Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Episcopal Trifecta For The Day

Episcopal as in pertaining or relating to bishops and the historic episcopacy, that is.

Deacons and priests tend to tell their ecclesiastical life stories with reference to bishops. For instance, take this photo, which appeared today on Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce's blog showing her with her sister suffragan, Mary Douglas Glasspool (left) and Bishop Martin Barahona of the Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador at an event in his honor during our triennial General Convention in Indianapolis.

I was Bishop Mary's chaplain when she and Diane were participating in the process that led to their historic election as our diocese's first women bishops in 2009. Bishop Diane was a gracious and indispensable mentor in the late 1990s during my ministry study year at Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana, California, where she was associate rector. As a fellow Bloy House seminarian, she also gave me photocopies of her famous Charles Frazee church history index cards. For five points, what's the Shepherd of Hermas? And I had the blessing of serving as Bishop Barahona's chaplain when he paid a visit to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tustin, California one Sunday in 2002, where I was doing a field study internship.

We just love our bishops!

Limning Some Historic Limestone

From our diocese's daily e-mail from The Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, we learn that Bishop Suffragan Mary Douglas Glasspool is combining theology with geology:
Having arrived Monday night, I left the hotel early Tuesday morning to go for a run. The J.W. Marriott Hotel, where the Los Angeles deputation is staying, is adjacent to White River State Park, a lovely area that encompasses the Indianapolis Zoo, White River Gardens, and a limestone walkway along the (you guessed it) White River. As I was running on the walkway, I suddenly noticed several carvings and inscriptions in the wall that borders the walkway and one struck a chord of recognition: the Washington National Cathedral! For 24 hours I puzzled over why the Washington National Cathedral should have a place alongside the Indiana State Capitol Building and the Empire State Building, and it finally occurred to me (duh!) that perhaps our National Cathedral was built out of Indiana limestone. I checked out this supposition with the Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, and found that to be the case. Mystery solved!
Photo by Bishop Mary

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mitt Wit

The GOP candidate's logic on Obamacare is taxing.

You Think?

Headline on Kindle version of this New York Times article: "Jobs Numbers Could Affect Presidential Race."

Own Up, Reader!

The Episconixonian just had its 175,000th reader since I started keeping track a couple of years ago. Thanks, Mick. Or maybe Maarja? Paul? Linda? You know who you are! Anyway, thank you.


Want to make a real difference in the Middle East? Consider supporting the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which just made a $50,000 donation to the diocese's Al Ahli Arab Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza, to help make up for a cutoff of UN funding. Read more about the Jerusalem diocese's work here.

Shedding Divestments

Mainline churches invest billions on behalf of their retired employees. Should they punish Israel for its occupation of the West Bank by selling stock in companies that do business in Israel or are accused of de facto support for the occupation? The Episcopal Church considers the question at its triennial General Convention this week and next in Indianapolis. Our bishop in Los Angeles, Jon Bruno, opposes divestment and boycotts, as does Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. From Indianapolis, Matthew Davies surveys all the pending proposals for the Episcopal News Service:

Jefferts Schori visited Israel and the West Bank in 2008. Asked about divestment, she told ENS in a recent interview that the Christian tradition “generally has not been to shun people. It has been to call people to greater engagement … and relationship, and I think that is especially needed in the land of the Holy One right now.”

During an Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles gathering in March, Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza” rather than focus on divestment or boycotts of Israel.

If people have particular concerns about corporations’ policies, she told ENS, “then positive engagement would mean to become a shareholder and go to a shareholders meeting and challenge the administration of the corporation. It’s a positive response rather than a negative one.”

By a narrow margin, our Presbyterian brothers and sisters said no to divestment yesterday at their biennial meeting in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Not Too Keynesian

In our four-year economic crisis, the U.S. has stuck with Keynesian economic stimulus while Great Britain abandoned it. According to John Maynard Keynes' biographer, Robert Skidelsky, the results are in:

Since May 2010, when U.S. and British fiscal policy diverged, the U.S. economy has grown—albeit slowly. The British economy is currently contracting. Unemployment in the United States has gone down by 1.4 percentage points; in Britain, it has gone up by 0.2 percentage points. And despite keeping up stimulus measures, the Obama administration has been more successful in reducing the government deficit—by 2.5 percentage points compared with [Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osborne’s 1.9 percentage points.

