07 December, 2010

Love and Marriage: It's Not Just For Straight Maccabees Anymore!

Hanukah is this week and Jews across the world are trying to bring light in to a world that is so often filled with darkness. The Maccabees, a group of zealous Jews some 2100-years ago, fought and won the right to practice their religious traditions and live in the way their hearts desired. In recognition of that great achievement, the story of long-lasting oil was born to help reflect the importance of dedication to a cause of religious freedom and the pursuit of justice.

The Kedushat Levi, a Hasidic commentary on the Torah, asks the question, "What is Hanukah? . . . They only found one flask of oil which contained only enough [to light the menorah] for one day. And a miracle happened that they lit from the flask for eight days. The next year the sages established eight days to praise and thank God. Why did the sages establish the holiday for eight days? If there was already enough oil in the flask to last one day, the miracle was only seven days long. The real miracle of Hanukah was that there were two forms of joy. So, although the miracle [of the oil] was only seven days long, the sages added an additional day to commemorate the second reason for rejoicing [namely, the recognition that the miracle is a reflection of God’s presence in the world].”

An interesting argument, right? To say that the real miracle of Hanukah is our recognition of God giving us the miracle – of our understanding of God’s presence in the world, is pretty bold. Yet it is true and it helps us to continually find new meanings for this wonderful holiday season.

For me this year, Hanukah has been wrapped up in the marriage equality debate happening in California’s 9th Circuit Court. After two years of the darkness of oppression and bigotry it seems as though we are on the cusp of the first Federal Court decision to recognize the sanctity of all relationships. I watched the oral arguments on CSPAN intently and I am hopeful for an outcome that would fulfill our country’s promise of acceptance and equality. To put it in ancient words; I believe that a great miracle will also happen here. I believe that, much like the Maccabees of old, that the court will soon grant the religious freedom of our generation; to allow people to marry their beloveds and to allow religious denominations and clergy to marry same-gender couples and to have those marriages recognized as equal and valid.

In this time of great darkness, we light candles to bring light back in to the world. They are candles of love, truth, faith and justice. They are stories of partnerships and families. As we approach the end of Hanukah and reach that 8th candle which celebrates the true miracle of Hanukah, I hold the teaching of the Kedushat Levi in my heart. The real miracle of Hanukah is our recognition of God’s presence here at this very moment. It is the recognition that God willing, one day soon, we will be able to stand with pride and tell our children, “One day a great miracle happened HERE!” Love and Marriage: It’s Not Just For Straight Maccabees Anymore!

I wish all of you a joyous Hanukah and holiday season.

Hag Urim Same'ah (A happy and light-filled holiday season),

Rabbi James

24 November, 2010

Pausing for Thanksgiving

Friends of CWC,

The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are speckled with moments of giving thanks. Prayers are offered, songs are sung, dances are danced and blessings are received. Even our ritual of Holy Communion relives Jesus pausing to give thanks to God before he serves and feeds and nurtures. Ritualized or not, the act of pausing in gratitude IS a spiritual practice.

The American culture often identifies itself through political lenses. We see each other not as fellow humans on a journey, but as red or blue humans either living right or wrong depending on your persuasion. And now we have moved directly from election season to shopping season. In the midst of these secular waves, it can be difficult to settle ourselves enough to have a spiritual practice or to notice some inner sense of connection.

Christian communities are about to embark on an Advent journey searching for peace and love, as we await the birth of hope. But somewhere between the Christmas music on the radio, door buster sales and news reports of traveling hazards, we have an opportunity to pause. We have an opportunity to create some space to acknowledge all that we have, to observe the connection we have with one another, and to offer thanks to a Higher Power, whom I call God for the gift of creation.

Amid the gatherings this weekend, the football, turkey, family "stuff", even among the shopping, may we pause to give thanks. Light a candle, say a prayer, let us make some space to allow ourselves to be filled with awe and wonder for our blessings. Monday we can focus on where we need to go, but for now, let's pause and be grateful we are on the journey in the first place.

I am grateful for the ministry of CWC, for the lives that we touch, for the people who pray for us, donate their treasure for us, and who provide leadership. And this weekend, I especially give thanks for all those who are courageous enough to live into who they've been created to be. I thank God for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied community!

