Sunday, November 12, 2017

A guest article -- Speaking truth to power

Dear Readers,
I am away venerating the Holy shrines. No, really. In the meantime I have asked my good friend Don Profondo Basso to fill in for me. Considering the state of general kerfuffle and brouhaha in which we find ourselves in the world and the Church, this is one of the most insightful things I have read recently. My only regret in publishing it is that I don’t hold a candle to both the content and style of the article. Don’t get used to it.
The Rev. Know-it-all

Speaking truth to power, is it revival, revolution or rebellion?
The Church is a family. Every family has the same problem. When do the children need to repent and submit to the parents and when do the parents need to repent and submit to God? The worst conflict usually arises when the child seeks to point out the parent’s shortcomings, ESPECIALLY when the parent has something real that they ought to repent of. Not only does this put the parent’s authority into question, it also threatens to stir up a rebellious spirit in the child.
How do you draw the line between respectful and disrespectful rebuke? Does the child ever have the role of rebuking the parent? We have all seen the worst of both; the parent who is out of control, mistreating the child because of their own insecurities and anger and the child who is constantly disobedient and disrespectful, despite the parent’s best intentions.
So, in the Church, a similar issue exists. When do the laity have the right to criticize the clergy and should they do so publicly? When do priests have the right to criticize the bishops and should they do so publicly? 
There is always a two-headed problem with speaking uncomfortable truths publicly to authority. There is the issue itself and then the issue that one usually does not have permission to criticize authority openly.
Often, the apostle Paul is used as an example for publicly rebuking authority. He made no secret of his dislike of the so-called “super apostles” and makes specific mention of not being considered as their equal in Church authority. He goes on in Galatians 2:11 to detail his open rebuke of several leaders that he opposed.
In contrast is Nathan’s rebuke of David, where he uses a clever approach to heap burning coals on David’s head with David’s own words, leading to David’s repentance. 
The Bible teaches in Matthew 18, one must first confront the person in error privately. If that fails, take several more people with you for further private confrontation before a public statement gets made.  It would seem that the first step in confronting authority is to speak to them privately. It is also the most intimidating and sometimes dangerous. To ask a child to privately confront their abuser is quite dangerous. Often the public option is safer, speaking to another authority who has the power to protect, such as teachers and police. In the Church, the court of public opinion seems to be the only power equal to the task of holding the leadership accountable, but is it a real authority?
The spirit of rebellion is dangerous. It is intoxicating to be the one who is part of the pure remnant, purging a corrupt system. It becomes easier to overlook one’s own mistakes and become obsessed with the “cause”, corrupting one’s own spirit in the process.
Therefore, there are two dangerous things about nailing one’s complaints to the door. One is the threat of punishment and further conflict. The other is the unwitting example that all rebels are saints. On the one hand, should any child be asked to endure the abuse of a bad parent? On the other, should any parent be asked to endure the abuse of a rebellious child? Analysis of almost every major social upheaval is marred by this two-headed dilemma. No matter the purity of its beginnings, almost every movement veers into the territory of overreach, becoming as power hungry and as stubborn as those it was fighting. But, does that necessarily negate the just cause for rebuke and revolution, or should it simply inform our methods?
Is it better to endure an injustice than to fight against it and become rebellious as a result? If we look at Jesus’ teachings on enduring injustice, they are interesting. He personally refused to use earthly power to fight the corruption of his day, but he often spoke publicly against it, which directly led to his execution. He repeatedly warns his followers, however, to not become like those that they criticize. In fact, there are several places where he advises to put up with injustice, walking the extra mile, and giving away the cloak as well as the shirt. He doesn’t advise against paying taxes to the empire, or the military role of the centurion. It seems that Jesus is much more concerned with the heart than the circumstance. The motive of the rebuke is as important as the rebuke itself.
So, before we engage in public criticism, maybe we should ask several questions. Have I followed Matthew 18, confronting privately and then taking several with me to confront privately again, followed by an appeal to the highest possible arbiter? Am I sure that my actions will not teach rebellious behavior in those that follow my example? Am I acting in a manner that I would want used against me in a future conflict where I am at fault? And finally, is there any other approach that might produce the desired affect without breaking fellowship and peace?
Should I be Paul or Nathan?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Rev. Know-it-all’s Guide to the Holy Land, part 14

