That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Travel (page 2 of 8)

Food & Fruit in God’s Vineyard: Another Holy Land Day – From the Daily Office – July 2, 2014

From Matthew’s Gospel:

Jesus told a parable: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 21:33-41 (NRSV) – July 2, 2014)

Today we went to many places where Jesus taught, many places where he told parables. We drove all around and all over God’s vineyard – or so it seemed.

Today’s breakfast at the Sisters of Nazareth Guest House was rather different from our breakfasts on other days at St. George’s. This was more European: a soft sesame sprinkled baguette, salami, cheese, a variety of fruit spreads (and some chocolate spread), orange juice, hard-boiled eggs. When we checked in last night, I said to Evelyn, “This is a French order. We’ll have real coffee!” I was wrong. The ubiquitous packets of instant coffee (Nescafe seems most popular in this country) were on the table. The cheese was surprising, too: what I would call “American processed cheese food” in individually plastic-wrapped slices, not real cheese. Nonetheless, a filling breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed to the River Jordan, just up from where it enters the Sea of Galilee. This is not where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John, but is a more secluded spot where Iyad likes to bring pilgrims. Keith Owen presided as we renewed our baptismal vows, asperging the group with an olive branch dipped in the river, then Mary Carson and I anointed any who wished to receive it. I somehow got so caught up in everything that I forgot to take any photographs! I’ll rely on others to supply those.

Several of us waded into the river (it has a soft sandy bottom, not muddy thank heaven) and I can personally attest that the River Jordan is NOT chilly and cold despite what the song says. We filled several bottles with river water to be used in baptisms back home.

Back on the bus (with wet sandy feet) and off we went to the Sea of Galilee proper where our first stop was the traditionally identified Mount of the Beatitudes where there is a Barluzzi church – one of his earliest and not as impressive as the others we’ve seen. Lovely gardens filled with citrus trees as well as many kinds of flowers. Lots of people from all over the world. After our visit there, we drove a short distance to the top of another hill (one someone is using as a repository for old tractors) and got off the bus. Iyad told us we were going to take a walk down the hill to another site much more likely to have been the site of the Sermon on the Mount. This site, Mark tells us, was identified by a Benedictine monk named Bargil Pixner who set up a very rustic outdoor chapel.

We hiked down the hill seeing numerous orchards of a variety fruits all around us, although we were hiking through desert terrain; we stopped at Pixner’s chapel, where Liddy Hoster presided as we celebrated the Eucharist. (Several of us took pictures of her doing so — and I regretted not asking anyone to do so when I celebrated yesterday. O well…..) Then a short climb down to where the bus was waiting. Stopping short of the bus, Iyad explained to us how Jesus could have preached to 5,000 or more people in this place, and Mark — standing at the mouth of a cave in the hillside — demonstrated the acoustic properties of the cave, which amplified his reading of the Beatitudes so that we could hear it quite a ways a way, even with intervening motor traffic!

From there, we walked past the bus to Mensa Christi (Table of Christ), another Barluzzi church commemorating Jesus’ post-Resurrection breakfast of grilled fish with the disciples. This simple chapel is right on the beach of Lake Galilee. Several of us waded in and I collected three small stones to place in the font when we baptize back home. (I had planned to bring back stones from the Jordan River but the place where we renewed our baptismal vows was not stony, so I got them here.)

Then back on the bus! You kind of get the story of this pilgrimage so far — lots of stuff to do, many places to go and see, lots of riding on the bus. This time our ride ended at the Tanurin Restaurant where we enjoyed a lunch of (basically) fish and chips preceded by the usual assortment of salads: ginger marinated carrots, tabouleh, cabbage slaw (this time with sesame seeds added), a spicy tomato and onion relish, pickled corn kernel salad, hummus, cucumbers in a sour cream dressing, all served with lots of pita (including, this time, pita toasted with butter, basil, and garlic). Then the main course of fish with French fries. We had the option (which two of us took) of getting a whole roasted St. Peter’s fish – most opted for a simple filet.

After eating fish, we went for a boat ride! We went to the Man in the Galilee Museum where a First Century boat has been preserved and put on display, watched a video about the preservation of the boat, then went for a ride on an excursion boat. The wind kicked up while we were on the water, so we had some appreciation of the story of the storm that frightened the apostles (although our storm wasn’t really very scary).

Next we went to Capernaum, a short bus ride away, again past numerous fruit orchards. Here a very modern church built in the 1990s in the shape of an eight-sided flying saucer is literally suspended from black stone pillars over the excavated ruins of an octagonal Byzantine church believed to have been built on the traditional site of St. Peter’s home. A Roman era synogogue is nearby (like almost next door!) and has been partially restored. The “flying saucer” church has a glass floor through which the ruins of the Byzantine church can be seen!

Our final location of the day was at Tabgha (the name is an Arabic corruption of the original Greek name meaning “seven springs”) where a modern Benedictine monastery and church commemorates the feeding of the 5,000. In front of the altar is the mosaic of loaves and fishes which is famous to the area.

After that, it was back to the Guest House to take a quick shower before Iyad shared with us a “surprise.” The surprise was a trip into the caves under the Sisters’ convent where some ruins discovered in the middle of the 20th Century are believed to be the home in which Jesus was raised! There is also a cistern showing years and years of use and, further down, a burial tomb of exactly the sort that would have been used when Christ was crucified. The whole narrative of his removal from the cross, his placement in the tomb prepared by Joseph of Arimethea, and Mary Magdalene’s trip to the tomb on Sunday morning now makes so much more sense!

Then dinner (a sensible European meal of meat and potatoes), compline, and bed — but not before a walk through the market area of the town and a stop at the local sweets shop!

