Samaritan elders lead Passover festivities on the West Bank's Mount Gerizim in early May. Closely related to the Jews, the 670 remaining Samaritans trace their lineage to ancient Israel. Religion News Service | Osher Sassoni photo.
Samaritans in the New Testament
"When the Samaritan saw the beaten man, he had compassion on him, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ÔTake care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'"
ÑJesus, to a young man, teaching about loving one's neighbor (Luke 10:33-35)
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans."
Ña Samaritan woman at a well, speaking to Jesus (John 4:9)
"Then one of the 10, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan."
Ñfrom Luke's story of the 10 lepers cleansed by Jesus (17:15-17)
"Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans."
ÑActs of the Apostles (8:25)
"The Arabs see us as Jews and the Jews see us as Arabs, but we're not Jews and we're not Arabs. We're Samaritans."
Ñ Elezar HaCohen, Samaritan elder
By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service
MOUNT GERIZIM, WEST BANK—Dressed in flowing robes of the type their ancestors wore thousands of years ago, the 670 people in the world who call themselves "Samaritans" gathered on this lonely mountain one evening in early May and celebrated the holiday of Passover.
At sunset in the small mountaintop village they call Kiryat Luza, the male heads of the various clans prayed and then cut the throats of 30 lambs as part of the Pascal sacrifice in accordance with the Book of Exodus.
For the remainder of the week, while the world below their mountain carried on its own routine, Samaritan children stayed home from school and their parents from their jobs. They ate special foods, including home-made "matzah," or unleavened bread.
Despite the Samaritans' marking of Passover, the Sabbath and other rituals and observances similar to Judaism, Samaritans are not Jews but a distinct people. They are best known from the New Testament parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan who came to the aid of a mugged and wounded traveler.
In contrast to Jews, who follow both the written law of the Torah as well as the oral law, the Samaritans adhere only to the five books of Moses, known as the Pentateuch. Like Orthodox Jews, the Samaritans strictly observe the laws of circumcision, family purity and kosher dietary laws. They write in ancient Hebrew script, the language of their Torah, and pray in the ancient Hebrew dialect spoken by Jews through the first millennium AD.
"Jews and Samaritans are both sons of the Israelites," says Israel Tzedaka, one of the Samaritans' much-honored elders, during the Samaritan Passover feast, which occurred a month after Jews celebrated the holiday.
Tzedaka lives in the Israeli town of Holon, as do roughly half the world's Samaritans. During holidays and family occasions, the Israel-based Samaritans travel to Kiryat Luza, where the community's other half resides on Mount Gerizim, in Palestinian territory just southwest of Nablus, the biblical Shechem.
"We trace our roots to the 12 tribes of the Kingdom of Israel," Tzedaka says. While there have been centuries of animosity between Samaritans and Jews, it was Christians and Muslims who almost succeeded in wiping out the Samaritans.
"Once we lived throughout the land of Israel and there are 1.2 million of us," Tzedaka says of the Samaritan's Golden Age, in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. "When the Christians and Muslims came they persecuted us. They killed many of us and the rest were converted by force."
By the early 1900s, the community consisted of just 146 people, according to a local census. It grew a bit during the 1930s, under British colonialism and has continued to grow, very slowly, ever since.
Today's Samaritans are an eclectic mix of ancient and modern. While the older members dress as if they had just stepped out of the Bible, the younger generation sports jeans and T-shirts. They attend college and surf the Internet, while practicing their faith to the letter.
Arguably the most challenging precept the community maintains is the one related to marriage: Under Samaritan law, single women Ñ who are outnumbered by single men by a 3-to- 1 ratio Ñ must marry another Samaritan. Usually, that's a first or second cousin. Samaritan men are permitted to find a wife outside the group, but only on the condition the bride adhere strictly to the community's laws and traditions.
The Mount Gerizim Samaritans identify with their Palestinian neighbors. They speak Arabic among themselves and attend local Palestinian schools. Yet unlike other Palestinians, the Samaritans have Israeli identity papers that enable them to travel freely to and from Israel even when other Palestinians cannot.
Israel-based Samaritan men serve in the Israeli military, "though we're posted close to home so that we can maintain our traditions," says Osher Sassoni, a 25-year-old Holon resident who served in the armed forces before becoming a computer expert. "We can't eat the meat served in the army, so we eat like vegetarians."
Zahara Yehoshua, the mother of three grown children, credits the close-knit community's education system and its day-to-day practices with instilling a love of tradition in the younger generation.
"From the time they're born we raise our children in a Torah atmosphere. By the time they're 2 or 3, they start learning our language and religion, and how to pray," Yehoshua says.
