Making sense of senseless: a raw prayer

One week in West Bank and East Jerusalem

by itself is senseless it’s not enough time to visit

not enough time to be not enough time to feel

and the day after returning

is not enough time to

make sense of the

senseless the

baby 8 months old who died in Bethlehem Governate of teargas

in its crib but the attackers are not responsible because the baby

was not the target and – what???- and I am listening

the woman who died of teargas at the checkpoint

erected right next to a hospital  – what the hell is that anyway? –

is that – hell -?

the man the revered doctor who died of teargas because his ambulance

was held up at a checkpoint for a half hour- seriously?

the young man who was on his way to work and had to walk past some soldiers

don’t go his friend said

it will be ok the man said I have to go to work

and ended up

– dead? what? –

he loved life wasn’t a fighter just wanted to go to work

the waiter who was his friend crazy with why why why why

and I am listening

the mother who says I don’t let my son go out the settlers shoot at him


and I am listening

and then a party in a city that has had sooooo many deaths

not to disrespect but to honor to celebrate the benevolent nonprofit

to celebrate its existence because existence is resistance

and because we have to celebrate because we want to live

lamentation and celebration merge in the solemn joy

of just doing our little bit to bring life

to those who dwell in the valley

of the shadow of death

a woman grieves her son in administrative detention

and does not eat and I am listening

a pastor puts the names of the dead in a jar and prays the names

and I am listening

and now I am here getting ready to

go to my everydaywork and wondering

how if in any way i can help

wondering how i as a witness can help


how the book of Joshua

jives with the injustice as seen

from the underside

– calling on the work of St. Bartholome de las Casas

on All Saints Sunday

for help and

– God! O gracious God,

Good Teacher,

I am listening

biding my time

Arnie and I have had a full day including meeting old and new friends and attending a soccer match.  First thing tomorrow we meet our taxi and go back to the airport. I have lots to share, but now is not the time.  We will sleep and fly. Biding my time until I can write more.  Tel Aviv, Toronto, Chicago.  Tumbleweed is on the mooooove once more.



Under construction

The Church of the Nativity is under construction.  I enter by the door of humility, bowing down, and then as I allow my eyes adjust to the light I find the huge ancient pillars protected by wood panels and the entire sanctuary filled with scaffolding.  Right in the front, in the Orthodox sanctuary section, I sit to pray, pulling in my feet to avoid being treaded on my unwary pilgrims who navigate through their camera lenses. There are few, because of the unrest, but there are enough who have come talking and flashing cameras that I need to be aware.

Nevertheless I pray, here and in the Catholic sanctuary next door, slightly quieter because the Franciscan insistence on silence is more respected there.  The sense of being under construction persists.  Are we looking at destruction here in this place or is it a necessary phase of construction?  The God of Jeremiah is like a potter.  When the wheel thrown pottery does not take the shape the potter wants,  the clay is tossed back into a heap, the failed pot is demolished, and the clay is reused later.

Clay feels no anguish.  That is not true here.   Is it the anguish of birthing or dying?  A combination of both, perhaps.

I pray for my people by name, those here and those at home, and those in my parish where I serve, in the holy place where the holy child who overturned despair and brought hope was born.


Pastor Chris

walkin’ in the city

walkin’ in al Quds and the rain falls down

on women in hijab and long dresses

men in suits and jeans rushing here and there

a bus a horn taxis roadblocks of concrete in the street

i got a little turned around

and had to backtrack

but found the bookshop with the help of an old hajji

whose English was like my Arabic

but who knew where Salahudin Street was

past St George’s cathedral –

St George who slays dragons in myths of times gone by –

past the soldiers who gesture with their rifles

for you to walk on the other side.

i slept last night with a yellow cat

a good bedfellow

who just wanted to snuggle behind my knees

in the home of my artist friend

who collects shards of shattered arabic pottery

and old tiles from demolished homes

seeking to redeem what has been broken

i slept oblivious to destruction-wreaking-rockets

and now sip luscious lemonade the green mint kind

as though nothing were amiss

as though I were not trying to make sense in my mind

the persistent pain of the city

its resiliency its energy its sorrow

the persistence of its hope

The rain has stopped for a while and from the street

when the shop door opens

there are sounds of delight –

laughter –

look, the sun.

i wish i could slay dragons

and make healing from odd bits of clay

but all i can do

is pet the cat, walk in this city

and pray.


