All posts by bartbrenner@gmail.com

A Holy Land Journal: “Jordan River”

“Jordan River”

The water was flowing abundantly …

RAIN falling gently from heaven, even as God’s grace falls upon us,
RIVER flowing mightily from the Galilee, offering its life to the world around it,
TEARS streaming from eyes of Pilgrims, renewed in faith, touched deeply within.

There was a gentle irony almost Semitic in nature as we held unbrellas over the head of the Pilgrim who was renewing her baptismal vows.

Were we protecting her from the rain? or was it
from the deep chaotic waters of creation that are “without form and void.” We hear the echoes of our ancestors whispering within: “See God and die!”

Does the rain baptize with less efficacy than the river? Is God’s life-giving rain less significant than the waters of the Jordan? And what about the tears? Can we be baptized by the briny water of our tears? or of Christ’s tears?

Waters upon waters
experience upon experience
grace upon grace

and a river runs through it!

A Holy Land Journal: “Capernaum—Village of Compassion”

“Capernaum—Village of Compassion”

In the mist of the late afternoon

A rainbow placed its foot on the ancient village
that we now call Capernaum…
Kephar Nahum …
the village of Nahum

the village of Compassion.

God placed the foot of another rainbow on Kephar Nahum

so many years ago
for it was there that Jesus centered
his teaching ministry in the Galilee.

Rainbow over the Galilee
Sign of the Covenant
God’s promise of Compassion
Pointing toward Life
Touching down at Kephar Nahum
Village of Compassion.

Jesus Christ

Embodiment of Covenant
Incarnation of God’s promise

the Way, the Truth, and the Life
Teaching from Kephar Nahum
Village of Compassion.

 

And all is connected for this Pilgrim through the prismatic effect of rainbows gently touching the soil of our lives.

A Holy Land Journal: “Kinneret”

“Kinneret”

Kinneret
Sea? Lake?
Most Holy Font!
Setting for Jesus’ Ministry
Teaching

To stand at the bow of a boat on the Sea of Galilee
as many of the early disciples must have stood
              rain blowing in my face …
              mist too heavy to see much but the shadowy gray of the surrounding mountains …
              cold wind cutting to the quick …
              sounds of conversation from another boat …
              a piper on the hills along the shore …
              the chanting of the seagulls …

              the lapping of the waters on the boat …
             all break the reverie of early morning.

If you listen carefully in the silence
       you can almost hear
              the echoes of fishermen long past
                      Peter
                      Andrew
                      James
                      John
                      …
Listen yet more carefully and you might hear
       reflected from the surrounding hills 
             the echoes of a preacher,
              whose followers called him
                      Tzaddik (Righteous One) and
                      Rabbi (Teacher).
His voice yet hovers over the waters
       and hovers within my heart.

Lake mist, mountain fog …

    and it all begins to emerge more clearly
Yes! the Gospel is written in words on paper.
       But even more, He is inscribed on
              the waters of Lake Kinneret, and on

       the Plains of Bethsaida & Genneseret, and on
               hillsides and mountains …
       The Fifth Gospel the Galilee.

And, of course,
The Sixth Gospel …
       written on the hearts of
              the irascible fisherman named Peter,
              the tentmaker named Paul,
       the friar named Francis,

       the civil rights leader named Martin,
              the Presbyterian pastor named Bart,
       and generations more

    and generations yet to come.

And the writing began in a village named Compassion!

A Holy Land Journal: “Via Dolorosa”

“Via Dolorosa”

Today I walked the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrows, with a brave pilgrim

Dotty had broken her foot before the tour began. She walked every step of the way in pain … over cobblestones, up hills, down hills, all along the winding and tortuous way.

We got to Calvary — steep steps to where the top of Calvary resides under the facade of a Chapel.

“Do you want to climb these stairs?” I asked.
“I’ve come this far, I dare not miss it!” she would say. And on we would go.

So we climbed Calvary. There were tears in her eyes as she came down. These were not the tears of pain (though her foot must have ached something fierce), but the tears of gratitude and the tears of faith.

Earlier I had told Elaine that I was not sure why I had come on this trip to the Holy Land. I was just going to have to discover it, along the way. As I was escorting Dotty along the Via Dolorosa, Elaine came and said to me, “Maybe this is why you came.”

