Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

The great Brueggemann

December 13, 2016

Interview with Rev. Walter Brueggemann was part of the online United Church of Canada’s website

Brueggemann is rated the greatest Hebrew scholar of his generation. Alicia von Stamnitz did the interview. This is but a part but required reading for serrious bible thumpers.

Q What is your core message for church leaders today?
A That the public agenda is not an add-on for gospel faith, but it really is the core business of the Gospel. Most of us are hung up on private matters. So we put all of our energy into questions about sexuality and abortion and gays and all that kind of stuff — which is not unimportant, but those are not the core issues of scripture. The core issues of scripture are public, political and economic justice. Justice is central to Jesus’ ministry; it is central to the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament; and it is central to the Torah tradition that lies behind the prophetic tradition. But I think we have learned, for comfort’s sake, to misread the Bible.

Q Can you elaborate on how we misread the Bible?

A Most people think the Bible is about personal happiness, personal well-being, being with God when you die and being privately moral. But that’s not what the Bible is about. The prophets are moral teachers, but what they’re talking about is public morality. You can open the books of the prophets anywhere and you’ll find them talking about widows, orphans, immigrants and poor people. They talk about wages; they talk about unjust scales; they talk about the greed that skews the economy. They say that injustice will lead to destruction — it’s an unavoidable message. So it’s just amazing how, in our habitual reading, we have siphoned off the energy from those accent points into stuff that is less demanding

Yearning for the past

August 8, 2016

In Detroit on the weekend I spent time talking with a lifelong Detroiter near St.Mary’s Catholic Church in Greektown. Old St Mary’s as it is now called is the third oldest Roman Catholic Church in Detroit and the first German Church. Many parishes in American cities I have visited are ethnically based. Many Germans came to Detroit before the Civil War and in 1841 the first St.Mary’s was built. Detroit was then an ooutpost, the beginning of the Midwest and its population was but 5,000. In 1884 the origianl was replaced by a lovely Victorian Gothic structure.

The original school staffed by Christian brothers in 1855 stands across the road—ready for development! and the vultures have moved in, probably condos near downtown.

The gentleman laughed when I asked him about the parish run by the Spiritan order.

“Well, nobody lives here in Greektown but they come in freom the burbs and  pack the place on Sundays—for the Latin mass and boy they do not like this pope,”,he laughed.

The parish is replete with nuns in traditional garb, eucharistic adoration and the Tridentine mass.


More Catholics yearning for the past, freezing a moment in time as “The Tradition.” Very sad indeed.

Scripture has a great story at people who look over their shoulder instead of the onrush of the future and the Spirit’s presence there.

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. Gen.19:26

My old prof Mcluhan used to say,” It’s great to have a rear view mirror but you’ll miss what’s ahead of you.”

Theologian Jarosalv Pelikan has a nice distinction between tradition and traditionalism.

Tradition is the living spirit of the dead.Traditionalism is the dead spirit of the living.

Here in the Tridentime mass and in all nostalgia movements which sacralize the past you create the past; you have the external structures which never by themselves give life—but the living spirit has fled.

Sounds like old St Mary’s.

The Spiritans are like many religious orders. Many who embrace the living Spirit and some still mired in a long gone past.


Wing On, brother Don

June 6, 2016


Remarks at Don Francks memorial Bloor Theatre June 6, 2016

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen.Welcome to George’s Spaghetti House. I am here representing the birds, the fish, the winged one and the finned ones. They couldn’t be here but if they were, boy would they be pissed off..

Don Francks intro at George’s Spaghetti House 1982
As Roman Catholic teacher and former editor of the premier social justice paper the Catholic New Times I wish to speak of Don in theological terms. This may surprise many. But I had enough conversations with this “earthling” to contextualize him, to see him in a different light than actor, singer, poet and raconteur. The ultimate hipster, I knew was all of these to be sure, but he also a nature mystic, an earthling as he loved to describe himself.