Greetings from Cyprus, a beautiful island we did not expect to visit.  Yesterday as we approached Tel Aviv, there was a storm.  You know the  kind of storm with those crazy downdrafts that feel like an elevator in free-fall.  They call it “bumpy air” in the airline industry.  Passengers have different words for it.  Anyway, while in the midst of this bumpy air we experienced a flash and our lights flickered out for a moment and then came on, followed by thunder.  Since the air remained bumpy we diverted to Cyprus, and once there we sat for an hour or so on the tarmac until we were told that we had experienced a lightning strike and the plane was grounded until it could undergo a full inspection.  The inspection crew?  In Toronto.

Air Canada has been splendid, however.  They got us water, they got us sandwiches, and then they got us off the plane and onto coaches and deposited us at a beach resort for the night with two great free meals and a Mediterranean sunset.

All this inconvenienced Arnie who has missed a couple important meetings today.  I’m going with the flow.  After all, we were struck by lightning, and we ended up…… the beach?  I’ll take that instead of the alternative.

More later.  Blessings!


Dear James and John; a reflection on Mark 10:32-45

As they were going up to Jerusalem, Jesus began to tell them about how he would soon suffer and die, and after three days he would rise.

And James and John came to Him and said, “Master, we want you to do for us whatever we want.”  And Jesus asked them what it was they wanted him to do for them.  “Grant,” they said, “that we may sit at your right hand and at your left, in your glory.”   And He said to them, “you do not know what you are asking for.”….. “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10: 32-45, summarized and paraphrased.)


Have you not been listening? Have you walked with the Master these three years and still not heard what Jesus and his lifework are all about?

You want to sit on the velvet cushions on the thrones to the right and left of Jesus when he becomes the great and acclaimed ruler of the world.

But you do not know what you are asking for.

Can you drink of the cup from which Jesus drinks? Can you really? Can you make yourself vulnerable to receive all the grief and anguish and pain of the whole world? Can you drink all the rage, all the murder, all the greed, all the hunger, all the confusion and sickness and war of this world with me? Can you drink of this bitter, overflowing cup? The cup the Master himself will pray might pass him by, in the garden of Gethsemane?

James…….John… …You say you can. But you do not know what you are asking for.

Are you really willing to be baptized with the baptism with which Jesus is baptized, to seek never your own comfort and wellbeing every moment and instead to give all that up for the sake of others, to abandon your personal likes and dislikes, to be public when you wish you could hide, to become a public laughingstock, to be the butt of jokes and have your name tossed around as a casual joke from century to century? To be scourged and spat upon? Are you really willing?

You say you will, in order to sit at the right hand and at the left hand of Jesus, in his glory. You’d do anything for that. But you do not know what you are asking for.

James……John……. You are looking at Jesus so eagerly, you say you would do anything to be with Him in my glory. But He cannot help you to get a posh position. You do not understand what Jesus’ glory is.

Your master is great. He is great indeed. He is greater than the high priest in the temple – he is the greatest of high priests, not of the order of Levi like the priests of the temple but of a much more ancient and mysterious order, like Melchizedek of old whom even Abraham paid tithes and honors to. For your master Jesus is greater even than Abraham. Your master is not like other high priests, who lately have been appointed by the emperor, to serve at his bidding. No, your master is the greatest of High Priests, called by God to stand between God and humanity to offer sacrifice for sin.

Your Master Jesus does indeed have glory. His glory is to become the heart of God’s mercy made visible to all people. His glory is to love you so much that He lives for your salvation, dies to show you God’s love, and rises to bring you into God’s kingdom.

You cannot know all this now, James and John, but you will know later..

You will know that His glory is to be bound, and led away outside the city walls. His glory is not a throne with seats of honor on his right hand and his left, as you suppose. His glory is to be nailed to a cross, to become a curse, and in that glory He will have at His right hand and His left those whom His Father has chosen, two thieves, two common criminals, two lawbreakers. Jesus is to be flanked right and left, not by his familiar friends, but instead by the unworthy and the dishonorable, For God honors the unworthy and dishonorable of the world, the least of us dear human beings, honors them by placing Jesus near them, alongside them to offer God’s pardon and mercy to them as well. Because they need Him.

James……..John……….You simply cannot know these things now. But you will understand them later. You will drink your share of this cup. You will experience the baptism Jesus will experience. In God’s time.

But just now, James and John, you will experience the anger of your friends, because the others are furious with you just now, James and John. They are mad because you dared to ask for what they secretly wanted also. They are mad because you sought a place above the rest, as though you were better than they are. They too might have asked for what you asked for, but they did not. Now they are angry at you because they are confused and can’t quite manage to be angry at themselves for wanting the same things you do. We’re all like you really, James and John. We are all competitive like you, jockeying for the best seats, for the recognition, because at our core we are all just a little uncertain whether God really does love us and we want to be reassured.

