Finding Jesus at the Texas-Mexico Border

undocumented-christIt was cold and windy on the last morning of our trip to the Rio Grande Valley. We sat at a wooden table toward the back of the restaurant, warming ourselves with coffee and eating breakfast tacos. Cindy took notes as our companions, the pastor of an Eagle Pass church and two of his parishioners, spoke about their community and some of its most pressing challenges. For two hours, they spoke of crushing poverty, immigration issues, violence across the border, disparities in local schools, and the lack of effective community leadership.

For those two hours, I understood nothing, nada.

Well, maybe I understood un poquito—a little bit. I took Spanish in college, but that was… ahem… a while ago now.  Continue reading

Speaking of Israel

in-hebronMore than one of my politically and religiously liberal friends, when I told them I was converting to Judaism, gave as one of their first responses, “What about Israel?”

Good question. What about Israel?

I’ve understood all along that committing to the Jewish people and tradition also included coming into relationship with Israel—but the history and the issues seemed so complex that I have been reluctant to say much, to anyone, about anything related to the “Jewish State.”

Partly, this silence stemmed from a feeling that I didn’t know enough of the history, the politics, the people, and the issues to be able to speak with any authority. Partly, my place as a new Jew gave me pause. Partly, I saw how divisive the “Israel issue” is both within the American Jewish community and among people of other religious traditions, with whom I work.

It is safer not to speak. Continue reading

Separation of Church & State? Why Religious Voices Matter

bill-of-rightsI hear it in almost every congregation I visit: “We’re not sure it’s our role to get involved in advocating on issues. You know, separation of church and state.”

To these anxious congregation members, I can easily explain the facts and related details (see note below), usually ending with an earnest appeal for them to get involved and advocate on issues like health care, childhood hunger and global warming. But often, it’s clear that they are not convinced. It’s not that they don’t believe me; it’s that the facts about the “separation of church and state” are not their actual source of concern.

The real concern is a fear of controversy. It’s understandable; many religious communities are struggling just to hold on to the membership (and accompanying assets) that they have. Controversy could lead to division and dissent, and might cause some people to leave. Best to stay quiet and make a nice, friendly, safe place for harried, over-stressed, stretched-too-thin members to connect with God and community… and leave the political struggles of the day to others.  Continue reading

We Will Not Save What We Do Not Love

tangierLast week when I saw this article about nearly 1/3 of the Chesapeake Bay being a “dead zone” this year, it felt like someone punched me in the gut. I made some kind of audible groaning sound and reeled—as much as that’s possible while sitting in a chair at the kitchen table. For this native Texan who’s lived in the Lone Star State her whole life (except for a nine-month stint in New Orleans when I was five) to be so moved by environmental trauma in another part of the country might seem odd. I mean, there are environmental traumas happening every day all around the world. Why does this one make me want to curl into a little ball of wounded sorrow?  Continue reading

Interfaith Tips: Telling Our Stories

conversationGoing to the park, to work, to the grocery store or pretty much anywhere today is venturing out into a religiously pluralistic setting. In all of those places, there are bound to be people who profess different religious beliefs than you do, or who profess no beliefs at all. In many of these settings, we keep quiet about our religious views so as not to offend or distance ourselves from others. I wonder, though, if this leaves us saying nothing real at all, and sometimes increases the distance between us rather than bringing us together in actual relationship.  Continue reading