Friday, April 24, 2015

Gender, Gospel, and Justice

Gender, Gospel, and Justice is the theme of the upcoming world conference in Philadelphia, September 18-20, 2015, sponsored by Women's Ordination Conference.

This is the third world conference sponsored by WOC.  I attended the second near Ottawa, Canada, on the St. Lawrence River in 2005.

Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia in September--women will demonstrate for equality in the Roman Catholic Church during his visit.

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, try to get there!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gracias a la Vida

This Saturday in Disney Hall there will be a tribute to the woman who composed "Gracias a la Vida," Violeta Parra.  

Her niece will sing, along with guitarists and others.

"Gracias" is one of the last songs she composed before taking her life, perhaps a parting message.

It's so easy to be mute when facing death or disaster.  Violeta put her pain to music.

Sometimes the arc of life is interrupted at its height--when a person is successful, famous, creating beauty in some form of art or work in the world.

What can we do when the plane crashes, the stage 4 cancer comes, the gun releases its fatal bullet?

Sometimes we are gone before we can even cry out.  Other times a person holds the tragic turn of events close to the heart, mute, unable to speak, even to family, friends, business associates.  

Sometimes the success is exterior while on the inside the person grieves and even takes his or her own life.

There may be anger or shame.

There may be a shallow memorial service or a splendid celebration of life or no gathering at all.  A family may sprinkle ashes alone and private. 

What a gift when the story of one's life rises in an arc and in later years falls quietly toward resolution.  

What a gift to be able to say each day, "One thing have I asked: that I may dwell in Your house, behold your beauty, and seek answers in Your presence" (Psalm 27:4).

We ask so many things.  We ask for 70 years or more, for bread and love and joy.

May we learn to ask only to dwell in this house, to see its beauty--and to sing "Gracias a la Vida."

Monday, April 20, 2015


One of the best things I heard at the LA Times Festival of
Books yesterday was Rebecca Solnit describing this experience in Aspen in 2003 where a man at a party started to explain her own book to her, thinking she was a dumb blonde, never imagining that she had written it.

Vandalizing for Jesus

A Hindu temple was vandalized near Dallas, Texas, as found Monday, April 13, by temple members.

Symbols of devil worship were painted on the main door, and on a shed in back was painted the sign of Mara Salvatrucha, the US gang exported to El Salvador.

Hindus still worship a variety of gods, both male and female.  Some of the most famous are Lakshmi, Kali, and Krishna.

Apparently these gang members, like Islamic State terrorists, feel that God wants them to insult and hurt non-believers.

These groups don't know their own holy books well enough. 
The Bible says to tell the Good News about Jesus, but not in a mean way.  See Acts 1: 8 " shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  

What kind of witness is vandalism?  Jesus was not about insulting or hurting others.

The Qur'an says "Commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of Allah anything but the truth" (Surah 4:171). 

More words against treating non-believers badly: " not say to anyone who offers you a salutation: 'You are not a Believer!' ...Even thus were you yourselves before, until Allah conferred on you His favors: therefore behave carefully, for Allah is well aware of all that you do" (Surah 4:94).


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Of Nuns and Men

The Vatican takes one step backward.

The nuns take one step forward and promise to be good.

We call it progress, but it's very sad.

The photo tells the whole story: four women sitting on one side of the table, two men on the other side, one in white, one in black.

The women outnumber the men, but the men hold 99% of the power.  No Pope has ever before met with nuns from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a US group representing 80% of nuns in the US.

The women are smiling nicely at the Pope and his assistant, their hands in their laps.  The Pope is grinning.  The man in black is looking down, expressionless.  

In 2008 the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began an inquisition of the LCWR.  Inquisition is not a figurative term here.  This congregation is the branch of the church that actually ran the Inquisition for several centuries.  

The reason for the 2008 attack?  Doctrine defenders charged that the LCWR had deviated from church doctrine and promoted "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

Such as "spending more time working against poverty and social injustice than abortion and same-sex marriage," as Laurie Goodstein of the NY Times summed it up.

They were also "protesting the Holy See's actions regarding the question of women's ordination."

Pretty radical to suggest that maybe, possibly, women should serve as priests alongside men.

The correct stance for Catholics is silence on any issue with which they disagree with Rome.  To speak or publish discussion on these issues can get you fired from a Catholic university, hospital, or religious order.  Take for example Father Roy Bourgeois, who was dismissed from being a Maryknoll brother.

In 2012 the Vatican appointed three bishops to work over the LCWR and get it into obedient shape.

