Tag Archives: Judaism

A Jew and a Methodist …

I’m borrowing this line from Ariel Vegosen, a Jewish woman attending the UMC Conference in Tampa (GC2012).  She states, “I am here as a Jewish ally to support divestment and to support my Methodist brothers and sisters as they make this important and historic decision.”

With American support for Israel an unquestioned historical and political reality, one must be brave or foolish to raise concern for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.  Yet, that is what Vegosen is doing, and she is at the Conference to encourage those who promote divestment from US companies perceived to sustain the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands.

Of course, divestment was a means of financial protest that contributed to the fall of South African apartheid a generation ago.

Two years ago at the Presbyterian General Assembly, I spent a couple of hours at the Cokesbury bookstore signing copies of my novel, A Wretched Man.  Two other authors were present at the same time, Gustav Niebuhr from the famous Niebuhr family, and Mark Braverman.  Like Vegosen, Braverman is a Jew who attended a Christian convention to advocate for Christians to denounce Israeli policies detrimental to the Palestinians.  Braverman’s book is entitled, Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

A couple of voices crying in the wilderness worth listening to.  Click on their names above to hear their voices.

Stonewall: Forty-one years and counting

This is essentially a reprint of my Stonewall post from a year ago.  The response to the police raid on Stonewall, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, June 28, 1969 marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. For many, progress toward full equality and inclusion of LGBT folks seems slow; yet, for one like me who thinks like a historian, the progress since 1969 has been remarkable, and the same is true for the advances since this post first appeared.

In the last year, two major, mainline protestant denominations took significant steps toward full inclusion of LGBT folk.  Following the encouragement of Integrity (an Episcopal LGBT advocacy group), the Episcopalians now offer “all the sacraments to all the baptized”.  In practical effect, this means that the episcopate is fully open to gays and lesbians, and the year saw the election and confirmation of suffragan bishop Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, to the diocese of Los Angeles.  My own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) committed itself to recognize and affirm publicly accountable, monogamous, life-long same gender relationships and to allow persons in such relationships to be fully rostered as ordained clergy.  There were also advances in Judaism, which already boasted an enviable record of inclusivity.

2009 & 2010 saw advances in LGBT legal and political rights: gay marriage became the law of Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C.;  partners of gay federal employees received expanded benefits; and the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” appears to be in its last days.  What will the next year bring?

The following is my post from a year ago under the heading “June 28, 1969: Where were you?”

Many of you probably weren’t born, so I guess this is a question for the baby boomers, like me. But, I encourage the young’uns to read along, anyway, to get a better understanding of who and where we are this Sunday, the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall.

Here’s my answer. I had just turned 21 and had just finished my army infantry training in the heat and amongst the snakes and spiders of Fort Polk, Louisiana, “Fort Puke, the arm pit of America,” we called it. Pilfered from www.imjinscout.com/fort_polk1.html

“If’n one of them coral snakes bites ya, here’s the proper military procedure,” droned the drill sergeant. “Spread yer legs to a comfortable military stance, put yer hands on yer knees, bend down at the waist as far as you kin, and kiss yer sweet ass goodbye.”

A few weeks earlier, over Memorial Day weekend, our battalion received back to back three day passes, a rare treat toward the end of our training. We were all headed to Viet Nam to become “grunts”, anyway, might as well allow us a good time. My new girlfriend of less than six months drove down from Minnesota — along with my parents, brother Mike, and his girlfriend — and we all camped out at Aunt Carol’s place in nearby Lake Charles. In front of a sultry red sun of dusk, under the bearded Spanish moss that hung from the live oaks that leaned over a dusty country lane, I had proposed, but the girlfriend had turned me down.

But now, three weeks later, I was back in Minnesota on a 30 day leave before departing for my one year tour of duty as an infantryman in Viet Nam, and the girlfriend had finally consented under my relentless urgings, and she allowed me to purchase an engagement ring. I needed that lifeline, that sense of commitment and belonging, that sense that there was a future beyond the jungles of Southeast Asia, and her assent to one day becoming my bride gave me that grounding. Lynn still wears that ring, today. I didn’t know then what a privilege it was to ask the one I loved to be for me; to hold my hand and keep my heart close; to send and receive trite, and silly, and melancholy missives; and to wait and to be there when I returned.

Bobby Dylan was singing and saying that the times were a’changing, but it wasn’t clear in what direction. Tricky Dick was in the White House. Dion was lamenting the losses of Abraham, Martin, and John: “but it seems the good, they die young,” and in my narcissism I knew the song was about me. I wasn’t much concerned about what was going on in Greenwich Village, NYC.