Despite living in two such different cultures, the Israeli and Palestinian community members get along well, according to Sassoni. "Of course, we're not the same. We act differently and even our jokes are different. We dress more like Israelis, who dress like Americans. The others dress like Europeans."
Since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, "the Holon people have traveled more to Mount Gerizim than vice-versa. We speak better Arabic than they speak Hebrew, but we communicate and get along," Sassoni says of his Palestinian Samaritan brethren.
Following such an unusual path, which skirts both Palestinian and Israeli society, is fraught with minefields, says Elezar HaCohen, a Samaritan elder.
"The Arabs see us as Jews and the Jews see us as Arabs, but we're not Jews and we're not Arabs. We're Samaritans. We keep the Torah like they did in the beginning," he says. "What is permitted is permitted. What is not permitted is not permitted."
HaCohen says the community's leaders go to great lengths to remain apolitical, but adds the group's biculturalism makes the transition between the two warring societies less harrowing than one would expect.
"Personally, I was born in Shechem but have lived in Holon for 35 years. When I go to Shechem and I meet people there we hug each other."
Yaffet Ben Asher Cohen, the self-appointed guardian of the community's priceless ancient texts and family trees that span 3,700 years, says, "Our hope is that we will be able to preserve our language, religion, traditions and unity of the people until Judgment Day. We also hope that the Palestinians and Israelis will learn from us.
"We Samaritans have survived countless wars," he says. "In every generation they have conquered us, killed us, imprisoned us. War brings only destruction."
Randy Varcho | United Church News graphic.
When the Rev. Kathi Martin reflects on her call to ministry, she's blunt.
"I could remember a day, sitting on my stairs, sipping out of a bottle of scotch, and it was just a turning point. Everything seemed to be wrong in my life," says Martin, who is the founding pastor of God-Self-Neighbor Ministries, a UCC church start in Atlanta. "I crumbled up my cigarettes and put down my bottle of scotch, and I said, 'OK God, I'm not running anymore.'"
"That really confused me—that feeling of being called—because I so much did not like the church, but then I had to make a separation between 'the church' and 'God.' Ministry is about loving God and spreading the gospel, and when I came back to that, I could stop running," she says.
Martin is one of eight persons who discuss their journeys into vocational ministry through video testimonies offered on a new UCC website designed especially to help those discerning God's nudge in their lives.
Askthequestion.org, an interactive, flash site sponsored by the UCC's Parish Life and Leadership (PLL) Ministry and designed by the UCC's web team, contains personal stories, study materials, prayer and meditation resources, and answers to just about any question one could ask when considering authorized ministry—ordained, commissioned or licensed—in the UCC.
"The purpose is to identify gifted men and women and help them explore vocations in ministry," says the Rev. Lynn Bujnak of PLL. "We are asking individuals to ask the question, 'Am I being called to ministry?' and to ask congregations to be bold in asking their members, 'Are you being called to ministry?'"
The Rev. Andrew Warner, associate pastor at Plymouth UCC in Milwaukee, Wis., says, when exploring one's call, the answers come best through active engagement.
"It's a question [that can't be] answered in a weekend, or in a day or in an hour, but is a question to live with, to struggle with and to pray about," Warner says. "One of the best ways to get some answers, besides just sitting in silence with our questions, is to find some ways to get some practical experience in doing ministry."
Askthequestion.org provides opportunities to explore the nuances of different ministry paths, such as chaplaincy, counseling, Christian education, youth ministry, social activism, missionary work and, of course, pastoral ministry.
Hopefully, Bujnak says, Askthequestion.org will spark new interest in ministry as a vocation worthy of consideration, especially in light of new data that reveals a steadily-decreasing and ever-aging pool of pastors. According to the 2003 Statistical Handbook, only 6.3 percent of all UCC clergy are under the age of 40.
The Pension Boards of the UCC estimates that, in the next five years, 1,800 UCC pastors will reach retirement age; however, only 600 persons will enter pastoral ministry.
Already, the numbers are impacting congregations that are searching for pastors. At present, the UCC has 435 churches looking for ministerial leadership, but only 300 pastors are actively seeking placement.
The Rev. Darryl Kistler, pastor of United Christian UCC in Miles City, Mont., recognizes that choosing ministry as a vocation is not easy. "That first step into ministry as a career, but even more so as a lifestyle and a lifechanging event, was so difficult but so rewarding, and each step since then has just been easier," he says.