Again it is reaffirmed what God has in store for me is to be a Guide for Pilgrims. No! not a tour guide for the Holy Land, but a Guide for those who journey in faith, for those whose journey takes them inward even when their journey is in Jerusalem.

It was touching when we came to that narrow twisting turn in the road where Simon Cyrene was supposed to have taken the cross. Abed, our guide, mentioned that Simon was probably a Black man. Dotty, who was aware of the differing schools of thought regarding Simon’s skin color, exclaimed: “Oh, So he was Black after all!” and her heart was touched. (Oh yes, Dotty is a Black woman.)

The Via Dolorosa was a long way, but the path was relatively easy to traverse (that is, for those of us with two good feet) especially since we hadn’t been scourged and we didn’t have to carry a heavy wooden crosspiece.

As the group walked along, and as I helped Dotty, I remembered my trip to St. Meinrad’s Abbey. I discovered an old, abandoned Stations of the Cross. Before I realized what the stelae were, I have gone to 3 or 4 of them. And I had started at the end and continued moving toward the beginning. I remember the feeling and the thought that I had
undone the Crucifixion, and now it was time for me to do it again on my own. (Maybe the more theologically appropriate way of saying that would be: to make the Crucifixion my own.)

Today, as I walked with Dotty and sensed some of her deep faith being renewed, I know something more of what it means to make the Crucifixion my own. Dotty’s tears and Christ’s tears mixed with each other (and with the tears of countless numbers of Pilgrims who have walked the Via Dolorosa over the years) and those tears sanctified both the day and the Way.

“Forgetfulness leads to exile,
    while remembrance is the scent of Redemption.”
       – Baal Shem Tov

The confirmation for all this came as we stood atop the Coptic monastery, looking at the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I looked up …

I had encountered her before…

in prayer and meditation,

She had perched on my shoulder,
and winked (as if in confirmation)
at my installation as LPC’s pastor.

And now she was back
A pure white dove …
hovering at the Dome
hovering over Calvary
hovering over the table of preparation
hovering over the Holy Sepulchre
hovering over the end of the Via Dolorosa…
a sign of the Presence of God,
a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit,
a blessing and a benediction!

A Holy Land Journal: “Twice to the Wall on Shabat”

“Twice to the Wall on Shabat”

Prayer
Wailing Wall
Mortared with Intercessions
“Next Year in Jerusalem”
Shalom

I came to the Holy Land to find myself instead, I found a Wall …
the Wall that has seen 3000 years of civilization …
King Solomon
& lowly slaves pulling giant limestone blocks into place,

Orthodox Jews & Byzantine Christians,
Ottoman Moslems & Armenians
Hasidim & Presbyterians.

Over the years the Wall has been …
shown off as a great feat, scorned,
knocked down & built back up
again & again & again.

The Wall has been prayed on, prayed over, and prayed through.
Even more, the Wall has prayed.

It has absorbed the prayers…
blood, sweat, & tears…
joys…
silences…
and so much more
from generation to generation.

When God’s people were kept from the Wall,

the Wall heard their silence and their absence …
and kept them present

I came to the Wall as a Pilgrim
curious, moved, anxious,

but mostly in that confused state we call
AWE.

I tried to pray;

I said some prayers …
but my tongue turned to ashes
and the words would not come.
I sat in silence and gave my heart to God …
but my heart turned to stone.
I wanted something to happen
but no thing happened.

And still,

in my silence,
in my aloneness,

in the chill of the evening air,
the coldness of the Stone touched me
and the Wall prayed me.

I looked up …

in the cracks and clefts of the wall all around me
were the prayers of thousands of pray-ers…
small pieces of paper, rolled tightly, placed lovingly,
intercessions…

but, above me all over the face of the Wall…
another kind of life
growing in the cracks and clefts… green
the color of God’s creation bursting forth all around me
and over me a canopy of protection…
a bush growing out of the wall.

The Wall breathes life!

The Wall breathes life into me!
The Wall breathes me!

And in that sense that is true throughout all creation
The Wall is me.
Having embraced me and adopted me as its own,
The Wall breathes life.

And, as the Wall breathes I, too, breathe life.
L’ Chaim, Old Friend, L’ Chaim!

