Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for March, 2018

Featured on Divided States of Women with Liz Plank

Dear Readers,

First–thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you have enjoyed some of my posts or found some encouragement somewhere on this site.

I wanted to share that my friend Jenn A. Petro and I were interviewed by journalist Liz Plank for the Vox Media program Divided States of Women.

Here is a link to the article written by the United Church of Christ News.

If you would like to watch the Divided States of Women episode, go here:

https://www.dividedstatesofwomen.com/2018/3/29/17149258/local-church-providing-a-safe-haven-for-trans-people-because-government-wont

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!

Peace,

Josh

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Tearing Apart and Finding Rest

Mark 11:7-11; 14:3,8,9; 15:25, 33,34,37,38   

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It’s an interesting day, the Sunday before Easter. Christians around the world call it Palm Sunday, commemorating the story in the NT Gospels about Jesus of Nazareth riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and people laying down their cloaks and perhaps some palm fronds as well. So churches of all sorts often give palm branches to people who attend worship on said Sunday.

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I’m not judging anyone or any church that chooses to give out real palm fronds or fake ones. It is what it is. I’m not sure it’s the best use of resources [especially if we really dig deep into where the palm fronds come from]. Fake ones? Okay. But I’m not going to dwell on that. Such traditions are fine as long as they inspire and encourage people to be more kind and loving to others. Do the palm branches given out once a year accomplish that?

Not sure.

Since I was a child I have always wondered about the strange transition from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Sandwiched in between those two celebratory Sundays is what is called Holy Week—a week usually including at least one service of worship that focuses on Jesus’ death, including the symbol of the cross, and more mournful/somber ceremonies and rites. Sometimes people parade crosses through towns and cities and display bloody Jesus statues in public squares. Depending on a person’s tradition, Holy Week can be a time of mourning and sorrow.

I see you, Spain.

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Or…

Holy Week is not bloody, somber, or particularly religious, but simply a week to prepare food and your house for relatives and friends for Easter dinner. Although depending on your friends and family, I suppose it could get bloody and somber? I hope not…

And we can’t forget about Passover, right? That’s how this all started anyway! Passover, for all of our Jewish friends and fam, begins March 30th and ends April 7th.

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Really, not so concerned about whether you do or don’t observe Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Passover, or Easter. These religious holidays are a mix of both secular, national, cultural, and religious traditions and vary according to where you live, what you eat, and what language you speak. So it’s best not to read too much into all that.

What I’d like to talk about with you, if you’ll join me in this conversation, is how a story [and our traditions] either help or hinder us in our seeking of rest and wholeness, and in our development as people to be more compassionate and loving to others. I’ve chosen to include parts of Mark’s Gospel story that take us from the Jerusalem road [palm branches, etc.] to the town of Bethany and the woman who anointed Jesus, to Golgotha and the cross, then back to Jerusalem and the temple.

The story arc goes like this:

-Jesus of Nazareth finally makes it to his destination [Jerusalem], and as he arrives, people are waiting.

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They are a mixed group—some wanting him to be a political ruler, a king, or a military champion. Others watched with curiosity and others with skepticism. The Romans were most certainly watching. So were the religious elites, called the Sanhedrin. Was Jesus a king? Some people wanted him to be. They sang the royal songs to him. They tried to anoint him as king.

-But this so-called “king” went to Bethany first. And there were no crowds and no Hosannas, and no palm branches thrown at his feet. Instead, there was a leper—an unclean, untouchable person. Jesus sat at table with this Simon. Then, a woman approached with an alabaster jar of ointment [notable because of its value and something that was reserved for special occasions].

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With Simon the leper watching, she did, in Jesus’ words, what “she could,” anointing Jesus’ body for burial.

Her action was good news.

-From Bethany Jesus ended up in a place of death, of skulls, called Golgotha.

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The ones who previously shouted Hosanna and laid down palm fronds and cloaks, where were they? It seems lonely, this part of the story. And indeed, it was. Jesus cried out in loneliness to a God who seemed absent, quoting a Psalm, Elohim, why have you left me alone? And then, Jesus died.

