Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Biblical theology and the view from below

July 18, 2014


Four “terrorist” Palestinians playing soccer just before they are murdered


We must expel Arabs and take their places…and if we have to use force hen we have force at our disposal.”
David Ben Gurion the first Prime Minister of Israel Oct 5,1937 in a letter to his son

Stand up and speak on behalf of the poor
and those who need your voice in this world.
Remember that:
Where you stand will determine what you see;
Whom you stand with will determine what you hear;
What you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.
Robert McAfee Brown


One of the cardinal things one learns as a student of the bible and as a primer for discipleship is to learn to think from below. This is not easy for the privileged. This is why North American Christianity is caught in a suburban captivity of privilege. Not bad people for sure but our starting point is generally white economic middle class privilege. This is why the growth in churches are those megachurhes. They give people waht they want. The prophets gave people what they needed. Think Joel Osteen and the biblically illiterate Christian Zionist churches in the American South.Any church which dares criticism of the “American Way of Life’ will struggle to survive. The call to the cross and the the kingdom offer of the crucified Galilean is decidedly not in vogue.


The fundamental narrative here is of course the Exodus story told from the perspective of the slaves and not of Pharaoh. For us the interlocutor is not the atheist but the nonperson, the unseen or seen only as a category—(everybody in Gaza is a terrerrorist, The Commies etc). Notoriously at different eras blacks, women, First Nations, the powerless were all people with no megaphones. Liberation theology shifted the essential question from the nonbeliever to the nonperson.


It was the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer about to be martyred in Berlin in 1945 who most graphically expressed this view in modern times:


There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.

When we analyze Israel/Palestine from this perspective our starting point for Christians is that of the poor. Who are the poor, the non-persons, those on the margin of life? We do not start from these reprehensible and self defeating rockets. We begin with the the radical dispossession of Palestinian people shoved into a crowded prison camp; we begin with the 50 year occupation of a homeland, of ongoing and relentless increase of settlements, theft of land, destruction of olive groves and collective punishment. We begin with second class citizenship, Jews only roads, a people with no nation or citizenship, no army and an asymmetrical poverty compared to the Occupier. We begin with Gaza, a foetid breeding ground of hopelessness hence the pathetic rocket attacks and the asymetrical death counts 270 dead Palestinians, 80% civilians and two israelis, each a child of God.

It is in the situation of these poor that God will be found . This is where the essential pain is.The underside of history and as we will see there are some brave Christian churches which have dared extend solidarity to the Palestinian people without justifying the counterviolence.


“What if your neighbourhood was a giant prison”?

July 13, 2014

One loves the oppressors by liberating them from their inhuman condition s oppressors, by liberating them from them selves. But this cannot be achieved except by resolutely opting for the oppressed, that is, by combatting the oppressive classes.
Gustavo Guttierez
One of the biggest canards grasped by defender of Israel’s ongoing slaughter of Gazan civilians is “What would you do if you were threatened by rockets?” This blather is mouthed inter alios by people like Canadian Foreign John Baird…yada, yada yada. “Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself”?  This is a classic example of decontextualization.


How about trying justice for a people penned up in prison. These are authentic Jewish values. Unmitigated and longstanding oppression of another people for over 60 years is a stench in the nostrils of God. Murder and injustice is Israel’s response.


The rockets launched by Hamas are pathetic the desperate and crazed attempt —much like the suicide bombers—to respond to a suffering the world ignores. The complicity of the United States and now Canada is unconscionable. What are these hopeless rockets, yet to kill anybody when compared to the sophisticated weaponry of the massive fire power of Israel. They are pathetic  cris de coeurs which the world has ignored for far too long.

Daniel Sidarski an activist American Jew openly mocked the embarrassing ad trotted out by the Anti Defamation League (ADL) which showed showed rockets descending on New York city from say New Jersey…”Imagine if Hamas terrorists were targeting you and your family…no country would allow such danger and neither will Israel.


Sidarski responded with his own ad and commentary. He called the ADL”s campaign an attempt to justify the bombing of Gaza(at this moment over 150 dead most civilians and one quarter children) “ just the latest act in a storied history of shameful behaviour.” Jewish theologian Marc Ellis would describe Sidarski as one of the “Jews of Conscience.”


Sidarski created a brilliant response and as he told Ali Abuminah of the Electronic Intifada: “The ADL has been a consistent embarrassment to the Jewish community…While Israel does have a legitimate and responsibility to protect its citizens from attack, and while I strenuously oppose all attacks against civilians to pretend that the current escalation is merely a defensive measure by Israel and not a part of a greater policy to undermine the PA unity deal (of Hamas and Fatah) is to deny the obvious. My Jewish community opposes occupation and warfare..the ADL does not speak for us.


