Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Tonight begins the celebration of Eid-al-adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. There are lots of good places to learn about Eid-al-adha on-line and off. During this holiday the story is told of Abraham's willingness to obey Allah and sacrifice his son Ishmael. Rather than require Abraham to take his son's life, Allah provides a ram for the sacrifice. The hajj itself is a sacrifice of worship, so it makes sense that Abraham's story is recalled at this time.

Jews and Christians tell a similar story, but instead of Ishmael, Isaac is the son bound to the altar. This festival, then, and this story, illustrates both our unity and our divisions as "people of the book." Ishmael is the forebear of Muslims while Isaac is the forebear of Jews and eventually Christians. The grief of the division within Abraham's family between Isaac and Ishmael is visited upon their children centuries later who are still divided.

Perhaps a way out of this division (while respecting our differences) is through the story of the sacrifice itself. The point of both versions is that Abraham is obedient to God even to the point of killing his own son. While not a model of healthy family relationships, it is a lesson in humility, love, and trust. Whatever Abraham's own convictions toward his child, he stands under the authority of God, obedient but also trusting God in whatever may come. And then God shows Abraham that he does not require human sacrifice - a common practice among other religions of the time. He is not a bloodthirsty God, but a merciful one. Loving the people of God above all else.

If any of us are to truly follow God we too must be willing to sacrifice whatever God asks, but because of this story of Abraham, we can trust that God does not require blood, but love. We're asked to pour ourselves out, whether in pilgrimage to Mecca, or in generous love during Christmas or in trust of God's faithfulness during Hanukkah and throughout the year. These values unite us across our real differences.
Blessings to all who celebrate Eid this week and all who look forward to time with loved ones this season.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Standing up for ourselves

In just a few rash, stupid, uncontrolled moments, he threw away his life and that of another person. He thought he was “getting even” or “standing up for himself” or “claiming his rights,” but he was really giving them all away, giving away his whole life. He’ll now spend the majority of his life following the orders of prison wardens. He’ll wear what they tell him to wear; he’ll eat what they give him to eat, when they give it to him. He’ll sleep, bathe, exercise, and work when, where, and how the prison tells him to. All because he felt the need to stand up for himself…with a gun… by shooting two other people. One of whom died.

Loyer Braden got in a fight and was spat on.* He was mad; who wouldn’t be? And so he found the guy later and had another fight. Clearly he didn’t feel he was making adequate headway in winning this argument. So he went and got a gun, and decided to fire “into the air to scare” the people or person he was mad at. Except, one guy was shot in the ankle and one young woman was shot in the stomach, twice. She died yesterday. And now Braden won’t just be charged with attempted murder, but with actual murder, or manslaughter, or whatever the lawyers come up with. It’ll be something that sends him to prison for a long time, where all his freedom is gone, and all he’s left with is the thought of this one irrational act.

I’ll pray for Shalita tonight, the young woman who died. And for Loyer who shot her. And for Nathaniel, the young man shot in the ankle. And for us – that we will learn from Loyer’s terrible mistake. That we won’t be so rash. That we’ll stop and think before resorting to violence to “stand up for ourselves.” That we will somehow learn to have a long view of the arguments that so disrupt our days; that we’ll learn to let go of them, so that they don’t become the controlling factor in our lives, as this argument has now become in these three people’s lives, and the lives of their families.

*The News-Journal article describing the incident.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lamenting Violence

For the second Monday evening in a row, those of us gathered in the chapel for Evening Prayer today will pray for a student that has been shot and the campus community shaken by this violence. I can only begin to imagine the grief of Taylor Bradford's family in Memphis tonight.

These aren't just news stories to me, and not only because I work on a college campus. I know both these campuses. I lived in Delaware and Memphis and I've been on both campuses. I have very dear friends who work at Memphis State and I know how hurt they are that their campus has experienced such violence. I know it without even talking to them because we are part of a religious community of prayer. I know that they are also praying for Bradford's family and for peace in their community.

I want to shake my head and ask how such violence could happen. But the truth is I'm not that surprised anymore. As a campus chaplain I feel some obligation to help our students learn tools other than violence. But it seems such a futile effort when everywhere around us we are surrounded by violence. Why should college campuses be any different?

A colleague reported physical abuse of her child to authorities over the weekend. The death toll in Iraq continues to rise each day. Even as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter meet in the Sudan to try to find a way to peace. Tonight I will pray that they will find a way, and that all the rest of us will learn from their example.