Earlier this year, Paul Krugman wrote that “Britain . . . was supposed to be a showcase for ‘expansionary austerity,’ the notion that instead of increasing government spending to fight recessions, you should slash spending instead—and that this would lead to faster economic growth.” But, as Krugman wrote, “it turns out that . . . Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression.”

For Keynesians, this is not surprising: By cutting its spending, the government is also cutting its income. Austerity policies have plunged most European economies (including Britain’s) into double-dip recessions. At last, opinion is starting to shift—but too slowly and too late to save the world from years of stagnation.

What Israel Is Learning In Kindergarten

The debate in Israel about how many Arabs and ultra-orthodox haredim should be expected to serve in the military draws attention once again to the country's shifting demographics. Jodi Rudoren reports:

While Haredim account for less than 10 percent of Israel’s seven million citizens, and Arabs 20 percent, their high birthrates mean that about 46 percent of today’s kindergartners come from the two groups, growth that is “challenging the basic formula” of Israeli society, according to Aluf Benn, editor of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz.

“These groups don’t want a larger slice of the pie, they want a different recipe,” Mr. Benn said in an interview. “If Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state, the Arabs would do away with the Jewish part, and the ultra-Orthodox at least in their dream would get rid of the democracy. They respect the authority of the rabbis.”

Photo: Schoolchildren (including a girl) at the men's section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 2012

Nixon And The Intensity Gap

Historian and former Nixon tapes archivist Maarja Krusten gets props from OC Weekly's Matt Coker for her recent article about Nixon foundation efforts to get rid of library director Tim Naftali:
Krusten ends her piece not by taking pot shots at the Nixon loyalists--her entire account is pretty matter-of-fact and snark-free--but she does take a swipe at others in her profession.

"Historians need to step up their game," she writes. "They need to embrace continual learning and educate themselves about the National Archives and what it faces in Washington. As it is, there is what Naftali calls an intensity gap. The Nixon side showed intense interest in the Watergate exhibit and used various means in an unsuccessful effort to limit it.

"This time around, knowledgeable Washington insiders such as I had Tim's back. Who will fight for the next Tim Naftali, if complacency among historians on presidential libraries issues continues?"

Out On the Palestinian Streets

St. John's pilgrims Ed and Cathy Alosio are pictured on the streets of east Jerusalem near the Holy Land Hotel, headquarters for a week during our recent pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank.

It was a considerable change of pace compared to my three prior trips, when our groups stayed at the pilgrim guest house of St. George's Episcopal Cathedral. This time we stepped easily into the bustling life of what Palestinians hope will be their capital someday. The main drag, Salah al-Din, was around the corner, which meant we were a few steps from newspapers, the post office, a cafe with cappuccino and croissant, a florist (where pilgrim Kathe Hayden made friends with the proprietor by showing him some arrangement tricks), soccer courts (where Bob and Steven made friends playing baseball), shops selling pistachios and za'atar (a tasty blend of herbs, sesame, and salt; try it on fresh warm bread in the morning), and delicious shawarma (think Arab gyro).

St. George's, which is finishing up with some renovations, has considerable charms. Our friend Canon Iyad Qumri took us by one morning for a visit with the new cathedral dean, the Very Rev. Canon Hosam Naoum, and our LA diocese friend, Deb Neal (pictured with the Rev. Lisa Rotchford, at left), now serving as secretary to the bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem. The beautiful cathedral close, on a quiet stretch of Nablus Rd., was a longer walk than our hotel from the Damascus and Herod gates, which we pilgrims used for our daily and nightly excursions to the Muslim, Christian, Armenian, and Jewish quarters.

At the comfortable Holy Land, presided over by its courtly Muslim owner,
Zuhair Al-Amad, and his good-humored and patient reception director, Fawaz Takrouri (whose young assistant tore himself away from watching the Euro 2012 tournament in the hotel bar long enough to show me some card tricks), we couldn't help feel more connected to the city and encouraged to explore and rub shoulders, observe the pace and style of commerce, and indulge our curiosity about varying styles of women's dress according to Muslim tradition (a preoccupation of all western pilgrims) as people walked to and from jobs and shopping.