Sidarski’s spoof is brilliant. He understands “structural violence”. This shows itself before a shot is fired This systematic and silent violence, hidden from TV cameras (though less and less today) engages in silent genocide, starvation and exploitation,a racist legal structure, an unbalanced underfunding of education and water rights etc.The situation seethes with violence.It is much more destructive than the counterviolence


He contextualizes the whole sorry mess. He understands that the fundamental and absolute primary violence is occupation and humiliation. That is where all must begin. The ongoing, unrelenting and unremitting humiliation of another people and in this case over 1.5 million Palestinians penned up in a concentrated slum with no access to exits, air space, fishing rights etc.

Sidarski is part of the Abarahamic minority, present in all communities, who has moved beyond tribal loyalties (I am a Jew, a Catholic, an American etc) and who embraces universal values of compassion and justice. Unlike high priced apologists like Alan Dershowitz who sit in academic offices and who defend “the tribe” without walking in the shoes of “the Other” Sidarski has realized that his loyalty to the deep ethical values Judaism entails transcends a narrow Zionism Too many have stayed at the level of the tribe a location which is too narrow, too partial. Sidarski found as we all must a deeper loyalty.


He took the narrow tribal view of the ADL and turned it on its head and asked the more fundamental question Israel defenders do not ask: What if your neighbourhood was a giant prison?


Imagine you have been stateless for 66 years, living under military occupation for 47 and under a devastating trade embargo for the last 8 Imagine that anyone around you could be arbitrarily executed without die process by the occupying army. Imagine you had no legal recourse for addressing youer prdicament.No people would tolerate such conditions forever and neither will Palestinians.

That’s why Palestinians are fighting back





Pentecost fire

June 9, 2014



Pentecost, the feast of fire, is the omnipresence of the Holy in our lives, acknowledged or unacknowledged.

Catholicism embraces these wild images like “tongues of fire” which appeared in Sunday’s scripture reading. We remember “the burning bush”, “pillars of fire” part of our symbolic universe, striking metaphors for God. In the Pentecost story timorous followers of Jesus caught fire and the religion of Christianity spread far and wide. Maybe the ultimate proof of resurrection.

The second greatest feast in Catholicism—after Easter.

The great prayer: Come Holy Ghost fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in them the fire of thy love.

So at mass yesterday we had a beautiful kindling.

The prayers rolled out like lava streaming down the mountain. People expressed deep gratitude for the Holy among us. This outpouring should have been taped. Intense prayer for sick loved ones and friends, prayers for the dead and the highest prayer of all, gratitude These tumbled out with deep feeling.

Gratitude for being adopted by a father who tried his best mid alcoholic outbursts, for the gift of the refugee house and its impact on the neighbourhood,a literal rainbow edifice in our multi-hued city, gratitude for the life of Tom McKillop the founder of the unparalleled youth organization, Youth Corps, gratitude for youth gathering for a social forum, gratitude for the 50 years of L’Arche the organization founded by Jean Vanier to care for the mentally challenged, gratitude for Harvey Atin, Stanley Nieman and Louie Goldstein, local members of the YMHA who figured in my life on streets near here. After the war the Jewish community was still reeling from the anti-Pentecost, the fires of Auschwitz, Birkenau and Treblinka




This was a real eucharist (Greek, thanksgiving) beautifully led by a gifted priest.

The celebrant intoned the words: Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.



Such faith on this June Pentecost.

Truth and Relevance

June 6, 2014



Gregory Baum at age 90 has launched yet another book, Truth and Relevance a great boon to English speaking Canada, hopelessly ignorant of the fascinating theological currents in Quebec after Vatican ll. Here he introduces and contextualizes the writings of several theologians.




One of these is a brilliant Dominican J.P.Audet.


Audet was but one of the theologians invited to address the priests for the Central Conference in the mid 60s.


Tom Cain, a married priest (like most of the priests from the 60s) recalled the work of Audet and the gutsiness of the young clergy in those years before “the set decorator” priests arrived.


In my book Never Neutral:A Teaching Life ( Tom Cain recalled the impact of this Francophone priest.

Audet, a brilliant Dominican, gave this talk on looking at the Church in an evolutionary way. Each step on the way proceeds from the one before. The next species looks like the one before. But what happens when there’s a break? That’s what happened to the Constantinian Church when it adopted the trappings of the Roman Empire. A whole new set of values invaded the Church and we lost the spirit of Jesus. We must get back there.


