Monday, October 29, 2007

A perfect day

I think I had an almost perfect day. It began with a birthday party for my amazing and absolutely gorgeous grandson, Gabriel. He was one year old and did great with all the activity and people.

After the party I went on a kayak trip with my 9 year old daughter, Maria. I have always wanted to kayak a portion of the American River at sunset. We put in the kayaks at 5:30 - I thought there was plenty of time to get to the take out point. But I misjudged the distance. What I thought was one mile, turned out to be 3 miles - and it was pitch black by the time we reached the take out point. She was a real trooper though and didn't know I was getting a bit panicky about the current.
Then I stopeed to visit my one week old granddaughter, Sage, to hold her for a few minutes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically

Year of living biblically
We have begun a new Bible Study at Grace - 11 am on Tues mornings. It follows the 10 am Healing and Eucharist service in the small chapel. All are welcome. I recommend that you read some of the Bible every day. I guarantee that you will find yourself in the same story and struggles and triumphs on the pages as you read.

The following comes from a New York Daily News on Oct 11, 2007. A.J. Jacobs decided to spend a year living as biblically as he could. He followed the more than 700s rules found in its pages.

"Since researching and writing "The Year of Living Biblically," A.J. Jacobs has a richer appreciation for religion.

He also has bag of beard stashed under a sink.

Jacobs' memoir is subtitled "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible." It retraces the 381 days that he tried to obey every Good Book rule - about 700 of them - exactly as written.

"My goal was to get to the original intent of the Bible, to go right to the source," notes Jacobs, 39, who is editor at large for Esquire magazine.

Jacobs, an agnostic, said the idea came from his fascination with the role religion plays in people's lives. And, he admits, it was a stunt that could sell a book.

He knows about such things. In 2004, he came out with "The Know-It-All," which chronicled months spent reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

The eyestrain from immersing himself in that project was a picnic compared with what Jacobs went through to live the ultimate biblical life.

He heeded the Ten Commandments, natch, and didn't lie, steal or covet. He tithed his income. He wore white and attached tassels to his shirt-sleeves. He didn't touch his wife, Julie, or any woman, at certain times of the month. He pelted an adulterer with a pebble. "It was a surprisingly intense encounter," says Jacobs.

He consulted regularly with priests, rabbis and ministers. He wore biblical attire, purchased at a Halloween store. He invited a Jehovah's Witness into his upper West Side home. "I realize this fact already puts me in an extreme minority," he muses. "It's like volunteering for jury duty or paying to see a Vin Diesel movie."

He also did field study. He tended sheep in Israel, visited with the Amish and chatted up evangelical Christians at the Creationism Museum in Kentucky ("the Louvre," he writes, "for those who believe God made Adam less than 6,000 years ago from dust").

He also danced - hard - with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. "It was like an Orthodox rave, and an interesting insight into the joy that religion could provide. There's sin and the dourness of religion, but there's a whole other side."

Until Sept. 18, 2006, the day his crusade ended, Jacobs left the edges of his beard unshaven, because the Bible tells us to do so.

"The facial hair is simply the most noticeable physical manifestation of a spiritual journey I began a year ago," he notes. That's why he felt compelled to save his whiskers in a Ziploc.

In a true act of biblical devotion, Jacobs was fruitful and multiplied. His wife gave birth to sons Lucas and Zane on Day 359 of his biblical odyssey. "I take my projects very seriously," he says, with a laugh. "We were trying anyway, book or no book, but the timing was, pardon the pun, divine."

Jacobs' book has been bought as a movie and has brought some lessons. "The outside shapes the inside, like Method acting," he says. "If you behave like a good person, you eventually become a better person."

Not that he always got it right. "I failed on an hourly basis, and that was one of the lessons," he says. "You'll never be perfect."

Nonetheless, he has changed in ways big and small.

"I spent so much time giving thanks while doing the book, I'm more thankful now. I focus on the 100 little things that go right every day.

"I'm a workaholic," he adds. "But there's a mandatory day of rest, if you follow the Bible. I see the beauty of it."

But there's always another book. His next stunt?

"Julie says I owe her one," he says. "She thinks I should do 'A Year of Giving Foot Massages.'"

For now, she is happy with Jacobs' fur-free face."

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Count down until the baby comes

My daughter, Becca, is expecitng her first child. This will be my second grandchild. I have a 10 month grandson named Gabriel. Bec is due on Oct 16th, and today she went kayaking with me.

Book Chats

I am reading a couple of remarkable books right now and thought I might put some things on this blog as 'grist for the mill' to get a virtual book club going. I'm starting with a review of Christopher Hitchen's new book called God is not Great. There was an article in Vanity Fair about Christopher Hitchen's chance encounter with the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the the archbishop was asked about the current issues that our church is facing, he replied that he was just keeping his head low for a while.

I think it's important not to keep our heads low, but to be to articulate, with enthusiasm and passion, who we are and what we believe.

