Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I really didn't think I was a prophet -thanks Michele Bachmann!!

“I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” Bachmann said to supporters. “We've had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?"

Wow! Just the day after I wrote my previous Conversation, my husband read this quote to me from the web. Of course Bachmann's representative later retracted her statement as   just a "joke." But I'm not so sure. And probably many people heard it and believed it.

You don't think she was possibly joking?

No, I think it was part of a prepared talk not adlib. And as a prepared statement I am sure she weighed it carefully, knowing that a certain audience would take it absolutely literally, and then planning  a "retraction" to cover her bases with the more intellectually enlightened. But then again, I could be wrong.

Sadly, you were right about it so far.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Resurrection or Hallucination?

This is the crux of the issue isn’t it. The whole conquered death thing.

I suppose you could say that.

Well, wouldn’t you say that?

I have always thought, hoped, that my life would be more important than my death. That what I said and did, or tried to do, would have more of a lasting impact on the world than what was done to me.

And what was done to you? Was it really a sacrifice to appease God?

There was an ancient practice of blood sacrifice among many peoples. The destruction of the Temple put an end to it for the Jews.

So that was a good thing?

The slaughter of innocent Jews by the Romans, or any such slaughter, is never a good thing, but the end of animal sacrifice – it was time for that to end. The Pharisees were right on that point. All you have to do is look at the beginning of the Jewish Scriptures, they got it right in those stories. The Word of God has the power to create life itself from nothing, why would God need animal blood-letting in order to be “satisfied?” It’s a very barbaric, primitive concept, don’t you think?

I do. I totally do. But in the minds of the ancients there was this assumption that what humans did could manipulate the gods and hence reality. Through dance, song, reenactment of hunts or battles, and through sacrifices they thought they could change outcomes, control the future. They thought they could bring rain, guarantee fertility of wives or crops, determine victory in battle. And then when people started to believe in one, supreme God they assumed the same held true.

I think that is all true. But there is more to it than that. As the belief in a stern but compassionate Father/God became the norm for the Jewish faith, they tended to attribute to God the same characteristics of their own tribal leaders and fathers. Sons want to prove themselves to their fathers in deeds of glory and courage, and so they assumed God the Father would want the same homage. Jacob chose well when he chose the thoughtful leader not the bloodthirsty hunter to lead his tribe. But the Hebrew people still wanted kings and heroes like their neighbors. So God became imaged as a king too.

So there is a lot going on here. Ancient cultural norms, family dynamics, traditional pagan religious beliefs, and not a little social and religious patriarchy.

Indeed. So it is easily understood that people who believed in me wanted to believe my death was part of the whole plan. They wanted to understand it as the moment in human history when animal sacrifice became obsolete once and for all, the ultimate and final blood sacrifice had now been made, God’s Son had “satisfied” God’s need for justice, atonement, vengeance. But don’t you see the context? How this message was vital if the Jews were to believe in me?

You lost me here.

The Jews lost the Temple in 60 Ad.  No more sacrifice, no more atonement. But if you could look back thirty years to my death and interpret it as the final sacrifice, then it would seem that this was God’s plan all along and we don’t need the Temple any more. What did Paul write, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I was the final High Priest.

Theologically then, to see your death as a blood sacrifice, as THE blood sacrifice, was important in order to connect your death to the destruction of the priesthood and the Temple as being all part of God’s plan. It makes logical sense. But of course most Jews didn’t accept this interpretation and didn’t become Christ followers. And the Greeks who came to dominate the church just accepted the sacrificial interpretation and went with it, even though there was really no need for it.

Maybe no need, in the way that the Jews needed to understand the loss of the Temple, but the ancient Greeks had their own traditions of sacrifice to their gods in their mythology, so the idea of my death putting an end to the need for pagan sacrifice also worked.

We’ve been carrying this blood satisfaction theology for 2,000 years. Don’t you think it is time to take you down from the cross.