A Holy Land Journal: “Walking” (Thoreau)

Pilgrimage means setting aside the hustle and bustle of everyday living and develop the disposition of a  saunterer. Thoreau describes it best:

“Walking”

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking … who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. … [Those] who do go there [i.e., metaphorically to the Holy Land] are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean..

—Henry David Thoreau

Pilgrimage

Co-author, Wayne Purnitun, are celebrating the completion of the preliminary draft of our book (Stirring Waters:Wrestling with Faith in a Wrestless Worldand are departing for our next adventure—a pilgrimage to Nova Scotia.

I have done a lot of traveling since I retired at the end of 1997—mostly by car, with a plane trip or two sprinkled in. I’ve been to Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, California, North and South Dakota, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. In every case I was going to some specific destination in order that I might see some particular people or do some specific things. Travel is about destination and what’s there. Pilgrimage is different—no destination but, instead, a journey.

So, if pilgrimage is about not focusing on a destination, why Nova Scotia?

As Wayne and I, as intended fellow pilgrims, began our discussions and planning we Googled “pilgrimage travel.” We discovered a lot of tour agencies that were willing to plan a trip to traditional destinations such as Mecca, Lourdes, El camino de Santiago, or many, many more. This is not what interested us. Before we could narrow down exactly what we were looking for, Nova Scotia seemed to offer itself as a possibility. As we investigated those possibilities, we began to sense a nudge, that became an insistence, that became a call.

Nova Scotia calling—a Canadian maritime province with a strong Scottish & Gaelic history and culture. Moreover, prior to the arrival of any European explorers or settlers, a thriving culture of the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people. Add to that the history of French settlement and Nova Scotia is a living history of the interaction of various cultures.

Many of the Scots who settled in Nova Scotia were victims of the Highland Clearances. Divested of their land and their livelihood, they sought a new start in a new land—a New Scotland (Nova Scotia). The British removed the French (Acadian Expulsion) from much of the land they had occupied.  Part of that story is told in Longfellow’s Evangeline.

As a beginning, our pilgrimage is about engaging these people and hearing their stories—attempting to understand, to some degree, why they are where they are and how they inhabit their world. Of course, if this is all we do, it will be more a research project rather than  pilgrimage.

As we listen to their stories, we can’t help but explore our own stories. How do I inhabit my world? How do I engage those who are Other (different from me)? How do I interact with the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable?

Nova Scotia also mean going away from urban living—away from the conveniences, away from the distraction, away from the threats. Instead, this pilgrimage will be about engaging people—the hosts at our bed & breakfast accomodations, the local people at various Ceilidhs (Gaelic music celebrations), the Mi’kMaq people, and, of course, the docents at a couple of national historical sites.

Pilgrimage means more than just taking in the world around me. Pilgrimage means reflecting, recalling—rehearsing who I am, who is around me, and what I am encountering at the present. And it means doing that in community—in the community I bring with me (my fellow pilgrim) and in the communities I encounter along the way.

Pilgrimage is not about driving lickety-split or running at top speed to get from one place to the next. Instead, pilgrimage is about sauntering. Thoreau speaks of sauntering as listening to an internal Peter the Hermit urging us to engage the Holy Land. Such sauntering is walking like a camel, which ruminates as it walks. Pilgrimage is about journeying while musing about the Holy Land upon which you are traversing and the people who inhabit that land. Nova Scotia beckons as a place for Holy Land sauntering.

I am not taking my laptop to Nova Scotia, only my journal. We have agreed that part of each day will be spent, by each of us, writing in our journals—reflecting on our experiences and their implications for our respective spiritual journeys.

For the month of July (which includes our Nova Scotia pilgrimage) I will be sharing observations from a previous pilgrimage—a 1993 trip to the Holy Land. I wasn’t aware, at the time, that it was a pilgrimage; but it was. I didn’t have a laptop at that time. I didn’t take a camera. I did take my journal and I wrote about my experiences—inner and outer. Those I will share with you about every third day. By the end of July, I hope to have transcribed my journals and prepared those observations for sharing on this blog. Stay tuned!

Time to Celebrate (Provisionally)!

It all began as a conversation while sharing a long automobile trip. At first it was a series of eleven questions that my friend, Wayne Purintun, and I framed for possible blog topics. Not many miles passed before we knew that we had, in a preliminary way, identified approximately eleven topics which could be chapters in a book. There and then we agreed to co-write the book we had just outlined.

