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Is Faith Real? Two movies and some reflections

     The final week of my recent sabbatical included several good movies.  Two of them contained explicit themes of faith:  "The Way" and "Higher Ground."


     "The Way" is the story of a man who decides to make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.  His journey and the journey of fellow pilgrims show some regular people walking and wondering if they will meet God on their way to Santiago.  The movie is very true to the spirit of the Camino as I have experienced it. (However, I must add that, although the movie shows some marijuana use, I never saw  drugs of any kind on the Camino.  Well, there WAS quite a bit of ibuprofin!  In addition, the pilgrims in this movie do not seem to grow as sore as most pilgrims really do at first!  But never mind that ... )


     The film portrays friendships which develop among pilgrims, diverse purposes of those who make the pilgrimage, sometimes surprising accommodations along the way, and the always powerful experience of finally reaching Santiago.   See the film for yourself and decide:  how 'real' is the experience of God discovered by each main character?  


     "Higher Ground" asks that very question explicitly.  It is a rare and respectful look into a small house church of committed Christians.  Faith is taken seriously in the film, and so is the loss of faith.   Clear theological convictions and cultural mores are in evidence.   This is a theologically serious and psychologically astute film.  Most of all, it displays a longing for God which I have never seen before in a film. 


     I am very happy I saw both of these movies, and I recommend them wholeheartedly.


     Happy Thanksgiving,


     Pastor Diane


    

Posted by Diane | 7:53 am, 11/22/11 | Permalink





My Favorite Church in the Holy Land

You might be surprised by my favorite church in the Holy Land.

There are so many beautiful churches there, and I entered many of them on my recent journey.  I was especially drawn to the 'plain and simple' structures ... places like the elegant Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Dominus Flevit ("The Lord Wept") church on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha.  The Holy Land represents holiness best (in my opinion) when it keeps the churches open, simple, and a bit rugged.  Beautiful art is always welcome, but most of all I wanted to see something of Jesus in the churches I entered.

My favorite church of all, however, was the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, also located on the Sea of Galilee.  This might be surprising to some since the primacy of St. Peter is a Roman Catholic theology rather than a Protestant idea.   The long line of Popes in the Roman Catholic Church trace their calling back to Peter, the "rock" upon which the Risen Christ promised to build his church.

The church is simple, powerful, and ruggedly rocky.  But the reason it is my favorite has to do with the shoreline upon which it sits.  This place which tradition identifies as the setting where Jesus called his first disciples, launched boats to sail upon the Sea of Galilee, and appeared to the disciples to cook breakfast following his resurrection most significantly of all features the open beach, the water which continues to lap upon that beach, the 'sand' which turns out to be millions of tiny shells.  After entering so many churches in the Holy Land, this shoreline took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. 

It was there that I felt the Risen Christ.  It was there that I renewed my vow to be his disciple.  My heart was full and Christ's Spirit was abundantly present.  Thanks be to God.

Posted by Diane | 10:45 am, 11/11/11 | Permalink





A beginning report from the Holy Land ...

     Since returning from my journey to the Holy Land, my reading habits have changed a bit.  In addition to other sources and sites, now I turn to the Palestine News Network to find current news among a people and within a land I have visited for three weeks but expect to carry in my heart the rest of my life.

 

     I'll tell you in a minute what I saw on PNN.

 

     Bur first, to review:  I traveled to the Holy Land as part of the sabbatical leave generously granted me by the church.  After an unforgettable weekend in Jerusalem, I spent ten days in the JAI (Joint Advocacy Initiative) Olive Harvest Program of Palestine.  This program is superbly organized and led by the JAI of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine.  The United Church of Christ has long supported these international youth organizations.  I first learned about the program by contacting Peter Makari of the Global Ministries staff of the UCC. 

 

     Following my time in Palestine and joined by Paul and Vickie Williams (who also participated in the Olive Program) I walked The Jesus Trail from the Old City of Nazareth to Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

 

     I will be absorbing and speaking of this experience for a long time to come.  In this space, however, I focus upon the experience I gained by living for ten days under the military occupation of Palestine.  I experienced the vast and oppressive ugliness of the Separation Wall.  I had military rifles pointed at me at checkpoints.  I witnessed the harassment of Palestinian citizens going about their daily life:

children moving daily through armed check points to attend school;

businesspeople opening their shops despite extensive road closures and blocked access;

daily commuters negotiating long detours because of the Wall and hours-long delays caused by numerous checkpoints;

farmers stopped by army personnel and challenged by Israeli settlers when traveling to their own olive orchards or walking the streets of Palestinian communities;

our tour bus driver pulled over while driving up a hill, ticketed for using too much gasoline in his bus, and commanded to get off the road within two hours.