One night Kathy and I and pilgrims Christian, Shannon, and Damian Kassoff were exploring when, shades of Greenwich Village, we encounte
red an art happening -- a group of young people wheeling a projection system along the sidewalk looking for blank walls for their screen. We also organized a pilgrimage to the historic American Colony Hotel, where $130 bought a round of drinks and the privilege of imagining we had spotted the ghosts of Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens drinking and laughing at a table in the corner of the garden.

The P Factor In Palestine

The Palestinian Authority may be getting set to exhume PLO leader Yasser Arafat's body from its tomb in Ramallah to see if he was poisoned by polonium, traces of which were just found on his personal effects. He died in 2004, reportedly of a massive stroke, two years before elements of the Russian intelligence services used the substance (which you need a nuclear reactor to produce) to kill ex-agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Litvinenko was the first known polonium victim, which could help explain why it would've been missed in the investigation of Arafat's death. Investigators also might have missed it because it didn't happen. Pro-peace blogger Richard Silverstein has more details and a considerable amount of speculation about Israel's possible role here. At the New York Times, Isabel Kershner describes Arafat's mixed legacy and the current situation for Palestinians, whose reaction to definitive news that Arafat had been murdered is anybody's guess:

Revered by many as the revolutionary founding father of Palestinian nationalism, he was also reviled, particularly by many Israelis, who considered him a terrorist. He was among three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in accepting the Oslo accords, a blueprint for peace with Israel, but nearly 20 years later his promises of a Palestinian state remain unfulfilled. Corruption was also rampant under his leadership.

“We have moved from at least having the impression under Yasir Arafat that our national aspirations could be fulfilled to survival mode,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a political scientist at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. Nowadays, Mr. Qaq said, Palestinians are concerned about whether or not their salaries will come in, referring to a worsening financial crisis that has caused the Palestinian Authority to delay payment of June salaries to its employees

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Holy Hugh

An Independence Day thank you to my Nixon brother Hugh Hewitt for his shout-out to my St. John's pilgrimage posts.

Bob's Guitars And Sami's Stoles

We St. John's pilgrims are shown the other morning on the roof of east Jerusalem's Holy Land Hotel, with the Dome of the Rock behind us and Herod's Gate on the right. First row: Damian, Brenna, Remy, Canon Iyad, and Steven; second row: Alexandra, Cindy K., and Allana; back row: Bob, Kathe, Christian, Shannon, Debbie, Fr. Mike, Fr. John, Kathy, Cindy D., Pastor Lisa, Ed, Cathy, and Jerry.

My t-shirt signified not me but a guitar brand. Later that day, at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu on the eastern slope of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, it enabled me to bond with an American pilgrim who said he was a colleague and friend of Taylor Guitars founder and CEO Bob Taylor. "I have guitar #200," he said. In the church dedicated to remembering Peter's denial of his savior, I wrestled with the sin of envy.

From Taylors to luthiers to tailors: One day last week, I took my friend and colleague the Very Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger to meet Sami Barsom, who's had the same shop on St. Mark's St. in the old city for over a half-century. In his customary fashion, he brewed and served coffee and spoke to us graciously while receiving the greetings of every third person who wandered by his shop -- Christians, Arabs, Jews. As lay leader of the local Syriac Orthodox community, his contacts are prodigious. He got out a picture Lord Snowdon took many years ago showing him with Jerusalem's legendary mayor, Teddy Kollek. And yes, Mike and I each bought one of his beautiful handmade stoles.

Why Bibi Waits And Sees

Let's look at this strictly from Israel's perspective. Say it chose to annex the West Bank, arguing, as sovereign nations will, that it won the land from Jordan in 1967 with its blood and treasure. While dealing with the bloodcurdling global outcry, Israel would have to decide whether to grant citizenship to the region's two million Arabs. Israel's population would then be about 5.8 million Jewish and 3.5 million Arab (compared to 20% Arab today). If Arab growth rates continued to outstrip non-haredim Jews', voters would probably soon put an end to Israel's status as a Jewish state.

If Israel annexed the West Bank but didn't let its Arabs vote, it would deserve being called an apartheid state. Many Israelis put security above democracy. But such a grave violation of Israel's democratic principles would be unthinkable to tens of millions of its citizens and international friends.