If there were any gay people in my life then, I didn’t know it. Oh, there was elderly Emil, a hapless figure who would buy the small town boys cigarettes, but we all knew not to go behind any buildings with him. Maybe some did, I don’t know. I suppose somebody had to be the source of the giggling about the comic old man. In hindsight, I know that an older cousin later died in alcoholic squalor, never fully able to come to grips with who he was, and I have a younger cousin who thrives in a long term relationship with Robert. Perhaps there is symbolism in the differences between the older and the younger. In a reunion with my younger cousin a few years ago, he laughingly recounted how he loved to come and spend time with us in Minnesota and with dear old Grandma Olga because she allowed him to dress up in girl’s clothes.

Queers were deviates, so said the medical and psychological establishment. Fags were outlaws and security risks, so said the FBI, State Department, US Postal Service, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. Homosexuals were sinners who had chosen the wrong path and needed repentance, so said the word from Christian pulpits. And these others, whoever they were, were mostly invisible:

a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else. Wikipedia, the Stonewall riots.

Stonewall Inn When the eight police officers knocked on the Stonewall door at 1:20 a.m., June 28, 1969, and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!”, they didn’t know they were about to make history, any more than the bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger 14 years earlier. Spurred by the successes of the civil rights movement, the bra burning feminists, and the college students protesting the war, the response of the gay community of Greenwich Village to the routine police raid on the Stonewell Bar of Christopher Street, said Dylan was right, the times were a’changin’.

We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration…. Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

Michael Fader quoted in the same Wikipedia article.

Will the occasion be noted from any pulpits this Sunday? Some, I hope, but only a few, I fear. Probably not in my own church, even though I know my pastor is willing, but the congregation isn’t ready. Not yet. But, someday, and sooner than you think. It’s blowin’ in the wind.

Judaism and gays

There are three main “movements”, “denominations”, or “branches” of Judaism in North America called Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative.  From Canada comes a report of same gender relationships now receiving blessings in a Conservative synagogue in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s largest synagogue is moving toward full inclusion for gay and lesbian Jews by offering to bless their same-sex unions. Since Jan. 1, 2010, rabbis at Shaarey Zedek synagogue have been willing to bless Jewish same-sex couples in commitment ceremonies.

Rabbi Alan Green says the Winnipeg synagogue is thought to be the first Conservative movement synagogue in Canada to offer blessings to same-sex unions. In December 2006, the movement’s New York-based Committee on Jewish Law and Standards approved extending blessings to same-sex unions, a move that carries a great deal of weight among Conservative congregations, but is not binding, says Green.

Although this is a new step for Conservative Judaism, considered more middle of the road, Winnipeg’s lone Reform synagogue has offered the ritual for a decade, says Rabbi Karen Soria. “We are still the only synagogue in Winnipeg where a gay or lesbian couple could be married Jewishly,” says Soria, who divides her time between Winnipeg and Ottawa, where her female partner is a chaplain in the Canadian military. “Reform Judaism has taken very seriously the need to open doors and be welcoming. Historically, Reform Judaism has been very aware of and studies the seismic changes in Jewish life over the centuries.” The Reform movement is considered one of the more liberal Jewish groups.

Rabbi Greenberg Meanwhile, an Orthodox Rabbi, Steven Greenberg, has been out for over a decade, and he has been pushing back against the Orthodox policy that prohibits homosexual behavior.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg is not shy about proclaiming who he is, though it raises eyebrows.

He is, he says, the world’s first openly gay Orthodox rabbi.

And since he came out in 1999, Greenberg has traveled the world, speaking at Jewish organizations, community groups, forums. His latest stop is the Seattle area, where he’s conducting several workshops through Saturday.

His aim: To get congregations to be more welcoming and understanding of gays and lesbians — which sometimes means just helping them learn how to even bring the topic up.

Ultimately, he hopes the work he’s doing can, over time, lead to changes in people’s hearts, and to corresponding changes in Jewish theology and law.

“By addressing the realities of human life, Jewish law does move,” Greenberg said. “It just moves slowly.”

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), headed by Rabbi David Saperstein, is a well-known advocacy group that:

has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in the nation’s capital for more than 40 years. The RAC educates and mobilizes the American Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on issues from economic justice to civil rights to religious liberty to Israel.

The RAC’s work is mandated by the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 900+ congregations across North America include 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.

The RAC has long promoted LGBT rights.

