculture. Her plea for environmental stewardship remains a clarion call for those in the trenches struggling for food sovereignty.

Last month the Grocery Manufacturers Association (working in partnership with GM producers) attempted to block a GMO labelling law passed in the State of Vermont, on the heels of Governor Peter Shumlin signing Act 120 into a law last year. The lawsuit has not been successful so far, however, and the Vermont label law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

In the face of corporate monopolies of food production and the use of chemically laced genetically modified foods, the grassroots efforts of the non-GMO consumer awareness campaign called ‘The Non-GMO Project’ is supported by the US Organic Consumer Association. A new generation of young farmers is committed to growing heritage crops (non-GMO) through organic and sustainable farming practices, while a new breed of ranchers are feeding herds and flocks with non-GMO feed in humane settings.

A global organization called the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) is an autonomous and self-organized global platform of small-scale food producers and rural workers. Their organizations and grass root/community based social movements are dedicated to advancing the Food Sovereignty agenda at the global and regional levels. More than 800 organizations and 300 millions of small-scale food producers self-organize themselves through the IPC, supported by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The most important action that any individual can take in response to agri-corporations attempting to control global food production (especially in the poorest countries) is to take personal steps towards becoming less dependent on GMO foods. In effect, hit them with your pocketbook by buying organic.

Here are some consumer tips for shopping and eating in support of food sovereignty:

• Pay the extra money for foods that are Certified Organic in your local grocery stores: your dollars will go towards sustainable practices, and that’s the goal – Certified Organic foods are also non-GMO, though they might not always have the Non-GMO project label because they may simply not be participating in that campaign
• Look for foods with the Non-GMO Project label, which means those products are organic
• Become familiar with the processed foods that contain GMOs, such as Nabisco, Kellogs, Proctor & Gamble, and Unilever – if a product has soy or corn syrup in it and it doesn’t have an organic or non-GMO label, then it’s probably derived from domestic GMO soy or corn.
• Check out your local food coops, farm stands and farmers markets for organic foods and products
• Shop and eat locally to minimize the production process of your food
• If you eat out, research for restaurants that specialize in organic foods – even some chain restaurants like Chipotle’s are serving non-GMO foods
• Engage in your own food sovereignty project by turning your lawn into an organic vegetable patch of heritage seed producing crops that are pollinator friendly
• Participate in community gardens and hunger-reduction community feeding programs that strive to provide nutritional organic meals to those in need
• If you contribute food stuffs to community pantries, be sure to purchase non-GMO options for those who cannot afford to purchase those on their own
• Write to your congressional representatives, if they are pro-Monsanto or pro-GMO
• Put pressure on your local stores that sell pesticides with glyphosate and other neotnic toxins (such as are in “Round Up”) that kill pollinators
• Work with non-chemical fertilizers and pest control options in your garden
• If you live in the city, consider becoming an urban bee keeper or create an organic vegetable container garden
• If you eat meat, buy grass-fed non-GMO beef, and non-GMO organic poultry. Avoid farmed salmon, and buy dairy and eggs that are certified organic
• If you keep a flower or vegetable garden, research local seed-saving programs where you can shop and contribute to cooperative reserves of heritage seeds. Purchase organic, non-GMO seeds and grains.
• If you keep a few chickens in your yard or goats, provide them with non-GMO feeds and grains in order to avoid GMO chemicals in your eggs, milk and meat.

Below are some key websites for obtaining information that may be of help to you as you turn your personal fasting into a spiritual discipline of food sovereignty:

https://www.organicconsumers.org/campaigns/millions-against-monsanto – This is the website of the Organic Consumers Association, the organization that launched the Millions Against Monsanto effort to challenge the strong corporate lobby and food production control of Monsanto and its partner organization in charge of consumer food distribution, the Grocery Manufacturers Association [GMA]. Both Monsanto and GMA are insidious corporations, whose demonstrable and detrimental role and impact on environment and food production of which most consumers are unaware. The Organic consumers Association website provides several useful links, including information about the nature of GMOs and the actions and history of Monsanto. Any product made by Round Up, for example, contains a chemical called “glyphosate” engineered by Monsanto and singularly responsible for the destruction of whole colonies of pollinating insects including Monarch butterflies and honey bees. The benefit to destroying pollinators for Monsanto is to make food growers reliant on genetically modified seed that is incapable of producing viable seed such that the consumer must purchase new seed every growing season.

http://www.rareseeds.com/resources/non-hybrid/ – This is one of several websites, and a good one, dedicated to maintaining organic, non-GMO and naturally pollinated seeds through seed saving programs which assure non-hybrid organisms (plants that have not been crossed with GMO organisms).