The first draft of our book has been completed—eleven chapters, a preface, an afterword, and an appendix—175 pages, about 80,000 words. The title is Stirring Waters: Wrestling with Faith in a Restless world. There is still work to be done prior to submitting a manuscript to Westbow Press, who will be publishing the book.

It has been a learning experience—one that affirms a collaborative style of approaching a project. In addition to writing as co-authors, we have had about 15 people who read and critiqued the various chapters as they were being written. Their input made our writing better than it would have been.

While we have submitted all fourteen documents to our copy editor, we are still tweaking the drafts to conform with the Chicago Manual of Style and the guidelines of Westbow Press. Hopefully the book will be available before the end of the year—but no promises.

In the meantime, Wayne and I are shifting our immediate focus as we are readying ourselves for a pilgrimage to Nova Scotia. You may ask “Why a pilgrimage?” and “Why Nova Scotia?” I will address that in a post on Monday July 3rd, the day we begin our pilgrimage.

When Storms Rage!

All three synoptic gospels give an account of Jesus being asleep in the boat while a storm overtakes the group outing on the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 8:23-27) Mark reports one key detail left out my Matthew and Luke – namely, that Yeshua (Jesus) was asleep in on a pillow in the rear of the boat (Mark 4:38). None of the gospel accounts remind us that a number of the disciples were experienced sailors who were quite familiar with navigating in Galilean storms. All three accounts suggest that the story was recorded to highlight Yeshua’s miraculous abilities to control nature and calm the wind and the waves – that is, to act as the master of creation.

Some commentators have suggested that the storm which was calmed was the storm raging inside the disciples, not the wind and waves of nature. If that is a more valid interpretation (and I think it is), then I think the story line might be something like the following:

It had been a hard day for Yeshua, every minute filled with teaching and preaching. Large numbers of the spiritually hungry continued to press in on him, as if they wanted to wring the last bit of wisdom and spiritual energy from him. After sending the crowds home for the evening, Yeshua had to give additional lessons to his disciples. They seemed to pay attention when Yeshua was teaching, taking mental notes, as if preparing to spit back the correct answers on a mid-term exam, without ever sensing the radical transformation into which they were each being invited. “When will they ever learn?” Yeshua whispered under his breath, heaving a deep sigh.  Yeshua was exhausted – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Hoping to get some rest, Yeshua suggested that they hop into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake where, in the morning, the teaching and preaching mission would continue. Once out away from shore, Peter (who had been at the helm) saw Yeshua nodding off. He brought the boat to a rest and traded places with Yeshua. (The helmsman’s seat was the only padded surface in the boat.) “Come back here, Yeshua. It’s more comfortable and you need your rest. Sleep for a while. The guys and I can occupy ourselves discussing what you taught us tonight. When you are a little more rested, then we will continue across to the other side.”

The gentle rippling of the waves provided a rhythmic cadence as Yeshua fell fast asleep.

But the gentleness of the waves lapping against the side of the boat was replaced by strong waves as the wind grew in it force and fury. As the wind and waves increased in intensity, so did the concern of the boats inhabitants. Matthew, was a pure landlubber. It was not concern that filled Matthew; instead it was utter, unadulterated panic. The storm was raging. The boat was adrift. Yeshua was asleep at the helm. Matthew scrambled to the back of the boat and, with a high-pitched scream, shook Yeshua awake. “Teacher, wake up! We’re sinking! We’re going to drown! Do something!”

Yeshua, wiping sleep from his eyes, got up. He calmly sat Matthew down, gently holding his hand in front of Matthew, palm toward his face as if to say “Easy, now.” Then he turned toward Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Do we have any experienced sailors on board?” “That’s us,” they replied in one voice.

Turning to the others, Yeshua asked, “In a situation like this, who would you prefer to have at the helm – a construction worker turned preacher or an experienced sailor?” There was some mumbling, but no one spoke up and said the obvious.

“Is there reason to be concerned about the storm?” Yeshua continued with the four sailors. “Some concern,” they admitted. “And do you know what needs to be done?” Yeshua pressed. “Well, of course we do!” Peter said proudly.