Donny was a man of the humus, the Latin word for earth, and oddly enough the root of the word “humility”. One who is deeply grounded; one who saw himself as simply a part of the community which of course included the non-human community—the four legged ones, winged ones and the finned ones. How often I heard him speak like this from so many stages.


And Don was humble enough to hear from me that Catholicism was not essentially dogmatic but sacramental.The holy was carried thru all things—other people, movements, nature..There is no Holy Land; all lands are holy, there are no chosen people, all are sacred ikons.


In 1979 he was among the first to join Greenpeace in alerting the world to environmental degradation. His jazz singing and nightclub performances would never be the same.The dominant thread in our multi-talented troubadour was his radical concern for the planet. His vocation was to proclaim the oneness of creation as a fellow “earthling.” He had found his “faith.” His pulpit was the performing arts. It was his way to illuminate the questions of the late twentieth century. As a performer he simply refused to pursue a “career” while he perceived the planet to be burning down. He become an eloquent pursuer of social justice. As a singer, jazz and commitment to the planet were fused.

One night in 1982 as the Cruise Missile was being tested in Canada I approached him at George’s with some obscene statistics. His opening line to the assembled music fans was, “My friend Ted Schmidt just told me the US is now spending $1 million a minute on the arms race.” Don took a deep breath and said, “there’s only one thing to say about that FUUUUUUck.’


Then half way thru the set he aid, ”Please synchronize your watches. It is 9:42. At exactly 10 PM a cruise missile will be coming thru the front door. But don’t anybody get upset. It will leave by the back door.”
25 years ago I interviewed Don for the Catholic New Times. On the margins of Catholicism we understood that the emerging myth of the 21st century that is at the heart of theology and the spiritual renaissance of our time is the notion of ecology. I told Donny that what he had been saying for decades was being reprised by the great Catholic prophet of the environment, ecologian Fr Tom Berry:


The earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived. If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves.

Don did not say, “it’s about time.” No, his basic humility kicked in ”I am so glad,” he told me, “I really am. I know Tedro, you have beliefs which are very dear to you—some are imposed, some were given at birth.There are some books which are precious to you, traditions as well. I hope that maybe all of these things are appreciated by all of the trees, the birds and by all of the planets. All I have tried to do was to get to something beyond argument-a glass of water, a leaf growing in the wind. Get back to basics, universal truths. All of the world’s children should be able to meet and say: No pollution. Clean it up. Salvation for the animals and all living things. Have no more war—that’s another pollution. And no hunger.”

i believe Don was baptized early by Mother Nature in the wild and beautiful hills above Burnaby, BC. He never lost his connection with the ecological commonwealth. Don as you know often walked barefoot. The reason was simple. He was tethered to his Mother.

When I retired from teaching 20 years ago Don appeared—barefoot of course, wearing his Free Tibet tee shirt. Now the teaching community is pretty square and many wondered who this wild man was when they entered Villa Colombo that night.

Well I was a religion teacher in the Catholic school system so I had Don lay Lord Buckley’s classic riff on the Man from Nazareth called simply “The Nazz”


Well I’m gonna put a cat on you was the sweetest, gonest, wailingest cat that ever stomped on this sweet swingin’ sphere. And they called this here cat…The Nazz. That was the cat’s name.

So The Nazz and his buddies was goofin’ off down the boulevard one day and they run into a little cat wit’ a bent frame. So The Nazz look at this little cat with the bent frame and he say “What’s the matter wit’ you, baby?” And the little cat with the bent frame, he say “Well, my frame is bent, Nazz- it’s been bent from in front.”

