Sunday, July 09, 2006

Holy Land Pilgrimage - Day 4

Day 4 - June 27 2006 - Sea of Galilee, Capernaum and Caesarea Philippi
There were lots of breakfast choices, fish, cheeses, salads, fruit, yogurt, pancakes, eggs. I have been sticking to grain cereals and fruit - pretty much American fare. Others have been more daring. We were on the bus by 8:30 (the group has been great about being in place on time). It was about a 20 minute bus ride to a dock where we boarded a boat for our ride across the Sea of Galilee. These are pretty large boats, and though they are steel hulled, they have wood paneling on the exterior to give them some look of antiquity. As we were pulling away from the dock, music began to blare from the sound system. It was the Star Spangled Banner. The crew hoisted and American flag. Ikey announced that while Americans were on board it would be an American boat. I would have preferred them not to do that as I felt it distracted us from the setting. Others in the group, however, liked it. When the boat captain began to play "Praise Music" over the sound system, however, I asked it to be turned off. The serenity and peace of the Sea of Galilee needs to be experienced for its own sake. It is one of the few places where one truly can come close to a pristine experience of Jesus. Although were going straight across the Sea of Galilee toward the city of Tiberias which is a good size city with large buildings, most of the hills of the surrounding the lake are dotted by small villages. I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ saying, "a city set on a hill cannot be hidden." At night, their lights shine. Fishermen continue to make their living on the Sea of Galilee, primarily catching "St. Pater’s fish" which we call "Tilapia." Last time we were here, we saw fishermen mending their nets on shore. I couldn’t help thinking of Andrew, Simon, James and John.
When we got half way across the lake, our boat captain shut the engines and I celebrated the Eucharist. I used Jesus’ calming of the sea as the Gospel reading. It is my understanding that because the mountains cause sharp passes, the wind can come through very quickly and cause sudden storms to emerge. There are some scholars who argue that Jesus calming of the sea is a metaphor for Jesus’ role to a Marcan church experiencing persecution. Jesus appears asleep to the persecuted church, but the text is an assurance that Jesus is not asleep at all, but present and filled with authority to calm any storm, even those which come up suddenly in our lives. It is one of my favorite texts. At the end of the Eucharist we sang the first verse of "Eternal Father, strong to save." Many were moved by this and would later say that this Eucharist was one of the highlights of the trip. I knew it would be. The Sea of Galilee was a major highlight of my first trip here. It didn’t lose its attraction this time.
The engines revved back up and we plied our way toward the shore and the Museum of the Ancient Boat. This is the wooden frame of a 1st century fishing boat that was discovered in the mud of the Sea of Galilee. There had been a drought that severely lowered the level of the lake. Someone in a kibbutz discovered the artifact in the mud and with that discovery began a very impressive archaeological dig to remove the boat before the rainy season came and the wter level buried it. When Susan and I were here in 1998, the boat was still kept in a treatment tank of water. Now it is safe to be out of the tank and on view. The museum tells the story very well and the boat provides a sharp picture of what it would have been like to be a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee at the time of Jesus.
Dallal had driven the bus around the lake and met us at the museum. We boarded and headed for Capernaum. This is the city which Jesus considered home. He made have had his own place in which to live, or, perhaps more likely, stayed with Peter and Peter’s mother-in-law. There is an ancient synagogue, but it dates back to Byzantine times., nit the time of Jesus. It may sit on a site where its predecessor synagogue had been. A church was built to honor the site of Peter’s home and the this is very likely the place where Peter did live. According to Ikey, the Byzantine synagogue may have been built to keep up with the Christians. No matter, the ruins are very interesting. Overall the ruins have been reorganized since my last trip. We did not spend a great deal of time examining them. I would like more time here on a future trip. The Roman Catholics have built a monstrously ugly church over the site of Peter’s house. It looks like a large flying saucer and it covers the whole site. Still, the site is very much worth visiting.
From Capernaum, we went to the Church of the Beatitudes, traditionally held to be the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I find this unlikely, but as with many of the sites, the shrine provides us an opportunity to reflect on the event and the teaching and this is certainly true in this instance. The church is modern and octagonal . IN the cupola, the words of the Beatitudes are inscribed in Latin. Outside there are beautiful gardens and the whole sits on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It is quite beautiful. I had our group sit and I read to them the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.
From here, we went to a seaside restaurant where most of us lunched on St. Pater’s fish. This was great fun and the fish was terrific. After lunch, we drove to Caesarea Philippi. I had not seen this site before. It is about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and at the foot of Mount Tabor, which is the traditional site of the Transfiguration. It was on the road to Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asked what I think is the most important question in the Bible, "But who do you say that I am?"
There is a large and beautiful spring here which made it an attractive site for fertility cults. In about the 3rd century B.C.E. it became a site dedicated to the Greek god Pan and the place was called Panias, later altered to Banias in Arabic. According to Ikey, as a site dedicated to Pan and to fertility, rather licentious goings on took place here. He would assert that when Jesus spoke of the "gates of hell" in Matthew, he was referring to this place. I am not sure he is on solid ground with this. The Temple is carved into a cave and there are niches in the rocks for statues. It is very beautiful. The Banias springs are one of the sources of the Jordan and some in our group collected water to bring home. We then set off to return to the Kibbutz Maagan for dinner.
At 2:30 AM my cell phone rang. It was Louie Crew, Co-Chair of the Nominating Committee for the 10th Bishop of Newark informing me that I was one of four nominees chosen by the Committee for the official slate. He asked if I was still willing to allow my name to be considered and I told him I was. He congratulated me and told me that there would be a conference call the next day with Kim Byham, President of the Standing Committee of Newark along with the other nominees. He did not tell me the names of the others as they were still being notified and the Committee had to be sure they were willing to remain in consideration. After a brief and cordial chat, we hung up. Needless to say, Susan and I were excited, but also overwhelmed. We were both aware that this nomination represents an enormous honor and grace. Up to this point, we had felt all of this was something of a "long shot" and it has had an aspect of unreality and the hypothetical about it. Clearly, to be one of four nominees raises the level of seriousness and confronts us with the very real possibility that we might be called to leave St. Paul’s. Susan gave me a hug. As it was only 7:45 PM Eastern Time in the United States, we called our children at home and let them know as well as staff people who had wanted to know right away. We also called John and Ann Said, since John (former Bishop Suffragan of Southeast Florida) had been the person who had submitted my name to Newark and got all this started. At about 3:30 AM, Israel time, Susan and I went back to bed. It took me a little while, but I was able to get to sleep. It occurred to me that it was pretty special to receive this news while I was in Galilee and I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for that. Quite a day.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Holy Land Pilgrimage - Day 3