 

This is a partial list.

 

In short, for a few short days I tasted the life of being fenced-in, humiliated, delayed, detained, checked and watched.  This is the life of Palestinians in the West Bank.  This is the situation in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  This is the condition experienced by Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.  I am astounded by their patience, spirituality, determination and hope.

 

And what, you may wonder, did I read in the Palestine News Network?  Posted on November 2 was the story of 71 Bedouins (including 35 children) rendered homeless when their tiny cluster of fragile homes (called Khan al-Amar) was demolished by Israel.  The Bedouin homes were there because Bedouins have been banished from the sizable desert region of eastern Palestine (Why?  "Security").   The tiny Bedouin homes sat in the shadow of a large illegal settlement (Ma'ale Adumim) which continues to expand contrary to international law.  If you check the Palestine News Network, you can see the photo of Kahn al-Amar and Ma'ale Adumim.

 

I have returned home from my journey to the Holy Land grateful, spiritually inspired, and newly-sighted about life in Israel and Palestine.  I am eager to share my experiences and I am eager to continue learning more.  I look forward to the weeks and months ahead as opportunities arise to share what I saw, listen for your responses and questions, and seek together the ways that make for peace.

 

May God help the people of Israel and Palestine build peace so that, once again, blessing will come to the land of milk and honey.

 

Rev. Diane  Dulin

 

 

 

Posted by Diane | 2:40 pm, 11/07/11 | Permalink





What I Believe and What I Believe is True About Israel

Dear church family,


         Soon I will depart for the second  half of sabbatical leave granted to me by the congregation.  The most significant part of this period will be time spent in Israel.  How fortunate I am to plan on spending two nights in Jerusalem, followed by a ten-day program near Bethlehem.  This program will involve helping farmers with their olive harvest as well as meeting with community and religious leaders.  I will then spend two nights in Nazareth followed by a pilgrimage along "The Jesus Trail" between Nazareth and Capernaum


         If you are familiar with the geography of Israel you will notice that the first part of my visit will take place in the Palestinian Territory (West Bank).  Nazareth and The Jesus Trail, on the other hand, are in the Galilee region, which is Israel proper.   I anticipate meeting many Palestinians and many Israelis.


          Thus the list which follows.  Below are things I believe about Israel and things I believe are true about Israel.  I realize that sounds a bit redundant.  The distinction I am trying to make is the difference between a "belief statement" versus a statement of reality.  Of course, both belief and reality are in many ways subjective.  In addition, the reality we genuinely believe is true often turns out to be different after we learn more.  I hope to learn many things in Israel.  I expect to come home with more knowledge as well as deeper belief. 


           Therefore, some of the things listed here may turn out to be false.  Others will turn out to be true but they will mean something different than I currently think they mean.  If past experience is any indication, once I spend time both in the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank and the Galilee region of Israel proper, I will feel greater connection and love with the people who live there permanently.


Here goes:


1.  For many, many years Jews have sought a safe place to live as Jews.  Over hundreds of years, and all around the world, Jews who were loyal citizens of nations, and who believed themselves completely integrated into their societies, were suddenly the object of violence, exclusion, persecution and genocide.   It is not irrational to believe "it could happen again" that Jews would become the object of these same actions somewhere in the world.  Should that happen, there is little doubt Israel would welcome persecuted Jews in a way the world refused to do following World War II.


2.  Palestinians forced from their homes and villages by world powers when Israel was created were not the ones who had brutalized the Jews during World War II.  Hitler's Third Reich did that.  Yet, it was Palestinian Christians and Muslims who were forced out of their homes.  They are the ones who continue to live as second class citizens in Israel, and as persecuted residents of the Palestinian Territories.