NJ Poll reports religious attitudes toward marriage equality

Four decades ago, the gay rights movement burst onto the scene in the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village.  As we near year’s end in 2009, we close the fourth decade of gay rights activism and the first decade of the twenty-first century.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

A handful of states now offer marriage equality, either through court decree or legislative fiat.  A handful more allow civil unions.  The Matthew Shepherd bill extended hate crimes protection to sexual orientation.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” in the military is likely to be phased out soon.

Several branches of Judaism and several of Christianity allow gay clergy and blessings of same-gender unions.  This summer, the Episcopal church opened the episcopate to gays, and a lesbian bishop was elected in California just a week ago.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) became the largest religious denomination anywhere in the world to allow gay clergy in committed relationships and to allow blessing of same-gender unions.  Their Swedish counterpart, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, also elected a lesbian bishop this year.

But the battles rage on.  The worldwide Anglican communion and its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are harshly critical of their American communion partner, the Episcopal church.  A dissident group of Lutherans called Lutheran Core is making a lot of noise and siphoning off members, congregations and especially funds from the ELCA.  Gay rights is both a secular and a religious issue, and religious organizations have played major roles in the outcomes of public ballot initiatives in California in 2008 (Mormon) and Maine in 2009 (Catholic), which narrowly rejected marriage equality.

As the year comes to a close, the focus shifts to New Jersey where a marriage equality bill is moving through the legislature.  A new public opinion poll in that state offers fascinating insight into the overlap of the religious and the secular (hat tip to Irish blogger Terence Weldon for first posting about this poll overnight).  The poll was conducted by Rutgers University, and is posted on the University’s media relations site.

Despite opposition from the Catholic Church, New Jersey Catholics generally support legalizing gay marriage, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Among Catholics, 48 percent support gay marriage, while 40 percent oppose and 12 percent are undecided. Protestants hold the opposite view, with only 34 percent supporting and 55 percent opposing gay marriage; 11 percent are undecided. Jewish respondents support gay marriage, 56 percent to 40 percent, with 4 percent undecided, while those with no religion preference are the most supportive, at 85 percent to only 10 percent opposed (5 percent undecided).

The Protestant numbers are skewed a bit by lumping evangelicals and non-evangelicals together.  The evangelicals are strongly negative, but the main line Protestant numbers approximate the favorable figures for both Catholics and Jews (47% favorable, 37% unfavorable).  Equally interesting is the finding that none of the religious groups, including the evangelicals, consider this issue to be of major importance.

“While the issue matters to a very small but passionate group on both sides, by far, most New Jerseyans of all stripes think there are more critical issues that need to be addressed,” Redlawsk said. “This suggests that regardless how a legislator votes, at the next election, this vote will be far less important to potential re-election than most other issues the Legislature will deal with.

Election Day 2009: spotlight on Maine

In this off year, there are not a lot of elections of import across the country.  There are hotly contested governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and an interesting Congressional race in upstate New York, but many eyes will be on the state of Maine as the latest battleground regarding marriage equality. 

Here’s the background according to the Associated Press:

Maine MoosePORTLAND, Maine — Bolstered by out-of-state money and volunteers, both sides jockeyed Monday to boost turnout for a Maine referendum that could give gay-rights activists in the U.S. their first victory at the ballot box on the deeply divisive issue of same-sex marriage.

The state’s voters will decide Tuesday whether to repeal a law that would allow gay marriage. The law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci last May but has never taken effect.

The contest is considered too close to call, and both campaigns worked vigorously — with rallies, phone calls, e-mails and ads — to be sure their supporters cast votes in the off-year election.

If voters uphold the law, it will be the first time the electorate in any state has endorsed marital rights for same-sex couples, energizing activists nationwide and deflating a long-standing conservative argument that gay marriage lacks popular support.

Conversely, a repeal — in New England, the corner of the country most receptive to same-sex marriage — would be a jolting setback for the gay-rights movement and mark the first time voters overturned a gay-marriage law enacted by a legislature. When Californians voters rejected gay marriage a year ago, it was in response to a court ruling, not legislation.

Religious activists are on both sides of the issue.  Roman Catholic Bishop Richard J Malone of the Portland Diocese (which includes the entire state) has been particularly active according to the National Catholic Reporter and quoted in Talk to Action blog:

Besides spearheading a parish-based petition signature drive, assisted by local and national socially conservative groups, Malone also padded church bulletins with anti-gay marriage messages — on six consecutive Sundays. He required that pastors throughout the diocese preach on traditional marriage.

