Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Another Jewish Jew: Gershom Gorenberg

March 20, 2017


Gershom Gorenberg is another “Jewish Jew” who takes the Torah seriously, struggles to live his Orthodox faith, battles with Torah and writes books and articles on what he sees in his country, Israel. As another Jew of conscience, he is not impressed by what he sees.


In an Haaretz article “We Can’t End the Desecration of Judaism Without Ending the Occupation (Dec.30, 2015) he wrote:

“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.”

He runs through Israel’s history “and shows how the state provided the conditions for a marginal religious stream to grow, and for part of it to become dangerously radical.”
This is his latest article from the Moment magazine:

My wife recently sent me an email with the subject line “Sodom.” It linked to a news report headlined, “Serbian police: You are not allowed to feed the refugees!”

Let’s take note: Sodom’s failure wasn’t just a lack of giving by individuals. The city, as a polity, rejected responsibility.
The same section of Genesis describes the polar opposite of Sodom: Abraham, who sees strangers and runs to offer them shelter and food. After this, God gives the reason Abraham will become a great nation: “He will instruct his children and his house after him to keep the Lord’s way, to do justice….”

In short, the Torah says that the collective known as the Jews is called into being for the sake of justice. All the commandments given later are vital, but they rest on this. And one facet of justice is a society’s shared obligation to help people from outside that society.

That news item from Serbia, by the way, was dated January 17—before a new regime tried to close America’s doors completely to refugees. But the refugee crisis didn’t begin with Donald Trump. America has taken only a few thousand Syrian refugees a year, out of millions. Many Europeans would like to avoid the wave of refugees by keeping them in Turkey.

Israel, where I live, has evaded its responsibility under the 1951 Refugee Convention to give asylum to Eritrean and Sudanese refugees who have crossed the Sinai seeking safety. Just as scandalous, rabbis and religious political leaders have either ignored the issue or supported anti-refugee measures.

Instead, the Jewish Home party, the supposed home of religious Zionism, devoted its energy to passing a different insult to morality, the so-called Regularization Law. The law allows the state to confiscate private Palestinian land in the West Bank on which settlers have built homes. It turns land theft by individuals into theft by the state.
Around the time the bill first came up in the Knesset, the 929 project reached the Book of Hosea. The project, created by Rabbi Benny Lau, encourages Israeli Jews—religious, secular and in-between—to read the same five chapters of the Bible each week and meet to discuss them. A friend who’s taking part pointed out to me Hosea’s ancient protest: “The leaders of Judah have become like the movers of field boundaries”—that is, people who steal others’ farmland by moving markers.

Religious settlers and their backup band of rabbis would deny that this verse applies to them. Some have told me explicitly: The land is all ours, because God promised it to us.

But this argument flies in the face of another midrash, also quoted by Rashi—one so basic that any religious Jew should have learned it by third grade. It provides an explanation for the dispute between the herdsmen of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot in Genesis 14: Lot’s men, says the midrash, grazed their animals in other people’s fields. Abraham’s men objected. Lot’s men said that God had given the land to Abraham and that Lot was his heir, so the pastures already belonged to Lot. Abraham’s men answered, “What, is theft now permitted?!”



Which is to say: The promise of the land doesn’t abrogate the normal demands of justice. Rather, the promise of the land rests on justice. The land is supposed to be a means for creating a just society.

In both Israel and the diaspora, the perception is that there’s an inverse relation between halachic observance and concern for human rights. Statistically, to my great sorrow, the perception seems correct. But religiously, it has no basis. The difference between Sodom and Abraham is justice. Justice is the foundation of Judaism.

And justice is absolutely a matter of politics.

Peter Beinart a “Jewish Jew”

March 17, 2017

This is the first article on real “Jewish Jews” as I style them in my upcoming book.They are Jews who are deadly serious about the ethical implications of their faith. They are coming to terms with the radical deficiencies of Zionism—out of their faith.The Covenant simply can not coexist with occupation .If it does you are now with Pharaoh.

I quite like Peter Beinart, contributing editor at the Atlantic who writes regularly for the New Yorker and  also pops up regularly  in Haaretz. Beinart is a liberal Zionist and a very thoughtful serious Jew.