Mark Stanger, our priest guide (Iyad’s assistant on this tour), commented that a visit to a Middle Eastern sweets shop smells like a visit to Crabtree & Evelyn because they use so many floral flavorings (like rose and geranium). So it was! We went to one where the pastries are all laid out on large trays – you fill a plate and pay by weight. I had baklava (both the traditional and “bird’s nest” style), kanafeh (a goat cheese concoction), semolina-almond balls (a sort of donut hole that has been described as “deep fried honey”), qatayef (a small cinnamon-flavored pancake folded and stuffed with nuts and dried fruit), and freshly made halvah. The plate of sweets was at least 10,000 calories and a diabetic coma waiting to happen, but O, my! it was good! (Although, people keep assuring me that just like coffee hours at church, food consumed on pilgrimage has no caloric content.)

As we traveled throughout the day, one of the recurring images was of food and the production of fruit. There were vineyards to be sure, but also orange groves, mango orchards, banana plantations (yes! bananas!), olive orchards, and others; and then there were those meals! This can be a fruitful land and could be even more so if the tenants would stop fighting with one another, and cooperate with the landlord and with each other. Unfortunately, they seem little inclined to do so — God doesn’t need to put these “wretches to a miserable death;” they are doing that themselves. The news of the day, again, was filled with mentions of the kidnapping and killing of teenagers. We enjoyed a lovely day in a land filled with sadness. It’s all very confusing.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Many Paths: Another Day in the Holy Land – From the Lectionary – July 1, 2014

From the Prophet Isaiah:

The way of the righteous is level;
O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous.
In the path of your judgments,
O Lord, we wait for you;
your name and your renown
are the soul’s desire.

(From the Sanctoral Lectionary [Harriet Beecher Stowe] – Isaiah 26:7-8 (NRSV) – July 1, 2014)

What a day this was! We began early, early in the morning, boarding the bus at 4:30 a.m. with no breakfast and a drive from Jerusalem to Jericho.

We got off the highway and trundled through small roads to a scenic overlook called Mizpe Yeriho (I believe it means “view of Jericho”) where we watched the sunrise over the Wadi Qelt, a tributary stream of the Jordan in the Jericho valley.

Each in the silence of his or her thoughts observed the sunrise and then it was my privilege to celebrate the Eucharist in this desolate desert place. Iyad had brought pita and wine, the necessary vessels, and a stole. I was surprised to see that the stole was a duplicate for the natural-colored, green-embroidered stole I had purchased on the Isle of Iona three years ago while on sabbatical. It was as if I were wearing my own stole!

While we celebrated, a Bedouin tribesman showed up and began laying out his wares — stone bead necklaces, bone and stone bracelets. I was facing away from him so could not see what others reported, that he was obviously elderly, obviously in some early morning pain, obviously unhappy to have to be there so early but there nonetheless to do what he does to support his family. It was both a distraction and a reminder that the Eucharist is never separated from context, and the Body of Christ (the church) is always surrounded by the people it is called to meet and serve.

After that we drove to Jericho and had breakfast in a lovely old resort garden accompanied by a little Pekingese-looking little mutt and a small orange tabby cat. Next after breakfast was a cable car trip (the hanging-gondola style cable car) up what is known as the mount of the Temptations. Tradition here teaches that Jesus spent the forty days in the desert in a cave outside of Jericho (now just on the outskirts of the modern city) and it was there that Satan offered him the Temptations. The cave has, for centuries, been incorporated into a Russian Orthodox monastery and church. Four aged monks now live in the monastery and support themselves by seeking pilgrim donations. (The similarity between the old Bedouin man at our sunrise Mass and the old Russian monk who offered us prayer candles for $1 each was striking!)

We were unable to stop at Tel Yeriho, the archaeological dig of ancient Jericho, but we could see if from the cable car gondolas. Our next stop was at the Sepphoris (modern Zippori) site; Sepphoris was the ancient capital of Galilee and it has been extensively excavated. It is a few miles from Nazareth and is probably where Joseph (and maybe Jesus) worked as a builder. We had a discussion here of the meaning of tekton, the Greek word often translated as “carpenter” but which more accurately means “craftsman” or “artisan” or “builder” (and sometimes “stonemason”). In this environment, “carpenter” seems a very inaccurate translation!

In Sepphoris, our guide Iyad, gave me the broken handle of a First Century vessel as a prize for answering a question accurately – my answer was a guess! The question was “How do we know there was a Jewish community at Sepphoris?” I guessed that it was the discovery of a mikvah (the community’s facility for ritual bathing) among the ruins. Turned out to be right.

From Sepphoris we came to Nazareth and first visited the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Greek tradition teaches that Mary was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel at the town well and this church is built over the ancient well. There is some great iconography in this church, including one of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt which depicts Joseph carrying Jesus on his shoulders.

We then walked to the Roman Catholic basilica. Western tradition holds that the Annunciation happened at Mary’s home and this church is built over what is believed to be her home. Originally, Antonio Barluzzi (many of whose churches we have seen) was to have built this church but, after he worked 20 years on the design, the project was awarded to a French architect in the 1960s. It is very massive and very typical French mid-century modern. In my opinion, it’s awful – it has all the spiritual wonder of a subway station.

In the church are depictions of Mary donated by the R.C. Episcopal Conferences of the several countries. The American piece is supposed to represent the “woman clothed with the sun” — an Old Testament image understood to refer to Mary — and it fits the church. It’s a disaster! Just my opinion . . . .

Our guest house was almost literally on the doorstep of the basilica, just half a block up a short street from the front door. And just beyond, the Anglican church in Nazareth, Christ Church. Unfortunately, it was not opened at any time during our stay in Nazareth.