http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/ – This website is the home of the Non-GMO project, providing links to non-GMO consumer products – everything from bread and cereal to wines and beer, frozen foods and baby food, skin cream and shampoo.

http://gmo-awareness.com/shopping-list/ – This website contains both lists of non-GMO food products but also provides links to GMO food products to avoid when shopping, many of which are very popular food brands. What is challenging about shopping non-GMO is that many products include oils or sugars which are made from genetically modified organisms. The problem about genetically modified organisms is that food-based GMO additives are bonded to pesticide chemicals such as glyphosate. When consumers eat GMO products or put them on their skin and in the environment in an ongoing way, toxic chemicals are able to build genetically modified bonds within our organic system (our bodies) – the root cause of many types of cancers, diseases associated with hormone imbalances, fatal allergies, as well as fatigue and depression. The effects of long-term exposure to human life are currently being documented, and the early results are genuinely horrific. GMO’s and glyphosate products have been banned in countries on every continent of the globe, including the UK, all of Scandinavia, Germany and New Zealand. For more on what countries are doing to ban GMO’s, go to http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/

The topics of food democracy and ecologically healthy food production are real passions of mine, so I hope that I’ve been helpful in providing you with resources for more information. Whether you want to plant healthy non-GMO seed in your garden or buy organic non-GMO milk to go with your organic non-GMO breakfast cereal, these websites can guide you. Our collective hope is in the efforts of organizations like the Organic Consumers Association and in our young people, a new generation of young adults who are feeling called to organic and sustainable farming.

Humanity’s choices on this earth ought not to be between eating and hunger but between what gives life to the few and what gives life to all. As Rachel Carson knew, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” Certainly, whatever our faith traditions, God has shown us this as well.

The Bus Ride to Sheol

Leave a comment

Efrat 2

[January 26, 2015 – Middle East Monitor]. The Israeli government has approved the expansion of Efrat settlement near Bethlehem, a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz today revealed. PM Netanyahu had previously shelved a plan to build on ‘Eitam Hill’ after international outcry following an announcement in November 2013. However, last October, the Housing and Construction Ministry allocated 850,000 shekels for the purposes of planning construction on a slope located east of Efrat and close to the southern edge of Bethlehem. The paper described the area as “a strategic target of settlers for the past decade.” Last week, Israeli forces destroyed a Palestinian wheat field at the site, which they described as ‘state land’.

Our Israeli Arab Christian bus driver, Nael, slowly navigated the winding road up into the hill country of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Bruce, a late middle-aged American Jew who had immigrated to Israel, spoke in terms of justification with a plaintive tone as he narrated over the bus’ sound system. We had headed south, between Hebron and Bethlehem, to the Jewish settlements of Tekoa (338 acres, and 1808 people, established in 1977) and Efrat (568 acres, 7454 settlers, established in 1980). Bruce was at the microphone.

“The media, with their agenda of spin, calls these ‘settlements,’” he shared, “but what they are is neighborhoods, just like any you’d see in the states, and they don’t call THOSE settlements – they’re neighborhoods! They’re suburbs! “

As we came to the check point entrance of what Bruce referred to as his “gated community,” armed Israeli guards asked Bruce a few questions in Hebrew. At certain locations on the West Bank (such as the Gush Etzion Bloc where we were), a particular Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) regulation applies.  Namely,  an armed guard must accompany Palestinian workers who enter the area, who live in the West Bank. Many of the workers who came to work in what Bruce called “Jewish Tekoa,” for example, lived in nearby “Arab Tekoa.” Bruce told us that he stopped into the small grocery store in Arab Tekoa from time to time – “They have good food, and the people are as nice as you’d expect to find anywhere, really.”

Though the IDF regulation did not apply in the case of our tour bus, Bruce was armed.  As an Israeli citizen qualified as a security guard,  he referred to  himself as one of the many “Jews with guns” in his Jewish neighborhood whom Palestinian workers would call from the security gate to ask for armed escort into the area to work, in compliance with the IDF regulation.

As our bus pulled away from the checkpoint and continued its journey, Bruce assured us how wearing a gun was essential in order to provide West Bank Palestinians  with work opportunities in his town – building Jewish homes, keeping their gardens and lawns, and cleaning their homes. “We love Arabs,” Bruce gleamed, “The majority of them are really fine people. Every group has people in it that want to do harm, though. So, it’s also a security issue.”