So The Nazz look at the little cat with the bent frame and he put the golden eyes of love on this here little kiddie and he looked right down into the windows of his soul and he say to the little cat, he say “Straighten!” The cat went up straighter’n an arrow and everyone jumpin’ up and down and sayin’ “Look what The Nazz put on that boy! You dug him before – dig him now!”
Club owners thought Don preached too much. I who saw him perform probably more often than anyone but Steve, think not. To me he was a holy wayfarer, gifted with radical amazement at the fact that he was still here. I sensed only a pilgrim profoundly touched at the sacred communion of saints which put him back together again and again. “You know I have been saved so many times. You know this by looking at me,” he once told me.


I never heard the voice of a celebrity , but of a gracious companion for the journey, a dreamspeaker who imaged the future.



In the words of that Chinese funeral home on Spadina Avenue which we used to chuckle about, Wing On, brother Don wherever you are.

Chief Rabbi strikes out

May 23, 2016

Once the UK had chief rabbis with some deep learning and credibility. Immanuel Jakobovits and Jonathan Sacks come to mind. The present one is a dud.



Robert Cohen a British blogger pointed out how the mighty have fallen by quoting this nonsense from an article Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis penned in London’s Daily Telegraph.Zionism inter alia is :
“…a noble and integral part of Judaism”.
“…one of the axioms of Jewish belief”.
“…one can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.”
Zionism was such a minor part of the Jewish community until the Nazi holocaust. The early 20th century rabbinate excoriated it, saw through it as a mortal threat to Judaism. Once you sacralized land and then a state you would do anything to preserve it. We have seen the result.
In 1900 Palestine had a traditional Jewish community , the yishuv, which comprised but 5% of present day Israel. In time, Zionism a secular colonial movement with largely atheist leaders stole the land from the indigenous Palestinians.
In 1948 the Nakba occurred.
The displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their land. The 400 Palestinian towns and villages destroyed. The four million acres of Palestinian land expropriated. The many massacres of men women and children.


Mmmm was this a part of Judaic legacy? according to the rabbi, it was kosher.
Cohen writes
For you, Zionism and its achievements are a matter of pride, a modern Jewish miracle. And those that criticize Zionism must be antisemitic.

Cohen ends up writing what many orthodox Jews of conscience are maintaining
And as the Nakba continues to this day so too does the corruption inside the soul of Judaism….After atrocity can the soul of Judaism be rescued?

One Israeli orthodox writer Gershom Gorenberg wrote Dec. 30, 2015 :
One implication of this history is that the occupation has not only corrupted the State of Israel, it has corrupted Judaism. It has become a constant defamation of God’s good name.
I wonder what the chief rabbi would say to this.

The prophetic American Council for Judaism

March 11, 2016

In 1897 when Zionism began, Jews were less than 5% of the total population.

In 1917 the Balfour Declaration stated  it” being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,  or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Well the “existing non-Jewish communities” were the largely Muslim majority Palestinians

In 1946 Palestinians were still 67% of the population.

In late 1947 the Nakba began the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians.

On a radio show (Nov.8, 1945) the pre-eminent Zionist rabbi Stephen Wise  insisted that “the Jewish state would be founded on justice. There will be no injustice to any man or to any nation. it would not be a Jewish  state if the Jewish state rested upon injustice.”

Wise then reprised the Deuteronomic (16:20) insistence that “Tzedek ,tzedek, tirfdof” — Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue. We want to do injustice neither to a single Arab nor to the Arab people.”

It is a shame that Stephen Wise is not around to see how “the Jewish” has been suborned by “the Zionist.”

Now a Pew Research poll indicates that in the democratic state of Israel 79% believe the state should give preferential treatment to Jews. And all those Trump supporters are secretly pining that in the “indispensable nation”, the USA should give preferential treatment to white Anglo-Saxons.

Here’s how the brilliant Brazilian cartyoonist Latuff sees the present moment:


Democracies privilege no special groups.