Day 3 - June 26 - The Pilgrimage begins in earnest - Caesarea Maritime to Nazareth
This morning to go swimming. I went out at 6:15 AM. It was a pretty good hike from the hotel down to the beach itself, but worth it. The sand was soft and fine. The water was a lovely turquoise, not too dissimilar from South Florida. There was a fair amount of surf. I caught a couple of waves, and renewed my baptismal vows, which I always try to do when I am in the ocean.
We began what would become our regular routine: 7:00 wake up call, bags out in the hallway by 7:30, breakfast, on the bus for departure by 8:30.
We journeyed to Caesarea Maritime which took us less than a hour. This was city built by Herod the Great somkewhere in around 35 B.C.E. and the ruins there are very impressive. There is an incredible Roman Theater which sits overlooking the Mediterranean. When Susan and I visited in 1998, it was January and the weather was rainy and very windy. This day was warm and calm and the setting just beautiful. After Ikey shared the history of the city, the group sat in the Roman Theater and I celebrated the Eucharist. In my short homily I used the text in Matthew 22 ("Give the Emperor the things that are the Emperor's and to God the things that are God's), and asked the group to consider the challenge Jesus presented when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Kingdom of Caesar and Herod. It is, I think, a critical question to ask if one is to understand the subversive nature of the Gospel. Certainly, as we sat in the midst of one of Herod’s massive building projects, it brings the question into sharp relief.
After the Eucharist, we walked a little to the north where there are ruins from Herod’s magnificent palace. These ruins had not been excavated in 1998, so this was new to me. Herod lived extravagantly. The palace, again was situated right on the water. Herod had created the largest port the area by building a huge wave breaker. The engineering feat is most impressive. This was also true of the 16 mile aqueduct built by Herod to supply the city. We had to take a short bus ride to look at it. I had seen it in 1998. It still bowls me over. As Ikey observed, when you consider a 16 mile aqueduct and the slope necessary to bring water that distance, it really is amazing!
After leaving Caesarea Maritime, our next stop was Meggido. We traveled through the Plains of Sharon and the Jezreel Valley as we moved toward Megiddo, which is also known more popularly as Armegeddon. The expansive open valleys and an awareness that they are situated as a geographical gateway between the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe make it clear why these fields have been significant battlegrounds throughout history, and also why apocalypticists believe these will be the scene of a final cosmic battle at the time of the final judgement.
We visited a museum at Megiddo that had a good film about the site and its history. The most impressive part of the Megiddo site is the tunnel and waterworks. There are 20 layers of civilization at this site and it is the inspiration of James Micherner’s book The Source. There are more than 160 steps down into the water tunnel and then a long walk to the undergound spring which is just outside the city wall and which was camouflaged and used by the ancient city during times of war and siege. About 75 steps leads one out of the tunnel and just outside the ancent walls of city.
We journeyed to Nazareth, a bustling, mostly Arabic city. Our bus parked several blocks from the Church of the Annunciation. This modern church sits over an ancient grotto traditionally held to be the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her that she would be bear God’s son. Attached to this tradition is also the tradition that this was the home of Mary’s parents. As we entered the church a Eucharist was being celebrated in Polish. This prevented our being able to go down into the grotto. Still it is an interesting church to visit and a good place to consider Mary and her role in giving birth to Jesus. When I do think about her role, I often wonder if she would have agreed so willingly to bear this child if she had known what the cost would be to herself and, more importantly, to her son?
This was the first of the sacred sites we were to visit that required modest dress and several in our group had to improvise. One man of our group who had shorts on bought a pair of sweat pants from a local merchant on the way to the church. They were black with decals of flames - pretty wild and he clearly hated them. After he came out of the sanctuary, but before leaving the grounds of the church, he took them off and was promptly asked to leave the area.
We had to walk through local streets to get to and from the church and there were lovely fruits and breads for sale on the corner of a major thoroughfare. I bought some cherries which were delicious.
We drove through Cana, another busy town, but not much to see. In 1998 we visted the Church of Martha and Mary. It was not included in this trip.
We arrived at the Kibbutz Maagan which was to be our home for the next two nights. It a beautiful facility, very much a Jewish resort for local families. They had small suites with kitchens, and the resort is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is stunning. There were many families with children - school was out of session and teens were supervising younger children playing on the grass. Dining was buffet style and our group had tables reserved, but everyone converged at once and it was busy and filled with children. It seemed like a great place for families.
While here, the story began to develop about the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and a resulting military action by the Israeli army. CNN and Sky News were giving this a great deal of attention. It is a very difficult conflict and the difficulty if it becomes more apparent when one is in this country hearing the perspectives of both sides. Thus far, we had not felt any tensions or any sense of threat during our travels. After dinner, I put on a swimsuit to go into the Sea of Galilee. There was sign that said "Swimming Forbidden without Life Guard." I went knee high, but the beach and shore were so rocky it was painful to walk in beare feet and I didn’t stay in long at all. It was beautiful to see the sun go down over the Sea of Galilee.