This was a good review of Hitchen's book and we may find ourselves in conversations with seekers who are reading this book- so I thought I'd share this review for your info.

Any comments?

peace always,

Devorah (aka Rev Deb aka Debra aka.... you don't want to know)

Review from Christian Century on Hitchen's new book: God is not Great

Fighting atheist

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens
Twelve, 288 pp., $24.99
In olden times, Hitchens contends, there were excuses for being religious, but arguments from the order of the universe to the existence of God collapse in the light of modern science.

After you have written books attacking Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa, what is left, really, but to write a book attacking God—or rather, since God does not exist, attacking all who believe in God? So Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant bad boy of Anglo-American high-culture journalism, must have concluded.

Though now an American, Hitchens still writes in the best tradition of British polemic—clever, vicious and very funny. No sense of political correctness, moreover, restrains him: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism—you name it; they are all stupid, and all dangerous.

In olden times, he argues, when ignorance abounded, there were excuses for being religious: "The scholastic obsessives of the Middle Ages were doing the best they could on the basis of hopelessly limited information." But now science has provided us with correct ways of understanding the world, and thus "religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago." Arguments from the order of the universe to the existence of God collapse in the light of modern science. Appeals to revelation are absurd once we know that there are many different purported revelations.

Judaism, Hitchens writes, rests on an ancient text whose barbaric laws and false history far outweigh its "occasional lapidary phrases." Also, "the 'new' testament exceeds the evil of the 'old' one." Jesus probably did not exist, and the center of his story is in any event appalling: "I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life."

Islam, he continues, is a fraudulent mixture of bits of Judaism and Christianity. Hinduism has done India terrible harm. The British were about to grant the country independence anyway, but Gandhi turned what could have been a healthy secular movement toward a modern state into a disastrous attempt to return to the values and customs of the ancient Indian village. Buddhism fries the brain: "The search for nirvana, and the dissolution of the intellect, goes on. And whenever it is tried, it produces a Kool-Aid effect in the real world."

Hitchens insists that religions are not just silly but also dangerous. Jews, Christians and Muslims are always fighting on behalf of their faiths. Sri Lanka is torn apart by Hindu-Buddhist violence. Your own religious neighbors may seem friendly enough, but do not trust them: "Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, . . . competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong." And do not think those days are over: "As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction." Religion poisons everything.

To be sure, religious folks do good as well as evil. Hitchens particularly admires Martin Luther King Jr. But at the core of what King taught, Hitchens maintains, were simple human values; King expressed them in Baptist sermons because that was the language shared by the people with whom he was communicating. On the other side of the ledger, Hitchens admits that nonreligious regimes, like Stalin's and Pol Pot's, can do terrible things. But they do so only to the extent that they become quasi-religions, with sacred texts, absolute authorities and measures for condemning heretics. "Totalitarian systems, whatever outward form they may take, are fundamentalist and, as we would now say, 'faith-based.'"

It would be hard to find the standard arguments against religion presented in livelier form than they are in God Is Not Great. The book reads quickly, and even for most religious people grunts of annoyance will be balanced by regular laughter. Hitchens has not forged such a successful career without knowing how to entertain. Nevertheless, this is a flawed and frustrating book.

First—how to say this politely?—it is full of mistakes. George Miller, we are told (actually it was William Miller), founded a new sect in upstate New York in the 1840s, but the group soon disappeared. More than 20 million Seventh-day Adventists will be surprised to hear it. Hitchens reports in an excited tone, "One of Professor Barton Ehrman's most astonishing findings is that the account of Jesus' resurrection in the Gospel of Mark was only added many years later." Well, it is Bart rather than Barton (names are not Hitchens's strong point), and scholars generally recognized long before Ehrman was born that the ending of Mark is a later addition.

T. S. Eliot was an Anglican rather than a Roman Catholic. The Talmud is not "the holy book in the longest continuous use." Solipsists are people who doubt the existence of a world outside themselves, not people who are ethically self-centered. The ontological argument is not even close to the silly syllogism described on page 265. Hitchens writes that it is "often said that Islam differs from other monotheisms in not having had a 'reformation,'" then he goes on to correct that claim. But sure enough, 11 pages earlier he himself had said, "Only in Islam has there been no reformation."

And so on and so on.

The errors are particularly disturbing because so much of Hitchens's argument rests on statements that the Catholic Church teaches such and such, the archbishop of Canterbury said this, Muslims believe that. Most of these claims are simply unsupported assertions; when no sources are cited, one cannot help wondering if someone so sloppy with his facts might make up some of his quotations as well.

The second frustration of reading this book, at least for a theologian, is that its author seems not to have read any modern theology, or even to know that it exists. He does cite C. S. Lewis a few times and mentions Bonhoeffer with respect (implying that Bonhoeffer had stopped believing in God by the end), but in general his sources for contemporary Christianity are Pat Robertson, Billy Graham and Tim LaHaye. Of Barth or Tillich or Rahner—or their equivalents in other religious traditions—he has not a clue. When Hitchens wants to discuss modern interpretations of the Bible, he turns to Mel Gibson (really!).