This was early on recognized by the American Council For Judaism (ACJ) who fought a losing battle for the hearts and minds of the Jewish people in the 40s.The Nazi genocide and its emotional impact led to thinking which has proved disastrous to the Middle East, international relations and indeed to Judaism itself. Christianity especially in Germany has yet to shed itself of holocaust guilt and the irrational fear of criticizing the Zionist state. This has been cynically played by Jewish propagandists here and abroad.

Anti z

In a letter to the weak US president Harry Truman (Dec.4, 1945) the ACJ categorically rejected the creation of a Jewish state and it made made these ominous predictions:

+It would foster racial, religious and nationalistic divisions..and lead to civil war and international involvement.

+Such a pledge would imply “artificially raising one element of the Palestinian population (Jews) now a minority to the status of majority and postponing the establishment of a democratic state in the country pending the transformation of of the Jewish minority into a majority.”

+ It rejected a state built on racial or religious foundations.

+ It would create problems for Jews outside the state “a state which they are not now and never will be citizens
+rejected a bi-national state granting official recognition and sanction to the development of separate nationalities in Palestine, instead of encouraging a Palestinian nationality, promoted discord and made conflict inevitable.

All this time the ACJ was highly sensitive to admitting DPs not only into Palestine but into all countries.

The ACJ asked for “a new policy based on justice, workability and peace.” Instead it got the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and constant warfare in the Middle East.

United Church of Christ speaks truth to Israeli power

July 1, 2015


The United Church of Christ Palestine-Israel Network sent out the following press release:

The United Church of Christ Palestine-Israel Network (UCC PIN) is pleased to announce that today the plenary of the 30th General Synod taking place in Cleveland passed Resolution #4, calling for boycotts and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

“As disciples of Jesus, we hear and seek to heed his call to be peacemakers, responding to violence with nonviolence and extending love to all,” said Rev. John Deckenback, Conference Minister of the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC, which submitted the resolution to the synod. “It is in that spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a desire to support Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for freedom, that the United Church of Christ has passed this resolution.”

“In approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality,” said Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Christian Palestinian and Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, who traveled to Cleveland for the synod. “For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel, enduring the destruction of their homes and businesses, the theft of their land for settlements, and living under blockade and siege in Gaza, this action sends a strong signal that they are not alone, and that there are churches who still dare to speak truth to power and stand with the oppressed.”

The vote, which was 508 in favor, 124 against, with 38 abstentions, was the culmination of a process that began in 2005 to end the Church’s complicity in Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation and other abuses of Palestinian human rights. It also comes as a response to the Christian Palestinian community’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, as embodied in the Kairos Palestine document, which seeks to achieve Palestinian freedom and rights using peaceful means, inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid movements.
In passing Resolution #4, the UCC is following in the footsteps of sister mainline churches like the Presbyterian Church (USA), which passed a similar resolution last year divesting from Israel’s occupation, and the United Methodists, who voted to boycott products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and whose pension board divested from G4S, a prison service company, due in part to its dealings with the Israeli military.

UCC PIN expresses its gratitude to synod delegates, who faithfully carried out their duties in a thoughtful and responsible manner, giving the proposal the careful deliberation it deserved. UCC PIN also expresses its gratitude to our many allies, including those in the Jewish and Palestinian communities, for their indispensable and cherished support.

UCC PIN hopes that this modest initiative will help encourage the Israeli government to end the occupation, and looks forward to working in covenantal relationship with the UCC Pension Boards and the UCC Funds to implement this resolution moving forward.