“Then, seeing that the storm has upset our brother (who, by the way, does not have your experience on the water), why have you not already done what needs to be done?” Quietly, and a little ashamed after being chastened by Yeshua’s words, they took charge. Once they trimmed the sail and adjusted the rudder, the boat stopped thrashing around. Even Matthew realized that the boat was no longer an unwitting victim of the wind and waves, but was sailing toward shore.

This parable about Yeshua is intriguing and inviting. It approaches the basic question of how we deal with anxiety – namely, it seems so easy for us to turn to someone else to resolve our anxiety. Yeshua seems to be suggesting that, when life seems spinning out of control, pay attention. Look at what’s going on and what resources you have at your disposal. Then spin yourself into the situation. Ask yourself, “What is my responsibility here?” That is where you will find life, and find it abundantly. Don’t step back and wait for someone else to solve it for you. Don’t expect a hero to come to your rescue. You have what you need to cope with life. You have what you need to move beyond just coping – to live your life to the full! Panic won’t accomplish anything.

 

 

 

 

 

Stumbling Over God

Why do the three historic Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – continue to treat each other like pariahs? Jews and Muslims fight over possession of the promised land. Christians want to convert Jews and Muslims. While each tradition has ethical precepts that enjoin its followers to be open to and care for strangers – the Others – Zionist Jews, fundamentalist Christians, and Jihadist Muslim terrorists seem more concerned with protecting the tribe against the Others. Humility is called for in each of the faith traditions, but arrogance seems to hold sway instead.

This morning I have been reading both Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book on religion and violence and Father Richard Rohr’s daily email meditation. Both appeal to the part of me that wants to find a third way between the tribalism of our separate faith traditions and the universalism of no tradition at all. Both Sacks and Rohr strike me as committed tribalists (a Jew and a Christian) who are yearning for a more universal embodiment of their tribal faith traditions. And, yet, the subtle arrogance of each of their tribal musings seems to come through.

In response to reading them, I realized that I have been a universalist (masquerading for many, many years as a tribalist Presbyterian Christian) who is searching and yearning for a more integral and whole tribe. One way or another, we all seem to stumble over God.

I wonder if a part of the movement toward a third way between the universal yearning and the particular (tribal) embodiment of the Abrahamic faiths may be caught up in the title of a book that I am awaiting – namely, Putting God Second by Rabbi Doniel Hartman. When we put Jews, Christians, and Muslims put God first, we seem to get caught up in our tribal boundaries – my God is greater than your god; my Faith is better than your faith; my Faith Community has more integrity than your faith community.

Sacks reminds us that the Abrahamic cycle of stories is preceded by Noah story – the covenant with humankind is prior to the covenant with Abraham; humanity is prior to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps the only way ahead is to think first about humankind – not my tribe or your tribe, but all of us together. I don’t want to write God out of the picture; but I am aware that whenever I put God first, I tend to elevate my godliness (or lack thereof) above that of others whose God is inferior to mine. Once again tribalism rears its ugly head.

I am heartened when I see stories of a Jewish synagogue welcoming a Christian fundamentalist who came to repent for his shooting the synagogue… or when Muslims show up to help clean up a vandalized Jewish cemetery… or Christians surrounding a mosque to protect the worshippers during daily prayers. Those stories represent the best of the Abrahamic faiths, envisioning the Other as sister and brother in the broader Abrahamic family.

I wonder, however, when members of the three faith traditions are going to come together in righteous indignation to confront the xenophobic spirit of contemporary American society that sees the Other (read that as non-white, non-Christian, non-male, poor) as being a threat.

Since the current cultural narrative, enhanced by the election of President Donald Trump, is catered to by a right-wing Christian evangelicalism, I would hope that one or more national Christian leaders might demonstrate a genuine openness (an invitation) to leaders from Jewish and Islamic community to come together in dialogue, to mine the resources of all three traditions, and to witness to a common humanity that is diverse and inclusive, built on respect and tender justice, that stands with and for the poor and marginalized.

Perhaps such a dialogue might inspire leaders of synagogues, churches, and mosques to engage in similar interactions on the local level as a means of retraining the members and participants in their respective faith communities in the common humanity of our separate spiritualities. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but if we do not dream the dreams the current realities will remain stuck where they are.