Instead, say Israel and the Palestinians finally made a deal on two states. Then your problem would be strategic unpredictability instead of the iron law of demographics. The main question is whether Palestine would go in the direction of secular Muslim Turkey or fanatical Iran. You'll be able to make a better guess when you see where Egypt goes with its Muslim Brotherhood president. The two-state deal would be freighted with massive security guarantees. For the foreseeable future, Israel's armed forces would outmatch anything Palestine could muster. But Tel Aviv and Haifa would be easy targets for missiles fired or bombs smuggled from just a few miles away.

So if you were a relatively enlightened Israeli leader, sworn to protect your country at all costs, what would you do? Friends and enemies will tell you that your responsibilities include justice for those living under occupation for over 40 years. You understand that, but you still keep coming back to job one. Besides, you don't have to say yes to a two-state settlement if Palestinians keep saying no.

My guess is that your preference would be to keep watching and waiting, not taking any action you're not compelled to take on the strict grounds of national interest. Writing in the aptly named National Interest, published by the former Nixon Center, Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar seems to have put his finger on it:
Israel never overtly spurned a two-state solution involving land partition and a Palestinian state. But it never acknowledged that West Bank developments had rendered such a solution impossible. Facing a default reality in which a one-state solution seemed the only option, Israel chose a third way—the continuation of the status quo. This unspoken strategic decision has dictated its polices and tactics for the past decade, simultaneously safeguarding political negotiations as a framework for the future and tightening Israel’s control over the West Bank. In essence, a “peace process” that allegedly is meant to bring the occupation to an end and achieve a two-state solution has become a mechanism to perpetuate the conflict and preserve the status quo.
What makes the status quo tenable for Israel is the dramatic decline in the conflict, namely Palestinian violence since the end of the second intifada in 2004. Traveling with a group of St. John's Episcopal Church pilgrims, I've just finished my fourth visit to the region since 2007. Each time the atmosphere has been less tense. Palestinians are less hassled at Israeli check points and border crossings. Thanks to injections of foreign aid, the West Bank economy is doing well, though fiscal problems are brewing. Perhaps it's a little like China, where the availability of jobs and opportunity makes people less frantic about being deprived of political self-determination. The West Bank's Fatah leaders are being good citizens, focusing on economic development and diplomacy instead of violence -- though there are signs that some Palestinians are angrier about the lack of progress toward a Palestinian state. People we met even complained less about Israeli settlements. All in all, shrugged shoulders seem more common than balled fists.

So again, you're an Israeli leader. What do you do? Justice and fairness for Palestinians -- of course, of course, you get all that. But give them all a vote in Israel? No way. Your country's founders died to create a sanctuary for Jews. Annex Palestinian land but make them second-class citizens? Your founders died for freedom, too. Risk Hamas having the deciding vote in Palestinian foreign policy? Not on your watch.

Sure, things could go south again on the West Bank -- renewed terrorism, even civil war. Maybe a U.S. president will finally threaten to cut off some or all of your $3 billion in annual security aid. But you'll decide how to react to those developments when they occur. You'll see how things look in the morning, and the morning after that, and next year. All in all, amorally but understandably, maybe you really would just wait and see.

Well, Duh

In what he describes as an epiphany, Kurt Andersen reveals that he has gotten to the bottom of the Me generation:
“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.

The Gospel According To Carl

Others have noted (especially SNL's scriptwriters, in a fake commercial some years ago) how much U.S. men of a certain age depend on lines from films such as "Caddyshack," "Animal House," and "Airplane" just to get through the day. On our recent St. John's pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank, I learned that pilgrim Damian, though only 12, had already mastered a surprising amount of the canon but not yet the text which yields up such riches as "I've got that going for me, which is nice" and "big hitter, the Lama." Bill Murray plays assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler. It's an Independence Day classic, a Cinderella story.