Holy Land Pilgrimage - Days 1 and 2

Susan and I led 28 adults on pilgirmage to the Holy Land from June 24 - July 3. Although I did not keep journal entries as we went, I spent most of the flight home journaling each day's events and though I would share that. Below is the entry for Day 1 and Day 2.

Days 1 and 2 - June 24/25 - Flight to Tel Aviv and Arrival
We arrived in Tel Aviv after leaving Miami and having a three hour layover in an ugly part of the Frankfurt airport. This was pretty awful. There were no decent food offerings, inadequate seating, and cigarette smoke from a nearby smoking area made the air acrid. We were glad to get out of there.
The Tel Aviv airport is beautiful. There is a stunning water fountain in one of the main passenger areas. A large round shower of water drops from the ceiling into the fountain below at intervals. It really is quite striking. As we were standing in the passport control/immigration area of the airport in Tel Aviv, it was noticeable that foreigners of of Arab descent were required to leave the line and were escorted to a different area, I presume for stricter investigation and interrogation. I saw three separate individuals/families to whom this occurred.
After we had passed through customs and immigration, we were met by a representative of Amiel Travel which is the company that works with Friendship Tours in Israel. We were also introduced to Ikey, who was to be our guide throughout the week. Ikey is in his forties, perhaps early fifties. We would soon learn that he is an Israeli Jew and very proud of both his country and his faith and enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and love of each. We would also find out during the week, that he is still serves in the Israeli Army. Durin g the week, Ikey would state on several occasions, "Israeli is proof of a miracle of God." He would quote Isaiah 51:3, "For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord..." As examples of this he would point tp the many, many areas where the Tree Planting project had indeed made the desert a garden.
After we had all gathered our bags, Ikey led us out to the bus where we met Dallal, an older man, probably in his late sixties who would turn out to be quiet, gentle and very caring of us, not to mention, a terrific driver.
Our only stop for today was Joffa (ancient Joppa). Here there is an area which Ikey had told us was a ghetto where no one wanted to live. The streets were ancient and narrow. The government decided to turn it into an artists’ colony. Now it is a thriving and very expenisve area where there are art galleries. Although many artists still live there from the days of the original project, it has become very chic. The winding narrow streets and alleys let you know the antiquity of the place.
Tel Aviv is a bustling city, the largest in Israel, very modern with a lot of action. Of course, Israel is not a large country. It is about the size of New Hampshire or Vermont. Ikey said to get a sense of its size, imagine a square 84 miles x 84 miles. That’s pretty small.
Our hotel, the Sharon, was situated in Herzeliah right on the Mediterranean Sea. Several of our group took advantage of that and went for a swim before dinner. I had to spend some time with Ikey reviewing the itinerary, so I didn’t get to swim until the next morning.
We had dinner, a buffet with many choices - chicken, fish, lots of salads and cold offerings and sweets. Humus would be a fvorite for everyone at virtually every meal. After dinner, I asked for a room and the group got to know each other. As it was Sunday, I celebrated the Holy Eucharist and preached a brief homily. Bed felt good. It had been a long journey from Miami on Saturday at 10:30 AM.