When I asked Bishop Pocock, who had attended the conference, if Audet was clear to him, “Very” was his answer. He was not pleased. Another time I told him that, in reading the Vatican documents, there was an emphasis on brotherhood, so I don’t think I can call you, “Your Grace.” He just looked at me. What a period that was. We were not afraid to challenge the bishops on these ideas.

Good Friday: the power of the state

April 18, 2014


Jesus the Palestinian Jew lived under occupation, a rather brutal one at that. The Romans pauperized the local population under heavy taxation and legal theft of foodstuffs which found their way back to Rome.
Ironically the descendants of Palestinians still live under occupation in modern day Israel.


The STATE was and is an agent of crucifixion. Jesus along with thousands of others paid the ultimate price—one usually paid by those considered a threat to the state and its imperial power. Jesus’ promotion of God’s reign (malkuth Yahweh) was the ultimate threat to Roman anti- reign. The state murdered him, another victim of capital punishment.
The State still crucifies people,either directly like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or other homicidal maniacs.
Most often the State becomes a proxy for larger states like the American empire and their compliant thugs like the Shah, Pinochet, Rios Montt in Guatemala,Somoza in Nicaragua, the puppet regimes under Russia.
Unfair trade practices, powerful monopolies such as Monsanto, protection policies keep the poor on the cross throughout the world.
The State also is an agent of crucifixion of the earth,an almost autistic promoter of climate change. we are witness in our time to the ongoing active extinction of species.


On Good Friday the state continues to crucify.

The Mob and Good Friday

April 17, 2014



The Mob is an agent of crucifixion. We see the mob in Jerusalem screaming “Crucify him and give us Barabbas” The Mob is always with us today usually as an uninformed voice screaming for vengeance, personal gain over public good.No taxes, it screams in Rob Ford’s Toronto.It never links taxes with livable cities and social cohesion

These voices have grown exponentially with the rise of the internet,a notorious anarchic place for uninformed opinion. Often these voices are faceless and anonymous, silent in the wake of human suffering, voluble in the promotion of private goods over public squalor, often racist and sexist as well.

The Mob is the bystanders who do nothing to advance redemption. It sits out history’s great drama and brays just as it did in the time of Jesus. This is the mob today.


21 Rabbis

January 25, 2014

RHR_logo_for-Site21 rabbis accompanied Canadian PM Harper on his recent trip to Israel. this fact opens many lines of enquiry and reflection.


One wonders just exactly what these rabbis stand for, given the horrendous denial of human rights to the indigenous Palestinian community. Of the latter fact there can be no doubt. The wonderful irony of course is that it is often Israeli groups which document the tragic facts of both the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48, the theft of land taken in the Six Day War in 1967 and the ongoing illegal settlements. Most of the documentarians are secular “Jews of conscience” who publish the undeniable facts of this ongoing oppression and humiliation. In the age of the internet,all of this meticulous work is available to all. There is no excuse for an educated canadian rabbi no to know this—unless the state of Israel has replaced the Torah as the locus of the ultimate in Judaism.

These groups are well known in Israel, the foremost being B’Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories For over two decades this marvelous flowering of Jewish tradition has documented settler abuse and championed human rights in the West Bank and Gaza and as their website proclaims “ promoting a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity.”

Before the Obama inauguration in January 2009, Israel unleashed a savage attack on Gaza entitled Operation Cast lead. B’tselem tallied up the result: 1398 Palestinians killed by the overwhelming forces of the IDF. Bear in mind the shocking asymmetry of the sides in this conflict.

The IDF has planes and an air force, missiles, tanks, gunboats, a professional army.They travel on “Jews only” roads. The Palestinians have none of these except the hopelessly  inaccurate Katyusha  rockets. They have neither army, air force, Apache helicopters provided by the USA, F-16s courtesy of same, tanks, defense of any kind, a pathetic leadership , an apartheid wall which has stolen 10% of their land and  divides families. It is a slow strangulating death.

So we have in this stunning slaughter in Gaza— 1398 Palestinians killed, 344 minors among them and only 22 who were taking part in the hostilities, 248 policemen killed inside their offices, 110 women among the dead, wholesale infrastructure demolished. And  on the other side 6 dead Israelis, soldiers in the security forces  who also carry the divine image.


And we remember the horrible pictures of Israelis watching the slaughter from distant hill tops. A family outing? A computer game?