-At that point, the story shifts back to Jerusalem and the temple, the same one that Jesus threw tables around in because people were being exploited and marginalized there. In this same temple a ceremonial curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom…

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As if to say: the sacrifices you’ve been told you have to pay for and offer here are no longer necessary. Likewise, you don’t need priests or scribes or any other mediators to access the Divine. The Spirit of God is loose in the world and is all around you, and stands with all of you who are marginalized, broken, exploited, or lonely. This Spirit is with you.

All of you, like the woman with the alabaster jar, who have been criticized or made to feel small just because you made yourself vulnerable and took a risk to be yourself to show love.

All of you who have felt/feel like Simon the leper sometimes—ostracized by society and told that you don’t fit—that who you are is somehow not of value.

All of us, who have felt beaten up and are suffering, wondering, as Jesus did, where in the h@&* is God in all this pain and emptiness?

In all places, countries, neighborhoods, towns, and countrysides—we are given accessibility to a Divine presence that affirms who we are and calls us to love others above all else. And yes, it is this idea and movement away from hate and towards compassion that led to Jesus’ death, yes, this is what the curtain tearing in two is all about.

Students lose their lives due to senseless gun violence in their schools. They cry out with loud voices to lawmakers, politicians, school administrators, parents, and leaders. And they are met with silence. They are are blamed and scapegoated and told that they are too young to understand. And these students are still crying out.

Syrians experience death and war in their cities and towns each and every day. They cry out for help as foreign powers fund the armed conflicts in their neighborhoods, as their lives hang in the balance. Will anyone pay attention? Will anyone care?

Africans in various regions of the continent pray and hope for an end to civil wars and genocides that barely make the news or internet feeds and if they do, they last for a moment before people’s attention turns to the next new gadget or the newest celebrity gossip story.

Honest, hard-working people find themselves on the pipeline to prison just because they are black; transgender people are targeted and attacked just for being themselves; gay and lesbian couples are shunned by their families just because of who they love.

And churches continue to shame and shun people who don’t fit their definition of what God approves, conveniently kicking to the curb those who are materially poor, the LGBTQIA+ community, undocumented immigrants, non-religious people, those in non-conventional love relationships, people of other faith traditions, and basically, anyone who doesn’t sign off on whatever doctrine or dogma they hold to.

Golgotha is all around us. But we don’t have to stay there, do we?

Not sure what this next week called holy will be for you.

Perhaps you’ll decide to trade palm branches for protest signs; maybe you’ll pick up your cloak from the ground and give it to someone sleeping on the street; perhaps you feel a bit like Simon the leper, shunned and isolated, and you’d be grateful if someone would just visit you and sit at your table. Or maybe you’re like the woman with the alabaster jar—in possession of something so important and special to you, and yet bursting with the desire to share it with others, in spite of the skeptical stares you get.

There’s a place for us all in the story, friends. That’s what the temple curtain tearing is all about. No matter where you are or who you are on this journey called life, you don’t need a priest or a church or a religion to encounter God or to walk with this Jesus or to find intrinsic value within yourself.

You already have a place in the great story.

So, If there is to be any rest in us, if we are to bring love and rest to our communities and the world, We must go back to the curtain in Jerusalem that tears, reminding us that things are not set in stone or impossible to change—neither in us or in the world, that is, if we choose to risk love. If we risk being ourselves.

Interfaith Immersion Day 6

Friday

Our week comes to a close today. It’s a packed day!

First, a visit to the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge for jumu-ah prayers.

This particular community is situated close to a Jewish synagogue next door and a Baptist church across the street. This intentional grouping of faith traditions has led to increased awareness, cooperation, and sends a powerful message to the community. Read more here and here.

Before prayers, we headed downstairs to their community hall. Other students from Villanova Univ. were visiting and joined us. After some brief introductions and an orientation, we all participated in the Friday prayers and listened to a message by one of the leaders of the community. It was right on point–he talked about seeking justice for those who have none, and of helping the marginalized and those who are different than you/not part of your particular community. Pretty much what this week was all about.