Malone has produced a DVD, in which he stars, explaining why marriage matters, and directed that it be shown in all parishes. (See Marriage: What the church teaches.)
Last month, Malone called for a second collection to be taken up during Sunday Masses, with proceeds going to Stand for Marriage, the organization leading the repeal effort.

The second collection netted $86,000. In total, the Portland diocese has given $550,000 to the effort to repeal the same-sex marriage legislation.

But many Catholics resist their bishop, including Governor John E. Baldacci who signed the legislation.  The Bangor Daily News reports that many Catholics joined four recent statewide  rallies sponsored by the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine.

After Mass on Sunday morning, Ed Oechslie left St. John Catholic Church and walked alone to Hammond Street Congregational Church.

The Brewer man wore a sign made on his computer and pinned to the back of his jacket. It showed a cross in the foreground with a rainbow rising behind its base, arcing across the background. Above the cross were the words, “Maine Catholics for Marriage Equality.”

“I think it’s important for Catholics to speak up,” Oechslie said before the Bangor service began. “The bishop has taken a stance that, in my view, has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus.”

The Talk to Action blog post quotes other progressive Catholics who oppose their Bishop’s overt politicking.  William H. Slavick of Portland, a retired college professor and long-time coordinator of the Pax Christi Maine chapter,

favors keeping the civil marriage law, saying that the church is wrong to try to impose a Catholic view of marriage on society.

Catholic attorney, Anne Underwood, in public testimony before the legislature, stated:

As a practicing Roman Catholic and attorney, I thank each of you for your daily work on behalf of our democratic form of government. A government based not on Halachah (Jewish), Shari’ a (Islamic), or Canon Law (Roman Catholic), but on Civil Law.

The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to marry includes a diverse group of religious leaders including Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregational Beth El, Bangor’s Reform synagogue, who said her religion required her to speak out at the rally.

“I am participating because my tradition calls me to pursue equality and justice for all people,” she said. “Full equality under the law for gay men and lesbians requires the legal recognition of monogamous domestic gay and lesbian relationships. All loving couples should be included in the civil right and the responsibility of marriage.”

Pam’s House Blend blog has voting instructions and an open thread for comments throughout the day.

Anti-Semitism in the New Testament

Methodist professor of Religion and Bible, Joel Allen, offered an insightful blog post this week entitled, Be Fair to the Pharisees: Guarding Against Anti-Jewish AttitudesThere is a persistent sense that the Pharisees were the bad guys in Jesus’ life and ministry, Allen suggests, and he offers his own daughter’s silly campfire ditty as exhibit A.  “I don’t want to be a Pharisee, ‘cuz they’re not fair, you see,” sang the nine year old.

Allen offers a cogent rebuttal to the view that the Pharisees were self-righteous, legalistic hypocrites who emphasized the letter of the law over its spirit.  His argument is that this is an over-generalization, a broad brush attitude that overlooks the many Pharisees who had the same critical attitude toward the “system” as did Jesus.  “While Jesus certainly had abuses in the practice of Pharisaic piety and hypocrisy to condemn, he was not alone. Other rabbis had similar criticisms of their fellows,” says Allen.  He calls on history and mentions Hillel, the leading Pharisee sage who offered his own version of “The Golden Rule,” a generation before Jesus.

I think that Professor Allen’s well written piece is right on, and I wholeheartedly subscribe to his views.  Here is my basic view: The New Testament wrongly characterizes Israelite religion in general and the Pharisees in particular.  The New Testament demonizes and scapegoats the Pharisees, and even more hurtfully, all the Jews.  As Allen reports, following his time spent at Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati,

One of the things that surprised me in studying the Bible with rabbinical students was the degree to which they perceived the New Testament to be fundamentally anti-Jewish. As an orthodox Christian, I found it troubling to hear the teachings of Jesus described as ‘anti-Jewish’ and as contributing factors to Jewish suffering.

Allen suggests that the gospels lack a balanced view that fails to include the whole cloth of Pharisaism.  Let me carry the argument a step further by offering two historical reasons why the New Testament offers only a partial and biased view of Pharisaism.  What is important, I think, is a further evaluation of the history that occurred between the life and times of Jesus and the time when the books of the New Testament were written or compiled.  Jesus’ ministry is commonly dated to around 30-33 CE, the letters of Paul to the 50’s, Mark’s gospel to around 70, Matthew and Luke to the 80’s, and John to the 90’s.