Recently (Jan 31)in the Jewish daily  the Forward  he challenged the orthodox Judaism of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

He thinks out loud as he reads his Torah portion:

Why must the Jews leave, become slaves in Egypt, wander through the wilderness, and fight their way back to the place where, at the end of Genesis, they already reside? Why the big detour?

Obviously, there are many answers. It is in Egypt that Jews evolve from a family into a nation. It is in Egypt that God displays to that nation his awesome power. It is in the wilderness that God gives the Torah.

But in their Haggadah, “Go Forth and Learn,” Rabbi David Silber and Rachel Furst offer another reason. They suggest that “one purpose of the Egypt experience was to sensitize the People of Israel to the suffering of others, to teach them what it means to be alienated and oppressed, so that when they set up their own society, they will be sure not to impose such suffering on others.”

Slavery, in other words, was meant to ensure that Jews would remember powerlessness once they gained power. Jared Kushner is what happens when that memory fails.

He then described the privileged affluent life of Kushner simply saying

In remarkable ways, modern Jewish history echoes the passage from powerlessness to power that begins in the Book of Exodus. Therefore, the challenge for Jared Kushner, and everyone in our extraordinarily privileged generation, is to remember our ancestors’ suffering and honor their memories by defending the weak, vulnerable and oppressed today.

Now that’s real Judaism!
How could Kushner — a Modern Orthodox golden boy — fail to internalize that? How could he invite Donald Trump’s Cabinet to his house for Shabbat dinner only hours after his father-in-law’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States? How could he pose in a tuxedo alongside his wife, Ivanka Trump, on Saturday night as that executive order wreaked havoc on innocent people’s lives simply because they hailed from the wrong countries?


Kushner’s failure is not his problem alone; it should chill every Modern Orthodox educator, rabbi and parent in the United States. How could the Modern Orthodox community, a community that prides itself on instilling in its children Jewish knowledge and ideals, have failed so profoundly?

The Frisch School, the prestigious New Jersey yeshiva from which Kushner graduated, should conduct the kind of after-action report that the military conducts when its operations go awry. Every synagogue where Kushner prayed regularly should ask itself whether it bears some of the blame for having failed to instill in him the obligations of Jewish memory. Even if it is too late to influence Kushner, Modern Orthodox leaders still can work to ensure that they do not produce more like him in the years to come.

Obviously, not all Modern Orthodox Jews share Kushner’s moral indifference. Last November, the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek organized a remarkable letter condemning “Trump’s hateful rhetoric and intolerant policy proposals.” On Monday, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, a vice president of Yeshiva University, sent out a tweet congratulating the Cardozo Law students who were working to help people hurt by Trump’s ban.

But these are the exception, not the rule. Kushner’s moral failure challenges the Modern Orthodox community — a community for which I have enormous admiration — to ask why it is often more stringent about ritual lapses than it is about ethical ones. Why do many Modern Orthodox Jews shudder at the thought of eating nonkosher cheese, yet proudly support Trump?

Matthew Fox on Paul Ryan

March 15, 2017

There can be no doubt that advanced capitalism has corrupted many North American Catholics. We all have a bit of Egypt in us, some more than others.Jesus was right when he said we could not serve 2 masters and Paul Ryan is a prime example. He has fooled a lot of people advancing his spurious credentials as a serious Catholic and now Matthew Fox has totally undressed him for the fraud that he is. Four years ago many theologians told him in more polite language that he was an empty vessel posing as Vatican ll Catholic. The man seems totally oblivious to the inconsistencies  in his reasoning.Now Fox adds chapter and verse.

Is Ryan a Religious Hypocrite?  
Dear Speaker and Congressman Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul.

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing.  But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul.  It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy.

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are.  Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”  These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever.  Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.


Was it the ridiculous narcissistic writings of atheist Ayn Rand that enticed you to surrender Gospel morality for Mammon? 