This was a day of many paths, not many of them straight and not many of level, but all of them leading to spiritual enlightenment. I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted at this point and sorting it all out is an effort. So I’m putting it all in God’s hands, trusting that what I need to have learned, I will have learned.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem – From the Daily Office – June 30, 2014

From the Psalter:

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 122:1-2 (BCP Version) – June 30, 2014)

Our feet left Jerusalem today and went to Bethlehem, and what a day of varied impressions. We began in Manger Square (which is more like a parking lot than a town square) with Iyad’s presentation on the history of the Church of the Nativity, then we entered the building. It is currently under restoration, so there is scaffolding everywhere! The pillars in the nave are wrapped in cloth and banded with wood to protect them (apparently they are painted). Electric construction lighting hangs from the ceiling. The place looks like (and is) a construction zone.

Yet in the midst of this the various denominations (the Greeks, Latins, and Armenians share the space) go about their daily round of services and devotions. As we were entering, the Greeks were completing their worship in the upper church (ground floor, above the crypt of the Nativity). We were led passed them and into the adjoining more modern Church of St. Catherine, the local Franciscan (Roman Catholic) parish. Mass was just being completed there, as well.

On the right side of the Nave is a stairway leading down to some crypts adjacent to the crypt of the Nativity. Here it is said that St. Jerome translated the Vulgate (Latin) version of the scriptures. Here, also, is a crypt where the bones of several infants were found and tradition teaches the infants killed in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents were buried. There is a shrine to St. Jerome, another to the Holy Innocents, and a chapel of the Nativity whose backwall is the common wall to the crypt of the Nativity.

We gathered in this chapel, read the story of the Lord’s birth, sang What Child Is This? and O Little Town of Bethlehem. As we were finishing, the Greeks were completing their time in the crypt (down the tunnel from our chapel) and the sound of the bells (jingle bells) on the Greek thurible added to the “Christmas feel” of what we had just done.

Afterward, we went back up to St. Catherine’s where we waited for the Franciscans to begin their time in the crypt. We had been invited to participate in their Eucharist, which we believed would be in either English or Italian. As it turned out, it was in Spanish. Two young Mexican deacons were ordained yesterday and were serving their first Mass today. A group of pilgrims from Mexico (probably family members or members of their home parishes) were on hand. It was a lovely service and it was a privilege to receive communion in the Crypt, as it was to venerate the star over the place of Christ’s birth. But our few minutes of singing together in the side chapel next door was more meaningful for me.

As we left the Church, the Armenians were getting ready for their turn in the Crypt and I made note the beautiful, exceptionally celtic carving on the doors of their sacristy. Fr. Keith Owen said, “Those Celts! They got everywhere!” Indeed.

After the Mass, we traveled to another part of Bethlehem to do some souvenir shopping at a store known to our guide. (Evie and I bought only a few olive wood items. The sales staff were exceptionally pushy and while I might have bought something, my obstinate contrariness kicks in when I’m being pressured so they lost a sale. But, hey, as we keep saying, “It’s the middle east.”) The shop is in a part of the city very much affected by the Israeli security barrier; it is very much “in your face” in this section. One house (which was reported on by 60 Minutes in 2013 is almost completely surrounded by the wall!

We walked along the wall for about half a mile and really got a feel for its impact on the lives of the people of Bethlehem. I took several pictures of posters and grafitti that have been put on barricade.

After that, we drove to Beit Sahour (“House of the Angel”) a city about two miles from Bethlehem where the Shepherd’s Field (one of them, anyway) is located. There we had a great lunch of beef and chicken kabobs, and then walked to the Shepherd’s Field.

Another small Barluzzi church is located there – with a great statue of an angel over the door. We sat around the altar in the church and sang Angels We Have Heard on High and O Little Town of Bethlehem. Then we went down the hill to an archaeological excavation (on the Shepherd’s Field property) of some caves which were probably inhabited in the First Century. The cave opened to the public really gives a great sense of what the cave where Jesus was born would have been like. (He wasn’t born in an “inn” despite centuries of mistranslation of the Greek word kataluma.)

After Beit Sahour, we went to Ein Karem (“Vineyard Spring”) where it is believed that John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, lived. Another Barluzzi church is found here commemorating the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here, we hiked up the hill to the church, saw its lovely murals, statuary, and other objects. On the way back down, we stopped at a gelateria and got a dish or cone of gelato (Italian ice cream). I had Belgian chocolate and berries – it was wonderful!

It was an exceptionally full day! Psalm 122 (one of the several morning psalms for today) concludes:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls
and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions’ sake,
I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

(vv. 6-9; BCP Version)

The biggest impression of the day was, as it has been on other days, not the religious sites, but the political sights: the wall, the grafitti on it, the posters put there by the Wall Museum, the disruption of people’s lives, the separation of famers from their fields and orchards, the utter contempt of Israel for the Palestinian Arabs that it represents. How can there ever be peace when people are treated like this? I have spent the day with 17 other good Christian people trying to follow the Prince of Peace in a land torn by conflict. I have no answers. I have only prayers. I will pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

All God’s Children: Day Four in Jerusalem – From the Daily Office – June 29, 2014

From the Acts of the Apostles:

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Acts 17:22-28 (NRSV) – June 29, 2014)

Always one of my favorite stories of the Apostle Paul, this incident is depicted in the stained glass altar window of my church (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Medina, Ohio). I chose to use it as my focus scripture to introduce a summary of our Holy Land Pilgrimage activities today because Paul’s message of unity – that in God we all live and move and have our being, and that we are all God’s offspring – is one that needs badly to be heard in Israel and Palestine and, if the statistics we are hearing about Christian population in these countries are correct, it is one that won’t be heard very loudly or at all. Down from as high at 35% at the time of the British Mandate and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Christian population of Israel and Palestine today is less than 2%.