Borrowing advice once offered by theologian Frederick Buechner, the Rev. Tisha Brown, associate pastor at Brookfield Congregational UCC in Wisconsin, says that the goal in life is to discover what you do the best and enjoy the most, and then apply those gifts to the world's greatest needs. "That's how you'll know that God is calling you," she says.
The Rev. Wanda Harris-Watkins, pastor of Pakachoag UCC in Auburn, Mass., says, "Ministry is when you close the books and you get your fingernails dirty and you go places that no one else wants to go. You only know ministry when you do ministry."
Nellie Rosado, a member of Las Piedras UCC in Puerto Rico who works as a local church missionary to the Dominican Republic, says ministry is an exercise in trust.
"In our life, we have the opportunity to do something, but we are scared to do it, to go forward," Rosado says. "But with the Holy Spirit, I just say, 'Here I am. Lead my way.'"
Seuss Enterprises graphic.
"Oh the things you can think up if only you try."
"Virent Ova! Viret Perna!"—that's the Latin title of Dr. Seuss' newest foreign language translation of "Green Eggs and Ham," the best-selling children's classic that has sold 7 million hardcover copies since fi rst published in 1960.
The story of Sam-I-Am's odd culinary journey now ranks as one of the best selling English-language books in history, coming in third behind the Bible's King James Version and the dictionary.
If you need proof of its astounding global popularity, just consider that the Latin rendition has sold 60,000 copies since its debut in October—a fact that can stupefy when one considers that Latin is basically a dead language. In all, Dr. Seuss' 44 titles have sold 200 million copies, making him one of the most widely read authors of all time.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991)—the man behind the pseudonym—would have turned 100 on March 2, making 2004 a "Seussentennial" of sorts for those who admire Geisel's imaginative spirit and poetic style.
Geisel, a doodler who said he never really learned how to draw, first began using illustrations to augment his liberal-leaning political satire, a pursuit that helped him, as a college student, become editor-in-chief of Dartmouth College's humor magazine, "Jack-OLantern."
But when Geisel and some other students got in trouble for throwing a campus party that broke school rules, he lost the job. Undaunted, Geisel continued to write for the publication under an assumed name: "Seuss."
"Ted grew to respect the academic discipline he discovered at Dartmouth—not enough to pursue it, but to appreciate those who did," Judith and Neil Morgan wrote in their 1996 biography, "Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel."
In time, Geisel parlayed his rhythmic wordsmithing and quirky illustrations into unparalleled success in the literary world.
An unwittingly religious voice
Although some attribute theological significance to his works, Geisel did not intend as much. In fact, he did not consider himself to be an overtly religious person.
"Like most works of merit, the works of Dr. Seuss have been overanalyzed; many scholars have found devices where there are truly none to be found," reads Geisel's biography at Dr. Seuss Enterprises' official website seussville.com.
Still, Geisel's parabolic creativity has inspired religious imagination and theological interpretation—perhaps for good reason.
After all, Seuss' "Sneetches" were born in1961 as commentary on the absurdity of discrimination, and Geisel's concern about the environment—individual and industrial pollution—led him to write "The Lorax," published in 1971. Geisel's "Butter Battle Book" (1984) about conflict between the "Yooks" and the "Zooks"—perhaps his most controversial work—was written in response to the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Reagan administration. For six months, his Cold War commentary was included in The New York Times' best-seller list—for adults.
Understandably, Seuss has become staple in many church-based curricula—for believers of all ages, all persuasions. "I don't know if Seuss would say he had a theological point of view, but he definitely had an editorial view on the way of life," says the Rev. Marcia Cham, pastor of Union Congregational UCC in East Bridgewater, Mass., who developed a religious education series on Seuss for use in her parish.
"I think [Geisel's] books are a teaching device similar to Jesus, because they are lessons that sneak up on you—the wiz-bangs that you go through," Cham says. "[Geisel] is saying, 'This is the reality, folks,' and I think that's what Jesus is trying to say."
"The whole world of imagination is what captivates me and that's the way Jesus' parables should captivate us. Instead of a one-time moral, we should be intrigued," she says.
"You've got to keep looking for the wisdom, not just the closed canon," Cham says, quoting her theological mentor, the late professor Harold Beck of Boston University's School of Theology.
Imagination opens the future
Heidi Hadsell, a professor of social ethics and president of UCC-related Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, says, "Religious imagination is an important way that we can open up the future and its alternatives in ways that people who are stuck in this worldly, daily life can never see."
The religious life is not only about seeing things the way they are, but focusing on how things should be, Hadsell says, "and that kind of religious endeavor requires imagination.
If we are to envision the kingdom of God or create new social relationships, that's a very hard thing to do without the religious imagination to help us make those leaps."