3.  In my view, the Bible is not a legally or morally binding title of land ownership.  The Bible says God promised the land of Canaan (Palestine) to the Jews.  The Bible also documents mass slaughter by the Hebrews against men, women and children living in Canaanite villages.  Although some might say the Jewish people 'own' the land of Israel by the authority of God, others would insist their original claim upon that land was based upon reprehensible, immoral violence.     


4.  I believe today's process of peacemaking in Israel needs to deal with today's reality.  There is too much history to go around!  Smarter minds than mine are at work to balance needs, claims, fair distribution of resources, reparations for losses, human and legal rights, and respect for religious and cultural differences.  Although I don't think history can or should be used as the primary tool for weighing today's outcomes, I do believe honestly acknowledging what really happened both to the Jews and to the Palestinians is an essential building block of respect.


5.  I have done quite a bit of reading in preparation for my trip.  I know I will do more.  I expect and want to return home with high regard for both sides (although there are actually, of course, more than just two sides) in the Israeli/Palestinian heartbreak.  Perhaps I will find a way to connect some of the above beliefs about Israel; no doubt I will return with new beliefs and convictions; and some of what I have written above may, in a month's time, prove an embarrassment that I ever put it into print.


6.  I suspect both sides are badly served by their leaders.  I believe many nations perpetuate the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or at least refuse to step forward to help solve it, because of self-interested politics rather than wholehearted statesmanship.  I question the motives of some who support Israel, just as I question the motives of some who denounce Israel.


7.  At the most basic level, I depart for Israel full of gratitude for the opportunity to go.  I am excited to travel within the land where Jesus spent his life.  I expect to return with hope for good outcomes in the Holy Land.  I hope to do a little good for the farmers who grow olives.  I hope to find signs of faith as I walk The Jesus Trail.  I will honor the depth of religious faith and devotion which I will encounter in Jerusalem.  I will take you with me as I go, and prayers for your welfare will be on my lips when I pray.


Thank you and God bless,


Pastor Diane


 


   

Posted by Diane | 5:22 pm, 9/29/11 | Permalink





It's VBS time in the valley ...

The happy VBS (Vacation Bible School) buzz is buzzing here at the corner of 5th and Main, and here is what I'm seeing:

happy faces smiling
cute T shirts displaying
super-size appliance box delighting in the awesome things those boxes can create
snack time appetites cheering
Bible song humming 
cute craft grinning
mission project feel good glowing
beautiful bubbles blowing

... and that's just the grown ups.

 

Imagine how much fun the kids are having!

Thanks and kudos to Lynnette Trabosh and her team of youth and adults who know where to find a good time in the summer. 

As Bev Fisher was heard to remark:  "Vacation Bible School shows that kids still love hokey!"

How true.  How fortunate.  How very, very fun. 

 

Proudly hokey forever,

Pastor  Diane

Posted by Diane | 8:19 am, 6/21/11 | Permalink





"Meek's Cut-Off" -- go and see it!

I went to "Meek's Cut-off" because I wanted to feast my eyes upon central Oregon, where the story takes place.  I knew it was loosely based upon a true piece of history:  a small group of wagon train pioneers who followed Steven Meek (older brother of better-known early Oregon leader Joseph Meek) on a "short cut" to the Columbia River.   The group became lost and very nearly perished in the high desert.


I referred to the movie in a recent sermon. (May 22, "Detour to Disaster?")  However, at that time I had to restrain myself (such discipline required of a preacher!) about listing all the ways in which I saw the Native American in that film as a Christ figure.  


The movie tells how the pioneers came to capture a local Indian.  They argue about whether to kill him (Steven Meek all but cries, "Crucify Him") but in the end they wisely conclude the Indian is the only one who might help them find water.  (Get it?  That water is, for them, Life.)


No one knows this Indian's name ("Who do people say that I am?") and he is almost always silent (see the New Testament accounts of Jesus before Pilate).  The film shows the pioneers quietly discussing their sense of his leadership.  In the end, they both trust him and doubt him.  (Sound familiar?) 


They actually decide several times whether to continue following him or not. (That rings true.)  By the end of the film, even the hapless Steven Meek who had argued for killing the Indian becomes (like Paul in the New Testament?) a follower, too.  


The Indian has a visible scar as an identifying mark (hmmm).  Although the film ends before the pioneers reach the "promised land" we as viewers see the Indian walking off into the horizon.  At least for this viewer there was the strong sense, "They are crazy if they don't follow him."   