We began our day early with breakfast at 5:30 a.m. — to the usual assortment of olives, pickled eggplant, humus, labneh, yogurt, cheeses, and so forth was added a flaky, cheese-stuffed pastry, a sort of savory popover. Washed down with several cups of instant coffee (instant is all they serve here), this got us fortified for a morning of cultural fascination and disappointment.

First, we rode our bus to the Dung Gate of the old city, a pretty awful but ancient name for the southern gate in the city wall which derives from the refuse dumped here in ancient times; presumably, the prevailing winds would carry odors away. (“I went out by night by the Valley Gate past the Dragon’s Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.” Neh 2:13) This gate leads directly to the Western Wall and an archaeological park located at the south end of the Temple Mount.

We stood on line for nearly an hour waiting for Israeli security to open the gate that leads to the only access non-Muslims have to the top of the Temple Mount (which Muslims call “the Noble Sanctuary), the Al-Aqsah Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. Above this gate is a sign reading, “According to Torah Law, entering the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site. [signed] The Chief Rabbinate of Israel” Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis have signed this statement which was first issued by the Ashkenazi rabbi in 1935; both reiterated this prohibition in 2013.

Ignoring the Chief Rabbinate, a group of Israeli “settlers” stood in the line in front of us waiting to gain access to the Temple Mount.

Finally, security opened the gate and we were ushered through. The settlers were given a thorough search, however. From the covered wooden walkway from the security point to the actual gate of the Mount, we were able to take some good photographs of the crowd of Jews at the Wailing Wall. Directly under us, a large group of Jewish women were singing a hymn at the Wall. Directly in front of us, at the end of the covered walkway, Israeli security stored their heavy plexiglass riot shields, a visible sign to anyone entering that the police were prepared.

We entered the Noble Sanctuary and found a spot in the shade where Iyad could tell us about its history, ancient and modern. While he was talking some young adult tourists (American or Canadian college kids?) came onto the Mount and an old Muslim man began to berate them for being immodestly dressed. (We’d been told ahead of time that should wear long pants and long- or short-sleeve shirts, no tank tops; women should be in dresses or pants to the ankle, long-sleeved blouses, and scarves or veils. Why their guide hadn’t done the same, I have no idea.) An argument erupted between the old man and the Israeli police guards about who had authority to tell tourists whether they could enter and what the should wear. Eventually the college kids got themselves properly attired (using towels and large scarves) and walked on, but I know they took away an image of Muslim intractability.

Shortly after that, the settlers we’d seen at the security gate entered, to boos, hoots, catcalls, and other shouts of protest (or of “Allah hu akbar” – God is great) from the Muslims. They either offered a prayer or held a short conversation just inside the gate, then made a bee-line for an exit (passing us and wishing us “Shalom” as they did so). They had no reason to be there, other than to be provocative.

We spent some time walking through the area and seeing its sights. Unfortunately, since September 2000 when Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon “visited” the Temple Mount, an act scene by many as provoking the second Intifada, no non-Muslim has been permitted to enter the Al Aq-sah Mosque or the Dome of the Rock, so we could not see in the insides of the buildings.

After that we left the Noble Sanctuary by another gate (one can leave by any of the twelve gates, but non-Muslims can enter by only the one). We made our way to St. Anne’s Church at the Pools of Bethesda. A short visit to the pools and archeological site was followed by our entering the church and, as a group, singing Seek Ye First before the altar. The church, which is a crusader construction of limestone, has marvelous accoustics and we really sounded good. (The church is well preserved because it was turned into a Muslim school at one point. This is why it has no windows; those were replaced by the Muslims with plaster filigree. It also has a verse from the Qur’an carved in the stone over the front door.) After that, we made our way back to the bus which took us back to St. George’s Cathedral.

We gathered in a rather full church for the Eucharist, celebrated in both English and Arabic — and interesting experience reciting the creed and other parts of the canon in English while others were doing so in Arabic. Bishop Suheil Dawani presided; Canon Naim Atik preached. The canon focused on Jesus’ reference to rewards in the reading from Matthew’s Gospel and tied it to the recent vote by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself of stock in companies doing business in occupied Palestine, which he praised. I really didn’t follow the connection, however.

A short coffee hour (the coffee was “Turkish” or Arabic coffee – strong and sweet in tiny cups) and then a conversation with the bishop. He told us about his diocese’s ministries (education and health care) carried on by 30 diocesan institutions in five countries; the diocese covers Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan! He also told us about the shrinking of the Christian community in the Holy Land: the cathedral had been full, but that fullness was made up of two pilgrimage groups – ours and a larger group from Canada – and one group of scholars at St. George’s College. The indigenous members of the congregation this morning numbered only about twelve! He pleaded with us to support the work of the church in Jerusalem and beyond.

Lunch followed, after which we went to the Israel Museum to see a scale model of what Second Temple (First Century) Jerusalem is believed to have been, and an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Both were very impressive. More impressive was the unfortunate and unnecessary way in which Iyad was hastled by the guards at the museum’s entrance. He was clearly made to feel unwelcome.

On our return to the Guest House we had some free time and then had a conversation with a Jewish scholar who described himself as a “Jewish Zionist Leftist who sympathizes with the Palestinians and believes they have a right to self-determination.” He laid out for us in very a honest and nuanced way the differing Jewish perceptions of the difficulties in Israel and Palestine. He personalized the struggle in this land by telling us stories of the ways in which he, his wife, and his children had been accosted by Muslims, among whom they live! He teared up telling us of an incident involving his 9-year-old son, and yet he still urged us to not take sides and he still takes the view that the Palestinian Arabs have an equal right to a homeland.