She notes how the German Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) credited religion for its "imaginative powers, for giving to humanity what could be better, to re-do things and strive for the new."
In this way, Hadsell says, Jesus "introduced to the here and now a taste of what might be and modeled different ways to act on the Sabbath, different ways to think about Sabbath law, different ways to think about outcasts."
Similarly, she says, Seuss employs words and illustrations to inspire readers to look at things differently. She's especially fond of Seuss' exuberance for life in "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"
Likewise, Cham says she enjoys looking for theological themes in Seuss' stories. For example, she says, in "Horton Hatches an Egg," she delights in the "faithful fidelity of our God." Moreover, the repetitive, sing-songy nature of Seuss' writing style—"The Whos down in Who-ville will all cry boo-hoo"—is reminiscent of the repetitious laments we find in Psalms, Cham points out.
The Rev. Doug Adams, a UCC minister and professor of Christianity and arts at UCC-related Pacific School of Religion, says Seuss' stories, just as some of Jesus' parables, employ humor to "lay low our idolatries, whatever we take too seriously."
"The humor of the parables and the humor of Dr. Seuss imagine what we find unthinkable," Adams says. Adams offers this illustration: "Horton the elephant sits on the bird's eggs until they hatch and out come little flying elephants which defy the determination of heredity just as Jesus' genealogy in Matthew has Jesus coming out of a family tree loaded with immoral people who do right."
Cham believes that by opening up our religious imaginations, we can better pursue the meaning in life.
"I don't know if he would call it religious or not, but Seuss was sensitive to the conscious and unconscious aspects of life, the rhythm of life," she says, "and I've had a wonderful time with it."
What Seuss can teach you
"Bartholomew and the Oobleck" (1949)
"Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" (1973)
"Green Eggs and Ham" (1960)
"Horton Hears a Who" (1954)
"Horton Hatches an Egg" (1940)
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1957)
"I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today" (1969)
"Oh, the Places You'll Go" (1990)
"The Lorax" (1971)
"The Sneetches" (1961)
The nice guy at the sandwich shop, where I've been eating lunch almost daily for three years now, died last Thursday. He was only 34.
I can hardly stop thinking about him.
In 2000, shortly after I had moved to Cleveland, I fell in love with Quizno's "Sierra Smoked Turkey" sandwich. It's tasty, it's low-fat, and best of all, I could run across the street and be back at my desk in a matter of minutes.
Charles, who owned the Euclid Avenue franchise, appreciated my loyalty. So much so that he and his employees memorized my predictable order. Quite often, he rewarded my patronage with a free soft drink or complimentary bag of chips. A few times, mostly on Fridays, my lunch would be free.
About six weeks ago, on a Monday, the store was unexpectedly closed at lunchtime. I tugged at the locked doors. Odd, I thought, but more so—irritating. Now where would I eat?
The next day, I asked Charles what had happened. "I haven't been feeling well," he said, as he put a bit of lettuce on my sandwich. "The doc tells me that I have an enlarged liver. I'm having an MRI this afternoon."
I knew enough to be worried about him, but what could I say with a line of hungry people forming behind me? "I'll be thinking about you, Charles," I said casually. "I'd appreciate that, Ben," he said.
It's the last time we spoke. And his restaurant has been closed ever since.
This afternoon, feeling pangs of hunger for a "regular Sierra, no onions," I walked several blocks down the street to another Quizno's location. A kind, familiar face greeted me from behind the counter. I remembered the young woman; she had previously worked at Charles' store. And she, too, remembered me.
"Did you hear that Chuck had passed?" she said. "He had liver cancer."
Her words confirmed my eerie suspicions. "That's really, really sad news," I said. We talked briefly and awkwardly, and then I took my sandwich and ate alone on a city park bench.
It's strange about relationships. In the midst of all the predictably special ones, there are hundreds whose significance we rarely honor. They are the faces we memorize, but the lives we do not know. At best, in time, we care enough to catch a first name.
Still, friendships can be constant, even if not deep. Just consider your favorite server at the diner, or the bartender at the corner pub, or the bank teller in the second window from the left, or the woman at the dry cleaners. Sometimes it's the friend of a friend, a relationship where circumstance keeps everything at surface-level. Too often, unfortunately, it's a good percentage of the folks we know—and really like—in our communities of worship.
In our UCC liturgy, there is a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have died by which we ask God to "keep us all in communion with your faithful people in every time and place." That's my prayer this day, as awkward as it sounds. I pray with gratitude for a friendly soul, if not an outright friend, on whose daily bread I came to rely.
God bless Charles, and God bless all the special people whose last names we will never know.