I suggest that two historical factors were at play that caused the New Testament writings to become ripe with anti-Jewish polemic and to grossly overstate the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, erroneously lumping them with the aristocratic Sadducees, and between Jesus and his fellow Jews.  The first is the conflict between Paul’s Gentile mission and the Jewish, Jerusalem followers of Jesus led first by Peter but soon by James, the brother of Jesus.  The second is the cataclysmic Jewish civil war and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans circa 70 CE which obviously occurred several generations after the time of Jesus but during (Mark) or before the compilation of the gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John).

Must Gentile Christians follow the ceremonial and symbolic rules of Torah, including circumcision, dietary practices, and Sabbath and festival observance?  That was the basic issue between Paul and the Jerusalem church that came to a head nearly a generation after the death of Jesus.  An “apostolic assembly” occurred in Jerusalem in the late 40’s to consider the issue, followed immediately by the “Antioch incident” in which Paul broke with James and Peter and set out on his independent missionary journeys.  Much of Paul’s subsequent theology grows out of this basic dispute with the “Judaizers,” and the tone of his writings often became intemperate.  He referred to Jerusalem emissaries as “peddlers of God’s word,” “false apostles,” “deceitful workers,”  “false brothers,” “dogs,” and “evil workers.”  Often, his polemic against the ceremonial Torah and those who promoted it sounded distinctly anti-Semitic, a sad irony for the Pharisee born of the tribe of Benjamin.

“The Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, they displease God.”  Paul’s improvident words contained in 1st Thessalonians, the very first writing of the New Testament, indict not only the apostle to the Gentiles but subsequent generations of Christians who uncritically accepted his words at literal, face value.   The danger of treating Paul’s writings as the infallible, inerrant Word of God becomes obvious.

While doing research for my own novel about Paul, I read a fascinating series of essays entitled, “Jesus through Jewish Eyes”, a collection of views of current rabbis and Hebrew scholars.  In general, Jesus was treated quite well as a long lost Jewish brother, a Torah teacher who spoke with the cutting voice of a prophet.  In private correspondence with one of the contributors, I asked a related question, “What do Jewish scholars think of Paul?”  The answer was decidedly different.  Paul was the apostate who perverted Israelite religious rituals, symbols, and myths into a Hellenized amalgam that splintered Christianity away from Jesus’ Jewish roots.  Hyam Maccoby, a particularly anti-Pauline Hebrew scholar, has authored two books entitled, “Paul, the Mythmaker” and “Jesus, the Pharisee.”  His titles say it all.

We don’t need to go nearly so far as Maccoby to understand that Paul’s tone is decidedly discordant to Jewish ears.   We must also recognize the hostility between Paul and the Jerusalem church as the bass line of his disharmonious writings.

In 66 CE, the political firestorm in Jerusalem burst into the conflagration of civil war: sect against sect, class against class, brother against brother. Josephus, a Hebrew aristocrat who later joined the Romans, provided an eyewitness account.

Now after these were slain, the zealots and the multitude of the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of unclean animals, and cut their throats; and for the ordinary sort, they were destroyed in what place soever they caught them. But for the noblemen and the youth, they first caught them and bound them, and shut them up in prison, and put off their slaughter, in hopes that some of them would turn over to their party; but not one of them would comply with their desires, but all of them preferred death before being enrolled among such evil wretches as acted against their own country … the terror was upon the people so great, that no one had courage enough either to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or to bury him.

When the Romans moved in and finished the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Israelite society was forever changed.  Over a decade later, the Pharisees regrouped as rabbinical Judaism, but any affinity with the Jesus sect was long forgotten.  The rabbis now contended with the Jesus movement for the synagogues.  The church of Jesus had become associated with the Gentile enemies, and the Christian writings reflected the new political realities.  It was the Jews, not Pontius Pilate, who bore responsibility for the death of Jesus, and the gospel compilers washed their hands of their Jewish roots.  The political undercurrents of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s wafted through the Jesus stories of the gospel accounts.

The writings of the New Testament sound anti-Semitic, at least to Jewish ears, and Christians must come to grips with this reality.  Even more importantly, Christians must accept that Jesus had much in common with many of his Pharisee peers, his Jewish brothers.  As Allen concludes, “Let’s be fair to the Pharisees, or we’re not being fair, you see?”

Christian myths

Carl McColman, in his blog of spirituality, The Website of Unknowing, offers a delicious discussion of a spiritual middle ground between militant fundamentalism and angry atheism, a place of holy agnosticism:

the landscape of the Divine Mystery, where mythical religion need not be entirely dismissed but rather can be rehabilitated into a narrative of personal and collective transfiguration, even if its old truth claims must be re-evaluated in the light of science.

  and further described as:

a world where theists and atheists, both of whom know that they know “the truth,”  can transcend their limited/partial perspectives and embrace the profound mystery that lies beyond the limits of their knowing.

