On Marriage, Divine Love and the Anglican Communion

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Henry Goes to the Holy Land – Day 10, The Last Day to Home

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January 22, 2015

Our final morning in Israel began with a quick drive to Abu Ghosh, a town about six miles west of Jerusalem that is (one of many) locations believed to be the site of the first century town of Emmaus. Abu Ghosh is one of the earliest areas of human habitation in Israel, with archaeological remains of three Neolithic settlement phases, the middle phase is dated to the 7th millennium BCE.  It is also the sight associated with the location of the Arc of the Covenant, which King David later moved to Jerusalem. If this is the sight of Emmaus, it lends a nice symmetry to the traveling nature of the Spirit of God as on the move and meeting people where they are.

Met a friend at the Crusader church in Abu Ghosh

Met a friend at the Crusader church in Abu Ghosh

The Crusader Church of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh was built in 1142 as a French monastic community of monks and nuns following the Benedictine rule. Our Pilgrim group was fortunate to have the opportunity to have our final Eucharist in this beautiful space, the walls of which are filled with the remnants of frescoes that were mainly destroyed by Muslims who took over the area after victory over the Christian Crusaders.

Crusader church in Abu Ghosh

Crusader church in Abu Ghosh

We have had wonderful sermons, hymns and worship throughout our journey in the Holy Land, and this service was especially meaningful. We gathered together items we wanted to have blessed and placed the on the altar.  Bishop Greg presided, with Bishop Barry preaching and Dominic and Paul (our stunning guides from Lightline) assisting. Our local guide from Shepherd Tours, Ghassan, also worshiped with us.

Our Pilgrim items on the altar to be blessed

Our Pilgrim items on the altar to be blessed

Our service at Emmaus

Our service at Emmaus

Immediately following the fine service, the women of our group gathered around the altar, laid hands upon it, and offered prayers on behalf of women – in Israel, Palestine, at home and around the world. Because of the nature of the Christian churches here, even in the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, women priests are not permitted to preside at most altars in the Holy Land.  This was especially evidenced by the fact that at no time did a woman clergy person preside or assist at any of our Eucharistic services in any of the places we worshiped. If Rachel takes a group on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she will need to bring along a token male clergy person in order to gain entrance into many of the altars here – including this one at Abu Ghosh.

Fresco of Mary in the church

Fresco of Mary in the church

After the women’s heartfelt prayers (given with many tears), one of the bishops remarked that we were “lucky” that one of the local priests didn’t walk by to see it. You can perhaps imagine the women’s response to that concern. We felt it was more that the men didn’t want us to jeopardize their future ability to use the space. And here we are being asked by them to stand up for justice for the people and faiths of this country when they are hesitant enough to stand up for justice for the women of their own countries and church. Ah, well, we were glad to be at Abu Ghosh, nonetheless.

Frescoes in the nave arch

Frescoes in the nave arch

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Above the altar

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Organ

Organ

Chapel under croft

Chapel under croft

Under croft shrine to Mary

Under croft shrine to Mary

It was a wonderful way to formally conclude our Pilgrimage before heading back to Jerusalem for lunch and exploration on our own until departing for dinner and the airport in the evening.

Last visit to the Holy Sepulcher, the Sepulcher itself - a shrine to the tomb of Jesus called the aeticule

Last visit to the Holy Sepulcher, the Sepulcher itself – a shrine to the tomb of Jesus called the Aedicule

The back exterior of the Aedicule being incensed by a Greek Orthodox priest

The back exterior of the Aedicule being incensed by a Greek Orthodox priest

Inside the Aedicule

Inside the Aedicule

Looking out from the interior of the Aedicule

Looking out from the interior of the Aedicule

Front exterior - it is common for Pilgrims to light candles at the Aedicule and then quickly extinguish them to take home for personal devotions

Front exterior – it is common for Pilgrims to light candles at the Aedicule and then quickly extinguish them to take home for personal devotions

Prayer tapers left by Pilgrims line the exterior of the Aedicule, illuminating the shrine

Prayer tapers left by Pilgrims line the exterior of the Aedicule, illuminating the shrine

Rachel, Sarah and I had pizza in a shop near the Gloria Hotel and then headed into the suk for last bit of shopping and to go once more to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then we hiked towards the Damascus Gate and had a last drink of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice before going out of the Old City and up Nablus Street to St.George’s College.