A View of General Convention written on July 4

The month of June has been a whirlwind for Susan and for me. On June 11 we left for Columbus where I served as Clergy Deputy from Southeast Florida. General Convention ended on June 21 and we returned home, basically to do laundry and pack. On Saturday, June 24 we departed for the Holy Land leading 28 adults on pilgrimage. We returned on July 3. As I was in Miami waiting to go through Passport Control, I checked my e-mails and had a lengthy one from a parishioner who was deeply concerned about the outcome of General Convention. Particularly upsetting to this person was the fact that dioceses such as Central Florida were repudiating the actions of the Episcopal Church and requesting alternative primatial oversight. This person felt that General Covention had acted precipitously and not responded adequately to the demands of the Windsor Report and that this had provoked the action by these dioceses. I answered in a lengthy e-mail on July 4th. As I know there are others who share this person’s grief and concern, I felt it would be helpful to provide a portion of my response on this blogsite. Here is some of what I wrote:

I want to begin by underscoring our observance today, July 4th - Independence Day. Although this General Convention emphasized the international composition of the Episcopal Church (which includes not only Haiti, but also Province IX and its many diocese of Central America and elsewhere), the fact is that our roots are distinctly American. We are not an English Church at prayer on American soil. We are a distinctly American Church. We were birthed with the nation in the pangs of the American Revolution. Our Constitution and Canons were forged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the same period that the Constitution of the United States (1785-1789) was being drafted. We are, as a result, a democratic church with all of the benefits and foibles that come with democratic institutions.
I believe this has worked very well for us and it is one of the things that make me proud to be an Episcopalian. While we have in our theology, ceremonies and liturgies, been informed by our maternal English roots, our clear identity as American and democratic is something I treasure. I believe with all my heart that the Holy Spirit works well in our church and there is scriptural precedent (see Acts 1:15-26). Therefore, it is troubling to me to see so many who are now unhappy about the democratic processes of our church denying our nature, seeking forms of less democratic polity, striving instead for more centralized and authoritarian control. Who, I wonder, will be the alternative primate of Central Florida? Will it be Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, or another of his colleagues who continue to operate in ways that are autocratic and patently patriarchal and oppressive? I wonder how well John Howe [Bishop of Central Florida] will function under that type of Primatial Oversight? Or perhaps he will reject that too, then what?
It is clear to me that the Diocese of Central Florida and the other nine that have been “acting out” are the ones who have been behaving schismatically. It is they who have been working adamantly at the breakup and destruction of the church. Moreover, many of these dioceses have been engaged in this toxic and destructive behavior since the Episcopal Church ordained women (e.g. Fort Worth, Springfield, San Joaquin, South Carolina). The current conflict is not only about the place of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church, it is in many ways a continuation of a longer battle about the role of women in the Church and the changed Book of Common Prayer, now 30 years old!
While the 2006 General Convention in Resolution A159 clearly reaffirmed our abiding commitment to the fellowship of churches that comprise the Anglican Communion, stated clearly that we are in communion with the See of Canterbury and agreed to engage in a “Windsor Process” (
Click here: A159 - Anglican Communion: Commitment to Interdependence in the Anglican Communion) we were unwilling to subscribe wholesale to the demands of the Windsor Report or leave our convictions at the door. In this I believe we are showing appropriate caution and concern.
I find the Windsor Report both a flawed and disturbing document. I also found the response of the Special Committee appointed by George Werner and Frank Griswold and their report
One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call flawed. In the explanation I drafted for a substitute resolution I proposed to the 2006 General Convention for Resolution A160, I gave my reasoning as follows,
“The mandate of the Windsor Report included a direction to the Lambeth Commission to explore the ‘legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex union as one of its bishops and of the Diocese of New Westminster to authorize services for use in connection with same sex unions...’ The Lambeth Commission on Communion failed to address issues of human sexuality and sexual identity as issues of justice and to include consideration of this in its exploration of the “legal and theological implications” flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church in 2003. Justice is not only a biblical mandate, but a significant theological concern and one of the four cardinal virtues. To paraphrase St. Augustine, without justice there can be no peace or unity of the church. The failure of the Windsor Report to adequately address the issue of justice with respect to issues of human sexuality and the place of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church produced a flawed document and has resulted in a distorted and unbalanced response to the actions of the Episcopal Church in consequence. In March 2005, the House of Bishops made a statement expressing regret and repentance, yet failed to articulate a strong rationale for the Episcopal Church’s decisions. The statement of the House of Bishop’s has been embedded in A160 and yet the language of “repentance” for a decision many feel was made prayerfully, scripturally and justly does not ring true. While the Special Commission on The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion to the 75th General Convention is to be commended for superior work in its report One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call, this Committee also failed to adequately address the serious omission and flaw of the Windsor Report.”