Go to see "Meek's Cut-Off" if you like Oregon high desert scenery, or unforgettable acting, or historical insight, or just to see if there are other Biblical allusions that I've missed.  I think you'll be glad you did.


Pastor Diane 


 

Posted by Diane | 11:05 am, 6/02/11 | Permalink





Mirror, mirror on the wall ...

     The surprising, violent, exciting, troubling, bravely-accomplished, long-promised, frustrating, weirdly scary, widely celebrated and/or anxiety-producing death of Osama bin Laden holds a mirror for each of us.


     During this past week, we have heard, read and watched the news unfold.  We have discussed it with family, friends and perhaps strangers.  We have discovered complicated reactions within ourselves.


     For most of us there has been a succession of thoughts, feelings and reactions.  We have listened as commentators commented, analysts analyzed and pundits chattered.    


     This event allows us to look in a unique sort of mirror.  This is an opportunity to examine ourselves and learn more about ourselves.  My own reactions have posed questions which are difficult to answer.  As my answers shift and change, I see new parts of my own heart, mind and soul.


 


Why am I both excited and horrified by news of this death, and fascinated by descriptions of the military operation which accomplished it?


Was this amazing, complex action on the part of Navy SEALS a legal act of war?


What makes a person brave enough to be part of this specialized team of Navy personnel?


Does the death of Osama bin Laden bring closure to those who lost a loved on on September 11?  What is closure? 


Is this death an example of Justice Being Done or Revenge Being Accomplished?  Does this distinction matter?


Does this death protect against future violence or does it guarantee future violence?


Is it disloyal to those killed and harmed on September 11 to be dismayed by dancing in the streets in celebration of bin Laden's death? 


Is is disloyal to those killed and harmed on September 11 to dance in the streets in celebration of the death of bin Laden?


Am I safer now?


Is bin Laden so important the whole world takes note of his death?  Would this please him?


Have we hurt or helped his movement with this action?


What does it mean that political 'spinning' so quickly reduces this decision on the part of President Obama to poll numbers?


Am I so partisan I welcome the 'bin Laden bump' in approval for President Obama in a way I never would if it had benefited a president I didn't admire? 


Has this assassination reopened the debate about the use of torture to obtain information from prisoners?


If greater acceptance of torture is the price for bin Laden's death, was his death worth the price?


Can any act of violence ever settle things?


What would Jesus say?  Is this my first question or my last question?  


 


The mirror continues to show me new images and dimensions of myself.  Sometimes I want to turn away.  


I believe I need to continue looking.


Pastor Diane Dulin


 

Posted by Diane | 11:10 am, 5/06/11 | Permalink





I admit it: I was born in Tacoma

It came as a disappointing surprise to me when I found out I was born in Tacoma, Washington.   You can only truly understand how heartbreaking this news was if you have lived for any length of time in Seattle, where I grew up.  Actually, you can only TRULY understand it if you ever drove through Tacoma 'way back when' I was a kid and pulp mills made it smell really, really bad. 

And then to find out I was BORN there?  My birth certificate proves it, complete with a very cute baby footprint.  Yet, this was a trauma in my childhood.

Therefore ... our president gets no pity from me.  Yes, he has had his struggles in proving (as he recently did, oh joy) that he was born in Hawaii.   But think about it:  he got to be born in Hawaii.   He deserves a little hardship.

Either way, it got me thinking about my many certificates of identity and accomplishment. 

I can't or won't necessarily show all of these to you, so please don't call the networks.  However, maybe you should know that I have certificates, licenses, badges and/or other tokens to establish:

I passed the presidential fitness exam in fifth grade even though I do throw like a girl.

I have offset the carbon footprint for my impending flight to Mongolia.  Somewhere, someday, trees will be planted in honor of my trip.  My certificate says so.

I own a piece of the moon.  Really.  There goes the neighborhood.

I have graduated from various schools, borne three children, married once and been ordained by the United Church of Christ.

I was invited to the inauguration of Barack Obama.   I was not so lucky for tomorrow's royal wedding.

I have greeting cards which testify to the fact I am the best mom, wife, friend, sister and daughter ever.   You say you have received similar assurances?  Maybe there are multiple jurisdictions involved.