Shopping in the suk

Shopping in the suk

From Jerusalem - Go Hawks!

From Jerusalem – Go Hawks!

One last pomegranate juice in the suk, with Palestinian police in the background

One last pomegranate juice in the suk, with armed Palestinian police in the background

Rachel’s purpose was to visit the shop of Abraham, located just outside the college gateway.  She selected a beautiful pectoral cross there while Sarah went to the cathedral once more.  After that visit, they parted ways so that Rachel could meet up with a friend and possible cousin met through Facebook.

Kate Taber and Rachel Taber-Hamilton

Kate Taber and Rachel Taber-Hamilton

Kate Taber is a Presbyterian missioner representing that denominations efforts in peacemaking and partnerships between Israel and Palestine. Her husband, Nathan Stock, is the Director of the Carter Center in Jerusalem. Rachel and Kate met up at the Notre Dame Hotel for coffee in the cafe there.  They were able to talk for about an hour before Rachel and me had to walk the five minutes up from the New Gate to the Jaffa Gate to meet our bus one last time. I’m glad to know more friends there, and I hope we get to return to visit again.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Our bus driver, Nihal, took us the two hours to Jaffa, where we had our last dinner together as a Pilgrim group before going to the airport.  The Tel Aviv airport is very security driven – our bus was inspected, and once inside, we had four additional check points that required our passports before even getting to our gates.

Our twelve hour flight to Newark was without incident, and a small group of us from Olympia waited for our common plane to Seattle – Sarah, Michael, Katherine, Cynthia, Rachel and me all boarded on time four our four hour flight to the west coast.

Once home, Rachel’s and my good friends, Becky and Tom Clark, brought Rachel’s car to the airport so that we could drive to Whidbey directly from there – a final ferry ride and we were home to cats, dogs and husband.

Our Pilgrim group at Dominus Flevit - where Jesus wept and prayed for Jerusalem

Our Pilgrim group at Dominus Flevit – where Jesus wept and prayed for Jerusalem

Though we have unpacked our luggage, I think we will be unpacking our hearts and minds from this trip for a very long time (as well as sorting through the many gifts physical, emotional and spiritual that we have brought back with us).

Our pilgrimage was an amazing journey, supported by an amazing team of organizers and guides who made the experience extraordinary in depth of information, breadth of opportunity and in quality of worship. We were blessed a hundred times over by the people we met and who cared for us, guiding us through barriers and obstacles to view the riches of their faith, heritage and country – which is to say, their people.

Ghassan and Nihal

Ghassan (our Guide) and Nihal (our Driver) – both Palestinian Christians and very dear people.

I will treasure it all and will pray for them all for as long as I live. I will be and am grateful.

Peace and Blessings to my beloved squirrels – now and always!

Henry

squirrel blessing to you

Henry Goes to the Holy Land – Day 9

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January 21, 2015

Today was an early start so that our group could get up to the Temple Mount. While the Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall”) is in the jurisdiction of Israel, the Temple Mount is under Palestinian control. This means that pilgrims going up to the mount must walk through an Israeli check point much like an airport security screening. No weapons or Christian (or Jewish) prayer books or bibles are permitted on the Temple Mount. No Christian symbols, such as crosses, should be visible.