Friedman's Pyramid Scheme

Thomas Friedman acknowledges the Muslim Brotherhood's toxic anti-western, anti-women (he says "anti-feminist," but let's be real) views. But he is vaguely (guardedly is too strong a word) optimistic about its new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, when it comes to his relations with the west and Israel, not because of anything notable about Morsi but because Egypt, which doesn't have significant oil reserves, needs tourist dollars:
So Morsi is going to be under enormous pressure to follow the path of Turkey, not the Taliban. Will he? I have no idea. He should understand, though, that he holds a powerful card — one Israelis would greatly value: real peace with a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt, which could mean peace with the Muslim world and a true end to the conflict. Of course, that’s the longest of long shots. Would Morsi ever dangle that under certain terms? Again, I don’t know.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By George

Happy Independence Day. "Washington Crossing the Delaware," Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Sometimes A Missile Is Just A Missile

My St. John's friend Andy Guilford snapped this photo today while touring the White Sands Missile Range Museum in New Mexico.

Beit El Than Nothing

While we were in the Holy Land last week -- around the time I saw this sign on the Jericho-Jerusalem highway pointing both to Ramallah, the Palestinians' headquarters, and Beit El, an Israeli settlement on the occupied West Bank that's one of the thorns in the Palestinians' side -- there was a similarly ambiguous development in the Middle East peace process. A few dozen Israeli families peacefully vacated buildings in a Beit El neighborhood called Ulpana that the country's high court had deemed illegal (good news). Then the government announced it was adding 350 residences to other settlements, including 300 in Beit El itself (which sounds like bad news, since it adds up to a net increase in West Bank settlers). The New York Times reported:
[W]hile Palestinians and their supporters saw the court ruling as a moral victory, the practical result is an expansion of the settlement enterprise. Several experts said the agreement further diminishes the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and some saw the deal as a sign that [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu was leaning toward a unilateral rather than bilateral approach to the issue, with Israel essentially defining the borders of a future Palestinian state.
On Sunday, the justices relented a bit and said the illegal buildings didn't have to be demolished until November. That's Israel (and often democracy) for you -- one step forward, .95 or 1.05 of a step back. No matter when the homes are demolished, the Ulpana operation is scant cause for optimism. Getting Beit El's 5,600 residents to leave as part of a two-state settlement would probably not go as smoothly. Most are orthodox Jews, including many Russian emigres, who consider their home part of greater Israel. The site's association with the great patriarch Jacob would make things especially complicated on the day the IDF was sent to roust the townspeople.

But a little bit more good news is that there are settlements, and there are settlements, as we St. John's pilgrims learned on June 24 at the Holy Land Hotel in east Jerusalem during a thoughtful talk by Ophir Yarden, an Israeli veteran, self-described religious Zionist, and peace activist who teaches at BYU's Jerusalem Center.

To get us started, Yarden surveyed the vast Talmudic landscape of Israeli opinion on security and the peace process, helping us understand that there's a legitimate-sounding response to every opinion and nostrum offered by foreign visitors who've been watching the news or reading the paper and decide we've figured it all out. He especially stressed taking care about our terminology. When someone mentioned the controversial separation wall, which we'd seen the day before at Bethlehem, he reminded us that forbidding Berlin Wall-like structures comprise just five percent of the barrier dividing Israel from the West Bank. Security fence, he said, would be a less-provocative description, since its construction (if not all of Israel's opportunistic choices about its location) seemed justifiable as a security measure during the second intifada in 2000-04.

On the other side of the debate are Israeli hawks who oppose current U.S. policy, which calls for Israel to return to its 1967 borders with land swaps. Fretting that pre-June 1967 Israel was only a little more than nine miles wide at its narrowest point, critics claim the Obama administration and Palestinians want to impose indefensible "Auschwitz borders" on Israel -- failing to acknowledge, Yarden noted, that she capably defended the same borders in 1967's Six-Day War, when Israel won the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza and the Sinai from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

As for the settlements, Yarden insists that they haven't yet doomed the two-state solution. He said that most settlers aren't religious zealots clinging to their birthright in Hebron or the rock where Jacob purportedly laid his head the night he dreamed about his ladder. Of the settlement population of 500,000, about 70% actually live in the suburbs of Jerusalem, many having been attracted not by ghostly voices of the patriarchs but the lure of cheaper, government-subsidized housing. Yarden said that if these 350,000 want their homes to stay in Israel, all Israel has to do is give up 1% of its territory elsewhere along the border.