After much outrage, including the whole Nuns on the Bus cross-country tours of protest, the nuns have finally been heard.  

Pope Francis spent almost an hour with four representatives of the LCWR. Eileen Burke-Sullivan, vice provost of a small Jesuit university in Nebraska, called it "an extravagant amount of papal time," as quoted by Goodstein in the NY Times.

Extravagant.  The Pope tossed fifty minutes to these women, like a tourist throwing $50 at a beggar in India.  

In exchange, the nuns promised "to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it."  

Furthermore, they will select the speakers and programs for their conferences more carefully.

What the hell does that mean?  The speakers will be sworn not to discuss women's ordination, birth control, or acceptance of gays and lesbians?

I was happy at first when I heard this news.  It sounded like progress.

But now I see what the nuns have conceded in order to get this lovely rapprochement with their male superiors.  Now the deal doesn't sound so good.

Business as usual.  Men in power, women patted on the head.

Nevertheless, change will come.  Here's the time line I expect:

2015 - Persecution of uppity nuns ends.
2020 - Women are ordained as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church.
2030 - Very few monks and nuns still living, not enough male priests to hold Masses at all the churches in the world; number of irregularly ordained women priests world-wide now over 1000.  
2040 - Congregations and councils begin work on how to admit to abundant records of women serving as priests and bishops in the first several centuries of Christianity.
2050 - Roman Catholic Church regularizes ordination of women to the priesthood.

See also:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yom Ha Shoah

In the class I attend to learn conversational Hebrew, we can switch from grammar to drama at a moment's notice.

Tonight Aliza Klainman went from a review of infinitive verbs to Holocaust Remembrance Day, and later back to grammar.

Yom Ha Shoah, as it is called in Hebrew, is observed from sunset on April 15 to sunset on April 16 this year.  The date varies because it always begins on the 27th day of Nisan, according to the Hebrew calendar.  Our class began just as sunset was occurring to end the day of remembrance.

Aliza's mother, Sonya Mittelman Perl, is a child survivor of the Holocaust.

Sonya is 85 years old now, but she spent this day speaking about the Holocaust to an audience of factory workers in Israel, where she lives.  She speaks widely and even has a Facebook page.

She, her mother, father, brother, and two sisters were taken from their home in Czechoslovakia by Nazis.  

Her brother was shot dead because he could not keep up with the march.  Her father survived for a couple of years before being murdered.

Her mother was thrown into a fire pit alive, as Sonya and her sisters watched.

Sonya remembers standing in front of the terrible Josef Mengele every day for inspection.

"He showed up every morning, very drunk, and would pick those to go to be gassed," Aliza told us. 

Her mother told her about the horrors of Auschwitz from the very beginning of her life, but her father (also a survivor), never talked about what he went through.

"You cannot forgive--it is not ours to forgive--you cannot forget," says Alisa. 

She remembers visiting Dachau as a tourist.  It's just an hour from Munich, and the countryside is so beautiful and pastoral in the summer.  Nice towns and homes and farms surround the camp.

"That was my shock," she reports.  "They were so close--they couldn't avoid the stink.  Of course the Germans knew.  There's no way they could not know."

We often hear that Germans, like others in the world, did not know that Jews were being killed in the camps.  The proximity of the camps to the towns leads Alisa to disbelieve that claim.

"Jews were vermin, something you have to get rid of," she says, attempting to explain how humans could tolerate mass killings near their homes.

She discussed the documentary film made from footage shot as the camps were opened.  "The arrogance of the women and men running the camps," she said.  "You see it."

Alfred Hitchcock was asked to be the supervising director to assemble the various pieces into a whole, called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.  A new HBO documentary, Night Will Fall, tells the story of the making of the film.

After telling us these things, Aliza turned back to the chalkboard, and we resumed our review of infinitive verbs in the pattern XX.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Killing for God?

On Thursday, April 2, 2015, four Somali gunmen killed 147 college students in Garissa, Kenya, entering their dormitory and trying to kill mostly Christians. 

The killers belonged to Shahab, a Somali Islamist extremist group related to Al Qaeda.  Somalia is right next to Kenya.  The extremists think that part of Kenya should belong to Somalia, and they think the university is part of Kenya's plan "to spread their Christianity and their infidelity."

In both the Bible and the Qur'an, it is possible to find verses that say one should kill enemies.

In the Bible, for example, Deuteronomy, ch. 13, verses 6-10, says that the followers of YHWH should kill those who are actively trying to get them to worship other gods.  This passage is very similar to a Neo-Assyrian political treaty of the same period, 672 BCE.