Our Pilgrim group in front of the Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount

Our Pilgrim group in front of the Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount

After crossing through the check point, we stopped under a tree for an orientation presentation by Ghustan. The Temple Mount is one of the most important religious sites in Old Jerusalem. It is venerated by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Jewish cosmology says this is the place from which all the rest of the earth was expanded or made by God – it is, quite literally, the center of their universe. Jewish tradition and Scripture identify it as the place (Mt. Mariah) where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Among Muslims, it is considered the third most holy site in Islam and is revered as the Holy Sanctuary where Mohammed mystically journeyed to Jerusalem on a winged horse of lightening before ascending into heaven. Christians know it as the location of the first and second temples, the latter being the temple Jesus knew in his lifetime – where he was presented as a child, where he turned over the tables of money changers just prior to his death.

Looking towards the crusader stable, Temple Mount

Looking towards the ancient archway, Temple Mount

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More cats

The First Temple Period is associated with King Solomon, who is said to have built the Temple at this location in 957BC and subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Second Temple was constructed between 538-516 BC, expanded by Herod the Great in 19 BC. The Second Temple was an economic center as well as a religious one. The construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock occurred after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 CE. Completed in 693 CE, The Dome is one of the oldest Muslim structures in the world. Its sanctuary covers a large exposed expanse of rock, beneath which is a cave known as the Well of Souls. However, no non-Muslims are currently permitted to enter the mosques here.

Temple precinct

Temple precinct

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Entrance to the mosque

Entrance to the mosque

The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the far southern side of the Mount and faces Mecca. The Dome of the Rock is in the center of the 36 acre complex. The Mount also includes a basilica, the Royal Stoa, constructed by Herod to provide a focus for commercial and legal transactions. There is also a small dome known as the Dome of the Chain, a location believed to be where a chain once rose to heaven. There is a ritual fountain for purification, used before entering the sanctuaries. There is also a rectangular building known as King Solomon’s Stables, which was built by Herod but used by the Crusaders during the period when they controlled the Mount.

It's believed that the Holy of Holies may have been located at the spot where the structure on the left currently is.

It’s believed that the Holy of Holies may have been located at the spot where the structure on the left currently is.

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Towards the end of our tour of the Temple Mount, we could hear the sounds of a group of people yelling. Apparently, there was a protest taking place which included some fifty Muslims near the Muslim school located on the Mount who were upset by the presence of Jewish men who had come up to the Mount (this is unusual for Jews to do, since the more conservative sects do not want to risk walking on the location of the Holy of Holies, the exact historical site of which is unknown). The protesters were trying to get the Muslim police who patrol the Mount to come over and intervene. With some concern that the situation could escalate, Ghustan hurried us off the Temple Mount area and into the suk.

After a few moments of walking, we arrived at the Western Wall. Also known as the Wailing Wall, this section is all that remains of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Jewish people believe that third temple will be built here. As you can imagine, there is quite a lot of historic and current tension between the Jews and Muslims about the custody of the Temple Mount.

Graphiti in the suk

Graphiti in the suk

At the Western Wall

At the Western Wall

The women’s section

The women’s section

The Western Wall is a site that is very important to the Jewish people. As a worshipping area, the wall is divided into sections for men and women, with a partition between the two areas. The men’s section takes up the lion’s share of the wall, nearly ¾ of the available wall, and the men have an enclosed heated section as well. The women cram themselves into a smaller section (no heated space). It is popular to hold bar mitzvahs in the men’s section. Mothers who want to view their son’s ceremony must stand on the plastic chairs of the women’s section to peer over the partition at the proceedings. It’s common for the women to throw candy into the event as a symbol of blessing.

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The lowest and biggest stones in the wall are from the second temple period, often referred to as Herodian stones.

Even though there’s a partition between the men and women, I snuck into the women’s section in Rachel’s interior coat pocket and was able to put my forepaws on the wall as she placed her hands on the wall for prayer. The sounds of women weeping were close all around us in the press of the crowd. After prayers at the wall are complete, it is a practice for many to back up away from the wall so that one does not turn a back to it. When you’re up close to the wall or touching it, you can see small bits of paper on which prayers have been written that visitors have poked into the cracks between the stones.