Ah, which brings us to the resurrection. Which I think was your initial theme.

Power over death; eternal life. These are the core issues of religions. Who or what has the power to conquer the natural cycle of life and death and offer us an everlasting life. Where is the fountain of youth? Is there another dimension where we live on or another level of existence? I wonder, is it fear that motivates this preoccupation humans have with conquering death?

Maybe, but as a mother who has lost a child I want to add that it is love, too. Anyone who has lost someone dear to them naturally would be excited at the possibility of seeing them again, and would want to believe, would hope, that the dead loved one is experiencing some form of happiness that perhaps eluded them in this life because of illness or circumstance. So maybe it is fear, yes, but also love and hope.

In fact I have been reading about grief and about how people who are grieving commonly have hallucinations of the one who has died. And I was wondering if maybe the resurrection appearances were hallucinations of that kind?

So you don’t believe in the resurrection?

I’m not saying that, exactly. I’m saying that the stories in the scriptures may be stories of grief hallucinations. Mary Magdalene, the key witness, loved Jesus -- loved you --profoundly, and in her grief she sought out the tomb to anoint you. I can’t imagine how it would have felt to her to be about to touch the dead body of your beloved, your leader, your savior. I couldn’t have anointed my son without it breaking my heart all over again. I would have wanted to stay in the grave with him. Mary Magdalene would desperately have wanted to see you alive, to reverse the events of your death. For me, it was the morning after my son’s burial that the reality of the loss really hit for the first time. I know that desperation.

So you think there was no empty tomb?

I don’t know about the tomb, I just know about grief.

Is it possible that the grief was real and the empty tomb was real? Or do you fight that possibility because you never saw your son after he died? Are you still angry that he never appeared to you and said everything is ok, mum. I’m alright?

That’s a low blow.

I’m sorry, I truly am sorry for your loss and your pain. But it might be possible that there was a resurrection, and it might be possible that there is life after death, and it might be possible that your son is, indeed, ok, even if he has not told you so himself. Didn’t you say you had a dream, though.

Yes, there was one dream. I thought it was just a dream and there would be many like it. But, looking back, there was just that one. Which makes it more significant, now, I suppose.

And what did he say in that dream?

He was smiling his big, joyous smile. He told us he was hanging out with friends and we shouldn’t be worried about him. It was a great place and he was fishing. I woke up smiling.

And now?

Now, looking back, maybe it was more than just an ordinary dream. Or maybe I just want it to be.

But it turns out it was special, unique even.

Yes, it was.


So maybe I keep hoping, for life beyond life, love beyond death.

That sounds reasonable.

As we forgive those?

I was at Sunday mass recently and I had problems with the Lord’s Prayer again. This is becoming a pattern. But this time it wasn’t about holding hands, they don't even do that any more. This time it was the forgiveness issue. I just don’t think I do, that’s all. Forgive, that is. I know that experts say that if you don’t forgive someone you are only hurting yourself, because the person who hurt you has probably already moved on and may not even remember. I know that makes sense. But I am just not able to forgive, at least not yet.
Someone who hurts you accidentally or someone who hurts you once in a moment of weakness, maybe that can be forgiven. But someone who calculates how and when to hurt you, someone who hurts you over and over again, someone who puts the fear of death or the fear of God in you so that you won’t tell, someone who haunts you in your nightmares long after they are dead and buried, or someone who is still part of your family, how can you, how can I, forgive that person?
Jesus, I know you were hurt by your enemies and your friends. I know that you forgave these people and prayed for them. So, you’ve got to help me out here. I just don’t see my way through this.
Mona, you were betrayed by those who were meant to care for you. You were hurt by someone who ministered in my name. I do not expect you to react the way I did; I was an adult when I suffered, you were a child. What is most important right now in your life is that you forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for being depressed. Forgive yourself for not being the perfect parent you wanted to be. In other words, you have to practice loving yourself the way you try to love your sons. We’ll work on the forgiveness of others later. There’s plenty of time for that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas -- Myth, history, parable

I’ve been reading commentaries about the Christmas Story and wondered what your thoughts were. I mean it is your story, after all.

