Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When Would Jesus March? Sat. Oct 27!!!

Join the October 27 Coalition to be part of a Mass March - Saturday Oct 27th- March to STOP THE IRAQI WAR NOW!

I have been very lucky to attend two rensformative events these past few months- a conference on reconcilliation in LA in May and a week long course on the Millenium Development Goals. (See my post "An Ocean of Suffering by the Side of the Road)

Both of these experiences have strengthened my impression of what it is to be Christ's hands and heart in the world. And it is much more that showing up for church and even much more than paying your pledge. I think we need to show up for compassion and to show up for peace.

There can be no more succinct anti-war slogan than: Love your enemies." For those who beleive that Politcs and religion should not mix, I quote Father Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monastic and mystic:

"For Ghandi, strange as it may seem to us, political action had to be, by its very existance, holy and non-violent." Let us follow his lead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Commuting to the Promised Land

I work in Mill Valley and I live in Berkeley. So I have a similar live/work trajectory as many of those who work in the houses of Mill Valley (as gardeners, maids and nannies) and live in Richmond, or even San Rafael. I had been commuting by car for almost a year when the call of An Inconvenient Truth got to me and I began to explore ways to get to my job by public transportation. The solution seemed easy- there was a Richmond stop on the BART system that was just a hop skip and a jump from the Richmond Bridge and Marin. But when I tried to navigate this, I found the following: In the first place, I noticed, as I got on my Richmond-bound train from the Berkeley station, that NO ONE was going toward Richmond at 8:00 in the morning. Hordes were going to San Francisco. Clearly I did not have a typical morning commute.

Then, when I arrived at the end of the Richmond line, I found that the bus to San Rafael only came every half hour. I waited for the bus with my fellow immigrants, and when it finally came, I paid $3.60 (steep for a bus ride) and got on. It was now an hour since I had left home. We traveled for 45 minutes across the Richmond Bridge in comfortable seats. I was one of three Caucasians on the crowded bus. As I sat on the bus I began to type this entry and got so absorbed that my purse fell out into the aisle without my noticing it. Three good Samaritans quickly picked it up and asked if it was mine. Once we were over the San Rafael Bridge, we drove along a sort of limbo-like freeway by the freeway, so that we could stop at every stop- A BART line, if one existed, would have been much faster. We wound around industrial areas and huge piles of gravel, industrial park wastelands. There were Hispanic immigrants, hundreds of them, sitting on the street, leaning on lampposts and trees, and even lying in the sun all along the main road, hoping to be picked up as day laborers. We arrived in San Rafael, at 9:25- 40 minutes from the time I boarded in Richmond. Mercifully, the number 19 bus, which goes (indirectly) to Mill Valley, was standing at the station. After a five-minute wait I boarded with a flood of immigrants. The bus was filled with the lively sounds of Spanish conversation- punctuated by English: “No way!” or “You gotta be kidding!” Reminding me of the superiority of the speakers- bi-lingual, unlike me.

The man getting on the bus immediately in from of me carried a bucket and squeegees for cleaning windows. Most of the rest of the passengers were small Hispanic women. Domestic workers, dressed for non-clerical work with sensible shoes and lunchboxes. A young woman got on the bus and sat next to me. She said she worked in a clothing store in Mill Valley and only took the bus because her car was in the shop. This bus, she said, only comes once every hour and it stops running at 8:00 PM. No Mill Valley nightlife for those residents of San Rafael who need to ride public transportation. Even the route to Mill Valley from San Rafael, which takes 10 minutes by car, was incredibly labyrinthine. Instead of turning toward Mill Valley as we passed it, the bus snakes around many stops before finally arriving at the Mill Valley station- 30 minutes later. All told my commute was 2 and a quarter hours from Berkeley to Mill Valley, and an hour and 45 minutes of that had been from Richmond to Mill Valley. You have the same situation trying to come to Mill Valley from San Francisco- BART and a two bus commute.