After prayers we went downstairs for Q&A and pizza. Fabulous conversation. I so appreciate this community!

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We were pressed for time, so we piled into vehicles and immediately made our way back into Center City Philly for our visit to Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

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We were greeted immediately by Rabbi Eli Freedman. The place was abuzz with activity in preparation for the Shabbat service. Rabbi Eli brought us into the sanctuary.

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The architecture is uniquely beautiful. Here’s a closeup of where the Torah scroll resides.

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The students had a quick Q&A with Rabbi Eli.

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He talked about Rodeph Shalom being a “Reform” Jewish congregation and more progressive in its social stances and commitment to justice for marginalized communities. Rodeph Shalom is also extremely active in interfaith work and a leader in interfaith cooperative projects in Greater Philadelphia, including POWER and PICO.

Rabbi Eli shared a bit about what to expect in the Shabbat service and about the importance/significance of the Torah in the lives of Jewish people.

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Afterwards, a few moments to munch on Challah bread and fruit and then it was time for the service to begin. We were greeted with “Shabbat Shalom” as more and more people started to arrive and make their way into the worship space.

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After the service, we made our way just a few blocks over from Broad St. to the Mormon Meeting House for the production of Savior of the World, a musical depicting the birth and resurrection stories about Jesus of Nazareth, as told in the Christian Gospels.

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Whew! What a day, what a week! All of us exhausted, we called it a night. The students return to Ohio on Saturday morning. Look for some guest bloggers soon, as some of the students will share their experiences. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

No matter what religion you practice [or if you don’t practice], we are better together. Meeting people who are different than you, honoring and learning about their sacred spaces and practices–will lead you to more understanding and opportunities for personal growth. I also think it enables us to work towards a more just and peaceful world.

Interfaith Immersion Day 5

Thursday

Depaul - Homelessness has no place
Day 5 included a visit for service-learning at St. Raymond’s House.

St. Raymond’s, part of Depaul USA, provides permanent housing and case management to help individuals meet their health and life goals. They provide 24-hour care, meals, and assistance. Here are some of the stories from their residents from their wall of fame…

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The group worked hard. They started out preparing seeds for the eventual Spring planting in St. Raymond’s outdoor garden.

Afterwards, some of us went outside to prepare the beds for planting–adding mulch and turning the soil. Others organized a library, an office, and did some major cleanup.

What a great place to learn, help, and connect!

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The last day is tomorrow. See you then!

Interfaith Immersion Day 4

Wednesday

At noon we journeyed to Repair the World,

Repair the World

The organization partners with local and community-based organizations like the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children and Broad Street Ministry as it seeks to build a kinder and more equitable city. Repair the World works to inspire American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. Their aim is to make service a defining part of American Jewish life.

Our group participated in a workshop with Mary Holmcrans, one of their food fellows. She presented information about food security and justice issues, including food deserts and food sovereignty. The students had a chance to reflect about those terms, as well as an opportunity to read some passages from the Torah [mostly from Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Exodus] and to reflect on how these passages speak to the issue of hunger and justice.

After the workshop, we went to Reading Terminal Market for some fun and well, eating.

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Then, a quick stroll up and down South St. to glance at the Magic Gardens and one of the urban gardens in the city that provides fresh produce for those who do not have access to nutritious food.

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And finally, the obligatory run up the Art Museum steps all the while humming the tune to Rocky.

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See you tomorrow.

Interfaith Immersion Day 3

Tuesday

Our morning and early afternoon was spent at Calvary Center for Culture and Community in West Philly.

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CCCC is housed in the 1906 Calvary United Methodist Church building at 48th & Baltimore Avenue. The Center serves over 5,000 community members yearly, acting as the “town hall” for one of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse communities.

These communities include: the local community association, refugee groups, Twelve Step programs, the historic preservation society, art and cultural activities,peace and social justice organizations, educational classes, and several religious congregations.