The problem is that many of the remaining 150,000 live in communities like Beit El that are deeper in the West Bank, often complicate the geographical integrity of Palestine, and in some cases shelter residents who might not leave peaceably. Know all that, this pilgrim -- still taking care not to take sides -- hopes that Israel will stop building and expanding settlements and the Palestinians will stop saying no.

A State Of Suspension

A new poll shows that Israelis and Palestinians agree on at least one thing -- that the status quo will persist:

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, 71 percent of Israelis and 68% of Palestinians surveyed viewed the chances for establishing an independent Palestinian state within the next five years to be minimal.

Nonetheless, 60% of the Israelis and 65% of the Palestinians opposed a one-state solution with equal rights between Arabs and Jews, according to the poll. Only 36% of Israelis and 31% of Palestinians supported such a solution.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cross Beam

On Saturday morning, the rising sun pierces the cross Canon Iyad Qumri is carrying as he leads St. John's pilgrims toward the Herod Gate of Jerusalem's old city, where we'll walk the stations of the Cross.

When Fergus Encounters Richard Again

Rev. Fergus Clarke, an Ireland-born Franciscan priest, was pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Placentia, California, where he became fast friends with Charlie Frazee, my seminary church history professor and a longtime St. Joseph's lector and teacher. Around that time, Fergus felt called to the Franciscans' traditional ministry of caring for Christian sites in Israel and the West Bank. These days he's the ranking Roman Catholic at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where millions line up every year to kneel in the tiny chapel built several meters above what remains of Jesus's tomb. Thanks to Charlie's good offices, when St. John's folk are in the Holy Land they get Fr. Fergus's generous behind-the-scenes tour of the world's holiest church.

Last Friday, as we stood in the friars' spare kitchen and dining room at the beginning of an astonishing two hours, Fergus pointed at a doorway behind a refrigerator. "I'm bringing you here not because our refectory and kitchen are much to look at but because they are built in the same area where, in the middle of the fourth century, Helena had her quarters," he said. Queen Helena was Constantine the Great's mother. She came to Jerusalem, found what was thought to be Jesus Christ's cross, and resolved to build one of her three churches over Golgotha and Christ's tomb (which most authorities now agree were indeed within sight of each other). "That door was once the window through which Helena would look down on Cyril of Jerusalem as he gave his sermons," Fergus said. Cyril was a great bishop, catechist, and defender of Christian orthodoxy -- heady company when you're having your morning oatmeal.

Fergus's equally riveting accounts of the politics, diplomacy, and intrigue that ensue when Catholics, Copts, Ethiopians, and Greek, Armenian, and Syriac Orthodox make decisions about everything from plumbing to liturgy -- alas, all off the record. I'll risk this much: He said that Catholics have to keep chanting and celebrating in Latin during their beautiful services in the Holy Sepulcher since, if they switch to the vernacular, the other denominations might well claim that the friars no longer represent the Latin church referred to in 19th century and subsequent agreements and try to revoke the Catholics' rights and privileges. Among these is that Fergus and his colleagues (the only clerics who live in the Holy Sepulcher) are locked in every night by the church's Muslim doorkeeper. If that sounds weird, welcome to Jerusalem and a church that brims with mystery, ritual, and periodic controversy.

Fergus insists that the latter's been overblown and overstressed by the media. He says that every family living in close quarters has its bad days and stresses all the things that go smoothly in spite of the six denominations' vast doctrinal differences and centuries of hurt feelings. For instance, Raymond Cohen's Saving the Holy Sepulcher: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue Their Holiest Shrine details a half-century-long cooperative effort to restore and rehabilitate the church that kept it from crumbling to dust. What made that work possible, Fergus told us, is the denominations' shared belief in an indispensable first principle. "Bill Clinton was famous for saying 'It's the economy, stupid' in one of his campaigns," Fergus said. "For all of us here, it's the Resurrection, stupid."

Fergus's vocation and infectious passion are themselves signs of Easter power. He's a charming, hospitable, fun-loving man who's willing to get up at two in the morning for the first service of his day, negotiate endlessly with Copts over restroom rights, and submit to being padlocked nightly inside his place of business only because he believes with all his heart in the scandalous reality that Jesus Christ spurned his tomb, walked fully alive into the Jerusalem sunshine, and in doing so destroyed the power of death, sickness, injustice, oppression, and everything else that fiendishly masks the abundant potentiality of our God-drenched lives.