“Red Signs” warning travellers not to enter the West Bank are posted at every check point.

Ramallah

Ramallah

After our time at the Wailing Wall, we boarded our bus once more and headed out to Ramallah, the political center of the State of Palestinian located in the central West Bank approximately six miles north of Jerusalem. Of course, to get there meant crossing through several check points before arriving at the city center. Known as a Christian city, the relationship and cooperation between Christian and Muslim Palestinians is very good. The name Ramallah is Arabic for “Hill of God.”

Lion statues in the center of downtown Ramallah

Lion statues in the center of downtown Ramallah

After some time of driving through the busy city center, we arrived at our first destination – a meeting with Iyad Rafidi at the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School in Ramallah. Iyad is the director of the school. As a Christian private school, the school has much to offer to the whole community and is largely considered one of the best schools in the area. The school believes that fulfilling its Christian mission comes through serving the Palestinian community in all its diversity, regardless of religion, race, gender, abilities and socioeconomic status of the person. The school also seeks to educate Palestinian generations to become active citizens who participate in developing a humanistic and democratic society, enhancing religious and national heritage in Palestine, and promoting mutual understanding and tolerance among religions and cultures.

Iyad Rafidi and me

Iyad Rafidi and me

Currently around 150 students study in the new building, in good conditions. However, around 535 students study in two 38 year old buildings, in poor conditions, with leaking windows, old furniture, an inefficient heating system and a worn out electrical system, etc. The school hoped for years to follow up with partial maintenance, yet problems persisted, due to the age of the buildings and its facilities. Engineers recommended undertaking a comprehensive maintenance, which involves changing the whole water and drainage system, electricity and heating networks. The school is currently seeking funds for this major project.

The school

The school

Recess time for the grade school

Recess time for the grade school

The preschool

The preschool

Making friends at the preschool

Making friends at the preschool

The very best coffee and cookie we had were served in hospitality to us during our visit here. The children were friendly, and we were able to see something of the preschool as well as the grade school areas. However, we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, because we needed to be on time for an important meeting at the offices of the Palestinian National Authority.

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The PNA (or PA) was the interim self-governing body established to govern Areas A and B of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a consequence of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Following elections in 2006 and the subsequent Gaza conflict between the Fatah and Hamas parties, its authority had extended only as far as the West Bank. Since January 2013, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority began to refer to the areas of it’s jurisdiction as the State of Palestine in official documents, after the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member UN observer state.

In the meeting room

In the meeting room

Coffee and snacks before the meeting

Coffee and snacks before the meeting

The politics of the Palestinian Authority take place within the framework of a semi-presidential multi-party republic, with the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), an executive President, and a Prime Minister leading a Cabinet. The current structure of the PA is based on three separate branches of power: executive, legislative, and judiciary. The PA was created by, is ultimately accountable to, and has historically been associated with, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), with whom Israel negotiated the Oslo Accords. The PLC is an elected body of 132 representatives, which must confirm the Prime Minister upon nomination by the President, and which must approve all government cabinet positions proposed by the Prime Minister.

I’m giving you this background so that you understand why, in order to meet with a representative of the PLC, our group was hosted for a meeting at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah. Due to the efforts of Bishop Greg, our group had the privilege of meeting with an amazing woman — Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi and Bishop Greg

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi and Bishop Greg

Dr. Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator, activist, and scholar. She was an important leader during the First Intifada, serving as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East peace process, and has been elected numerous times to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Dr. Ashrawi is a member of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Third Way party and is the first woman elected to the Palestinian National Council. At this time, she serves on the Advisory Board of several international and local organizations including the World Bank Middle East and North Africa (MENA), United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and the International Human Rights Council.

Dr. Ashrawi signed Sarah's book!

Dr. Ashrawi signed Sarah’s book!

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is also an Anglican Christian, though not actively participating in church per se. However, she is a passionate advocate of many human rights and gender issues and is the recipient of numerous international peace, human rights and democracy awards.