He advised us to “not take the conflict home with you” and to support Christians in this country. Noting that they are (as stated above) down to less than 2% of the population, he opined that their absence would be tragic for the country. They are a force for peace, he said, and without them the possibility of armed conflict increases. Asked what we could do, his answer was the same as the bishops – support the Christians.

A tasty dinner of spiced beef and then Compline finished the day.

Take away from this day – Paul is correct; we are all the children of one God and those of us of the Abrahamic faiths ought to be able to demonstrate that to the rest of the world. But, for whatever reasons, we seem unable to do that. Everywhere we go in this country we find Israeli Jews provoking Palestinian Muslims; clearly it is a minority doing so blatantly, but the government seems to do so as well in more subtle ways. We find Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, angry at the Israelis. We find Christians unable to work together (even though their bishops, Bishop Dawani told us, meet together frequently for mutual support and consultation). We hear Arabs talk of “peace and justice” and Jews talk of “peace with security,” but there is very little talk of reconciliation. There are some beginnings of grass-roots efforts at reconciliation, but it is not happening in the secular political world nor in the religious hierarchies. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.’ ” (Ps 122:6-7)

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Israel – Day One, First Impressions – 26 June 2014

Yesterday evening we arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. The flight from JFK was long and not all that comfortable. It was my first opportunity to fly on a Boeing 747 (Delta A/L) — I had toured a proto-type 747 when I was 11 years old and then never again set foot in one until this trip. Except for cramming more people into a somewhat larger space, the experience of flying one wasn’t much different from any other larger jet. It was quite a contrast to the Embraer 50-pax liner we took from CLE to JFK, however!

The flight was filled with children and many, many Orthodox Jewish men in their tallits and long black coats. More than enough of them to complete a minyun so, at least twice during the flight, the back of the plain was filled with men in black hats, or wearing phylactories, draped in prayer shawls, praying fervently. There was something fascinating and reassuring about it. One observation about them (and their families) — they don’t take instruction very well. I’ve never been on a flight in which the passengers paid so little attention to flight attendants’ requests. Even at the end of the flight when Israeli law requires all passengers to be seated during the last 30-min before landing, and the pilot has to circle in Israeli airspace until the cabin crew reports that that is the case. We heard numerous announcements saying, “You are delaying our landing! Please be seated!”

Ben Gurion Airport is very modern and very very large. In fact, it’s massive and monumental! It makes a huge statement: “We’re here. We’re in charge. We’re staying.” Passport control at Ben Gurion, on the other hand, adds a footnote: “We’re in charge, but we’re not very organized.” I’ve been through immigration checks in many countries (mostly Europe and the Americas) and never have I been in such a chaotic mess! Israeli customs folk could take lessons from the Disney folks in how to get people lined up and processed. And a second footnote: “We’re in charge, but we’re not pleasant.” We had prepared ourselves to answer questions like, “Where are you staying? What are you doing? What areas of the country will you be visiting?” The surly young man in the booth didn’t even say “Hello” or “Welcome to Israel” — he may have asked, “Is this your first trip here?” — at least that’s the question I thought I heard and which I answered. Otherwise he just peered at our passports, peered at us with an unfriendly look, handed us a visa slip, and shooed us away.

Baggage claim was like any large airport — no correct signage indicating which of several carousels would have our luggage, lots of people getting in each others’ ways, adults shouting at children, spouses arguing over whose bag is whose. You’ve been there in airports all over the world.

Customs. What customs? Not an official in sight checking bags. A few uniformed women sitting down and chatting, ignoring the passengers shuffling through into the outer world. First impression: Young women in army uniforms carrying Uzis. Not many of them, but enough to make an impression. A third footnote: “We’re in charge and we’re armed.”

We were met by Mark Stanger, a priest from the Diocese of California who is assisting with our pilgrimage group, and shown to our bus. A large, air conditioned conveyance. After giving those who needed it a last chance at the restrooms, we started off on the hour long drive to Jerusalem over modern highways. Looking out the windows at the traffic, the construction, the buildings in the airport environs, we could have been anywhere in the American southwest. I felt right “at home” as if I was back in southern California. And shortly, as if I were traveling through the southern Nevada desert.

Halfway to Jerusalem is a new city – Modi’in – a massive planned community of concrete and stone. Not the prettiest of cities. A realization here, confirmed when we get to Jerusalem: this is not a country of private, single-family homes. This is a country of multifamily structures: apartment blocks, high-rises, etc.

One drives from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in along a new highway which is bounded, part of the way, by concrete walls, chain link fences, and barbed wire. This is the stretch through the West Bank, the occupied Palestinian territory. Access is limited to Israeli citizens whose cars have yellow license plates; Palestinians have green license plates and cannot enter this highway; access points are barricaded. On the hills: Palestinian villages — buildings in not as good condition as the Israeli buildings in Tel Aviv or Modi’in (nor even as good as the illegal, barricaded, barbed-wired, armed-gated Jewish “settlements” one also passes in this territory); on their roofs, black water tanks because (unlike Israel proper) the occupied territory does not get regular, 24-hour water service (the illegal Jewish settlements have white water tanks on their roofs).