James and John, even though Jesus has told you that he is going to suffer, all of your friends imagine that being the greatest leads to power and prestige, lands and houses, with other, lesser people bowing to you and offering you sweet cakes and bribes if you will just put in a good word for them with your Master. But your Master is not like other rulers. He does not sit on a throne apart from His people. Instead, your Master is a servant who lives and dies in the midst of his people. He gives his life to offer them – and you- a different kind of wealth . Your master lives and dies and rises to bring you your true riches: righteousness and mercy, the forgiveness of sins, and the love of God. Your master will live and die and rise again, so that you may live knowing you are loved by God and you belong to God.

Jesus honors those who day by day do small things for others with great love. The one who cares for a sick relative or friend. The one who volunteers in his or her free time for the sake of others. These seem small, even insignificant in the world’s eyes but they are great in God’s eyes.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great! Be great lovers of God! Be great lovers of humanity! Make your lives into signs of God’s love for the people of this world. If you want to be great, all of you, become great servants, like Jesus. Jesus is the great High Priest and His call is to mend humanity’s relationship with God. As for you, James and John, you and all the rest and all those who will come after you, you all together are a community of priests, called to be bringers of God’s compassion and peace wherever there is brokenness. You did not choose this. Jesus chose you and He sends to bring the compassion of God into your world.

People of God, we all are priests. We are signs of God’s love in the world. All of us are called, like Jesus, to be holy servants, full of prayer, seeking to bring God’s peace into the midst of strife, seeking to bring God’s love in the midst of hate, seeking to bring God’s hope where there is despair.

So go out with humility. Go out with obedience. Go out with compassion. Go out with zeal. Go out with prayer. Go out with all your heart, imperfect people who are lovers of Jesus.

For Jesus has redefined greatness. Only in serving as Jesus served is there greatness.   Amen.

Sermon: You lack one thing.

Sermon: You Lack One Thing

A reflection on the Gospel of the meeting of Jesus and the rich young man. Mark 10:17 and following.

Let’s pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my maker and redeemer. Amen.

So as Jesus is setting out on a journey on the open road, with his dusty sandals, there was this rich young man, and he had an opportunity to ask Jesus a question. Did you ever wish you could see Jesus face to face and maybe ask Him one question? Just one question, one burning question. Well, the rich young man in today’s story has that opportunity and he had his question all polished and practiced and ready.

So he runs up to Jesus and kneels down and says to Jesus, “Good teacher, What must I do, in order to inherit eternal life?” Or, put another way, maybe the way we might have asked it,

“What do I have to do to go to heaven when I die?”

Jesus at first did not answer the question. Instead he corrects the young man: “Why call me good? Only God is good.” This is another way of Jesus’ saying “who do you say that I am?”   And so then the young man addresses him as teacher. But he misses Jesus’ subtle point, as to who he is, for Jesus is the Good Teacher and is to be honored and followed.

Now it’s interesting that the young man asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are told that he had much property, or to translate it another way, many properties. The word used for property in this passage tended to refer, in Jesus’ day, to what we would call “real estate” today. And the rich kept getting richer, because the poor, when they borrowed from the rich and went into debt and could not pay, would have to sell their land as debt payment.

The rich young man had probably inherited his land, or stood to inherit it when his father died. A firstborn son does nothing to inherit his inheritance, it simply comes to him when his father dies. So he knew that the normal way to receive wealth was to be in the lineage of those who would inherit. So when he asks, “What must I do in order to inherit it?” he may be asking, “How can I get into that family whose inheritance is eternal life?”

And so first Jesus referred the young man to the scriptures. What is written? Keep the commandments and you will live.” And he mentioned some of what we call the Ten Commandments – the ones pertaining to how we treat our neighbors.

But the rich young man is able to simply say, “These I have kept from my youth.” We have no reason to doubt him; his conscience is clear.

And yet he senses there is something more. And he wonders, has he done enough? Has he done enough to merit eternal life? Has he done enough to live forever? Or, is there something more?

What must I do to inherit eternal life? What is the secret? Is it a transaction? – I give you this and you give me what I want? In other words, what is the cost of eternal life?

We think this way when we wonder “how much is enough?” I give such and such a percentage to my church and I give so many volunteer hours a week to this or that ministry and I give my spare change to the malaria campaign but I always wonder, How much is enough?