No, I’m not sure it was ever my story. Let’s start with your thoughts.

Ok. Well, obviously I believe you were/are real. I mean you existed.

That’s a start. A lot of people won’t even go that far. I suppose they are waiting for a birth certificate to appear. But even if it was even possible, they’d probably say it was a forgery and I wasn’t really a citizen of Palestine.

I believe you lived, taught, pissed people off, got killed for pissing people off and ….


Maybe you healed people, you certainly inspired people, and you made people who were marginalized feel nourished, nurtured, accepted, loved. But the Christmas Story? That’s something else entirely.

I agree. It has little to do with my actual birth.

Really? So is it just a myth?

Ah! A loaded statement. There is no such thing as “just” a myth. Myths are complex, complicated, multi-layered. As to the Christmas myth? Just consider all that it has inspired – amazing music, incredible art and sculpture, endearing and inspiring fiction, profound poetry. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of businesses churning out Christmas paraphernalia every year. But even more importantly, every year there are miracles of sacrificial giving of parents to children, children to parents, community members to those in need.

I completely accept that the Christmas Story has wielded a lot of power in the development of Western civilization, Western culture. But is it history?

Does it have to be history in order to be true?


What Matthew and Luke got right (and let me point out that they are the only two of the New Testament authors to tell the “Christmas Story” and they didn’t agree on much of it) what they got right was that they focused on the message, the beliefs that they wanted to convey about the meaning of my life and death. It was never about my birth, per se, the birth narratives were didactic (teaching) devices. They emphasized that I was originally Jewish and that my life was part of our (Jews) larger narrative of salvation. Matthew, himself a Jew, made a concerted effort to parallel my birth with Jewish prophecy. They told a story about the community I came to save – not just Jews and not the powerful.

 Luke, a non-Jew raised in a Greek city, was emphatic about the role of ordinary working people – shepherds – who were invited to witness my birth. He did not have Magi in his story – wealthy, religious seers, from the orient – like Matthew did. And Luke gave more of a voice to women, my mother and her cousin Elizabeth both have “speaking parts” in Luke’s narrative. Matthew, a traditional Jew, did not break with ancient Jewish tradition that rarely included women as God’s chosen witnesses and prophets; Matthew used my father Joseph as the story’s main character – the one chosen to receive God’s messages.

And so the gospel Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke were constructed with a specific theological intention. Each of them had a particular focus and a particular message to convey about the purpose of my life and death in God’s larger narrative of salvation, and they accomplished this in their gospels beginning with their Infancy Narrative.

I suppose it should be noted that Paul, the earliest New Testament writer, and Mark the earliest evangelist, don’t even mention your birth.

That’s what I am trying to point out. My birth wasn’t important until people began asking more questions about my death – why and for whom – and about the significance of my life – my Jewish roots. And by then there was nobody to ask about my birth. Paul and Mark and Luke had never met me.

Do you mind all the shepherds and magi trampling around in the story of your birth?

Not at all. I have always been touched by the beauty of the scenes Matthew and Luke paint. And Luke’s prose is “full of grace” indeed. The Magnificat rivals the most beautiful of the Old Testament Psalms. The nativity story as it has evolved in the church touches people, it softens the hardest of hearts. It brings hope every year to a world in pain and turmoil. It brings beauty in the raising of voices in carols and in the decorating of whole cities. It moves people to kindness, compassion, and generosity, if only temporarily.

Does it bother you that there has been such an infusion of European symbols and myths – the Christmas tree, Santa Claus? And that people don’t know the difference between biblical versions of the Infancy Narrative, and instead just lump it all together into one story – magi and shepherds, angelic visitors or visions to Joseph and Mary?