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.”  Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Now I want to ask from a spiritual and theological perceptive how you can possibly reconcile these basic teachings of the Gospels with your continued efforts to create budgets for our entire nation that do the following:

1. Threaten to privatize and thereby destroy Social Security for elders and disabled people.

1. Destroy critical health support systems for the sick, handicapped, mentally disabled, and homeless by effectively scuttling Medicare and Medicaid.

a. Dismantle the EPA so that the rest of God’s sacred creation is imperiled by human narcissism (Pope Francis’ words).  Have you not read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si that teaches everyone—believer and non-believer alike—that we humans are not here to destroy but to support creation for the good of all beings on earth now and in the future?  If you have studied this great document—as you must as a thinking believer—where is it to be found in your legislative agenda?

Another Biblical teaching is the warning that we are not to worship idols.  But Wall Street is a purveyor of the idolatry of money.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in that system.  Pope Francis has spoken to that truth also when he speaks of the “savage capitalism” and the “god of money” that dominates so much of decision-making in western culture.

Your naked efforts to give more and more tax breaks to billionaires like your supporters the Koch brothers is proof that you have up to now chosen to be on the side of the savage capitalists and the gods of money.  Have you no shame?  Have you no conscience?  Do your faith and Jesus’ teachings mean nothing to you because you are mesmerized by power and the powerful?  Do you not know—or do you simply not care—that when the uber-rich do not pay their fair share, the struggling poor and middle class must pay from their meager resources to subsidize the rich? And when the uber-rich get still more tax breaks, the poor and middle class are forced to make up the difference?

I am worried about your soul.  It is not too late to repent and start over.  It is time to examine your commitment to the values that drive your heroes the Koch brothers, who want to worship the idols of Wall Street instead of caring for God’s sacred creation, and who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to contribute to the common good.  And who buy the loyalty of politicians like you to commit sins against the poor and creation itself to make their fat wallets even fatter.  Shame on you!

Yours are not the values I learned growing up in Wisconsin (indeed, my godmother lived in your hometown of Janesville) and growing up in the Catholic Church.  How have you wandered so far off track?   (Let me add that I admire many atheists for their ethics and morality but Ayn Rand is not one of them.  Not by a long shot.  She has rendered selfishness a virtue.)

I wish through this letter to awaken your soul.  Your sweet Wisconsin smile and gym-toned body notwithstanding, through your choices you are dancing with Evil.

The gospels teach such truths.  So too does Pope Francis who, as a Roman Catholic, you supposedly respect and listen to.  Have you listened to his warnings and his teachings lately?  Allow me to remind you of some of them.

The Pope minces no words when speaking of the divergence of wealth and poverty today.  He speaks to globalization this way: “The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist…it is not human.  In the end it is a way to enslave the nations.”[i]  Is globalization enslaving the nations?  It seems to me that much of Trump’s success as a candidate was built around this very idea—only his solutions seem to me to be dark indeed.  What is your agenda, Mr. Speaker, about this “inhuman” globalization that is hurting so many citizens of our country and beyond?

Pope Francis says: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor”[ii] and one needs to reject the “wild economic liberalism we see today” and “seek equal opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest, and freedom of unions.” [iii]   Are you on board with this set of values?  Or are you in the camp of “savage capitalism?”  Why do you want to destroy the dignified retirement of American people by diminishing Social Security instead of building it up?  And to destroy social benefits for the very poor and working classes while giving tax gifts to the super rich and corporations?  And to eliminate a current health insurance program that provides assistance for many millions of people instead of improving it?

The Pope praises St. Francis because “he contributed an entire concept of poverty to Christianity against the wealth, pride, and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” and for this reason “he changed history.”[iv]  Are you putting obstacles in the way of the wealth and vanity of the powerful in our day?  Given your responsible position as Speaker of the House, why don’t you try to change history for the poor and neglected instead of for the 1% who are already over their heads in favoritism and success and (too much) power?