One of our pilgrims respectfully challenged the idea that all groups have those who intend to do harm, that we were a bus load of Episcopalians and a group ourselves (and wasn’t he being a little paranoid?). Bruce responded, “Thank you for reminding me that I’d better carry a gun whenever I’m with a group of Episcopalians.”

As my gut churned, I tried to focus on the landscape of the hill country passing along outside my bus window. Semi-nomadic Bedouins had once roamed the area freely, finding pasture for herds of goats and sheep, but (we learned from an earlier presentation) they were now relegated to a category of land that the Israeli army uses as firing ranges. Palestinian families, for whom the area had been home to ancestral olive groves, grape arbors and grain crops have experienced their trees chopped down and crops burned, as recently as last fall (2014) and last week (January 2015).

As I contemplated these things, trying to tune out Bruce’s ongoing narrative, the words he was currently speaking arced into my consciousness and pierced my heart, “We only build where there isn’t anything. It’s just wilderness here.”

My mind began to reel in that instant, as I recalled exactly this sentiment expressed in numerous journals and legal documents of those who colonized North America. “It’s just wilderness here – no one lives here. There was no civilization here before we came. It is God’s will that we occupy this land. These people will behave in a civilized fashion, or they will die.”

I realized that what I was hearing from Bruce was exactly the same ideological narrative that my great-grandparents encountered in the European invasion of interior British Columbia – when their people, the Shackan, had their land and resources stripped from them because all the settlers saw was “wilderness.” And Natives were a part of that wilderness, just another resource to either exploit or destroy as being in the way of real progress.

Suddenly, in my mind, I was no longer on the bus. I was reviewing once again the emotional legacy of the First Nation’s part of my family, a heritage mostly of loss. The precious bits of it, through stories and rare items, are preserved in my identity as surely as mayflies in amber. In my blood and bones, I knew how Bruce’s story would end and the role that he would play in that story for the Palestinian people of the West Bank.

I felt nauseous, sick in body and spirit. Grief overwhelmed me to such an extent that I was embarrassed by my tears and hid them from my bus mates by staring fiercely out my window. I thought of my mother and grandmother and on how they taught me that pain ought to be born in silence, without attention to the self. I could no longer hear what Bruce was saying, I was so occupied in gaining control of my feelings. However, I’ve never been especially good at maintaining that particular cultural value, especially (ironically) with regard to my Native identity and heritage.

I was surprised when the bus finally came to a stop in front of the house we had come to visit. However, because its owner, our host, had been out on a nature walk with her children, she was not home when we initially arrived, so Bruce guided our bus to the home of his ex-wife so that we could see the wind turbine roof he had designed there.

He praised the greening initiatives of his community and told us how the construction of 277 homes on a third hill in Efrat had been approved by the Israeli government as a reaction to the UNESCO’s accepting Palestine as a full member. Bruce blamed President Obama for making the Arabs work harder by having to complete the homes faster, after the US had asked for a moratorium on Israeli building in the West Bank.

When our host was finally back at her home, we returned so that we could hear more about the Israeli settler perspective. However, Bruce had told us earlier, “I don’t like the term ‘settler.’ It sounds like the American Old West idea of cowboys and Indians, as though we are somehow the cowboys invading the land and the Palestinians are the Indians. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are the Indians! We are the Indians! This is our land, and others are trying to take it from us!”

I didn’t want to get off the bus.

Mostly, I didn’t want to get off the bus, because I didn’t really want to be bawling my eyes out in front of our Jewish hosts – I didn’t want to explain myself or talk about it, nor did I think I could take on any additional interaction that would add to my emotional load. So, I asked one of group, Jesse Junior, to please go get my bishop, The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, who had already disembarked.

I don’t know what I wanted of him other than to explain or excuse my absence…or maybe, simply to grab on to someone and scream, “This is horse shit!” Maybe I just wanted someone to hear my tree falling in the woods.

Moments were passing, and I was the last one on the bus. I felt ridiculous and ashamed…and alone. Except there was Nael, the bus driver, who I felt even worse for than my own self, Nael having to hear and silently bear all that Bruce was saying, but having it all directed at Nael’s race.

I shook my head of tears like a sheep dog of rain water and determinedly pulled myself together. I put my face into what I hoped was a neutral setting and got off the bus. Once across the street, however, I met Bishop Greg coming out of the house towards me. I turned away from the house front, and he put an arm around my shoulders. My hastily gathered reserve gave way with equal haste.

“I’m not sure I can do this,” I confessed, “This is so horrible. It’s exactly the same. It’s exactly the same…” That’s all I could get out.

“You don’t have to do this, you know. I can…or maybe I can’t imagine…what you must be going through. You can get back on the bus, if you need to. It’s okay,” He assured me.