Rabbis’ righteous anger

February 12, 2015


Over 500 rabbis from Israel, Britain, the US and Canada have called on the Israeli prime minister to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) say Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance is against “international law and Jewish tradition.”
Jewish tradition has taken quite a beating in the last 20 years.
Many years ago Alexander Schindler,the head of Reform Jewry in the US warned his co-religionists “We do ourselves irreparable harm when we make Israel our surrogate synagogue.”
If you go into a synagogue and see an Israeli flag at the front, most likely idolatry is being peddled.
The disgusting house demolitions are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the utter cruelty of the Jewish state.
it is hopeful to see so many rabbis speaking up like this.
Sadly, most are too terrified of disturbing their congregations—even if it is about such blatant discrimination.
RHR’s open letter came after the Israeli PM announced the destruction of over 400 Palestinian homes in the Israel-controlled part of the West Bank, the territory known as Area C.
“Thousands have been forced to build without permits, and great human suffering is caused when hundreds of homes are demolished each year in Area C alone,” RHR stated in their letter, adding that Israeli planning and zoning laws “severely restrict the ability of Palestinians to build homes, even on the lands that the State recognizes as belonging to them.

According to the rabbis, there has been “no representation or true ability for Palestinians to determine how to properly plan for their communities since local and district planning committees were abolished in 1971. The army plans for them.”
In late January, the United Nations accused Israel of illegally demolishing the homes of 77 Palestinians, including many children, in East Jerusalem and the districts of Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron
“Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension. They must stop immediately,” the OCHA said.
According to the UN office, during 2014 Israel carried out a record number of demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C.
“The Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people — the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008.”
While Israel insists demolitions are carried out because homes are being built without construction permits, the UN’s OCHA says the planning policies applied by Israeli authorities in Area C and East Jerusalem “discriminate against Palestinians.”
Palestinians are trapped in a vicious circle, where they build without permits to later have their homes razed to the ground.
“Palestinians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met,” the OCHA said.

Demon possession and its antidote

February 9, 2015


A condo on Bathurst Street, the former  site of St.Peter’s Catholic elementary school.

Sunday’s gospel reading was about healing.
Demons appear inside people. And right at the start of the earliest gospel, Mark. This is a great insight. And it occurs right off the bat in our Holy Story.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.

The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Exorcism. What to make of such a strange worldview?
Certainly people living under such hardship and occupation by Rome and a corrupt temple leadership had internalized deep fear. Many were “possessed’ and in need of healing.
Yes, possession still occurs when people internalize the superficial values of a culture, the unrealistic expectations,the dreams of shallow success and excess just around the corner for you.Those values are near epidemic in our consumer culture. One needs a deeper grounding to avoid “possession.”

How does one escape these demons?
First of all, there have always been “exorcists’ in our community, beautiful people whose elan vital, compassionate care and sheer joy of living have kept demons way on the periphery.These largely heroic yet unacknowledged shamans exist in every society.Many have been in the “healing” professions, social workers, teachers. therapists, health care people,youth workers, the church etc. They are not famous.They have been taken for granted by and large.But without them, society would disintegrate still further.
So on Sunday in my boyhood parish I prayed in gratitude for the presence in my life of two people who “worked” in a ramshackle downtown Catholic school, St.Peter’s just south of the church. Their names are Mary Sheehan and Sr.Mary of the Cross. I say “are” because they are still “with” me and hundreds of others.

Where these great women wove their healing magic now stands a very pricey condo. But people should know that there were such anonymous saints among us.They turned bricks and mortar into holy ground.These humble women would be the first to deny any great hymns of praise. They were just living out their faith.
The divine presence is still with us. Sacred ambassadors still walk humbly among us as a conduit to the holy.

We either advance or retard redemption in our daily lives.

Snapshots from Palestine: Elias Chacour

November 17, 2014


This is the first snapshot from Israel/Palestine. In no particular order, they give you a glimpse of life under occupation.

