Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

Do you remember what happened on the 8th day of Christmas? 
The 8th day of Christmas, you ask?  You mean, eight maids a milking?  


On the eighth day of Christmas--after Jesus is born in a humble feeding trough, after the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest" and announce good news of great joy to all the people, after the shepherds, amazed, run to Bethlehem, but before the Magi come bearing gifts--Jesus is formally welcomed into the Jewish people.  

The eighth day of Christmas, as it were, is when Jesus is circumcised and named.   The  ancient rite of circumcision, first practiced by Abraham as a sign of the covenant with God, is routinely performed in hospitals now.  But not then. 

And then as now, circumcision is the first and most basic mitzvah (commandment or law) to be fulfilled for a Jewish baby boy.
“This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you:  Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is 8 days old…” Genesis 17:10-12a

Jesus isn't the first Jewish boy whose circumcision is noted in the New Testament.  Don’t forget cousin John’s, also on the eighth day.  His naming and miraculous birth is mentioned as well. 

“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said ‘No, he is to be called John.’” 
Luke 1: 57-60   

Circumcision is a permanent sign, etched in the flesh, of partnership with God. Even more than lineage and ancestry, circumcision anchors these boys, and their families, firmly in the Jewish community.

At his circumcision Jesus is also named with “the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)  By the way, it should be noted that girls are named too, but not circumcised.

About a month after Jesus' circumcision, Joseph and Mary come to Jerusalem.  There they present Jesus to the LORD in the ancient practice of redemption of the firstborn son (pidyon ha ben).  Since Jesus is Mary’s firstborn, and as the author of Colossians later asserts, “the firstborn of all creation” (1:15), he is presented then bought back or redeemed after he reaches 31 days old.  

Joseph and Mary would have paid a small sum (five silver shekels in biblical times; today, usually five silver dollars) and performed a brief ritual in the Temple to fulfill the mitzvah. (Numbers 18:15-16)

While the family is at the Temple for the redemption ceremony, two righteous and devout Jews, Simeon and the prophetess Anna, recognize Jesus as a sign of God’s salvation and praise God, for this “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” who would himself redeem Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:32, 2:38)

From his earliest days, Jesus is raised in a strong and beautiful Jewish home.  From circumcision to naming to redemption to offering sacrifices, Mary and Joseph do “everything required by the law of the Lord.” 

Not from a sense of empty duty or obligation, I suspect, but a profound connection to God and Torah and love of their child, Jesus.  

After these mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) are fulfilled, Jesus and his parents “returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.”  At home in Nazareth the mitzvot, blessings, prophesies and praises take root:  “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-40)

Excerpted from the forthcoming book, "The Jew Named Jesus" (Abingdon Press, 2013) by Rebekah Simon-Peter. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

When Interfaith Dialogue Doesn't Work

Recently the longstanding Christian-Jewish Roundtable sinned.  As in missed the mark.  Big time.   

Christian leaders from the group--including representatives of the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA)--sent a letter to Congress on grounds of "moral responsibility" asking that US aid to Israel be reevaluted in light of the Jewish state's alleged human rights violations against Palestinians.

The missed mark?   Here's one of them.  The letter was sent shortly before the whole group was to meet for a regularly scheduled meeting.  Jewish dialogue partners include leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti Defamation League. 

How moral is it to ambush your dialogue partners with a request that is sure to bring up a complex of emotions and responses?

Why didn't they wait and speak to their partners in interfaith dialogue?  It certainly would have been messy.  It might have been indelicate.  Perhaps there would have been hurt feelngs.  Or big disagreement.

But all of that is happening anyway.  Without the benefit of having spoken together.  And now it may be hard to get the parties back to the Roundtable to talk.  This very Roundtable by the way was established in part to help diffuse differing opinions over US aid to Israel.

Interfaith dialogue between Jews and Christians has come a very long way.  Much has been accomplished. But this is a sign that there is still more work to be done. 

When does interfaith dialogue not work?  When it's not practiced.

The GOP, Changing Demographics and the Church

The Republicans learned a lesson the hard way.  Mitt Romney's loss showed, among other things, that the GOP is out of touch with the realities of the changing demographics of the American people.

As a whole, we are more Black, more Hispanic, more Asian, more single and younger than ever before.  One commentator said, "The GOP has to find a new way to tell their story to reach these changing constituencies, or they lose their power to shape the American landscape."  

An eerie reminder of what mainline churches face. 

The popular wisdom is that President Obama was re-elected not only because of his grassroots campaign, but because his message and policies resonated with the young, the working and middle classes, singles, persons of color and ethnic groups. 

As mainline Protestants age, a majority of whom are white, the church has to find new ways to tell our story to reach our neighbors.  We too must continue to embrace the changing demographics of the American people.  And the technologies they choose.