A woman described as

A woman described as “very smart” even by Palestinian men.

In our meeting, she was very articulate about the current situation in Palestine and relationship with Israel, and she took several of our questions. Rachel had the opportunity to ask her what legislative efforts might be in play currently in support of Palestinian autonomy. Dr. Ashrawi was quick to point out that due to restrictions and issues within their domestic governance, their help and hope is in the international community’s support.

After our meeting concluded, Rev. Sarah Monroe had Dr. Ashrawi sign a copy of Ashrawi’s book that Sarah had brought with her. Meanwhile, Rachel asked an aid to Dr. Ashrawi for some business cards to distribute to our group. The aid invited Rachel to follow her up to Dr. Ashrawi’s offices, where Rachel was able to get a stack of business cards to distribute. However, ongoing to the elevator to take it back down to the ground floor (to re-board our group bus), who should happen to step into the elevator but Dr. Ashrawi herself – off to another meeting.

Getting on the elevator with Hanan Ashrawi - OMG!

Getting on the elevator with Hanan Ashrawi – OMG!

Our next stop was lunch, but oh! What a lunch! After our group settled into our seats, an international interfaith assembly of religious leaders came into our restaurant for their own luncheon. This prestigious group was led by none other than the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. It’s a good thing that only the salads had arrived at our table, because our meal came to a total stop as we stood to applaud the arriving dignitaries and greet them individually as they made their way into their banquet room (which happened to be near the end of the table where Rachel and I were seated).

Our lunch table in Ramallah

Our lunch table in Ramallah

Look who came to lunch - the Rt. Rev.  Katharine Jefferts Schori

Look who came to lunch – the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

I'm not sure who these ecumenical representatives are, but they said to Rachel,

I’m not sure who these ecumenical representatives are, but they said to Rachel, “This is what a Jew and Muslim friendship committed to peace looks like!”

The interfaith delegation

The interfaith delegation

Bus vs. Busy market street in Ramallah

Bus vs. Busy market street in Ramallah

Saying goodbye to a wonderful city!

Saying goodbye to a wonderful city!

On our groups last full day in Jerusalem, the Presiding Bishop and her group were moving into St. George’s College for their stay. So, some of us ran into them all again when we walked back to the college during free time.

Our bus driver, Nihal, did a hero’s job of navigating the bus through the market district of Ramallah as we made our way out of the city, through the check points, and back to Jerusalem.

Refugee camp in Ramallah

Refugee camp in Ramallah

This day was such a joyful contrast to the day before that our group was is high spirits for our afternoon tour of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. We toured the huge model of the first century city of Jerusalem before viewing the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Shrine of the Book) and archaeological and art wings of the museum.

Scroll

Shrine of the Book

There were some things in the archaeological exhibits halls that Rachel had only every studied in books – to see them in person was a remarkable experience, including relics from ancient Levant, Akkadia, Sumer, Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Babylonian, NImrodian, Canaanite and Herodian cultures. The collection also included two ossuaries of some import – an ossuary associated with the High Priest Caiaphas and an ossuary engraved with the name “Jesus, son of Joseph,” which caused great public interest and scholarly debate when they were each discovered.

Archaeological and art wings

Archaeological and art wings

Model of second temple

Model of second temple

If any of the museum security had been watching Rachel on their monitor screens, they would have laughed at the way she exclaimed and clapped her hands to her face as she passed from exhibit to exhibit with rising astonishment at the amazing and rare antiquities they have in their collections. The experience made her want to go back into anthropological research, but I reminded her that she’s a priest now and has other obligations to date.

At the end of a superb and astonishing day, Rachel and I boarded the bus one last time for the day and headed back to the hotel for dinner and sleep. It was our last night in Jerusalem, and we felt both full and fulfilled in many ways.

Byzantine mosaic of Jerusalem

Byzantine mosaic of Jerusalem

Here’s to celebrating the history, freedom and creativity of squirrels!

Henry