May you be touched this weekend and know that you are loved. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

In Peace,

Rev. Tara

30 September, 2010

Devar Torah (Homily) On The Story of Abraham and Sarah

The early part of the story of Avram and Sarai tells us of their journey into the unknown path. After hearing a call from God telling them to “get up and go,” they take their nephew, Lot, and begin the mythic history of the Israelite people. Although surely there is much to focus on in this sedrah (section of the Torah), I want to take us to one small word in chapter 14 and the ensuing commentary. Genesis 14:13 notes that during an intertribal conflict, an escaped prisoner came le’avram ha’ivri, to Avram the Hebrew, to inform him that Lot had been captured. Ha’ivri, that notion of Hebrew peoplehood, also begins its long journey through history at this moment.

But why note here that Avram was a Hebrew? It seems to be an unnecessary detail. A comment from Genesis Rabbah, an early collection of homiletical midrash (extra-biblical stories), teaches that Rabbi Judah said: Ha’ivri signifies that the whole world was on one side while he was on the other side. Rashi, a famous eleventh-century commentator, has the same question and answers that the root letters of the Hebrew word ivri (ayin, bet, resh) should be understood as “other.” Avram the other.

Just as Avram and Sarai go out with little assurance, it is often easy for members of the LGBTQ community to feel alone in individual journeys toward identity. Whether it is harassment in schools, bigotry, violence or intolerance in public and private spaces, it can often seem like being queer means being “the other.” And moments of breaking free from the closet and coming out are points of intense emotion and fear. So often there is enormous risk in that first moment of journeying toward a true self. But we are blessed with a tradition that embraces that otherness and cherishes it. Sarai and Avram’s journey is one reminder of the power of journey and it teaches that we should love that journey and embrace it.

The question remains about where Avram and Sarai are journeying to. For us, we might reframe that question and ask instead, how can we as a Jewish community create a place for everyone? How can we make a spiritual home for people to journey toward as opposed to a home that we only leave? Just as God enters into a covenant with these new Hebrews, faith communities across the world should enter into covenants of equality internally and covenants of advocacy externally.

For Avram, the internal covenant is about getting up and going. As Reb Kaplan previously taught in a commentary for Jewish Mosaics, Leh Leha is about “going to yourself.” The act of moving and getting your soul committed to the journey is no small task. The external covenant is the act of circumcision. For us the internal covenant is about creating welcoming communities that celebrate the journey and the destination of LGBTQ folks with the fullness of our rituals, traditions and celebrations. The external covenant comes from publicly affirming our commitment to the fullness of expressions of identity and to advocating a religious case for marriage and social equality.

I believe that if we do these things, we will find that the journeying will be a source of blessing for the Jews we encounter at the destination and along the way.

04 August, 2010

Oregon and SW Washington Religious Leaders Applaud District Court Ruling Overturning Prop 8

Clergy and religious leaders celebrate California’s District Court decision declaring Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. “It’s a prophetic moment when all loving families are recognized, honored and celebrated”, said Rabbi James Greene of Temple Beth Sholom and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Community of Welcoming Congregations. “This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice in it”, he continues. The Rev. Dr. Brooks Brandt of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Vancouver said, “For my church, the court’s ruling is a celebration, a moment in which our values are reflected in the policies and decisions of our country”. The Rev. Natasha Brubaker-Garrison, priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Eugene concurs. “I am delighted by Judge Walker’s ruling. His decision lives into the spirit of our country where there is equal protection for us all.”

The Rev. Dana Worsnop, minister at Atkinson Memorial Church in Oregon City states, “As a Unitarian Universalist and as a human being, I am thrilled that more and more people are seeing more and more clearly that the right to marry who we love is a basic human right. When two people who love each other choose to marry, something new and holy arises in the world.” The Rev. Tara Wilkins, a United Church of Christ minister and executive director of the Community of Welcoming Congregations declares, “This is a victory for all those who work on the front lines to ensure equality. As a Christian, I must stand on the side of love, while insisting on justice. Civil marriage is separate from religious marriage and should not be denied for religious reasons.”

The Community of Welcoming Congregations (CWC) is an interfaith advocacy nonprofit working for the full inclusion and equality of LGBTQ persons. Currently CWC has 110 members across Oregon and SW Washington each of whom have adopted a position to be intentionally inclusive of lesbian and gay families.