We arrived in Jerusalem after sundown and were ushered quickly into the Cathedral Close and the dining room at St. George’s Pilgrim Guest House. A dinner of hummus, babaganoush, chicken and rice, pita, hummus, olives, figs, all the sorts of things you would expect: delicious! Then a short meeting with Iyad Qumri, our principal guide, and then to bed — our room is a virtual suite, although we may be moved from it to another room today (our second in country) — this room is at some remove from the Cathedral gardens and, another group leaving today, the rooms overlooking the gardens will be freed up and we may be relocated to them.

So — a very new experience in a very ancient land. A sense of history and prayerfulness, mixed with modern conveniences, armed soldiers, surly public servants, and attentive hosts. Wide open desert marred by concrete barricades and barbed wire. Jesus walked these lands. He still does in the person of peoples sharing a history and separated by generations of unnecessary enmity.

Photos of our arrival are on Facebook:

Taste & See – From the Daily Office – June 20, 2014

From the Book of Numbers:

And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 13:23-24 (NRSV) – June 20, 2014)

Cluster of GrapesHave you ever noticed how one of the most common sorts of souvenirs to be brought back from a trip is food? Every time we travel, my wife and I, we bring back food. Sometimes the authorities thwart us, but we try.

For example, when we made our first trip to Ireland a few years ago, we fell in love with some Irish sausages and with Irish bacon. In the duty-free shop at Dublin’s airport, however, we found a big sign on the meat products refrigerator advising that they could not be brought into the United States. We contented ourselves with some chocolates and some Irish whiskey.

When I was a kid, as I may have mentioned before, I spent summers in Kansas with my paternal grandparents. At the end of the summer my grandparents would often drive me back to Las Vegas and then on to southern California to visit their relatives and my maternal grandparents in the Los Angeles metroplex. Leaving Kansas, my grandfather would pack up some vegetables (especially tomatoes) from his garden into an ice-filled galvanized Gott can (the original Gott cans were made in my grandparents’ town).

Along the road, the ice would be replenished and the produce would stay fresh all the way to Nevada and California. When we got to the California border, there was an agricultural check-point on the highway at (I think) Yermo (or maybe it was Barstow). An officer of the state ag service would ask, “Do you have any fresh fruits or vegetables?” and my strict, up-standing Methodist grandfather, with a straight face and his oh-so-honest-sounding voice would answer, “No, officer.” Off we would drive with our illegal booty of garden produce. A little thing like preventing crop blight was not going to prevent our food souvenirs getting to their final destination.

And at the end of their trip those tomatoes and other veggies produced such delight! It was almost religious the way my maternal grandmother would receive her friends’ gift of a vine-ripened tomato, tenderly caress it, wash it gently, slice and serve it with the lunch she had prepared to welcome us. The look of sheer joy on her face as she tasted her first bite of it, the taste of her home town.

The taste of food reminds us of the places we have been; like the sound of music or certain smells, a taste can incite a flood of memories. Food also anticipates. We, my wife and I, are headed to the Holy Land in a short while. A few weeks ago, our tour organizer hosted a dinner at a near-by Middle Eastern restaurant so that we could meet other group members, hear a bit about our itinerary, and in the meal we shared get a foretaste of what we can expect to enjoy when we are there.

Moses sent spies over into Canaan and they came back with grapes, pomegranates, and figs to prove the land the Hebrews were entering was a bountiful one; like them, we are looking forward to entering the Promised Land. They named the place Eshcol (“cluster”) because of those grapes. One presumes that Moses and the other leaders tasted those fruits and knew the goodness of the land and of God who was giving it to them; they anticipated the future.

We do the same sort of thing each time we gather in worship and share the Eucharist. In it is the taste both of memory and of expectation. Every celebration of Holy Communion is both a memorial of what God has accomplished and a preview of what God has promised. In the Eucharist the past and the future irrupt into the present; our fellowship in the Eucharist with God and with all Christians across time and space is both a remembrance of Christ and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;” says the Psalmist, “happy are they who trust in him!” (Ps 34:8) Taste and see.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Memories Persist – From the Daily Office – July 6, 2013

From the Psalter:

Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down;
touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Hurl the lightning and scatter them;
shoot out your arrows and rout them.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 144:5-6 (BCP Version) – July 6, 2013.)

White Convertible 1957 ThunderbirdThe Psalmist might think that this is what has happened in the mountains around my home town of Las Vegas, Nevada.

I belong to a Facebook group of Las Vegas natives and during the past 24 hours other members have posted news of what is called the Carpenter Canyon Fire at Mt. Charleston, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and a fire near Kingman, Arizona, called the Dean Peak Fire. Kingman is 100 southeast of Las Vegas. As I write this, about 9,000 acres are reported burning at Mt. Charleston; 5,400 acres at Dean Peak. Neither fire is contained.

It is believed that both fires were started by lightning, or as the Psalmist might have put it, by God, shooting his arrows, touching the mountains, making them smoke! I don’t really think that’s the case (that God caused the fires), but the verses of the Psalm have made me think about the paradox of memory.

Both Mt. Charleston and Kingman are locations that loom large in my childhood memories. I learned to ski at Mt. Charleston, but that was as an adult. As a child my family would go to Mt. Charleston for one day every winter so that my older brother, some of my neighborhood friends, and I could play in the snow. Kingman was a place we stopped along the road when traveling east from Las Vegas to Kansas to visit grandparents and other relatives; it was also the place my father died of injuries sustained in a single-car motor vehicle accident when I was 5-1/2 years old. One of the single most vivid memories of my childhood was the day my mother and I drove to Kingman to claim the remains of my father’s automobile, a 1957 hard-top convertible Thunderbird.

That car figures large in nearly all my memories of my father. It was white with a red interior. During the top-down months of the year, the removable hard top would be leaned against the side of our house, protect from the elements by the grape arbor which functioned as a carport at our home and by a canvas tarp with which Daddy would carefully cover it. (Yes, I’m 61 and, yes, I still call my father “Daddy” – death does that; it freezes time and our ways of thinking about the beloved departed.)

