Thursday, May 24, 2007

From Pentecost to Trinity

This is the famous Icon by Anton Rublev. It's called The Divine Hospitality, and it's based on the story of the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18. Christians have always seen in this Torah story an intimation of the Holy Trinity.

I love this picture of God (I know we're not supposed to picture God). But it's healing for us if imagining God this way breaks the hold that more common images have on our imaginations (like Michelangelo's).

Here God is androgynous, both masculine nor feminine, or maybe neither. (This is Orthodoxy!) Here each person is identical in face, essence, and substance, but discrete in position, office, and attributes.

The Father is on the left, the source and the object of adoration.

The Son is in the middle, wearing a robe of brown and blue for earth and sky --- the Incarnation. He is celebrating Communion.

The Spirit is on the right, wearing a robe of sky and air. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and looks back to the Father by way of the Son.

And we, the world, are represented by that little rectangle on the fall of the tablecloth, which makes us included in the circle of their fellowship.

The icon is constructed with circles and triangles, to represent not only threeness but unity and eternity. They love each other, they are a community.

There is room inside God. God is not a compact substance. There is dynamic and movement inside God. Sorry, Aristotle, but God is not the unmoved mover. God has movement deep inside God's self. And yet it's a movement that's always at rest.

Love is built into God. The three persons love each other. When we say God is love, it is not self-love, but other-love, which is a deeper love than self-love. Other-love wants the other always to be other and stay that way, but in fellowship. There is community in this unity.

The love that God has for us and for the world is an expansion of the love that is dynamically active deep inside God.

And yet each person is of a single essence with the other persons. There are not three Gods, but one God fully in each person.

The reading from John's Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday sets this out this mystery. And next week Sunday celebrates this mystery, the Sunday of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity cannot be fully understood, nor can it be completely comprehended, but sufficiently so to be loved and worshiped. And aren't love and worship the goal of our human relationship with God?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Humor of John Calvin

That would be a very short book. John Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformed Church, is a crab. It's true. He's a great theologian, and a great scholar, and a wonderful commentator on scripture, and, more than anyone else, the father of modernity (really!), but he just ain't very charming. Everyone considers him a monster. Well, he had irritable bowel syndrome, or something, and he was so damn smart that everybody bugged him. Poor guy.

He gets the worst press in the world. He gets dumped on for everything. The poor suck. He gets mistreated by pundits and ignored by historians. The public school curriculums have been telling students for years that we get democracy from Athens, when actually we get it from Geneva. Oh well.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson considers herself a Calvinist. She lives in Iowa; there are many Calvinists in Iowa. I consider myself a Calvinist. Am I the only Calvinist in Park Slope? I don't think my wife is a Calvinist.

Right now I am reading Calvin on the Gospel of John in preparation for my sermon this coming Sunday. And I've been laughing out loud. He's the Don Rickles of theology. This is what he writes, and tell me if you don't think it's hilarious:

John 14, v. 12. Verily, verily, I say unto you. All that he had hitherto told his disciples about himself, so far as it regarded them, was temporal; and therefore, if he had not added this clause, the consolation would not have been complete; particularly since our memory is so short, when we are called to consider the gifts of God. On this subject it is unnecessary to go to others for examples; for, when God has loaded us with every kind of blessings, if he pause for fourteen days, we fancy that he is no longer alive.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Art of Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer's paintings have always gripped me. But I find it hard to explain why.

Here is Christ Carrying the Cross, from 1920, oil on canvas, at the Tate Gallery in London.

He has set the scene in Cookham, his village in England.

I try different ways to understand it. Is it possibly how the event looked to angels who were looking on? Almost jaunty, crazy, with the people actually in the form of souls, as we must look to angels? (Can angels even see our physical bodies?)

But that's just today's attempt to understand its grip on me. There's a sense of longing, or sehnsucht, that I feel in it, it draws me in, and I want to be in it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A.D.L. against the defamation of Debbie Almontaser

I was so glad to see this letter by the Anti-Defamation League to the editor of the New York Sun. As the letter states, the New York Sun published unfounded attacks against the Kahlil Gibran Internation Academy (on whose Advisory Council I sit) and its principal-to-be, Ms. Debbie Almontaser.

The ADL is the most influential organization in America in the fight against Anti-Semitism. If they be for us, who can be against us?