Suppose I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy on TV, read the first three Web sites that popped up when I Googled "quantum mechanics," talked to the junior high science teacher who lives down the street, and then wrote a book about how superficial contemporary physics has become. Readers might reasonably protest that I should have read or interviewed some of today's leading physicists before jumping to such a conclusion.

Similarly, when Hitchens dramatically announces that parts of the Bible are not literally true, one wants to say that Origen figured that out and decided what to do about it roughly 1,800 years ago. Many theologians are thinking in interesting ways about the relation of science and faith. Thoughtful historians try to sort out how much of the inspiration of "religious warfare" has actually come from religion, and how often religion has just been the excuse for people who wanted to fight anyway.

I do not mean that there are always clear answers to the issues Hitchens raises, much less that the religious side would always win the debate. My point is simply that among serious people writing about these matters, the argument has often advanced a good many steps beyond where Hitchens is fighting it—so however good his basic questions are, and however enjoyable his style, it is hard to take his contribution to the conversation seriously.

So here is a puzzle. When I went to buy this book, the first bookstore was sold out, and the second had a rack of God Is Not Great surpassed only by the stacks of Harry Potter. No doubt good writing deserves readership, and Hitchens can certainly write. In the age of talk radio and Fox News, the complaint that he often gets his facts wrong may be an old-fashioned objection. But something more, I think, is at stake. Similar books by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are selling nearly as well.

Many Americans today are scared of religion. Radical Islamic terrorists threaten the safety of major cities. George W. Bush assures us that God has led him to his Iraq policy. The local schools, under pressure, avoid teaching evolution. The Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles is selling off property to pay victims of priestly sexual abuse. One trembles to think that many people get their picture of faith from the "Christian channels" on television. No wonder religion has, in many quarters, a bad reputation.

I think many of us—I do not mean just trained theologians, but ordinary folks in churches, mosques and synagogues as well—have found ways to be religious without being either stupid or homicidal. We are, as the cover of the Christian Century puts it, "thinking critically, living faithfully." Not enough of our nonreligious neighbors know enough about what we believe. We need to speak up.

Repeatedly Hitchens cites some horrible thing that some religious folks did or said and then notes that mainstream religious leaders did not criticize it. Although I do not always trust his claims, I suspect that in this case he is at least partly right. Too many of us have been too reluctant to denounce religious lunatics, and because of our reluctance we risk arousing the suspicion that we are partly on their side.

Hitchens ends his book with an appeal to his readers to "escape the gnarled hands which reach out to drag us back to the catacombs and the reeking altars, . . . to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it." Shouldn't one of the lessons of this book have been that comfortable intellectuals should be more careful of using words like fight? Fundamentalists of one sort or another, after all, urge their followers to fight the evils of secularism and atheism. As the battle lines are drawn between the two extremes, it seems to me that folks like those who read the Christian Century need to put aside our obsessively good manners and shout, "Hey! Those aren't the only alternatives! We're here too!"
William C. Placher is professor of philosophy and religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana

Friday, October 5, 2007


I admit it- Sukkot is my favorite holiday. It might seem a bit strange for a white, very Anglo Episcopal priest to love Sukkot but it's true. It is a festival that is marked by joy and is part of the final ingathering of the harvest before winter. There are several customs to observe during the 7 day festival. My favorite part of Sukkot is the sukkah - a temporary structure that we live in for seven days. People eat, study, play, and some people even sleep, in the sukkah. It is meant to remind us of our vulnerability and that our true shelter can only be found in God. The sukkah is a temporary structure to remind us of the type of shelter that the Israelites had as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. It reminds us of the impermanence of our lives.

The walls of the sukkah can be made with anything - canvas, comforters, hung from bamboo poles, - but the roof is supposed to be made of a natural product like tree branches. It is supposed to be cut though - an overhanging tree would not make a kosher roof. You are supposed to be able to see the heavens and stars through the roof. It is to be place that reflects beauty an can be decorated in any way way you can imagine.

There is a custom of inviting seven symbolic guests each day to join us in the sukkah- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. I also invite their respective wives to join us. Tonight Isaac and Rebecca will be our guests.

The roof of my sukkah is not kosher - it has a canvas top, but there's a hole in it so you can see the sky - if you squint a lot. Last night my 9 year old daughter and I slept in the sukkah. I didn't get much sleep, but as I laid there, outside in the old, listening sounds that only come out in the stillness of night and watched the glow of the full moon wind its way across the sky, I felt a connection to the women who walked through the desert so many, many years before. I imagined their lives, snuggling with their children to keep them warm at night, their feelings of impermanence and gratitude for whatever harvest they might gather.

I didn't quite make it all night though. At at 3:24 am Maria woke up and asked me in a quiet, pathetic sort of voice, "Mom, can we quit being Jewish now and go inside where it's warm?" And we did.