CCCC’s mission is to:

 

* Nurture and support efforts to improve the quality of urban life

* Encourage creative and performing arts that enrich the community

​* Preserve, restore and renew the historic Calvary Church building

Our host Kari was amazing. Kari shared with us a brief history of the community, took us on a tour, and talked about what CCCC is currently doing to make a positive social impact in its community.

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After the tour, the groups got to work. They cleaned various parts of the building, helped organize the office space, moved furniture, dealt with trash, and helped recycle old documents.

Clearly, CCCC is engaged in interfaith social justice work for the sake of the common good. This community faces many challenges as they seek to truly be a welcoming, interfaith community, with the neighborhood around them always on their minds.


Tuesday Eve

In the early evening we journeyed to the NW suburbs of Philadelphia for a visit to Bharatiya Temple and Cultural Center, a Multi Deity Hindu and Jain Temple.

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I have been to Bharatiya many times and have always had a good experience. Our group consisted of 3 students who identify as Hindu, so that added another layer of meaning to this particular visit.

As always, at Bharatiya, we were greeted with smiles and conversation. First, we met downstairs where the cultural events take place for Q&A. Sorry to be a broken record, but I was really impressed by the students’ questions and reflections. Also, our hosts were gracious, honest, and accommodating. There is no way to cover Hinduism [and Jainism, for that matter] in a blog post. So please explore. And visit temples and talk to Hindus and Jains. This is the way to learn. This site is a great place to start also.

After the Q&A it was time to go upstairs into the prayer space for the Tuesday evening prayers.

Image result for bharatiya temple chalfont paWe were able to participate as we wished in the pujas [ritual prayers]. Everyone got a chance to hear about the various representations of deities in the prayer space and what they mean to Hindus and Jains. While we were walking around the prayer space, priests were leading devotees in chanting and singing, candles were lit,  a bell was rung, and fruit and water were given to those who participated in the puja.

What did I take away from this visit? Well, there was a certain comfort in hearing that to define “what is a Hindu” is not really an important question. One student from Mumbai, India, asked if one could be an atheist and also considered a Hindu. The answer, emphatically, was yes.

The wisdom gained from this evening was that no matter one’s religion [or lack thereof] it is how a person lives their life that matters most.

How do they treat people? Are they loving and caring and compassionate? Are they justice-seeking?

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See you tomorrow.

 

Interfaith Immersion Day 2, Part 2

Monday Eve

Image result for LDS church philadelphiaOn Monday night we headed to Center City Philadelphia for a visit to the Church of Latter Day Saints [Mormons]. We started out at their meeting house where many meetings, classes, and other organizational business take place.

There were also rehearsals going on for the upcoming theatrical performance of “Savior of the World.” We met first in the chapel, where members of this community worship.

Our host Amanda introduced other leaders who were present, including missionary couples and executive level leadership in the Philadelphia regional grouping of the LDS church. One such leader shared a bit about how Mormons view the history of their faith and how it relates to the Jewish scriptures [the Torah, the prophets, the wisdom literature], the Christian scriptures [the New Testament], and the Book of Mormon [a historical and spiritual record of the culture and community called Mormons].

Soon after, we moved to another room where classes take place. Other leaders answered questions and shared from their personal experiences as a Mormon. The two groups of students from Ohio Wesleyan and Jefferson had great questions about the structure of the Mormon church and the influence of modern culture, youth retention, etc.

Later on, we moved into another space [like a conference room] and had more interactions and Q&A.

Oh yes, and cookies.

Finally, we moved to the newly-built temple which is only accessible by card-carrying Mormons [those who are practicing Mormons in good standing with the LDS church].

One of the regional leaders shared a bit about the space, its various purposes, and the history of how the temple was allowed to be built in Philly. This is where we were.

Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple - Foyer Entry Computer Rendering

We learned about the spaces in the temple where people are baptized and married.

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Baptismal Font

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Marriage Ceremony Space

All in all, it was definitely a whirlwind tour, but once again, I was impressed by the students’ thoughtfulness, curiosity, and emotional intelligence. Looking forward to tomorrow!

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