everybody knows...

One of the challenging and complex truths about my evolving Christian faith is how saturated it has been - and clearly still is - with antisemitism. The same could be said, of course, about my racism and sexism, too with one jarring exception: Christian antisemitism is both theologically ubiquitous and nourished by our culture of worship. I came of age during the cultural revolution of the 60's and embraced its call to liberation.

The sounds of freedom filled the airwaves of my formation. Sometimes it was Joan Baez, other times Marvin Gaye; often it was Gil Scott-Heron and always the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane. I watched the March on Washington as a child on TV. I read Tom Hayden and MLK. I was moved by the speeches of RFK and Julian Bond and voraciously consumed the essays of Dave Dellinger in LIBERATION. A few years later my young world was transformed by the writing of Germaine Greer and Robin Morgan. I was listening to Holly Near, Laura Nyro and Dorie Previn. The political and cultural critique of a consumerist society hellbent on control guided my aesthetics, career choices and spirituality. 

Never once, however, did I read or hear a challenge to Christian antisemitism during these formative years. There was a quiet awareness of the Jewish holocaust at the edges of my schooling - we read The Diary of Anne Frank in elementary school and I sometimes played with children whose parents had survived the camps - but there simply was not a creative, public conversation about this reality in my world. I read Man's Search for Meaning my freshman year in college, but it wasn't until my time in seminary that I discovered Rosemary Reuther's Faith and Fratricide. This sparked a personal journey into the works of Elie Wiesel, Richard Rubenstien and Jurgen Moltmann. Reuther also encouraged a rereading of Bonhoeffer and then my decision to write my Master's thesis with Dorothee Soelle.

In the early 80's I was able to visit Poland - and some of the death camps - with Fellowship of Reconciliation. We spent time in conversation with Christians in the GDR, too - people of faith who not only lived through the Third Reich but chose to remain after the war - in the hope that they might aid in rebuilding German culture. Still, I could find no sustained movement within Christianity that was willing and able to address the linkage between Auschwitz and the New Testament.  Perhaps three years ago this changed with the publication of The Jewish Annotated New Testament - Amy-Jill Levine's essay are essential - and my reading of James Carroll's Constantine's Sword. Working with a local rabbi on the question of justice for both Jews and Arabs in Palestine was another vital step in my quest for understanding and healing alternatives.

As I settled into this first day of pre-sabbatical living - we don't leave for NYC until Friday and have a host of assorted cleaning and packing tasks to accomplish - I am aware that I am being encouraged by the Spirit to wrestle with my own deeply ingrained Christian anti-Semitism. One of the actions that Carroll, a former Roman Catholic priest, urges is for a Third Vatican Council to be called that specifically - and honestly - addresses and repents of our legacy of viscous and violent anti-Semitism in all its forms. His point is clear: without teshuva - the radical turn around we know as repentance in all of its embodied and public forms - the sins of our fathers and mothers in the Church will continue to infect their children unto the third  and fourth generations.  Jesus clearly calls for the faith community to be continually in such a repenting mode at the start of his public ministry:  Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near repent, and believe in the good news.  In Carroll's analysis this would include a cleansing of the anti-Semitic theologies embedded in the New Testament, a thorough and public confession of our history of sin and a commitment to use our institutional power to redress the evil we both birthed and nourished.

As the Psalmist sang, for me I don't have such lofty notions or concerns I don't fillmyself with thoughts too grand or big for my small life. (Psalm 131) Rather what I am going to think about during parts of this sabbatical - and explore theologically and practically - is what such a return to the values of Jesus might mean on a local level.  I sense that being an ally for real justice in Palestine demands nothing less. I believe that being a faithful partner with my spiritual cousins in Judaism requires a new level of cooperation, compassion and community from me and my faith community. And I don't have any idea what that might look like... and so the time for sabbatical reflection begins.


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