Previously, Twitter hadn't figured into presidential politics all that much.  Until now.  But on Tuesday, President Obama Tuesday night's tweet, Four More Years has become the most popular of all time, racking up almost half a million re-tweets within 2 hours.

How are you using Twitter to communicate with your people?

Diversity has taken center stage in our nation.  Consider this.  As a nation, we chose between a biracial president and a Mormon.  Did you ever think that would happen?  Marriage equality bills passed by popular vote in three states.  More women were elected to Congress.   New Hampshire now has an all female delegation.  The first openly gay member of Congress was elected. As well as the first Hindu Representative and the first Buddhist Senator.  America is changing.

The church must too. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Same Boat, Different Stream

Schools are "failing" as you may have heard.  So are churches.  Oh, young people still go to school. And you'll still find children and youth in church.  But they're not always engaged--in either locale.

That came home to me recently at the Wyoming School Improvement Conference.  I was there in my other role as Educational Consultant to present two workshops on interpersonal communication.  That was neat.

Even better was learning about how much schools and churches have in common.  Turns out we are in the same boat, just on a different stream.

Both schools and churches have an uneasy relationship with accountability.  While teacher tenure may be disappearing and they'll be evaluated on results, pastors are facing the loss of guaranteed appointments and being relieved of duty for ineffectiveness.

Related and maybe connected is the fact that both schools and churches are using centuries old forms of engaging people.  Stand up front and talk basically.  And hope the students get it.  It's a top down approach that focuses on teaching rather than learning.  And on students consuming rather than producing.

But consider this. 

Students are producing!  They are making apps, posting movies on YouTube, publishing their thoughts on Facebook, and showing their work on Instagram.  They research just for the fun of it!  They text and tweet in a way that would make ee cummings proud.  Young people are wired, networked and engaged.

Just not so much in school or church.

At school, teachers and administrators ask students to put away their technology to "learn."  We do the same thing in churches.  But what's the message to these digital natives?

The drop out rate from both institutions is frightening.

There's a lot at stake. Together schools and churches form minds and spirits.  We offer critical guidance on moral, intellectual, and spiritual development.  We shape stories of the past and give voice to future possibilities.  We underscore the importance of  intergenerational interactions.  We give love unstintingly. And food.  

Perhaps it's time to change our very perspective on the Millennial generation.  Fellow presenter, Shawn Jensen asked, "If all you knew about these young people is that they author, publish, create, share, collaborate and are not afraid to make mistakes--thanks to the delete button--how would you do school differently?"

He suggested that educators include a digital native's real life skills in the classroom.  For instance, ask students to construct a FB timeline of Abraham Lincoln.  What might he have posted before giving the Gettysburg address.  After?  How might others have responded?      

Got me thinking about how we could engage students in worship and youth group via tweets, texts, and YouTube.  Instead of schooling them in our generation's way of doing things, why not let them school us in their way?  No, we'll never be caught up in all the social networking and technological changes that are coming our way.  But neither will they.  The point is we live in a time of constant change.  Get used to it.

We could learn a thing or two from schools.  And schools can learn from churches.  And we can all learn from the students in our care.

After all, we're in the same boat.  Just different streams.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Mind of One's Own--On Horseback and In Church

Our wonderful nephew Max and niece Kate have been visiting Jerry and I for the last week.  Once we got over our initial fears of entertaining kids for a week, we've had a blast!  Of all the things we've done-- the rodeo and rides at Cheyenne Frontier Days, hiking Casper Mountain, spotting deer and antelope, and a sleepover with the neighborhood kids--the very best has been horseback riding. 

Yesterday, on horseback, we found ourselves retracing the route of westward settlers on the old Oregon Trail.  We saw a bison jump used by the Native Americans.  And an eagle's nest.  It was a wonderful immersion in American history and natural history.

All the while, trail horses Spot, Hope, Burrito, and Hancock were well-behaved and patient.  They've been giving lessons and trail rides for years.  In fact, they know the trails so well they didn't really need us to show them the way.  They knew exactly where we were and where we were going.

Nevertheless, when we let loose on the reins, they ambled along at their own pace, and stopped to eat whenever they wanted.  That made for some slow riding.

It struck me that there's nothing like horseback riding to teach a young person how important it is to develop a mind of one's own.

If you don't use yours, the horses will use theirs!

Kate, almost 11, looks up to her big brother, Max, 14, in every way.  Whatever he wants to do, she wants to do.  If Max wants to watch the Olympics, she wants to watch the Olympics.  If Max wants pizza, she wants pizza.

"What do you want to eat?" I pressed her at one point.  "I don't know." she said, "Ask Max."  "But what if one day Max isn't right there to help you figure it out?"  "Then I'll call him."

At some point, it's important to develop a mind of one's own.  Our big brothers, big sisters, or others we look up to, may fail us.  Nor can they speak for us forever.