By virtue of tax statements, voting registration cards, driver license, library card, passport and plain old opinionated expounding of excellent advice for political leaders of all stripes I can prove I am an American citizen.  However, I have decided not to run for president this time around.      

I have a Girl Scout sash with many badges as evidence of urgent childhood desires for approval.  

All these only begin to touch the heart of things, for inside I am still often a mystery to myself.  How can it be that I look as if I am almost 60, but so often feel 12 years old?  There are no certificates to explain that fact. 

Thank you for accepting  me the way I am.  I love that about church! 

With God's help we are plugging along and glad of it ... regardless of our documents or pedigrees.

In Christ,

Pastor Diane

Posted by Diane | 11:26 am, 4/28/11 | Permalink





Basement Brothers Become Lions of the Landscape

Just a note to thank Butch Wilcox* and Eion Scott* for the graceful new entryway which connects the Sanctuary and the Education Buildings. 

Church members who showed up last week on Tuesday for morning meetings encountered the determined removal of an overgrown hydrangea.  Those who arrived later in the day saw a big, gaping bare space in the garden bed.  By Wednesday, proceeding up the walkway allowed a view of grace and beauty in the form of a miniature maple tree and lovely, large stones.  By Sunday there were Lenten Rose plants as well (what theologically and liturgically correct timing!) and the scene was complete.

Except, of course, it will only become more and more beautiful as the season unfolds and the years go by.

* The Basement Brothers came into being years ago to face and conquer the challenge of basement heat in our church.  We miss Dick Loucks' presence within that legendary group! 

Now the Lions of the Landscape has formed.  It's good we don't need to concoct a title which only allows for brothers, since Margie Butts is also a frequent Landscaping Lion as well. 

Who else comes to tend our grounds when no one is looking?  Send me a message and tell me please!

Gratefully,

Pastor Diane

Posted by Diane | 6:42 am, 4/12/11 | Permalink





Death Valley Days

     Returning from five days in Death Valley National Park gives me the opportunity to write a report which school children were once assigned every September: here is "What I Did On Vacation."


     What I did was to enjoy being warm and dry (the highest temperature was 99 F).  Tom and I hiked in some beautiful canyons (aptly described with names like Golden, Mosaic, and Willow). We also enjoyed evocative place names such as Funeral Mountains, Devil's Golf Course and Furnace Creek.  I walked across a sand dune (I'm told I looked funny doing that, as my feet sank with each step and I kept sliding backward each time I tried to move forward).  I stood on a salt flat which placed me at the lowest point  --  over 200 feet below sea level  --  in the entire continent.  I encountered a gigantic desert bug in the bathroom which not only crawled very fast but could also jump and hide.  I discovered what it's like to be cut off from dependable cell phone access, never see a newspaper, and lack any desire to check the internet.   


     The desert taught me some intriguing terms.  A landform they call 'badlands' is incredibly beautiful.  How can anyone call it bad??   A 'wash' is where a river was but isn't.  A 'dry fall' is where a waterfall isn't but could be.  Look in any direction within Death Valley and you will see geological creation in the making.  Learn the Valley's human history and you will meet tough, intrepid, occasionally foolish people who faced great odds and sometimes (but not always) prevailed.


     Did you wonder about wildflowers in the desert?  Yes, there were lots of those ... but not the splashy varieties we see in the Willamette Valley.  The desert wildflowers I saw were tiny jewels that seemed impossibly fragile, as well as brazenly blooming cacti which whispered 'come close' at the same time they warned 'stay away.' 


     I read only one book while I was on vacation, but it was delightful.  Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey is the fanciful, fictionalized story of Alexis de Tocqueville's journey to America and the writing of his famous report about democracy.  The book requires a little patience at the beginning but rewards that patience with many passages to provide chuckles and insight both about Revolutionary era France and our own pre Civil War nation.       


     Being in the desert appeals to me for its beauty, its rugged simplicity, its inherently uncompromising conditions, and its broad horizons.  Within the desert my spirit rests in God.  Now I look forward to the Gobi Desert where Tom and I will travel in July.   I will meet nomadic families, see an entirely different sort of desert landscape, and spend nights not in a national park lodge but rather in a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt).   


     Will it be as warm as Death Valley?  I can only hope.


     It's good to be home. 


     Pastor Diane Dulin


 

Posted by Diane | 2:05 pm, 4/04/11 | Permalink