Continued from last week.
Let’s move on to another golden dome, at least one that used to be golden, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or as the Greeks call it, the Church of the Resurrection. As I’ve already told you, Jesus was crucified in a quarry right outside the main west gate of Jerusalem and the Scriptures tell us that there were tombs in that place. A wealthy follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, had a new tomb there that he offered for the quick burial of Jesus. It was about to be Sabbath, and Passover as well. On Easter Sunday morning the tomb was empty for the entire world to see. Christians seemed to have venerated this well-known spot for the next century. Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jerusalem Temple burned to the ground about forty years later well within the life time of the first Christians of Jerusalem. The city was not completely depopulated and there seems to have been a Christian presence in the city after 70 AD.  There is some evidence of a Christian synagogue that was oriented not toward the temple, but toward the site that was to become the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Judeans rebelled once again and around 130 the Roman Emperor Hadrian put down the rebellion and expelled all Jews from the ruins of Jerusalem. By this time there was a growing number of Greek Christians who would not have been expelled from the area of Jerusalem and who reasonably would have preserved the memory of the site of the resurrection. Hadrian rebuilt the entire city on Roman lines with straight streets and a central plaza, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. He built a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus and a great raised plaza squarely over the tomb of Christ and the site of Calvary. He thus inadvertently preserved the site of the tomb and the rock of Calvary.
Two hundred years later, around 326 there was a new emperor, Constantine, who was favorable to Christians. He wanted to know the location of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem knew right where to go. He showed Constantine’s agents where to dig under this plaza and temple. The Christians of Jerusalem had never forgotten the site. Constantine authorized Bishop Macarius to tear down the pagan temples and begin the excavations. Over these Constantine built the greatest church of its time, the Anastasis. It was more a complex than a single building, first there was a large church called the Martyrium, or “Witness.” Past the church was an open courtyard in which stood the rock of Calvary and past that on the far side of the courtyard stood the tomb.

Constantine had a great love of building and flattened everything around the tomb and the rock of Calvary leaving only a cube of rock around the tomb and the bare outcropping of rock that was believed to be the place of execution. The quarry wall in which the tomb had been dug was largely levelled by the builders, leaving only the cave tomb of Jesus and a few tombs toward the west of the structure which are still visible today. He built a housing around the tomb of Christ called the Aediculum in Latin, Kouvouklion in Greek. Both mean little building in English. Eventually it was all topped off with a circular colonnaded rotunda topped by a magnificent gilded dome. The dome of the rock, built by the Caliph Abd al Malik in 691 was meant to be a restoration of the temple of Solomon and a counter balance to the magnificent structure of the Christian Holy Sepulcher on the west side of the city. 
Prior to the Arab invasion of the Holy Land, the church of the Holy Sepulcher was damaged by fire in 614 by the Iranian Sassanids when Khosrau II, invaded Roman Jerusalem. the Emperor Heraclius recaptured Jerusalem from the Iranians (Persians) in 630 and repaired the church in 638. Jerusalem was captured by the Arabs a half century later but remained largely a Christian city. In 1009, the Fatimid Caliph of Cairo, Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of the church along with all Christian churches in the Holy Land and Egypt. The Caliph particularly wanted to end the miracle of the Holy Fire that occurred in the tomb of Christ every Holy Saturday and still occurs to this day. The miracle was just drawing to many Christians to the city. The destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was one of the major causes of the crusades along with the persecution of Christians and pilgrims. In 1027, the (Roman) Byzantine Emperor reached an agreement allowing the rebuilding of the church. The Byzantines were only able to rebuild the rotunda and some surrounding buildings. Most of the church remained in ruins.
The renewal of persecution caused Europe to launch the first crusade in 1099. The church you see today is essentially the Crusader church, built on the foundations of the old Constantinian church and though much damaged by fires and earthquakes over the years. It has been constantly repaired and renewed. The rotunda and the aedicule were rebuilt after a fire in 1809, one of many fires and earthquakes in its history. In modern times the dome was in bad shape, but was finally repaired by 1997. The 1809 reconstruction of the aedicule was in such bad shape that it had to be shored up with metal girders on its exterior in 1947. Repairs are slow because three different religious authorities have responsibility for the church, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopians.
The Israeli government threatened to shut down the aedicule a few years back for reason of safety, so in 2016 the major parties agreed to repair the aedicule. It was quite an event! Caliph Hakim way back in 1099 had ordered the very bedrock of the tomb to be hacked away so that Christians would never be able to venerate it again. No one knew if the actual tomb was still there under all the marble. The marble covering of the tomb had been in place since at least 1555 and no one knew what was under it. It was believed that the attempt of Hakim to destroy the holiest shrine in Christendom had failed because in ruining the dome of the rotunda, the caliph had inadvertently protected the tomb itself.
On the night of October 28, 2016, the marble surface having been removed on the 26th, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact. The tomb location has not changed since it was first uncovered by St. Helena the mother of Constantine. The original limestone cave walls and the limestone shelf on which the Savior’s body was laid still lie within the marble surface of the aedicule after two thousand years. One other interesting note: When the researchers uncovered the original limestone burial under the marble, they placed electronic measuring devices on it, the devices all malfunctioned. It was as if some unmeasurable energy still radiated from the rock of tomb. Interesting, no?
See you in Jerusalem,
the Rev. Know-it-all
P.S. I suggest you look at Holy Sepulcher, a 3D Journey Back in Time.” If you do a web search for this video it should come up easily. It’s the best one I’ve seen. If you don’t see it, you probably won’t have a clue as to what you’re looking at when you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Rev. Know-it-all’s Guide to the Holy Land, part 13