Leaders must be able to articulate their own mind.  Find their own voice.  Muster the courage of their own convictions.  And lead us into an uncharted future. 

The Church is in need of just such leaders.

A pastor friend of mine recently posted on Facebook:  "I wonder if we in America need to do a better job of defining our beliefs, acting on our beliefs, giving a better witness to who we are as 21st Century, progressive Christians and thereby redefining Christianity in America in such a way as to attract new believers...? Just a thought."

Lots of people hit the like button.

She then went went on to ask, "Why are we so timid?? Lost??  Uncreative?? SILENT??"  

Good question!  Why are we?

I don't think it's that most of us don't have minds of our own.  I think it's that we are afraid to give voice to them.  For fear that others will disapprove.  And the whole thing called church may come crashing down around us.

That silent timidity is what happens when we're worried about surviving. 

Surely, some will disagree.  Some will disapprove.  Some will leave.


...just as surely others will gladly inhale the breath of life that is unleashed when someone dares to say what they truly think and believe. Even if they disagree!

It takes that kind of authenticity to move from survival into a new kind of growth.   A growth that isn't based on the safety and security of the past.  Or on avoiding the pitfalls of the past.  But one founded on a trust in the future.  And the God who beckons us into it.

One day Katie is going to mature enough to trust herself and her future.  Even when she makes a choice she regrets.  She'll learn to live with the consequences and feel an inner freedom in the process.  She'll discover her own mind.  Articulate her own thoughts. Voice her own requests.   And thereby create her very own future.   

May we in the Church do likewise.  

It's that or die.

Meanwhile, it's back on the trail for us.  Giddyup!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Energy Subsidies v. Food For All

Congress is in the midst of wrestling with our fiscal problems. Currently, they are trying to set the budget for 2012, ensuring that it sets us on the path to fiscal health while adequately funding programs that we, as a country and as states, cannot function without.
As a person of faith, I believe that the most vital of these programs are those that provide for families and individuals struggling financially.

In this time of economic uncertainty and unemployment, opportunities such as the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) and the Women, Infants and Children Program provide support to the millions of Americans that are struggling to make ends meet.
As a United Methodist clergywoman for 17 years, I have seen families and individuals who never expected to need the help of the government rely on these programs to get through the hard times. And in the most challenging economic time we have seen since the Great Depression and questions about what our economic future holds, these programs are needed now more than ever.
And yet, as our elected leaders work to achieve fiscal health, many of these programs are being threatened with reductions in funding. Others could be eliminated altogether leaving the already vulnerable to wonder where their next meal will come from or how they will keep the heat on next winter.
At the same time, while families are being denied support, we continue to provide incentives in the form of subsidies for energy companies — including those companies that are getting rich from energy found on America’s public lands. They are not required to pay for leasing the land or to compensate U.S. families for the profits they reap from selling the oil and gas found on public lands.
Companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP are being provided with financial incentives to develop energy in the United States and yet these companies are recording record-breaking profits year after year. Various analyses indicates that from the years 2000-08, energy subsidies for fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, amounted to more than $72 billion. Yet in 2008, Exxon Mobil reported a record profit of $45.2 billion.
Is this the picture of justice that Jesus envisioned? He was greatly concerned about the plight of the poor of his day. My fear is that Congress will provide little or no money for the vulnerable among us, including children and single moms. Yet, we are seeing record profits for multinational energy corporations as a result of financial support from the United States. Our priorities are out of line.
We must end the subsidies for energy companies, particularly those that are securing energy from our public lands. These lands are owned by the people of the United States and given to us as a gift from God. We must invest this money in our communities, our families, and the health and well-being of future generations.
Let us shift our priorities to focus on the health of our people — not the health of a multinational energy corporation. This is our faithful call and our responsibility.

Read more:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Neighboring, First Holy Communion and Democracy

I missed church on Sunday.  At least, I didn't make it to my own church.  Instead, Sunday found me sitting in a pew in a Roman Catholic Church prepared to celebrate the First Holy Communion of Rachel and Lauren, the twin 8 year olds who live across the street. 

Our families are engaged in "neighboring"and it's deeply related to a healthy democracy.

Here's how it goes.  The girls and their mom often watch Amigo, our little dog, when we are gone.  We help them out with projects from time to time too.  We often meet in the middle of the street just to say hi and to check out what's happening.  We are frequently in each others home and have figured out we all like riding bikes!  And we are worried about environmental issues.

We have a lot in common and that helps.

Now, I have other neighbors down the street I haven't yet approached.  They have signs hanging outside on their fence that I'm not quite sure what to make of.  One says "God bless Arizona."  The other says  "God bless Israel."

I'm all for blessing states and countries and I'm very pro-Israel.  But I can't help but wonder if that isn't really code language for something else, like: "We don't like Mexicans and we don't like Palestinians."  Or even:  "God damn Mexicans and Palestinians."