The Pope takes on the neocon preoccupation with “world terrorism” and the fear such language arouses when he declares that “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[v]  How important is that?  He equates economic structures with terrorism.  Yes, he is telling us that Wall Street terrorizes.  Ask any Main Street citizen: we all feel the effects of this terror and that is why many in Main Street voted for Trump, out of fear of this terror from Wall Street.  But your buddies the Koch brothers are those very terrorists the Pope is speaking of.  Yes, how does it feel to be in bed with terrorists?  And of course, Trump has turned his back on his promises to the working people and has appointed an unprecedented number of billionaires (terrorists) to head his cabinet positions.
The Pope also denounces the “flight of money to foreign countries” as a sin because it dishonors “the people that worked to generate” that wealth. [vi]  He also condemns those who hide their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid paying taxes that are so important for the common good.  What are you doing to challenge those hiding their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid taxes?  Aren’t you in a powerful position to do something about that?

Pope Francis has said: “The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity.  It is the Gospel itself.”  And he has remarked that were he to preach sermons from the first fathers of the Church on the needs of the poor, he would be called a “Maoist or Trotskyite.”[vii] Are you leading legislation that puts an option for the poor in the forefront?
He says: “Human rights are violated by…unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[viii] Are you on the side of human rights and against economic structures that create huge inequalities?  Or are you on board to actually increase those inequalities by passing legislation that gives tax breaks to the 1% who in fact need them the least?  Pope Francis warns that “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any human goal.”[ix]  Where do you and your fat-cat donors stand on the subject of the “cult of money”?

We need, Pope Francis says, a “balanced social order that is more humane”[x] and that resists consumerism.  Pope Francis says further that “Money has to serve and not rule.”[xi]  It is a “savage capitalism” that teaches “the logic of profit at any cost” and exploitation of people.[xii]  Where do you stand on the topic of “savage capitalism” and the cult of money?  In your very responsible position as Speaker of the House what are you doing to address these important issues—issues that touch all the people in America, especially the downtrodden and left out?  If you had addressed them before the 2016 election, maybe the strongman Trump would not have been able to tap into the frustration of as many blue-collar Americans as he did.

Finally, as a Catholic, where do you stand on the notion that corporations are people (see Citizens United and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions)?  Are you in bed with the neo-fascist Catholic members of the Supreme Court who, contrary to Catholic teachings, are telling us to believe that a corporation is a person?  How could you possibly reconcile that with the teachings of the Church on the immortality of the individual soul and more?  While we are on the subject of neo-fascist Catholics, where do you stand on Opus Dei?

Unfettered capitalism is, according to Pope Francis, a “new tyranny.” [xiii] Where do you stand on this new tyranny?  What limits are you setting on unfettered capitalism by your legislative leadership?  Are you keeping Dodd/Frank laws on the books?  Says the Pope: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”  This “throwaway culture discards young people as well as its older people…..A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.”  A “diminishing of the joy of life” is the result of such idolatry. [xiv]

In his document entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis speaks bluntly as all the prophets do.  He says No—as all the prophets do.  He denounces “trickle-down” economics as “never having been confirmed by the facts” and being built on a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power….Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”[xv]  Where do you stand on trickle-down economics?  Have you learned from its blatant failures?  Are you aware how many Main Street citizens are “still waiting” for good wages and jobs to reach them?

Following are some of Pope Francis’ No’s presented in his own words:
1. 1.  No to an economy of exclusion….An economy of exclusion and inequality kills….Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.[xvi]

1. 2.  No to the new idolatry of money….While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few…..Self-serving tax evasion has taken on worldwide dimensions.  The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits….Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which becomes the only rule.[xvii]

1. 3.  No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.  Ethics is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative.  It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person….Money must serve, not rule!  The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.  I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.[xviii]

1. 4.  No to the inequality which spawns violence.  [Violence happens not] simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.  Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear…..Evil crystallized in unjust social structures…cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.[xix]
And “NO” to the despoiling of Mother Earth about whose peril Pope Francis has written an entire encyclical.  Clearly you have turned your back on the sacredness of the Earth as well: you support for the head of EPA a man who has shouted that he wants to destroy it, while you make ridiculous mumbles about climate change that you are not a scientist.  Well, sir, isn’t that all the more reason to listen to scientists who do tell us that humans are bringing about climate change and the destruction of many, many species as well as the rising of the oceans?  How can one be a Christian and not recognize the sacredness of creation?
Where do you stand, Speaker Ryan, on these issues that the Pope raises?  How are you using your position of power and responsibility to alleviate the ills he addresses?  Isn’t what the Pope says true, that the violence the current system provokes is one reason why many victims of this system voted for Trump—and even admire his violence?  Pope Francis speaks out against an “education that would tranquilize the poor, making them tame and harmless.” [xx] And he defines injustice as “evil.”