Clinton was Fergus's second presidential reference, by the way. The first was to none other than Richard Nixon. He recalled his visit to Nixon's Yorba Linda gravesite in the 1990s and also 37's comment in July 1969 that two Apollo 11 astronauts' moon walk was the greatest event in the history of humankind. Our host begged to differ, since that event would, of course, have been the Resurrection. I reminded him that pilgrim Kathy (shown here stooping to touch Golgotha) and I had both worked for 37. He actually said the Apollo mission had occurred during "the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation." That's an even more reckless statement, unless you submit to the logic of Nixon's comparison. When the comment became controversial at the time, he said that he'd been naturally drawn to the seven-day (actually six) Creation since Apollo 11 also lasted about a week (actually eight days).

There's also the matter of the Yorba Linda Quaker's lifelong skepticism about the bodily Resurrection of Christ -- about which, I'm sure, Fergus will bring him around in good time, if circumstances and conditions have not done so already.

Last Friday afternoon at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, from left to right: St. John's pilgrims Ed, Kathy, Christian, Shannon, Debbie, Remy, Alexandra, Fr. Michael, and Brenna; Fr. Fergus; pilgrims Allana, Steven, Pastor Lisa, Kathe, Cathy, Jerry, and Bob. Missing: Pilgrims Cindy D., Cindy K., Damian, and John (the photographer)

This version of my post, updated on July 4, includes two corrections graciously provided by Fr. Fergus.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

More Rungs On Jacob's Ladder

Even in the digital age, a group of pilgrims in Israel and the West Bank is likely to end up feeling set apart from the world – hermeneutically sealed, you might say. Are those Crusader or Byzantine ruins atop Mt. Tabor in Galilee, or a combination of both (which is usually the right answer)? The cassocked monk who just brushed by us in Jerusalem's old city -- Armenian or Greek Orthodox? Does any of Queen Helena's 4th century building remain in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (yes, or so we were told; the center arch in the photo above)?

It's not that we didn't go on-line. But when we visited Wikipedia, it was to learn more about the history of the Freres Blanc, custodians of St. Anne’s Church and the pools of Bethesda, and to try to figure out which of the eight purported sites of the biblical Emmaus we had actually visited on Saturday morning.

We weren’t totally hermetic in our coenobiticality. News of pastoral crises quickly reached us – two friends’ unplanned hospital visits, another’s home being threatened by fire in Colorado Springs. We also heard in real time about the political firestorm sparked by the Supreme Court's health care opinion. But what I didn't learn until we were en route to LAX (and I opened the new issue of the Economist that had materialized on my Kindle) was that the walls bordering one of the sites we visited last week in Nablus on the West Bank, Jacob’s Well, had recently been shot up, the result of internecine Palestinian tensions.

The incident notwithstanding, I'm glad we didn't skip our Jacob's Well stop, which proved to be a favorite for several of our St. John's pilgrims. Because of Palestinian Authority reforms and improving economic conditions, the West Bank has been peaceful for the last few years. When there is talk these days of a third intifada, or popular uprising, it's about the chances of an armed struggle within the Palestinian movement between Fatah, which is working constructively with Israel, and Hamas, still officially dedicated to Israel's demise:
“There is no political horizon,” say disgruntled Palestinians. They increasingly question the point of the PA. It has failed to usher in a Palestinian state, and appears powerless to prevent Israeli military incursions or the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. “All the windows are closed, and the political elite has no keys to open them,” says Raid Nairat, an academic. The West Bank’s 30,000 security forces seem unkeen on a recent quest for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas that would force them to share power. Their recent round-up of 150 Hamas men helped dampen hopes of a deal.
So there are some more roadblocks on the peace highway, more rungs on Jacob's ladder. It's hard to imagine Fatah and Hamas sharing power (until their goals converge), Israel making a deal with just Fatah (since it would reasonably assume that Hamas would undermine it), and Israel making a deal with a united Fatah and Hamas (unless Hamas permanently renounces jihad against Israel). A Palestinian civil war might actually be welcomed by those who think it would take the pressure off Israel to make peace. Better to hope that Hamas will be pulled to the center by its ongoing nation-building work in Gaza and the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt who is fully committed to the peace process.