The reports of the fires at Mt. Charleston and Kingman have brought those memories rushing back. For no good reason other than remembrance, my eyes filled with tears when I read of the Nevada fire.

I was angry when I first read of the Mt. Charleston fire; my first thought was, “My memories are being destroyed!” But the truth is that the places in my memories long ago ceased to be. The Mt. Charleston of 2013 is not the Mt. Charleston of 1955. The paradox is that our memories are both persistent and impermanent.

I’m sure it’s long gone, and although I don’t recall its name, I remember very clearly the coffee shop in Kingman where we would stop for breakfast on those eastbound trips. We would always get up and start before dawn; two hours or so later, we would get to the junction of Highway 93 and Route 66 at Kingman. I would have gone to sleep in the backseat of my mother’s car, so I would be awakened as we stopped there. It was the only place and the only time when I was allowed to have a chocolate milkshake for breakfast! My memory of that restaurant is persistent; the place was impermanent.

The same goes for the lodge at Mt. Charleston (still there, but completely different) . . . my dad’s Thunderbird (there are others still around; I’d like to own one, but I don’t have $50,000 to buy it) . . . the house we lived in (remodeled several times). My memories are persistent; the things and the places are not. Most importantly, the people are not. I believe they live on in the Presence of God and in the company of the saints in light . . . but they are not here. So memory is not only persistent, it is important.

The name of this blog is taken from another Psalm, Psalm 78. The first few verses are these:

Hear my teaching, O my people;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us,
we will not hide from their children.

We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.

He gave his decrees to Jacob and established a law for Israel,
which he commanded them to teach their children;

That the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn;
that they in their turn might tell it to their children.

Memory persists so that it may be shared, that the things which we have heard and known may be told to our children. Share your memories! Too many of us live with an absence of family memories; we hunger to know the past. Don’t let that happen to your children.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Does “Journey” Make Sense? – From the Daily Office – July 5, 2013

From the Gospel according to Luke:

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 23:26 (NRSV) – July 5, 2013.)

Start of a JourneyDo you know where Cyrene was? Its location was in the same place as present day Shahhat, a town in northeastern Libya, about 80 miles northeast of Benghazi and about five miles from the Mediterranean coast. It’s nearly 1300 miles from Jerusalem. Simon had “come from the country” a fair distance! And at the end of that very long journey, he was made to carry the cross up the hill to Golgotha. The journey is a common metaphor of the Christian life; Simon’s long journey could stand as an example. But does the metaphor, does Simon’s example make sense anymore?

In other reading today, I learned that although the United States as a whole has only 87 people per square mile, the average American lives in a metropolitan area with more than 5,000 people per square mile. Two-thirds of Americans live in metropolitan areas with half-a-million or more residents. The long journey may be a Christian metaphor, but it is probably not one that resonates with the personal experience of most modern Americans. Long journeys are no longer part of our everyday corporate experience.

Certainly Americans travel; last year we spent $597 billion on leisure travel and $259 billion on business trips. But living in cities with nearly every need, and most of our family and friends, close at hand, and without a religious or social tradition of pilgrimage, the long journey is not a common practice.

Paradoxically, we seem to be an increasingly mobile and transient society. We don’t do journeys, but we do seem to move about quite a bit. While my small-town (pop. 28,000) church has several long-term members who have been here most, if not all, of their lives, a significant part of our worshiping community is made up of those who have recently relocated to the area because of job transfers, and who expect to leave within just a few years. Indeed, many of those who have left the congregation in the past ten years have done so for the same reason. The long-term leadership of the congregation (and now that I’ve been here more than ten years, I feel like that includes me) has seen many active church members come and go as breadwinners are transferred into the area, work here for three to five years, and are then transferred elsewhere.

As I ponder these contradictory data, a mobile population lacking in experience of journeying, it seems to me that what we lack may be rootedness, a sense of permanent “home place,” an anchoring in space and time. There is a difference between a “journey” and a “trip” – and that difference is time. There is a difference between a “journey” and a life of constant work-related relocation – and that difference is the home place, the anchor point in space.

My family is as un-rooted as most; my personal history more so. Not quite half my lifetime ago, I was required to fill out an FBI background check form; doing so, I realized that by the time I was 35 years of age, I had had 37 addresses! When my children were in the fifth and third grades, we relocated from Las Vegas, Nevada, to an exurban, Kansas-side community of the Kansas City metroplex, where we lived for ten years; the home we owned there is still the place I have lived the longest in my life! Although they were born in San Diego and Las Vegas, it’s very clear that my kids think of Kansas as “home.” My wife and I moved to Ohio after the children had completed high school and they have never lived here. From time to time someone will ask one or the other, “Are you coming home for Christmas?” Their typical reply makes it very clear that they do not consider Ohio “home.” They have a sense of rootedness, and that root is not sunk into this soil.

Unlike my children, I do not have that sense of rootedness. I was born in Las Vegas, but left the place when I was only 8 years of age. For the next several years, my family relocated (always within the Los Angeles area) every twelve to eighteen months. I continued that pattern after leaving home, sometimes moving after only three or four months. As I aged and became employed, my length of stay in any one place grew. But it is only at more than 60 years of age that I can look back and make sense of life through the metaphor of “the journey.” I do wonder how useful this metaphor is for those still in the throes of an unrooted life, relocating every few years as jobs change, perhaps taking “business trips,” and maybe finding time for vacation travel.