As I looked up hopefully, the bus drove away.

There seemed no escape, then, and I suppose the spiritually inclined part of my brain decided that God must have put me in this “opportunity” for a reason. So, then, in the next instant, I suppose that I resolved to enter into the experience fully (though I had been resisting it with every fiber of my being).

I wiped my face, set my jaw, and we went into the house. I stayed unmoving, like a wooden Indian, just inside the front door.

Our group had crowded into our hostess’ living room. Her two teenage children stood in the kitchen. She said that her husband was in their home office working on a computer problem. He never did come out while we were there. We were offered water, and Bishop Greg got some for me.

Our hostess, like the other adults we had seen in Bruce’s community, was packing heat. The handle of a handgun bulged beneath the waistline of her blowsy shirt.

She talked about her time living in California and the call she felt to immigrate to Israel and live in a settlement on the West Bank. “I like being here and wanted to raise my children here. I think anyone should be able to live wherever they want to live,” she said. By that point in our tour, I was pretty sure that she didn’t really mean anyone.

Like Bruce had before her, she spoke of the land she was on as her ancestral home, the “home of her fathers,” the place that both God and the European community (in 1948 and 1967) had promised would be the Jewish homeland.

In the household in which I had been raised, the term “Zionist” was considered impolite, and I was taught that one did not use it to apply to Jewish people. My parents considered the term to be pejorative, I think, and thereby contributing to negative and racist stereotypes. Imagine my shock, then, to hear our hosts self-describe as Zionists; to hear members of our pilgrim group apply the term openly and freely to both certain types of Jews and certain types of Christians.

Wikipedia describes Zionism as, “A nationalist and political movement of Jews and Jewish culture that supports the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel (also referred to as Palestine, Canaan or the Holy Land).” Certain evangelical Christian groups also see the return of Jews to Palestine as signaling the End Times and the return of the Messiah, so they encourage the occupation as well.

And that’s what it really is; It’s not a movement of religion, but unlawful occupation by a state, the State of Israel – an emerging nation engaging in the genocide of peoples, the destruction of homes and the appropriation of land and resources in order to create a civilization where some seem to believe none had previously existed. In such instances, religion is just a useful justification of racist crimes against humanity within a theological cosmology that judges who is among the elect and who is disposable. In short, it is colonialism.

After our time in Efrat, we went on to visit with an American Jewish lawyer.  He came onto the bus, as the engine idled outside of his home, and talked about his work in land claims. At various times in his career, he represented both Israeli and Palestinian land claims.  He did not see any way that the current situation could improve. His own desire was that all Palestinians should be removed to Iraq or Iran, “Where they can be with their own people – Muslims and Arabs.”

One of our group asked how he could reconcile representing both Israelis and Arabs in land claims, when it was clear that he believed that Palestinians have no legitimate claim.  The lawyer raised his voice indignantly, “Lawyers represent criminals all the time. It’s our job.”

What I learned from our pilgrimage visit to the Jewish settlements and from listening to both Israelis and Palestinians who are struggling against occupation and for a solution of peace and justice is that: 1) my concerns around Israeli claims of indigeneity have been in discussion among activists and legal/political circles for decades and 2) our government is complicit in supporting exactly what’s taking place – we are in great part funding the Separation Wall that has turned the West Bank into a very large prison, and we are funding the arms of the soldiers who guard it. Meanwhile, our aid agencies are funding some of the food and medicine which gets into the West Bank.

A powerful Jewish lobby interest in the United States, known as America’s Pro-Israel Lobby (AIPAC), is funding the election campaigns of many of our congressional representatives. To go against AIPAC is to risk much, including being labeled as anti-Semitic.

However, as Rami Elhanan (one of our Israeli Jewish pilgrimage speakers) said, “Go home and tell your people that being pro-Palestine is not being anti-Semitic.”

Or, as Hanan Ashwari (a member of the Palestinian National Council and an Anglican Christian) said in our meeting with her, “The critique is not of a religion but of the actions of a state.”

The political landscape of Israel is like traveling a winding bus route through time and history. We see the impact on the land and people of the colonial powers of Britain, modern Europe and the United States. Ashwari looks to the global community for restraint of Israel and support of Palestine. She gazes intently at the land of her people through a window of war and a veil of tears. She still hopes that her colonizers will come to her aid, even as I called out for my bishop to support me. For, make no mistake, he represents the faith of a colonizing power. Yet, I think her hope – and mine – is not misplaced.

Ultimately, we are – all of us – on the bus.

Where we go from here is truly up to us.