I know from talking to one of the parishioners at my church that if you have the opposite commute, you have a much easier time of it. If you live in Mill Valley and work in San Francisco, you can get a bus directly from the Bookstore Depot right in Mill Valley to your destination in the Financial District. But there is no direct bus for the worker wishing to get from San Francisco to Mill Valley in the morning. They have to go through Marin City and wait God knows how long for the next bus to Mill Valley. And the unlucky worker who lives in the East Bay must take BART, then a bus, then another bus and spend $10.00 a day.

As I staggered off the bus at my Mill Valley destination, I realized that I hadn’t had breakfast in my rush to get out the door and get to BART on time. So, a little guiltily, I went into the Depot CafĂ© Bookstore and waited in line for some breakfast. Behind the counter I saw several Hispanic workers- they had probably caught the bus from San Rafael that came an hour before mine.

A blond woman right before me in line was holding a huge muffin and explaining that she would have to return it because her three year old would not accept a “broken muffin.” The muffin had merely been separated from its sister muffin in the baking tin and thus had a slightly rough edge. The woman behind the counter smiled patiently and carefully picked from among the remaining muffins with a pair of tongs to see if there was one that appeared unbroken. “Not that one- that one over there looks better,” said the customer. The muffin wrangler smiled indulgently and finally managed to the get the appropriate muffin out of the case without (God forbid) actually breaking any of the surviving muffins. I saw her sonn after on her break- eating the previously handled “broken” muffin.

When it came my turn I ordered my breakfast and then said, “I came on the San Rafael bus- I can’t believe they come only once an hour!” The woman looked at me with the same patient expression on her face and got my breakfast- a poppy seed bagel- un-broken.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

“Burn That Dress!” and Other Harrowing Tales of Holy Communion

My father was an atheist when I was first confirmed and so I assumed he would not be able to take communion with the family, as he had been neither baptized or confirmed, as far as he knew. But we had an extraordinarily liberal parish (this was the 60’s) and he was welcomed forward to the table with the rest of us. This meant a lot to me as a kid. In my adult second coming as a church goer, my Jewish husband was, of course, banned from taking communion being, as he was, the same religion as Jesus. With a little energetic lobbying from myself, however, my former parish priest was convinced to open the communion table, and my husband began to take communion, and had a very powerful experience, leading to his baptism.

On the other end of the scale my present priest went to Japan and was “carded at the rail.” In a VERY conservative Japanese Anglican church, they wanted to make good and sure that he was, indeed, a baptized Christian. Asked him right there. Read all about it in his blog, There is also a very balanced essay on the question of Communion before baptism at
But today I heard a story of Holy Communion that takes even beats that. A woman was taking the communion wine and spilled some on her dress. As she shook the hand of the priest, preparing to leave, he said, with deadly seriousness, “You know, you must burn that dress when you get home. You can’t send the blood of Christ to the dry cleaners.” This style of piety probably accounted for the low church attendance and the lack of church growth in that particular parish.

In deciding who gets to take communion, finding the line between “anybody off the street who wants a slug of wine” and only the baptized and confirmed is a ticklish one. But there is no doubt about whom Jesus welcomed to his table. Everyone. The more despised and rejected the better. Who was more despised than prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors? He welcomed them all and he absolutely scandalized the righteous Jews of his day by doing it. The sacramentalization of our Lord’s Supper should not, in my opinion get in the way of this mission. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus begged Peter at the very end of the Gospel of John. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” He didn’t say, “feed my Baptized Christian sheep," because, for one thing, Christians did not exist yet, but much more importantly because, as he said, he was sent for the “lost sheep”- and the lost sheep of Israel at that- those who needed him most.

"And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples [were they afraid to ask Jesus directly?] ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means. ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’"

This is a quote from Hosea, (6.6) who, like his contemporary, Amos, blasted the religious practices of the Northern Kingdom which emphasized purity at the expense of justice. The whole quote goes, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus continues. “For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:11-13)

Was Jesus echoing Hosea, cautioning the Pharisees not to put piety before compassion? Probably. It is incumbent on us, anyhow to “Go and learn what this means.” I don’t think it means exclusion from the table.