The Qur'an says, for example, in Surah 8, verses 38-39, that if others are terrorizing Muslims and not letting them practice their religion, "Engage them in combat, even killing them, until the state of "Fitnah" (terrorism) no longer exists in the society and people are free to worship Allah by their choice."  

Note that the word combat (qital) means that this killing can only be done in a combat situation, not randomly or by individuals.  Furthermore, innocent people cannot be killed.

People who are fighting for land and power in various places in the world deliberately misuse these verses of the Bible and the Qur’an to justify killing.

The challenge today for those who truly want to serve God is:
  • how to understand the political, cultural, and military settings in which these verses were written
  • how to apply these passages of the Bible or Qur'an to our own political, cultural, and military settings today.
This is why learning skills to interpret our holy texts is so important. It's called tafsir in Islam; midrash in Judaism, and hermeneuticsin Christianity.  

We should not take verses out of context and apply them randomly to situations today.  

We should look at the whole Bible or Qur'an and their most frequent themes, not prioritize one verse that fits our purposes.  We should read the footnotes and the commentaries written by various scholars. 

The Bible has many verses telling us to love our neighbor and even love our enemies.  For example, see Luke 10: 28-30 and Matthew 5: 43-48.

Every surah (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful."

 People who actually respect and study these sacred books should not be killing enemies or engaging in cruelty--yet historically Christians fought the Crusades to "take back the Holy Land" and some Islamists today are killing in the name of Allah.

The Qur'an also has many verses advocating tolerance of other religions.  Most famous is Surah 2:256, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks."

When Muhammad set up a government for his followers in the city of Medina, the constitution required religious tolerance of Jews and Christians.

Much of Surah 2 discusses Jewish history, Abraham as the first Muslim (the first person choosing submission to Allah), and how to relate to Jews and Christians.  The main principle is that obedience to Allah began long before the life of Muhammad and anyone who chooses to obey God will be rewarded.

Surah 2:62 "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians--any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

We Christians are grieved and shocked by the killing of so many innocent students at Garissa University College, but that attack does not represent Islam as a whole.  Most Muslims are just as shocked and saddened by the acts of these terrorists as Christians are.  

Some Muslim students at the university demonstrated against the terrorist attack in memory of those who lost their lives.

Friday, April 3, 2015

How to Ruin Good Friday

I walked in to a Good Friday service today and heard these words: 

"I carry the cross for the mother who aborts her child without reason."

Excuse me, is this a Good Friday service?  

Is there even one day per year when opponents of abortion can cool their jets?

1)  No woman ends a pregnancy "without reason."  Somebody may not like her reasons, but she has reasons.

2)  An abortion is painful and inconvenient and costs money.  No woman goes through this "without reason," though some women do end up having several abortions.  

3)  In the first trimester, the embryo or fetus is not a child.  Using the phrase "aborts her child" is like waving a flag against legalized abortion.

4)  No man should dare to condemn a woman who finds herself pregnant in a situation where she feels she needs to end a pregnancy.  No man!  You haven't been there, you don't know.  It may be that her boyfriend refused to support the child and share in the parenting.  Whatever the situation, shut your mouth if you carry male genitalia.

I was deeply offended by those words.  

In 1994 I edited a book containing personal stories of Christian women who in difficult circumstances chose abortion.  It's called Abortion--My Choice, God's Grace: Christian Women Tell Their Stories, published by New Paradigm Books in Pasadena, California (available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.).  

 I am a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

I left the service long enough to get back into a frame of mind in which I could reflect on Jesus' death.  Unfortunately, I missed the only woman speaker out of 7.  I returned to the service planning to stay to the end but found that I could not focus on the words being spoken and sung.  

When Psalms were read--such as "Insults have broken my heart" (Ps. 69:20), they suddenly had a non-Good-Friday meaning for me.  I had to leave.

As I walked out, the young man who had spoken those words gave me a big friendly grin.

"Asshole!" I hissed.   

Lead me not into temptation--sorry, Jesus!  

That young guy is a seminarian, not even ordained yet.  He has the fancy title of "vicar."  I should not have condemned him in the same way he condemned women.  We're not supposed to trade an eye for an eye. 

Sorry, Jesus, for adding to your troubles on this day.

To warn others: 

Don't try to attend Mt. Olive Lutheran in Santa Monica CA.  I could have gone to my own church's Good Friday service or to the local Episcopal church, but I chose this Lutheran church close to my home, which has had great services over the years.  

I sure won't make that mistake again.