I have noted before that I am a big fan of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a civil rights worker in the 60’s and a profound and prolific author.  He offers much the same idea in his “depth theology” that suggests:

The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into relationship with Him who is greater than the world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute … How does one rise above the horizon of the mind? How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? It is an act of profound significance that we sense more than we can say … concepts are second thoughts. All conceptualization is symbolization, an act of accommodation of reality to the human mind.  Quotations from God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Rudolph Bultmann, the giant of 20th century liberal theology and critical Biblical analysis, also chimes in with similar thoughts.

It may be said that myths give to the transcendent reality an immanent, this-worldly objectivity. Myths speak about gods and demons as powers on which man knows himself to be dependent, powers whose favors he needs, powers whose wrath he fears. Myths express the knowledge that man is not master of the world and his life, that the world within which he lives is full of riddles and mysteries and that human life also is full of riddles and mysteries.

While the fundamentalists claim literal truth for their myths and the atheists correctly debunk such claims, the knowing beyond knowing becomes lost. I think what Carl McColman, Rabbi Heschel, and Rudolph Bultmann have in common is the notion that we may celebrate the truth in the myths even as the myths are untrue. 

Quick check of denominational news

This blog contains a page (see the sidebar) called From Headquarters that contains RSS feeds downloaded from the official websites of progressive denominations or religious organizations. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of an RSS feed, it is a subscription to real-time updates of the latest entries from a website or blog. The feed is typically a headline that a reader can click on for the whole story.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines that appear as this post is being written.

From the Alliance of Baptists website, we see the headline “Being Ecumenical” which is a clickable link to the full story that starts with the following paragraph:

During my initial involvement as a representative of the Alliance of Baptists at the National Council of Churches, I grew to realize that all I need to know about ecumenism, I learned in Hurdle Mills, N.C. — not from my home church, but from the farming community in which I was nurtured.

Here’s another. From the official website of the ELCA, we see the headline, “Lutherans Open their Church Doors to Immigrant Families”, which clicks to the following opening paragraph from the ELCA news service article,

CHICAGO (ELCA) — For Howard Lamont being welcoming to the immigrant population is “simply part of the Christian message.”

And another. From the Mennonite Church USA comes the headline, ” Mennonite Church USA Convention 2.0″, and the clickable link takes the reader to a news release of instructions for following their general convention online.

NEWTON, Kan. — Mennonite Church USA Convention 2009 will take place in Columbus, Ohio, June 30 to July 5, but people who don’t make the trip physically can still experience convention on the Internet like never before.

And finally, one more. From the Action Center for Reform Judaism comes the headline, “At Interfaith Service, Saperstein Stresses Urgent Need for Health Care Reform”, and the link will take the reader to the full article about the comments of Rabbi Saperstein.

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 18, 2009 – At today’s Interfaith Service of Witness and Prayer for health care reform, sponsored by more than 40 national faith organizations and religious denominations, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke of the pressing need for health care for all and encouraged our nation’s leaders to pass health care reform legislation this year.

So, the point is that this page of headlines From Headquarters is a quick and easy way to see what’s up as reported by various religious organizations. I hope you find this tool to be handy and helpful.

Feminist News

Here are a couple of week-ending notes.

First, highly regarded author, theologian, and elder in the African Methodist Church, the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems has an interesting blog post about Rabbi Alysa Stanton. Rabbi Stanton is apparently the first black woman to become a Rabbi. Congratulations to Rabbi Stanton and thanks to Dr. Weems for an excellent post.

Second, the popular GLBT website, Advocate.com notes that After coming out as a lesbian in 2006, Batwoman finally gets her own comic book series — and this time, she’s out, proud, and here to stay.

Third, Desert’s Child Blog reports on a speech by award winning actress Patricia Clarkson to the New Orleans gathering of the Human Rights Coalition. “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks,” she said, quoting playwright Tennessee Williams. The theme of her talk was the groundswell of support for gay rights and gay marriage breaking through the hard, the cold, the oppressive … by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.

Finally, happy Father’s Day (to mothers, too). You are my child, my beloved; I am well pleased with you. This paraphrase of the gospels is my view on the most important attitude a parent can manifest to a child. Let us celebrate our parents, and our children, this weekend.