I pray that you may be converted and return to the teachings of Christ and the Church striving to teach in his name very soon.  Time is running out for our species and you are in a position of trust and responsibility and leadership in our country at this time.  Earn it!

Meanwhile, until you and your party pay attention at last to these basic issues, I as a Christian priest and theologian can only conclude that you are not at all a Catholic or a Christian but just one more hypocrite flaunting your bogus religion on your sleeve to garner more votes and stay in a cushy job while you sell your soul to the Koch brothers and other Wall Street misers.  People who don’t have a clue about the “weightier matters of the Law—justice, compassion, good faith!” (Mt. 23:23) that Jesus preached, and who could not care less.

Jesus had something to say about that too, remember?  It was strong stuff.  He was speaking to you, Paul Ryan, and your fellow politicians when he said: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.”  (Mt 23.27-28, 31).

I hope and pray that you and your fellow politicians, Mr. Ryan, so beholden to the rich and uber-rich, might heed Jesus’ words.  And if not, at least do him the courtesy of not invoking his name to justify your lawlessness.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

Israel’s history from below

March 14, 2017

Marc Ellis,  Jewish -American theologian makes the point the prophetic is the indigenous of Jewish, originating in the Jewish bible. We think of the neviim, the great prophets who spoke God’s word of justice to the kings and the powerful.The prophetic is Israel’s officialdom has lost its way. The prophetic cannot coexist with occupation or indeed with covenant.So the prophetic migrates. In Israel it moves laterally to secular justice-proclaimers such as Haarertz columnist Gideon Levy.
The former average Tel Aviv Jewish boy Gideon Levy decided to visit the West Bank and see for himself. Like the great Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer he began to see history from the underside.

Levy 30
In his letters from prison before he was executed by the Nazis in April 1945, Bonhoeffer wrote:
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.


Levy unlike most Israelis is not afraid to visit Palestinians and see life from the underside.
He sets the scene here:


We left the house in the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem last week with a malaise I cannot remember feeling for a long time: sadness over a boy’s fate, frustration at my helplessness, and rage at those who had caused him the suffering. Issa al-Mouati – a 14-year-old boy whose right leg was amputated after he was shot by Israeli soldiers in September 2015 – is being held in an Israeli prison. Back in the home of his sick grandmother in the overcrowded refugee camp, his mother Rada told me, with remarkable acceptance, what happened to her son since the soldiers left him permanently crippled.

Then he makes the prophetic links: Israel’s defensive shield of obtuseness, with all the automatic blind justifications for the occupier’s wrongs, could perhaps be cracked only through role reversal. What would have happened if Palestinians had shot a Jewish child? What would have happened if they had arrested a crippled Jewish child? And what would have happened if they had abused a Jewish child whose leg had been amputated? It’s not hard to imagine the outcry that would have arisen from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth – “Jewish blood” – the demand to condemn; Danny Danon in the UN General Assembly; the child’s parents in the VIP gallery, waving for all to see a photograph of the stump. But Issa is Palestinian, and his parents are poor and busy with the grandmother’s illness and making a living more than anything else.

And what happens when an ultra-Orthodox boy or young settler throws stones at soldiers? And perhaps Issa didn’t throw stones – it may yet emerge that he fired at the soldiers with a cannon or a tank. Wait, just wait, for his trial. Everything’s OK, occupier, your conscience is white as snow. It was necessary to shoot Issa; it was necessary to bind the wounded Issa; it was necessary to imprison the crippled Issa. For what choice does Israel have when the Palestinians, in their dastardliness, force it to shoot and imprison young amputees?

The prophetic has migrated.

As a great grassroots Protestant theologian reminded us:

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.

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.