Watching murder

The above is but a tiny picture of the colonial war on the territory of Palestine which has now lasted  65 years.  The suffering has been incalculable, the reporting absolutely abysmal and saddest of all, the silence of the synagogue, deeply regrettable.

Amidst this contemporary version of Dante’s hell, yet, we have rabbis who like the above have not been silent, who carry the Torah into this suffering. Rabbis for Human Rights ( ) are those men and women in Israel who are the “rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights”. The organization was founded in 1988, and includes 100 Israeli members from every branch of Judaism as well as some rabbinical students. It is supported by shuls in the diaspora.

Their vision statement says it all:

Our work expresses the view that as Jews, we are obligated to protest against every injustice enacted against any other person, a view based on the belief that man and women was created in God’s image. We believe that it is our obligation to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and that it is our role to pressure state institutions to fix these injustices.

One of those rabbis is American-born, Harvard educated Arilk Ascherman the recipient of the Gandhi Peace award in 2011. This reb shows up at as many house demolitions (there have been app.27,000)since 1967). Ascherman describes one of these heartbreaking incidents:


 The families were hysterical. The grandmother was wailing while the father of the family was clutching at his heart and others were begging us to do something. It was simply heartbreaking …We watched helplessly as the pneumatic drills tore into the final remaining home. To officer after officer I read off chapter and verse from various international conventions which Israel is a party to. Commanders ordered their people not to listen or take the paper….The charge sheet against me claims that I ran in front of the bulldozers, interfering with the work of security forces and endangering myself. I can say that I lost my kippah (the Jewish skull cap) in the ensuing moments….There isn’t much in the rubble of those houses, as the families succeeded in removing most of their belongings. It is not like some of the demolitions where we find children’s toys, clothes and schoolbooks among the rubble. However, there is a kippah and I feel that it means something. Perhaps it symbolizes the trampling and burial of the Jewish Values I grew up believing in. Perhaps it means the opposite. Perhaps it symbolizes the fact that their were Jews who stood against this injustice in the name of Torah.

And those 20 rabbis on the plane. What are they thinking?

O Little Town of Bethlehem

December 25, 2013

Move beyond  the “first naiveté”(Ricoeur)

The first naïveté refers to the interpretation of scripture (or religious belief)  where everything is taken at face value. This is the same as saying that  the person in the first naïveté believes everything about his religion literally.

A socio-political reading of the gospel.

To be “good news” the gospel must be contemporary, speak to us in our historical situation.

The mighty symbols of the birth stories—Herod,no room at the inn, following the Star are in Michael Dowd’s words “night language”, spectacular images of emotional truth. They are metaphorical, not to be read like “day language” of everyday discourse. Here is my latest attempt. It reflects Jesus under occupation as he was in antiquity by the Romans. Today Jesus alive in the oppressed Palestinians lives under Israeli occupation.

These prose-poems I have penned for over 40 years  are consistent in that they take seriously the idea that the Christmas stories are not for children. Christians have for far too long treated the Infancy Narratives as either myth or as pretty harmless legends for kids. They are anything but. They are evangelical dynamite, brilliantly polished nuggets brimming with radical theological import. They challenge the Roman claim that the powerful Emperor Augustus is Lord and rules as “dominus et deus.” a common inscription of the time. In an absolutely outrageous claim, the evengelists point to the itinerant rabbi, murdered by the state as “dominus et deus.”

Roman writers of antiquity could not grasp the dynamic spread of the Jesus Movement. Men like Tacitus quoted here, were  beside themselves as the exitiabilis superstitio (pernicious superstition ) continued to make inroads in the vast empire long after Jesus’s public execution. The description  of, this great Roman historian, is typical of the time—shocking disbelief that a “dominus et deus” could come out of Galilee, part of  a backwater Roman province.

My prose poems  attempt to unpack the good news for our time. In the words of the great German theologian Johann Baptist Metz, these are “dangerous” stories.  I have simply tried to let them speak to our era. Each year demands a new interpretation. If the four gospels do not reproduce a “fifth” for our age, they are simply “old news” and not “good news.” I have  tried to be faithful to the contemporary manifestation of the  Spirit, the Divine Disturber.  I am indebted to my great teacher in England, Hubert Richards  who set me on this path in 1971.

 Christmas 2013

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:11.12


And on the way they came upon the “apartheid wall”.

Dumbfounded they asked Samir who was weeping nearby in his destroyed olive grove.

“See for yourselves,” he said through his tears, ”twice as high as the Berlin wall, criss crossing Palestine, 4000 miles of concrete hatred.