May Taylor rest in peace and rise in glory.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Miracle of Grace

This past Sunday I worshiped at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I've heard all about the dynamic church for years, but this was my first time to visit in person. The space is awe-inspiring and the windows beautiful, including the rose window above the main doors to the church. The choir was excellent, but didn't usurp the congregation's need to participate in the singing and liturgical responses, which is very important to me. There are so many wonderful things that can be said about Grace Cathedral, but what struck me most is something that can be said about every congregation gathered for worship. Not only every Christian congregation, but every Jewish or Muslim or Jain service, as well. It is the miracle that happens in our worshiping communities week after week.

Maybe it's because I was in an unfamiliar place, sitting near people I didn't know. Maybe it was because I was in a large city where we could here the sounds of people in the park nearby. Or maybe I was just paying attention this week, but I saw the miracle. Really!

It was the gathering of a group of people for worship. That's the miracle! As I sat in my pew and waited for my turn to walk up the aisle to receive communion, I thought about how incredible it is that this many people chose to come to this place on this morning, to sing and pray and listen to a sermon and receive communion, instead of doing the thousands of other things they could have been doing. And in San Francisco, no less, where there is no lack of things to do! But also in every place where people could easily fall into discouragement about the state of our world, or cynicism about the state of the church, or mere apathy in the face of secularism disguised as intellectualism. It is truly a miracle that anyone gets up on a Sunday morning and goes to church, or bothers to go to temple or mosque at the end of a long work week. There is every reason not to go, and yet there are people who continue to feel called by God to worship. We all come for a mix of reasons, but the fact that we show up at all is amazing. It is no less amazing than walking on water, or giving a barren woman a child, or calling a people out of the desert and into Grace.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Into the Forest

I'm still mulling over the Harry Potter finale, even as I move on to other reading.
Warning: This might spoil the ending if you haven't finished yet!

There's a great deal that I like in the last book, but I think the most moving part of the whole series is when Harry goes into the forest prepared to die. Rowling did a wonderful job of articulating what that selflessness might look like. Harry thinks he's been betrayed by Dumbledore and comes to resigned acceptance of that, with the stunned silence that we might all feel. But he also sees how giving himself up to Voldemort will save those whom he loves. So in spite of the apparent betrayal he accepts what he must do.

I think it must be very much like what the Garden of Gethsemane was for Jesus. We don't see any evidence the Jesus was eager to walk into Pilate's hands. His friend, Judas, betrays him, and in his cry from the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?" we see that he also felt betrayed by God. But he somehow sees through that, in the Garden, to what must be done. And so he tells his friends to let him go, and he walks unarmed into the grip of the soldiers who have come to take him to his death.

Whatever came next - for Harry and for Jesus - that act of relinquishment, of self-offering, is itself efficacious. It breaks apart the pattern of violence and opposition, of one force battling another. Voldemort and Pilate still pursue their violent plans, but the power of their actions has changed. Jesus and Harry make the more difficult, and ultimately more powerful choice, to give themselves up, leaving their opponents powerless over them.

Whether or not J.K. Rowling intended such an explicit allegorical reading, she absolutely understands the power of selflessness and describes it beautifully.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

All Good Tales Must Come to an End

I finished "Deathly Hallows" on Monday evening. I expected to be sad when I did, as I often am at the end of long book I've thoroughly enjoyed. But the end was so satisfying that I was happy to have been on the journey.

There are some things I wish she'd done differently, but all in all I'm awed by Rowling's insight, skill, and talent. I think it was clearer in this book than in the others that she writes in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

I'll write later about some of my favorite parts. First I need to go back to book 6 and remind myself of all the connections.

What a great read!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wholly Diverse

Welcome to my new blog as the new multi-faith chaplain at the University of the Pacific! I hope you'll join me for conversations about all kinds of things related to faith and life.

I've been thinking about Rose Windows lately because I now work and pray in a building with a gorgeous rose window. I've seen some others - in the cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland, at Notre Dame in Paris when it was mostly covered in scaffolding, and in some other wonderful places. Most rose windows, I guess, are in churches because stained glass was a tool for telling the Christian story. But like all stained glass, no two people see the same thing when they look into these windows. For some they are testaments of God's activity in creation. For others they are monuments to human creativity. They may draw us out of ourselves or more deeply into ourselves. The symbols in the window may be familiar and comforting or entirely new and exciting. These windows may be all of the above, and in tiny bits of glass, they pull together all the potential diversity into a single glorious prism. The differences are all still there - varieties of color and glass size and symbols - but all as part of the larger whole, a circle encompassing all, and that is entirely holy. I'm so glad that this is what greets me every morning.