We set out early on Wednesday from the Mount of Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee to visit Elias Chacour, the recently retired Archbishop of Akko, Haifa and Allo of Galilee in the Greek Catholic Melkite Church. Abuna Chacour had agreed to meet with us in Ibillin at the marvellous educational complex, begun by him in 1983. It now includes a co-educational kindergarten, primary school, high school and gifted program for Christian, Moslem and Druze students of the area. As we walked through the facility built on the hill overlooking the town, the energy and discipline of the young Palestinians was apparent to all. Chacour met with us in a large classroom lined with a pictorial description of the development of Mar Elias which had been constructed, as are most buildings owned by non-Jews, without a permit, that is, against the directives of the Israeli government.
Abuna Chacour began by drawing us out: What had we learned during our visit to his country? He listened intently and reminded us that a journalist who has spent one day in Palestine can write a book, a journalist who has spent a month can write an article and one who has spent a year there will see such complexity that she may not be able to write at all.  (Regardless, we blog on.)  Chacour then went on to briefly describe the details of his life as a Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli who had been born in 1939 into a large Christian family that, prior to the Nakba, lived in peace with other Jews and Moslems in Galilee.  In 1948, when the Zionists drove them from their village, the devout Chacour family became refugees in their own land. The youngest of four boys, Elias was encouraged by his father to accept the call to the priesthood.  After university, he studied theology at St. Sulpice Seminary in Paris. Returning to Israel in 1965, he was ordained a priest and assigned to the small village of Ibillin that became his parish and the focus of his educational activism for the next 50 years.
Abuna Chacour regaled us with the story about the “illegal” construction of his high school in the early 80s.  Every time the Israeli authorities showed up to see if he had a building permit he told them that he needed a building not a permit. As soon as they left, the work recommenced. He would not let the refusal to provide a permit to slow down the construction of the building. However, when he realized that the project was in jeopardy of becoming caught up in political conflict and red tape, he flew to Washington in 1981 to seek assistance from then Secretary of State James Baker. He landed unannounced at the side door of the Baker residence as the Secretary’s wife was beginning a Bible Study session on the Beatitudes. When she opened the door, Chacour introduced himself as “another man from Galilee.” When she asked if he had an appointment, Father Chacour quipped, “Appointment? We men from Galilee don’t make appointments. We make appearances.”  She invited him in and he explained to the group of Washington wives that the Christian Beatitudes are not “Be Happy Attitudes.”  They are a call to conversion and to peace making. Abuna Chacour became a close friend of the Susan and James Baker.  On his next Middle Eastern diplomatic mission, Baker quietly intervened by hand-delivering a letter to the Israeli government supporting the initiatives of the Mar Elias Educational Institution.  The necessary permits were granted.  No school demolition need be feared.

As we listened through tears of laughter and sadness to Elias Chacour, we realized that we were in the presence of a true peacemaker but we did not realize that he would be commissioning us to become the same in the service of the Palestinians whose sufferings we had been witnessing for the last two weeks.  As he has told others in the past, he told us to take the side of the Palestinians but he gave us this last bit of advice:  “If taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.”

Disneyworld Tours alive in Israel/Palestine

November 15, 2014


We just returned from a two week sojourn to Israel/Palestine.
We visited people and places the ordinary “pilgrimages” never dare to go.


Most of these church tours are considered Disneyworld events or as some call them “fluff tours.”They miss the many splendored thing, the Holy Spirit of resistance in the beleaguered Palestinian people. These tours are in a word,disgraceful.They reflect an inanimate or dead theology, one which substitutes the holy places for the holy people,the ongoing incarnation of Christ exactly where Jesus told he would be found: in the crucified lives of the poor of Palestine.This is the true locus of divine revelation. These people are living under a similar occupation to that which Jesus endured.
Some people in our pilgrimage got very depressed watching these “spiritual”tours which manage to bypass the human in favour of stones,caves and churches.As Abuna(Archbishop) Elias Chacour says these are not the true terra sancta.The lifeless antiquities which may or may not have some connection with Jesus sadly have pride of place over the suffering occupied lives of Palestinians. Most of these pilgrims one should assume are good people but sadly led by “blind guides” promoters of a moribund theology which evades history.
These nostalgia tours are rooted in the past.They have little contemporary spiritual relevance. Their avoidance of a people so desperately needing solidarity plays into the hands of the occupying power and simply extends the long suffering of the people of Palestine.