I have bad news for you. What you have done will never be enough. Nothing we can ever do will be enough to inherit the kingdom of God. But this is also the Good News: because it is received as a gift, by faith through God’s grace.

We are like the rich young man.

And Jesus loves him.   Loves him, just as Jesus loves each and every one of us. Loves him because Jesus knows what is in the hearts of people and because he has this longing that had driven him to Jesus to ask his one burning question.

And so Jesus makes an invitation to him – an invitation to join the family, to enter the kingdom of God then and there. Eternal life, abundant life, full life, beginning right then and there.

Now, we know that we are like the rich young man. He was among the wealthiest people in his society. And we are among the wealthiest people on the planet.

Think of it. If you have citizenship in a country that does not have war within its borders, if you have enough food to eat three healthy meals every day, if you know where you can sleep warm and dry tonight, if you have clean water that runs hot and cold into your house at the touch of a faucet, if you have enough money to care for all of your needs and some of what you want in addition, if you have more than two or three changes of clothes, if you have access to medicine when you need it, if you have a car or access to a car, then you are among the most wealthy people on the planet. But most of us have to admit that in addition to this wealth I have just mentioned, we are able to travel, take vacations, and in addition, like the rich young man in the story, we have many possessions.

And most of us have tried to follow the 10 Commandments since we were very small. We may not have kept them perfectly. But we have tried.

So we are like the rich young man, and Jesus loved him. Just as Jesus loves us. And Jesus says to us as he says to him, come, follow me. Follow me and enter God’s kingdom right here and now.

How that looks will be different for each of us. For instance, Jesus ate with another rich man, Zaccheus, but he did not ask him to sell everything. When Zaccheus repented, he gave a third of his fortune to the poor, and Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” So this passage does not require each of us to sell our homes and give away all we have saved and throw ourselves onto the welfare system! But it does require us to listen to what God is asking each of us to do, and the bottom line is :

God’s kingdom is the place where all divisions based on wealth and status break down and we are all children together with Jesus as our brother and teacher and Savior. God’s kingdom is a place where we love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s kingdom is the place where wealth is given to some, as an opportunity for them to give it way out of love for God and neighbor.

Be my disciple, Jesus was saying. Leave your lesser attachments, leave behind what holds you back, and come, follow Me.

Jesus loved the rich young man and said to him, “You lack one thing….come, follow Me. And enter now into the kingdom of God. Because the kingdom is where Jesus is. Jesus was inviting the rich young man to experience now the kind of life that is everlasting. To live now in the way that leads to a life that has no end.  To live now in a life of abundance which is only found when we approach God with empty hands.

“You lack one thing.” We tend to think we lack many things. And we spend our lives going after these things that we lack, and this becomes a trap for us.

But Jesus said to the rich man, as He says to us, “You lack one thing.” In order to really to respond to this longing in your heart – a longing God has put there, that can be filled only by following Jesus – Jesus was saying to the man, “I am inviting you to be one of my disciples. So go, sell all your property and give it all to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven, and then come, follow me. And in following Me you will find the one thing you lack.”

And the man was shocked. He was shocked, as he stood there looking at Jesus and his disciples in their well-worn, dusty sandals. And as he turned and walked away and he was sad, because he owned many properties, and great was the measure of the things that he owned….or, rather, great was the measure of the things that had power over him, so much power that they could keep him from the personal invitation of Jesus.

How hard it is for those of us who are wealthy to enter into the kingdom of God. It is as hard as if a camel tried to go through the eye of a needle. In other words, it is impossible for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. Nothing we can do can make that possible. Only God can do that, by God’s grace, by opening our eyes to our neighbors who are in need and by opening our hearts to love people more than property. Then we will enter into the life of the kingdom of God, where wealth is put in our hands in trust, as stewards, so that we may open our hands in trust and distribute it to those who need it.

God’s kingdom is not just in heaven after we die. It is now, and we have the opportunity the rich man had, to reorder our priorities. We have the opportunity every day to hear the Word of God and not walk away saddened.   God grant us the wisdom to know that Jesus is in fact The Good Teacher, and therefore to hear Him when He says to us, “you lack one thing,” And God give us the freedom to choose the one thing that matters, even if it means leaving something behind, every day to be Jesus’ disciple by sharing what we do not need for the sake of the love of Jesus, proclaiming the good news that following Jesus is the one thing we need, and daring to experience the freedom of following Jesus in the Way that leads to life.


Am I my brother’s keeper?