I'm not sure.  But this I know:  My husband and his family are of Mexican, Spanish and Indian descent.  And I believe in the human dignity and rights of Palestinians as well as of Israelis.  In fact, I believe in a world that works for everyone.  All families, all ethnicities, all religions, all species. 

So, where does that put us as neighbors?

I confess I'm not really sure. 

I'm reading Parker Palmer's newest book, "Healing The Heart of Democracy:  The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit."  It's very challenging.  And very timely.  Not just because of the world we live in, but because of the neighborhood I live in.

He notes that regularly, "we withdraw into the silence of private life or express ourselves with cynicism and anger that make the public realm toxic, producing more psychodrama than social change."

You'd have to live in a cave to not experience matter what neighborhood, state or country you live in!

Palmer suggests an antidote.

It begins with seeing democracy as a way of being.  It takes shape in neighboring and other local associations.  It's open to "The Other"and practices holding tension creatively.  It's a way of being that moves us beyond our own little privatized worlds.  And requires both chutzpah and humility to engage the process well.

All of this is needed, he suggests, to counteract the "culture of cruelty" that overtakes when fear-mongering outweighs facts or real conversation.

So, as part of creating a politics worthy of the human spirit, I'm practicing democracy in my little neighborhood.  I know I'll connect with the girls and their mom in the middle of the street soon.  Probably this afternoon.

But what about my other neighbors?  That's going to take an intentional action from me.  To get over my fear, my judgmentalism and my "privatized world" that could easily keep them out.

It's the kind of intentional act Jesus told stories about.  He too highlighted neighboring as the foundation of a healthy kind of living:  the Kingdom of God.  Reaching out beyond the norms to embrace "The Other."  Of course, his wisdom was grounded in the Torah, too.  All of this makes a very strong case for me. 

So what's a democratically-inclined person who longs for a world that works for everyone to do? 

It might just be time to bake some banana bread and head on down the block to meet all of my neighbors!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wyoming Arts: "Green Church" by Rawlins author Rebekah Simon-Peter getting national attention

Well, whadya know!  I was trying to find my blog and came across this on the Wyoming Arts Council.  
Wyoming Arts: "Green Church" by Rawlins author Rebekah Simon-Peter getting national attention

For those who want to read the book in community + share with like-minded people + articulate your own creation consciousness + move your church toward sustainability then I have a class for you! 

Green Church online class, March 12-March 23 through  $60 includes autographed copy of the book.  Register now! Should be a blast.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Earth is My Parish

John Wesley famously said, "The world is my parish."

I believe this generation of Christians is called to claim the whole Creation as ours.

Even as people are suffering from hunger, thirst, the effects of war, unemployment, and a dizzying array of natural disasters, the Earth is suffering too. Climate change, polluted oceans, disappearing species, melting poles, and deforestation are taking their toll on the interdependent web of life God created.

Our fates are tied. We are seeing with greater clarity that what we do to the Earth, we do to each other. And what we do to each other ripples out throughout Creation.

Resurrection Sunday and Earth Day are just around the corner. Both focus on fresh, new life. This is a perfect time to start a green ministry in your church!

But don't worry about biting off more than you can chew or gulping more than you can swallow. Instead take the "S.I.P." approach.

1. Start! Even if it means starting small. Many churches recycle. Now take the next step and close the recycling loop. Stock the restrooms with 100% recycled paper products. I like Marcal's Small Steps toilet paper. Or switch from regular coffee and tea to Fair Trade. Or make sure lights and equipment are turned off when not in use. Small steps build consciousness and momentum.

2. Make it Intergenerational. A recent Barna poll shows that young Christians leave the church in part because the church seems anti-science, and doesn't deal with the problems of the real world. You can address that. Take a Mother Earth Mission trip and connect with the youth and young adults in your church and community. Clean up a local river or waterway. Pick up trash. Plant trees. Include boomers and seniors, too. This is a concrete way to reach out beyond the walls of your church while making a statement that Christians care about the environment.

3. Preach! Pastor, your impact is larger than you know. Fossil fuels create a sizable carbon footprint. But you have an even larger spiritual footprint in people's lives. When you preach or pray something it becomes REAL. Check out Green Church: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice! for sermon ideas. Or try incorporating a simple refrain,in your weekly prayer concerns like, "For the gifts of earth and heaven we are grateful. Help us hear the cries of creation, and teach us to be wise stewards of this good gift."

Six years ago I preached a sermon on recycling. It was summer and most folks were gone. As far as I could tell it was a big fat dud. But one person was listening and it touched something in him. He started a little recycling ministry. That grew into a small business. One that is continuing to this day. It has changed the consciousness of that town. You never know the power of your words!

Here's to the Resurrection and Renewal of all Creation! Including your congregation. :)