Simon had a home, a place where he was rooted, Cyrene. He was on a journey when he encountered Christ on the way to Calvary. He was not on a “trip”; he was not relocating. What can we learn from Simon? Does the journey metaphor make sense anymore?

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Hard Road to the Narrow Gate – From the Daily Office – June 1, 2013

From the Book of Deuteronomy:

You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 5:33 (NRSV) – June 1, 2013.)

Forest PathsConfession: I have never followed any path exactly as it was laid out by anyone . . . even, I’m sure, God. Ever. Could that be why I’ve never lived long in any one place? The longest I ever lived in any place was in an exurban area of Kansas City on the Kansas side of the state line in a house I hated. (It was a split-level; I don’t like split-level homes.) Maybe not following the straight-and-narrow is why I’ve been something of a vagabond; the two do seem to go hand-in-hand.

On the other hand, getting off “the beaten path” leads to wonderful discoveries and unique experiences. A few years ago when traveling Ireland, I decided to visit the Aran Islands. Most tourists head to Inis Mór, the largest of islands, where most ferries from County Galway dock and where Dún Aonghasa is to be found; many go to Inis Oírr, the smallest, where boats from County Clare dock. I chose to go to Inis Meáin, the middle island, the least touristy of the three. There I found An Seipéal Mhuire gan Smál agus Eoin Baiste — the Church of St. Mary Immaculate and St. John the Baptist.

The church is a newer church, built in 1939. I was entranced by stained glass windows which had a most remarkable jewel-like quality with brilliant colors. My poor skills at photography with my inexpensive digital camera couldn’t possible convey the beauty of those windows. I later learned that they were the work of Harry Clarke, considered Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist.

Altar Window - Church of St. Mary Immaculate & St. John the Baptist

Getting off the well-marked, well-travel road and taking a different path can be dangerous . . . but it can also be marvelous!

In any event, when I read Moses this morning I contrast his words with those of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (not the gospel lesson for today):

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The easy road is the one well marked; the hard road to the narrow gate is difficult to find. It is the road less traveled about which Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Get off the highways! Explore the by-ways . . . they may lead to wonderful discoveries . . . and they may lead to the hard road to the narrow gate, the one few find.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Something Is Wrong! Something Is Broken! – From the Daily Office – May 16, 2013

From the Psalter:

They asked, and quails appeared, and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 105:40 (BCP Version) – May 16, 2013.)

Grocery ShelvesOnce again I find this serendipitous connection between one verse in the Daily Office psalm and a news item in the daily papers. Psalm 105 is divided into two parts and our lectionary bids us read the first at Morning Prayer and the second at Evening Prayer. The psalm describes the Hebrews sojourn in Egypt. Part One (vv. 1-22) describes the captivity of Joseph and his later elevation to leadership in the pharaoh’s court, which occasioned the children of Israel taking refuge in “the land of Ham” where they were subsequently enslaved. Part Two (vv. 23-45) tells the story of Moses, the Exodus, and the Hebrews coming into the Promised Land.

So hunger and famine, deprivation and want surface as themes both as a cause of the Israelites residence and ensuing slavery in Egypt, and as a consequence of their journey through the Sinai desert escaping from that servitude. The quoted verse celebrates God’s provision of food during their desert trek.

In today’s Los Angeles Times there is an article which begins with this question, “What happens to the 40% of food produced but never eaten in the U.S. each year, the mounds of perfect fruit passed over by grocery store shoppers, the tons of meat and milk left to expire?”

Twice a month about 100 families line up in the parking lot and hallways of my church to receive a few bags of food. As a distribution point for the local food bank system, our pantry operation offers canned goods, fresh vegetables, meats, bread, and other staples, as well as such things as paper towels, toilet paper, and personal hygiene products, to those unable to afford them in the stores. On the last Saturday of each month we see our biggest crowds as the month’s Social Security, WIC, food stamps, and other assistance funds have diminished.

In light of that monthly experience, I read the L.A. Times’ opening question and all I can do is shake my head in wonder! 40% of food produced in this country is never eaten? And yet there are these hundreds of people lining up for a food hand-out in my church . . . and that scene is repeated across the country in countless venues, and on an almost daily basis. Something is wrong! Something is broken!

The partial answer to the Times’ question is that some of it goes into the production of electrical power. The article is about the Kroger grocery company (through its Ralph’s and Food4Less divisions) composting the “garbage” food and producing methane gas to power generators. While I applaud this environmentally sound disposal solution, I can’t help but wonder, “Wouldn’t it be better if the food didn’t go to waste? Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of allowing the food to become inedible, it was distributed to those who are hungry?”

In the story of the Exodus, the food provided by God – the quail and the manna – could not spoil because it could not be kept. It was to be gathered and eaten; whatever wasn’t eaten simply didn’t hang around – the quail flew off – the manna evaporated. So neither the psalm nor the longer story in Exodus provide guidance for what to do with leftovers. Common sense, I think, has to fill that in. And common sense, I think, suggests that instead of letting food go bad and become fodder for a methane generator, it ought to be used to feed the hungry. I also think that that would be more attuned to the Gospel imperative.

Turning old food into electricity is at least a sounder decision than that reported a few months ago in Augusta, Georgia, where the inventory of a bankrupt supermarket was simply thrown away – in the presence of hungry people hoping for a handout! The needy poor, according to an article in the Augusta Chronicle, stood in the parking lot and “watched marshals stand guard as food was tossed into the trash” and hauled away to the city dump. “Some people even followed the truck to the landfill and were still turned away,” GreenLeft reported.

God provided food for the people. God satisfied them with quail and bread. God still provides food for the people. How we use it or misuse it is up to us. We don’t seem to be doing a very good job. Something is wrong! Something is broken!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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