Many of you will not heard of “Operation Brother’s Keeper”, and I wish I had not. The phrase comes from the story in the Bible in which Cain kills his brother out of envy. When God asks Cain where his brother is, Cain replies evasively, “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The military operation by this name was beginning early Friday in the West Bank, and perhaps far earlier than that. Just a few days prior to Friday, we had visited a small, rural community that had experienced a night raid by several hundred soldiers. The community reported that this was not the first time recently that they had experienced such a raid, complete with sound bombs, home invasions, property destruction and arrests. These are exactly the sorts of tactics that are now being used throughout the West Bank in all major cities in a huge operation, complete with city closures.

The official story is that the operation is reacting to the reported kidnapping of three yeshiva students, the military operation ostensibly exists to find these three students and bring them safely home. The operation as it is being carried out, however, is creating a collective punishment across the West Bank affecting every civilian.

Friday noon, June 13, I was on my way back with a UN officer from a visit to an impoverished community. As we returned to Hebron, we saw that at the entrance to the city, soldiers were searching all cars entering and leaving the city. As we were flagged through, wondering what was going on, I was not especially concerned. The presence of military checkpoints and searches, signs of the ever-present occupation, is unfortunately common in the West Bank. We returned to my quiet neighborhood of Taffuh, on the outskirts of the city of Hebron. I had become fond of Taffuh, a pleasant community with a little grocery below the apartment whose owners were always willing to try to communicate with the ignorant American who spoke so little Arabic. I was fond of my local contact and his wife, who had welcomed me into their midst, and whose children were always so beautiful, funny, and enjoyable to be around.

Afternoon was quiet as I packed for the airport, filled with a mix of emotions. I had been living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a month, visiting old friends and making new ones, and taking the temperature of the region. People were tremendously welcoming as always, but to a one, they reported how things had changed for the worse since I had last been in the area in 2011, with more land taken, more threats, more losses. In the face of all this, many had become saddened, but there was also a tremendous and vital determination to work for a more abundant life even in the midst of the many restrictions to which the people are subjected on a daily basis.

On that Friday, I was eager to get home to my family, but already missing the people I was saying goodbye to, especially in Bethlehem, Hebron, and the South Hebron area. Leaving the city in a taxi was no particular problem. I quickly forgot about the soldiers at the entrances to the city, blissfully unaware of what was about to occur.

The airport was lightly staffed late in the evening and passage through was polite, full of “Shabbat Shalom” and “Todah”, polite greetings that belied the activities on the ground where I had so recently lived. For while I was boarding the plane, eating my meal, going to sleep as we flew off to the West, hundreds of heavily armed soldiers had begun to converge on the city of Hebron. By the next day, the Taffuh neighborhood, where I had been living, was a combat zone full of soldiers, who were violently breaking into civilian homes, standing armed on rooftops in a show of force, making arrests, and generally, terrorizing the local population. As I landed and began to read postings on social media, I began to see the incredible suffering that was beginning to take place. It was shocking and heartrending.

Christian Peacemaker Teams made a video of exactly the kind of terror I am talking about. It is a video of a home invasion of a family I am familiar with. Please take a look. Instead of knocking on the door, the soldiers blew open the door with explosives, sending shrapnel through the house, seriously injuring a child. 

Mothers of Israel: Be brokenhearted for this child whose welfare has been treated so callously.  Feel for him and his parents who suffer his wounds in their hearts.

Be brokenhearted for your sons and daughters, soldiers whose consciences are seared by having to carry out such horrible orders, who have to break into such homes with stony faces while listening to the screams of children covered with broken glass and shards of metal.

Do they think of the hearing loss of children, caused by the sound bombs? Do they have nightmares about the way they prevented the access of ambulances? How do they make sense of the command to love the neighbor as oneself, when they are given such orders as these?

In the video, these people – men, women, children, infants – are suffering collective punishment by a foreign government’s army.  Perhaps we forget, those of us who are comfortable here, because we do not know what occupation means. This is what occupation means, and to be powerless in the face of this happening over and over and over again.

Am I my brother’s keeper? We might well ask, “Who is my brother?” There are a LOT of victims here. Israel, the yeshiva students who have been kidnapped are your sons and brothers – and mine. No matter that I do not know them; I am praying for their safe return, and I recognize the necessity of working for their freedom. But the whole civilian population of the West Bank are also our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and friends. And they deserve to be treated with the respect and the rights due to any human being. To the extent that any of us deny the humanity of the people who live alongside us, we miss the point of being our brother’s keeper, entirely.