The text of my proposed Substitute for A160, which never received consideration (it was buried by the House of Bishops) further clarifies my position:

Resolved, the House of ___________concurring, that the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church expresses regret and our sincerest apology for the pain others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003; and be it further

Resolved, that we affirm that the actions taken at the General Convention 2003 were not intended to offend, denigrate, or breach the bonds of affection with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion whom we hold in the highest affection and love in Christ, but rather represent the Episcopal Church’s response to what it faithfully believes is our reverent learning from a “new disclosure of truth” (Resolution #8 Lambeth Conference 1958): our experience of the faithful lives and ministries of gay and lesbian persons in the Church, our new understanding of the biblical demands of justice, the Lord’s Summary of the Law and the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, and how these inform our relationship to gay, lesbian and transgendered persons in the Church; and be it further

Resolved, that this 75th General Convention communicate to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and our brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion our love and affection as well as our conviction that for many in the Episcopal Church, questions about human sexuality and the place of gay, lesbian and transgendered persons in the life of the Church and Society represent a vital justice issue and as such have significant legal and theological implications that we believe cannot be ignored or isolated from conversations about the unity of the Church and the Communion and cannot be divorced from the Communion-wide listening process commended by Resolution I.I0 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

Since Lambeth Conference 1978 there has been a call for meaningful dialogue in the Church on human sexuality. This demand has been ignored and most especially in the Global South where, too often, gay and lesbian people are vilified and even persecuted. Archbishop Peter Akinola has recently called for the passage of a law in Nigeria that would criminalize any public displays of same sex affection.
Click here:

This is in violation of all statements regarding the treatment of gay and lesbian people in the church made at Lambeth Conferences in 1978, 1988 and 1998. It is certainly in violation of the tenets of our American Baptismal Covenant which require that we “seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbor as our self” and that we “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”
I feel strongly that this is a justice issue. My conviction about this has only increased since 2003 as I was subjected to outrageous comments for my support of the Robinson consent and as I have watched the so-called “orthodox” in this country and abroad behave in un-Christian ways and engage in malicious rhetoric and hate speech. Peter Akinola has led the pack and his behavior has been despicable.

Click here: Peter Akinola - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Beyond the fact that the issue is a matter of justice to me and to many others, as well as my recognition that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Windsor Commission have deliberately refused to engage the question as such, in its call for a “covenantal relationship” subscribed to by the different provinces, the Windsor Report is calling for a realignment of the Anglican Communion that represents a cataclysmic shift in our polity - much more than the mere consecration of homosexual bishop. Despite the protestations of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the contrary, in its call for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be invested with “extraordinary powers” the Windsor Report is moving toward a centralized, authoritarian model of church with a central head. I find this unsatisfactory and especially since none of us has any say in the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury which is, after all, an appointment of the crown and the government of Great Britain from which we declared our Independence in 1776.