No. It is one story, the story of a world in need of hope and redemption and of a God who chooses to work in and through humanity to bring evidence of that hope and redemption each year. There is no more important a story to be told than that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What Would Jesus Vote?

"I don't know. Ask my mother!"
What would Jesus vote? Now this is a conversation that needs to take place.

Politics…still a religious issue, two thousand years since the second temple and the Sadducees.

How is politics connected to religion? I mean, in America anyway, there is complete separation of Church and state.

I wonder if that isn’t the problem.

I don’t understand.

Politics is about the process and method of decision-making for groups of human beings. I can’t imagine any other process that is in greater need of moral standards, and a commitment to justice, pursuit of the greater good, and compassion for those in need. American jurisprudence has done itself and the American people a great disservice by separating religion and politics because many people cannot find a moral compass without a religious goal so to remove religious leaders from the conversation may be tantamount to removing moral values.

Well, actually, religion plays a tremendously powerful role in American policy making. But only one camp in the religious community has power and that is the fundamentalist, Protestant work-ethic, Prosperity Gospel preaching, right to life (for the unborn but not those sentenced to death in the legal system, members of non-Christian religions, or nations who have natural resources we want to take) Christian Right. And they truly believe they are the only ones who are right.

So where is the separation then?

Maybe it is a separation between politics and papists that they are really concerned about. But let’s get to the issue at hand. What would Jesus vote?

Isn’t one of the issues you have with the religious right that they assume their answer is the only truth?


Well, how would it be if I were to tell people how to vote? Everybody must exercise their own best judgments and consider their own most important values, and they must decide when to compromise and what to compromise about. I cannot, and should not tell anyone how to vote.

So what do we do?

You make the effort to learn about each candidate; you decide on your moral principles and prioritize your values.


If you care about your family and your children's future you will make the effort.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

So -- Have You Danced This Week?

I know I am not usually the one to initiate our conversations but I was wondering how you've been doing this week? Did you stop reading all that bad news and did you go out and do something creative so you could experience and then share some joy, and by doing so maybe help the balance of good and evil move to the "good" side? No? So what did you do? Just feel sorry for yourself and carry on being angry with life? 

You say all that like it's a bad thing.

Ah, you're awake and so is your sarcasm. But really --- how has the week been?

OK, fair question. And now that you mention it, there have been a couple of good things. The weather has been gorgeous -- blue skies but not too hot. Fantastic really.

And have you enjoyed it or stayed inside with your metaphorical (or real) nose on the window, like a dog pining for the outside from her perch on the window bench.

Actually, I have been walking more. And today we drove to a renovated campground where my husband used to camp with the Boy Scouts. And we walked and I took pictures. I thought I might make a slide show for my brothers-in-law who all spent so many summers there. So I've been creative, too. Yeah me!

Good for you. I mean that; I'm not being sarcastic. Can I ask, what was the experience of your husband's family with the Scouting organisation?

Oh, they all had fantastic experiences, wonderful summer camps, swimming lessons. They all had oodles of badges and my husband went all the way to Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow. He was and is very proud of that. He then went on to lead and encourage both his sons from Tiger Cubs all the way up to Eagle -- they both made it --and one of our sons even became scout master -- the youngest in the region. At 23 he took over the whole troop after Hurricane Katrina displaced all the regular adult leaders. He had been an assistant scout master so they asked him to step up. He did and he was fantastic. He led meetings, spoke to and even counselled parents of kids. He had been a great mentor to many of the kids on camping trips and in training for badges and they looked up to him. He also worked with some of them at a local summer camp.

There was a lot of chaos and separated families after Katrina, in fact my husband and I moved to Houston temporarily to serve the displaced student bodies from our respective schools. Similarly, lots of parents separated for months because of job or schooling needs. But the Boy Scouts kept gathering together and helped provide the kids with some sense of normalcy at least on Wednesday evenings. After a year my son passed leadership back to the returning scout masters; he was glad not to have the responsibility for it all : camping trips, badge advancements, courts of honor, but he saw that he was capable of such leadership and he saw how appreciative everybody was. I know it made him feel good.
My husband as a Boy Scout leader doing service in a homeless shelter.