Letters to the Editor, The New York Sun, Monday, May 07, 2007

To the Editor:

The recent controversy over the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, set up to teach Arabic language and culture in addition to the usual courses, has unleashed unfounded attacks against the NYC Department of Education's new high school, accusing it of being a madrassa and a haven for Islamic extremism ("A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn," April 24 and "Madrassa Plan Is Monstrosity," May 1).

These attacks have also been personally directed at KGIA's principal, Debbie Almontaser. The Anti-Defamation League has a long history of working with Ms. Almontaser through our anti-bias workshops.

Through joint coalition work in Brooklyn against hate crimes, she has demonstrated her support for the civil liberties of all people. She is deeply committed to creating an inclusive learning environment that embraces the unparalleled diversity in New York City.

To help support this goal, we are in discussion with Ms. Almontaser about implementing our A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute anti-bias training in KGIA.

The school's Arabic language requirement, combined with conflict resolution and international diplomacy training, opens the possibility of creating a well informed generation of leaders.

The Khalil Gibran International Academy is just one of several in the New York City school system devoted to teaching a specific language and culture; the others include Russian, French, Spanish, and Japanese.

These schools are open to all students and those who choose to attend can be enriched by the added dimension.

Joel J. Levy
New York Regional Office

(And thank you, Louise, for posting this in Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn)

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Copyright © 2007 by Julia Durgee, all rights reserved.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Those Trees Were My Friends"

I forget who said it, an ent or an elf, but I think it was somewhere in the Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion. It was after the destruction of many trees by orcs.

That thought came to me last Friday as I was hiking with my wife Melody through some woods upstate, woods that once knew very well. It was grievous to me, because many trees were dead that once had been my friends. A whole long hillside of hemlocks was dead. It was ghastly and ghostly.

Between the trunks a strange and unhappy sunlight shone down. The death was so recent that there was no new growth yet. The ground was a mess of broken hemlock branches and leaves from nearby oaks and birches and beeches. The life had been sucked out of the place.

I had known specific trees from when I used to take care of the trail that we were hiking. There was one against a wall of rock that I used to like, and there was a particular grove in which I used to sit. There was the great big hemlock over that bend in the trail below the ridge, and the other one that stood senty at a little clearing. They all were dead.

They were all killed by the hemlock blight. It has been coming north for years. I learned of it back in 1995 when I was leading a backpacking group along the Appalachian Trail. We were taking a rest in a hemlock grove and the through-hiker who was with us told me about it. I had hoped it wouldn't come this far north, or that we had more time. Nope.

The trail I used to take care of is in the Wawayanda Hills upstate. Not very far upstate, just across the border from New Jersey, near Warwick, New York. The Reformed Church has a conference center there, at the northern tip of many square miles of forest in Passaic and Bergen counties. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of hemlocks have died this last decade?

Will the hemlocks come back? Will resistant ones survive and breed and spread their young? The chestnuts have never come back from the chestnut blight. A very few elms have survived Dutch Elm Disease. These tend to be isolated ones, like a huge one I know if hidden inside a Park Slope block, or the great one that used to live at the main downtown intersection of Sayville, Long Island. My brother and I found its saplings in the alley behind the stores, so we transplanted them in our yard, and one of them still thrives; you can see it on Google Earth. Those trees were our friends.

When my brother Henk and I were kids in Bedford-Stuyvesant we spent a good deal of our time in trees: the Norway Maple on the side of the house and apple trees in back. And it wasn't just us. Our whole gang of kids was always up in trees.

Yep. I pray for the elms and the hemlocks. Right now the oaks and maples don't seem to need our intercessory prayers. So far nothing seems to be killing white pines, apart from human beings. I have some particular white pine friends in Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Ontario. But I tell you, if something were ever to happen to the white pines, I don't know if I could take it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Squad One

Hooray for Squad One. Park Slope people know. But do Park Slope people know how far they go?

I sit at my window in the mornings, at home in Windsor Terrace, looking out over Prospect Park Southwest, almost in Kensington. Often I'll see the Squad One truck racing down P.P.S.W., off to somewhere south in Brooklyn.

Did you know they go this far? Of course you had an inkling, you knew they went to the World Trade Center, one of the first, and that fourteen died there. But then they weren't the only truck that went there, so maybe you thought it was extraordinary.

But apparently it's normal for them. I don't know how often they go to Manhattan, but I do know, from my perch above Prospect Park Southwest, how often they to to places in Brooklyn most Park Slopers have never been to.

John Wesley said, "The world is my parish." Well, for Squad One it's not the world, but it is a lot of Brooklyn. Hooray for Squad One.