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Progressive Resources For Lent

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Dear friends,


Ash Wednesday is coming soon, February 25, so I just wanted to share

with you Lenten resources which are available from Pax Christi USA. For

a complete list of everything available, you can click on

PaxChristiLentenResources and you'll be

directed right to a list of all things Lent-related.


I know that for myself, Lent is usually the most "reflective" time of

the year. One item that I'd like to highly recommend for individual or

group use is this year's Lenten reflection booklet, "Transforming

Encounter, Radical Discipleship: A Lenten Journey," by Wes Howard-Brook

and Sue Ferguson Johnson. It cites the readings for each day and

employs reflections from Wes and Sue. Wes is a longtime friend to the

Forum and an excellent scripture scholar. Sue brings a wisdom drawn from

her years as a spiritual guide and retreat leader. You can order the

booklet (only $2.50) from PCUSA, or if you want to get multiple copies

for your parish, group or Newman Center, there's a bulk discount.


The other thing I wanted to mention was the Good Friday Way of the

Cross. Good Friday is an excellent time to plan public witnesses,

actions, vigils and the like, and doing a public Good Friday Way of the

Cross (based on the Stations of the Cross), praying at sites in your own

communities where Christ is still crucified today can be a powerful and

reflective experience. PCUSA has at least two versions "Stations of the

Cross" in booklet form available and there is also a service listed in

"Our Prayers Rise Like Incense: Liturgies for Peace." If you want to

plan a Way of the Cross and need help, feel free to contact me.


Blessings to each of you.



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Among the things I added to our church web site this week was a prayer I wrote for our Good Friday liturgy a couple of years ago, adapted from the Orthodox vespers liturgy:


Our feet are washed,

and our souls have been nourished at your festival table, O God.

Yet, at the end of our journey to Jerusalem,

we encounter a fearful sight.

(read more)

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Something emailed to me today:


Dear friends,


Two weeks ago I had just sent the NEW FREEDOM SEDER to a printer, and then I saw "The Passion" film. (The SEDER is ready now. Time is short. Email us at

Shalomctr@aol.com RIGHT AWAY that you are sending a check TODAY for $37 to The Shalom Center, 6711 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia PA 19119 and we'll send you a copy without waiting for the check to arrive. Trust and honor!)


Since seeing "The Passion," I have seen the NEW FREEDOM SEDER in a new light. Now I see it as the beginning of a deep "response" to "The Passion" -- because it connects what "The Passion" film sets in violent conflict: Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter) vs. Passover.


Why do I think this connection matters? Because it is not accidental that "The Passion" film, like the Gospel descriptions of Jesus' last days, is set at Passover time.


Passover was and is about the overthrow of a tyrannical

empire -- ancient Egypt under the Pharaohs -- and the

last days of Jesus were focused on what might be called

"the Passover Protest Movement," protesting against the

Roman Empire, the Pharaoh of that generation.


"The Passion" film drives a wedge of fear and anger

between the two religious communities over the meaning

of Holy Week and Passover. Our NEW FREEDOM

SEDER connects them instead.


This issue of The Shalom Report will explore this

connection in greater depth. We will also include a few

passages from the NEW FREEDOM SEDER that we

invite you to use in your own Sedarim. And you can find

the entire text of the NEW FREEDOM SEDER on our

Website, beginning at the Home Page



Two additional ways of making the Seder not only a call

to topple Pharaohs, but an active step in the process:


Invite (ahead of time) everyone to bring a physical item

that symbolizes their own sense of becoming free. Put

these on a special Freedom Plate next to the traditional

Seder plate. Invite the participants to lift their own item

whenever it seems appropriate, or at a specific point in

the service. Each person then explains how this object

speaks from or to a moment of liberation.


Have the younger people at the table hunt for the

Afikoman (the hidden portion of matzah) as a cooperative

group, rather than as competitors. When they find it, invite

them to agree on a social-justice organization where they

would like the "ransom" -- some tzedakah money -- to be

sent. The grown-ups who are present then pledge to

send their "ransom money" to that group.


Back to the relationship between "The Passion" and

Passover/ Holy Week:


It is not accidental that Holy Week begins with Palm

Sunday, commemorating the moment when the very

Jewish Jesus and his very Jewish followers came to

Jerusalem just before Passover, waving palm branches

as a symbol of resistance to Roman oppression.


It is not accidental that out of the Passover seder that the

Gospels describe as Jesus' Last Supper came a

ceremony of matzah and wine that has continued at the

heart of much Christian practice and spirituality.


So the questions of facing imperial power lie at the heart

of both Jewish and Christian religious life. I think that

under the surface of the debate about "The Passion" is

the fact that today all our religious traditions and all the

peoples of the world are facing a new kind of world

empire, a new Pharaoh, a new Rome: the amalgam of

US military might and the economic power of global



In such a crisis, what do deep spiritual and political

values require of us? What does it mean to face



The Gospels hint at the culpability of Rome in executing

Jesus, but some strands of the Gospels -- especially

John, the latest written -- place more responsibility on the

Jewish people.


Many modern scholars - Christian and Jewish - have

suggested this stance may have been a revision of the

original history in hopes of becoming acceptable in the

Roman empire (hopes finally crowned by establishment

of Christianity as the Empire's religion).