Quite a story. I'm glad I asked. You loved your son a great deal. and were obviously very proud of him. He sounds like a fine young man. And the Boy Scout organisation has obviously had a tremendously positive impact on your whole extended family. I wonder how you all might continue to give back to the organisation so that other kids can have the same growth and leadership experiences your sons enjoyed. Just a thought. And ... by the way ... he's fine.


Really. And now I know why he is so good at building fires. He loves that, and gathering people together in the evenings. And there's this strange song he sings and dances, "Intermission."  He says you would know and he smiled. I really love his smile.

Jesus, I wish it really was you telling me this. I miss him so much. I know it's just my wishful thinking, but I like the idea you gave me about supporting the Scouts. A great way to add the "the positive" in the world and especially to help kids. Maybe it is time for us to get back involved. I'll have to see.

I'm not wild about his "dead baby jokes" but he does make people laugh.

Oh my Go...he still tells them?

Psych!! He knew that would get a rise out of you.

Damn it Malc! You haven't changed! Great. Can't wait to hear your jokes myself. Thanks Big J. You should ask him his euphemisms for the Eucharist...ha ha...

Already have --- nearly choked. Didn't let on to the big guys though.


No, the dead popes and cardinals. They really have no sense of humor about religion. I wonder if that has to do with them having to wear dresses and caps all the time. I can see how it would make a man insecure and push him to be excessively authoritative as over compensation.

Oh, popes and cardinals. I really want to continue that line of thought. Later, though!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some Days the News Just Sucks -- Suicides, Homophobia, Callousness

Jesus, today was a tough day! I started the day reading about the suicide rate in the military being quadruple the national average, with four suicides at Fort Hood this past week. Then I read about a college student who killed himself after his room mate and another friend filmed and then posted on line his sexual encounter with another man. Humans perpetrate such evil against each other every day just for the twisted joy of causing someone a public humiliation. Can we really be God's children and be so base, so lacking in concsience, so callous about another person's feelings, struggles and social stigmas.

My first thought...stop reading the news. It will make your day less stressful.

Well, thanks for that. But I'm not sure that's much help.

What did you do after you read the news?

What do you mean?

Did you go out and treat someone you met with kindness and compassion, treat them as as if they were the young man who took his life out of shame?

No, I got in my car and drove to work angry and probably cursed out a few drivers on the way. Then I spent the day feeling angry about everything around me and how my boss doesn't respect my work and how life stinks.

So evil has won in you today. You allowed evil to become a part of who you are and you communicated anger and therefore brought more "evil" into the world around you.

The whole transference thing, huh! I'm sorry! What would you have had me do. Sing Kumbaya and hand out free cookies to the homeless?

You are obviously still angry. What does that say about you? Why are you allowing the evil done to someone else to corrupt your joy?

And what is wrong with singing joyful songs and giving something to eat to a stranger. I saw you yesterday at the Simchat Torah service watching the dancing. You didn't join in. Maybe you need to dance more, to create joy around you, and to join in when joy presents itself to you.

Perhaps this weekend you need to go and have some fun and be around art and music and creativity and people being good and kind. It will raise your opinion of the human race. Then maybe you should go to a service somewhere and sing, you know how good music cheers you up. And you must realise that if you drive a car angry and get in a wreck and hurt someone, it won't matter then what it was that made you angry in the first place, because now you have created a brand new evil yourself by your anger, not someone else's anger.

So...what you're saying is...I can't help that young student who killed himself but I can make sure not to hurt another young person struggling with his or her sexual identity by not participating in jokes aimed at minorities and gays. And I can choose to be joyful and kind and non-judgemental myself and not add to the anger and evil. And --- I shouldn't drive angry.

Sure, if that is what you heard me say, fine! It's a start.