It rips neighbourhoods, isolates us from friends and family, steals productive farmland and water supplies—all illegal under international law.

We are imprisoned in ghettoes much like Lodz, Lublin and Vilna were in the Shoah.

Settlers from Russia and America are connected by “Jews only” roads, free to travel to loved ones—1660 kms. Such a democracy!

Our holy city Al Quds is encircled by this monster squeezing us into 5 ghettoes.”

Repression continues. Herod has not died. But the baby lives and his Spirit surely will cut through this wall.

Awake, it’s Advent

December 17, 2013




Our magnificent daily, The Toronto Star  still suffused with the principles of its Methodist  founder Joe Atkinson (comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable) is constant its defense of the common good. It resists the dismantling of the commons by stealth of the Harper government, as mean-spirited aggregation we have ever seen.

There is a columnist Carole Goar who is a national treasure. She sees society from the bottom up.

This is from her Dec.12 column

In the final hours before Parliament adjourned for its eight-week Christmas recess, James Rajotte , chair of the finance committee, quietly tabled Income Equality in Canada: An Overview.

 A quick glance at the 69-page report shows why the Conservative MP waited until the last possible moment to release it, precluding parliamentary debate and minimizing public attention.

It is a pathetic piece of work. It heaps praise on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his regressive policies. It says nothing about lifting low-income Canadians out of poverty, nothing about tackling the desperate shortage of affordable housing in the country, nothing about increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit, nothing about improving public pensions and nothing about shoring up the country’s deteriorating social programs. 

The Canadian Catholic Bishops should put her columns on their website.

But I digress.

I try to take the Advent advice seriously. Awake, look around, shake yourself from your slumber.

On one side we are called to “pay attention”. See what PM Harper and his gang is doing. The values of the kingdom challenge me to denounce such terrible policies and to act to change them. My politics are never contained in any one party. The politics of the kingdom  or God’s holy commonwealth informs my electoral politics. I will never find the perfect party so I must come to terms with the human condition and support the one which most embodies the gospel values I hold dear. Needless to say the Harperites fail calamitously here. Their disregard for the poor and their horrible violation of the earth put them beyond the pale.

But denunciation  is just a part of my choice. I must have an annunciation. Where is the good new in my daily life which i must celebrate , champion and sing about.

The second Sunday of Advent, Jesus’ favourite prophet Isaiah reminds  with righteousness he will judge the needy,with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” Hence Carole Goar.

Ah but on the Third Sunday, the gospel announces,” Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matt.11:4,5)

Look around and see the miracles of human compassion, solidarity, human concern.

Peter Mayer’s contemporary hymn  Everything is Holy

Read a questioning child’s face

And say it’s not a testament

That’d be very hard to say

See another new morning come

And say it’s not a sacrament

 On the way into the coffee shop outside  the daycare I laughed as a 2 year old, his father watching in bemusement, stomped with glee through the snow.

And last week getting off the Go Train at night I fell and scraped my knee and hand. I heard, a voice behind me ”Are you alright, sir”, I looked up from the ground and saw a young man rush toward me. I am still living in the glow of that solicitousness. A pure sacramental moment.

Everything is holy now.

Gaudete, rejoice!

Advent: Wake up!

December 15, 2013


Our Advent liturgy committee met as it does every year to plan the four weeks of Advent, always a favourite period of mine. The church calendar invites to go deeper, take time,to leave behind the mad rush of the Christmas steeplechase which surrounds us at this time of the year.

We look at the readings. What do they say to us today in this big city?

This year i suggested that we might look at the theme of looking around us. It  leapt out at me in the first gospel of advent Matthew 24:37-44).

“Keep awake”, the master says,”You must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”


We just need  better vision, new eyes to understand and see this. They are common, everyday occurrences.

Do you know the contemporary hymn Everything is Holy? Nobody did but after we swapped emails on the community chat line and people heard it, they all warmed to it. It is by Peter Mayer. Here’s the first verse

When I was a boy, each week

On Sunday, we would go to church

And pay attention to the priest

He would read the holy word

And consecrate the holy bread

And everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is holy now

Everything, everything

Everything is holy now

Another verse:

When holy water was rare at best

It barely wet my fingertips

But now I have to hold my breath

Like I’m swimming in a sea of it

It used to be a world half there

Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down

But I walk it with a reverent air

‘Cause everything is holy now

Everything, every thing

Everything is holy now

And Brian our masterful musician learned it quickly.

I remember Teilhard saying years ago: To those with eyes to see nothing is profane.

An example next posting


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