Drawing on this line of thought, many Jewish leaders

have suggested that no Jews of the time can be

considered responsible for Jesus' execution.


But think about modern Great Powers and their

interventions in small countries. Think, for example, of the

relation in the 1970s between the Soviet Union and the

Polish government and people, or the United States and

the Chilean government and people.


In those cases, some local leaders and the Soviet or

American governments cooperated in ruling against the

will of the people and in smashing dissident movements.


Behind the scenes, the Great Power pulled the strings --

but pushed the local puppet or client government out front

to be the fall guys.


In the same mode, one can easily imagine in Chile, in

1973, an American diplomat -- like Pontius Pilate --

washing his hands of responsibility for murdering

President Allende, folk-singer Victor Jara, and thousands

of others.


In Poland, one can easily imagine a Soviet ambassador

doing the same thing, chuckling into his mustache as he



Yet no one accused "the Poles" or "the Chileans" of these

murders. They accused SOME Poles and SOME

Chileans of serving the interests of the Soviet Union, or

the USA.


In the Gospel of John and even more in "The Passion"

film, the execution of Jesus is laid upon "the Jews" -- not

on SOME Jews, serving Imperial Rome.


And so the film presents Pontius Pilate as a noble ruler

forced by Jewish pressure into having Jesus crucified,

rather than a despicable hypocrite who held all power

while pretending not to.


The "Passion" film looks backward to restore the old-time

religion - the Passion plays that crystallized one version

of Christianity in their expression of contempt or hatred

for Judaism and their deflection of attention from the

Roman Empire's responsibility.


(In Europe, the Passion plays and Easter sermons may

have similarly deflected poor people's anger at various

governments onto the Jews.)


Most of the Jewish response to "The Passion" today has

been a defensive one -- "None of us had any hand

whatsoever in killing your Christ. Hinting we did will

stimulate anti-Semitism; so stop and we had better

stiffen our guard."


This response also looks backward, toward a world in

which Jews kept their distance from a dangerous

Christian community.


And both backward-looking responses also express a

deeper spiritual problem: "If we are right, you must be

totally wrong. If you are wrong, we must be TOTALLY



Some Christians have been willing to look historically at

the Gospels, and some have said that in any case, no

matter how one reads the Gospels, Jews today must not

be attacked as the Gospel and the Passion plays have

encouraged in the past.


That is a step forward, but it still leaves the two

communities at arm's length, in an anxiety-ridden "non-

aggression" pact.


But we might ask, what is a RENEWAL and

PROGRESSIVE response, rooted in both a renewed

vision of Judaism and a renewed vision of Christianity?

What might be a new way of facing contemporary

"Pharaohs" and "Caesars"?

Can the two traditions go beyond a non-aggression pact

to a deeper cooperation?


One piece of such a response might be what The Shalom Center has tried to do in creating the NEW FREEDOM SEDER, connecting Palm Sunday (April 4 this

year) with Passover (April 5) and both with Martin Luther King's April 4, 1967, critique of American racism, militarism, and materialism.


That approaches brings us together as allies in resisting our contemporary Pharaoh, the Rome of today: the new US military machine, first-strike war, and top-down globalization.


If we read the film as a kind of allegory about how to deal

with an Empire, then today as well it has the effect of

deflecting the growing US public unease and gathering

resistance to globalization/ empire. (If Gibson had made

"the Jews" look like Arabs, the sleight-of-hand would

have worked even better in America today.)


As it stands, the film encourages those right-wing

Christians (and some right-wing Jews) who want to work

closely with the new US government -- "New Rome" --

and support its program of overseas military and

economic dominance.


The Palm Sunday/ NEW FREEDOM SEDER connection

is intended to ally progressive Jewish and Christian

energies in a profound struggle against the new empire,

as the People Israel resisted Pharaoh and as both early

Jewish followers of Jesus and the early Rabbis resisted



The very fact that two different ways of seeing the

Passover story have evolved in the two traditions may

offer both difficulty and possibility for transcending the

collision into creating an alliance for spiritual and political



Here are some passages from the NEW FREEDOM SEDER that make the point. Remember, you can get the whole SEDER by sending a check by earth-mail and

lettting us know by Email.


Shalom, Arthur



" Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it

seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of

callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The

liturgical movement must become a revolutionary

movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue

to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision."

--- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970


"When machines and computers, profit motives and

property rights are considered more important than

people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and

militarism are incapable of being conquered. Our only

hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary

spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world

declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and


-- Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967


"My thinking had been opened wide in Mecca. I'm for truth,

no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is

for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost, and

as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity

as a whole."

-- El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, in The Autobiography of

Malcolm X


What is the depth of the American soul if we can allow

destruction to be done in our name and the name of

"liberation" and never even demand an accounting of its

costs, both personal and public, when it is over?

Proverbs warns us: "Kings take pleasure in honest lips;

they value the one who speaks the truth." The point is

clear: If the people speak and the king doesn't listen,

there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts

precipitously and the people say nothing, something is

wrong with the people.

-- Sister Joan Chitister, OSB


A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the

glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous

indignation, it will look across the seas and see

individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of

money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the

profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the

countries, and say: "This is not just."

Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967


A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world

order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is

not just." This business of burning human beings with

napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and

widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of

people normally humane, of sending men home from

dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and

psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with

wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year

after year to spend more money on military defense than

on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual


Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967

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