Continued from last week…

I know this is all very confusing. Perhaps this will help. Put your right hand flat on the table. Pretend you are miles above Jerusalem.  You are looking toward the south. The gap between thumb and the pointing finger next to it is the valley of the Kidron brook. The gap between pointing finger and middle finger is the Tyropoeon valley. The next three fingers bunched together are the hill of Zion.  Let’s look at the pointing finger. The City of David only occupied the first half of the finger up to the second joint. The high point, the knuckle, was Mount Moriah where tradition held that Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.  That was the highest point in the ancient city.

On it was a high point that was a threshing floor used to separate the grain and the chaff, using the prevailing winds from the Mediterranean about 30 miles west of Jerusalem. David had a vision of an angel who was destroying the people of Jerusalem because of the sins of David, and there David cried out for mercy. (2 Samuel 24:16ff) He bought the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite (Canaanite) and planned to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. He was forbidden the task because he was a man of bloodshed. The temple was ultimately built by the Son of David, Solomon. It seems to have been built on a perfectly square platform formed around the uneven rocky summit by retaining walls, 500 cubits by 500 cubits.

The Holy of Holies on which the Ark of the Covenant rested was the bare rock of the threshing floor. The sacred precincts were built around the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place that stood before it. They were like nesting boxes one within another, the court of the priests, the court of the men of Israel, the court of the women. Gentiles did not go up onto this sacred enclosure. When the temple was rebuilt after the return from Babylon about 500 years before the time of Christ, it was rebuilt on the original foundations, but possessed none of the grandeur of the temple of Solomon. Herod the Great who killed the babies trained thousands of priest and Levites (assistants to the priests) as carpenters and stone masons who tore down the temple and rebuilt it from within while the sacrifices and rituals continued uninterrupted. He was constrained to keep the basic dimensions of the temple, but he could build up and the central shrine which houses the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies reached up more than ten stories. It glistened with white marble and gypsum plaster polished to look like marble and the front was reputedly plated in gold.

He expanded the platform on which the temple stood so that the whole thing is equivalent to ten football fields. The original 500-cubit square war was marked by a low wall into which were placed signs in Aramaic, Latin and Greek warning non-Jews not to enter lest they be torn apart by the mob.  What you see in our time is this same platform, but the temple itself is gone. There is a mosque on the far south side of the platform called the Al Aqsa, and over the stone floor of the Holy of Holies (the Eben Shetiyah or foundation stone) there is a shrine, not a mosque called the dome of Omar.  In the center of the temple, after it was rebuilt in 530 BC, was an empty threshing floor with a flattened rectangular spot in its center. This flattened spot is 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, exactly the dimension of the Ark. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost. All that’s left is the threshing floor of Araunah and an empty spot where the Ark once stood 2,500 years ago.

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Messiah or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3: 17-15)

It is interesting that the floor of the Holy of Holies the focal point of Judaism was a threshing floor and that the focal point of Christian worship begins as a piece of bread made of winnowed wheat.

To be continued…