Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I came across this quote in Heschel’s book Man is Not Alone (page 207). What a profound and yet simple explanation of what it means to “love our neighbor.”
If we embarrass, or ridicule or belittle someone – we embarrass, ridicule or belittle God. If we commit violence or are without compassion – then we have done violence to God. This is the inverse of what is attributed to Jesus in the New Testament: “as you have done it to the least of these.” But where Jesus only mentions how the good things we do are counted as if we’ve done them to God, the idea in Judaism, the idea that Heschel proposes encompasses not just the good. The idea that our selfish actions have an impact on God should give us pause – and force us to think of the ramifications of all of our actions – not just on our fellow human beings – but on God. It’s the very essence of intentional living – living with a purpose, infusing the every day with the eternal. Each action we take becomes an opportunity to do good – to work toward Tikkun Olam – or to work toward only a temporal agenda.
This is what I have sensed about the beauty of Judaism and learning to think “Jewishly” – it is learning to live “intentionally.” We choose to light Shabbat candles, or study Torah, or wear tallit, or eat certain foods (or not eat certain foods) in order to give meaning to the mundane. To live with purpose and to carefully consider the implications of all of our actions – whether it is to learn Hebrew or whether we choose to cut someone off as we drive to work . . . all of our actions are important and all of them can have eternal value.
Monday, October 15, 2012
I hope some friends of mine will forgive me as I used parts of my post Yom Kippur emails to them to write this . . .
I cannot always explain to people the “whys” of my desire to convert to Judaism and my answers differ depending on who asks me and what I’m thinking or feeling that particular day. And yet, during the High Holy Days, I could feel the reasons I wanted to convert.
From the first strains of Kol Nidre, I sensed the millennia behind me ... And the countless persecutions and pogroms . . .and the voices of the Six Million ... the lament of a people longing for forgiveness, for atonement, for restoration .. . for a home. All of that history, all of those people from the past whose voices were silenced too soon, all of the sorrowful laments of those who suffered were mingled together with those in the auditorium as I heard the mournful sounds of Avinu Malkeinu. . . .sh’ma kolenu . . . hear our prayer . . . And I found myself so profoundly moved. I felt stirred in a way that I find hard to describe – but it shook me – profoundly – deeply – in ways I did not think were possible.
I came to Judaism so cerebrally. I was convinced by the poetic words of Abraham Heschel, by studying, and by hearing the call of Lech lecha. By calculation and by questioning I determined that this was my path – Judaism was a faith, a way of life, that seemed to coalesce with what I believed about God and the world and mankind. I have always had a more analytical approach to religion – never comfortable with outbursts of emotion or physical demonstrations like the raising of hands. High church, white bread, Anglo-Saxon, respectable and dignified. But on Yom Kippur – being hungry and thirsty – with a pounding headache – I felt so humbled and overwhelmed – and certain – all at once. I didn't know all the words to the prayers. . . I didn't know all the songs . . . I recited what I could and listened to the rest. Yet I felt so moved and so at peace. I felt that my soul had found its home after so much wandering - like this is where I was meant to be. I wanted to sway back and forth to the melody of Avinu Malkeinu – and get lost in the ancient sounds and the ancient language.
There is no religious experience in my life that I can relate it to - not baptism or first communion -nor the innumerable "walks down the aisle" to the strains of "Just as I am." To stand in a room with hundreds of people, chanting words like, "We sin against You when we sin against ourselves.For our failures of justice, O God, we ask forgiveness. For keeping the poor in the chains of poverty, and turning a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed." . . . and confessions of the sins of arrogance, slander, pettiness, anger . . . all out loud. . . all in unison . . . a people asking for forgiveness in community is so powerful.
They say that a convert to Judaism is one who is reclaiming or wakening their Jewish soul – something that happens when you emerge from the Mikveh . . . but on Yom Kippur, I felt as if I had received my Jewish soul early.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Why are we so adamant regarding Dan Cathy of Chik-fil-a? Is it merely that we are “Christophobes” (the “it” word for Christians who have a persecution complex the size of Texas), is it that we hate free speech? It’s actually none of the above, which may come as a complete surprise to some (those who pay absolutely no attention to what we’re saying because they’re too busy telling us what bigots they aren’t and how we’re so intolerant). But there’s a backstory to the Chik-fil-a drama. It’s all about the disconnect between what Christians say – and what Christians do – like funneling millions of dollars to organizations like Exodus International and the Family Research Council.
There is room for differing opinions on the issue of gay marriage. For years Tony Campolo has been opposed to same-sex marriage, while his wife, Peggy has been a vocal proponent of gay marriage. They manage to live together and stayed married . . . so I suppose it shows us that there’s hope.
But in order to find civility and reasonableness, there has to be a common understanding and acceptance of the other person’s humanity and dignity . . . and that is the crux of the problem. You see, treating people with dignity is the key. If you were to read the articles on the Family Research Council website, soak in the tone, read the language - you get a sense that gay people are less than human, less than citizens, less than what we really are --created in God's image. But, the FRC is only the tip of the iceberg, other groups like the American Family Association, and the National Organization for Marriage also use the same language and rhetoric to turn glbt people into the "other" -- something different, scary, dangerous.
Take that language and match it up with the NT teachings of Jesus . . . "do unto other as you would have them do unto you" or in the words of Rabbi Hillel (who was born 100 years before Jesus), "What is hateful to you, do not do to others." I am particularly struck by Christians who are so vociferous in their opposition to gay marriage that the humanity of the people who are gay becomes subsumed under frightening terms like "gay agenda" -- or "homosexual lobby". Most of these groups are largely funded by and operated by Christians -- who are supposed to be following the teachings of someone named Jesus, not Tony Perkins, Peter Sprigg, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.
So -- if one were to truly live out the mandates of their faith - as a follower of Jesus (and Paul, John, James, et. al) - then you really have to treat people humanely, decently, the way you'd want them to treat you . . . and, in wondering whether you should boycott groups, or support them . . . follow the money . . . where did Chik-fil-a put it's money? In the coffers of the FRC . . . and how does their language and posturing measure up to mandates given by Jesus to "love your enemies", or Paul's admonition to "live peaceably with all men . . . I say any group that dehumanizes another person by their words is not worth supporting.
Many of us in the glbt community know more about the Bible than the religious right would like to admit . . . because many of us grew up in your churches, schools and colleges. We have grown up reading the Bible – and we have the expectation that people will be held accountable to the working out of their faith in all the ways that Bible mandates. But what we find is that fundamentalist interpretations of scripture are carefully crafted to allow the fundamentalists themselves off the hook – they don’t have to treat us humanely, or with dignity – because we are going to hell. It excuses them from having to “love their neighbor” or act as a good Samaritan.
One of my favorite quotes is one by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who barely escaped Poland before the Nazis came – but who lost his entire family to the holocaust . . . he said that “the holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.” Am I saying that these guys are Nazis? No. I am, however, making a point regarding the painfulness of words, something that James was keenly aware of when he penned James 3 – as is any Jewish person who studies the ancient Jewish sages. Words have the power to heal, and the power to kill. In Jewish thinking, to degrade someone, to shame them or embarrass them is equal to killing them . . . and in killing one person, you kill an entire world.
When I consider that Heschel quote I think of young men like Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi, and Jamey Rodemeyer. If we didn't have such heated and hateful language, such vociferous condemnations from spiritual leaders, and such a hostile debate on same sex marriage, gay rights, and equal protection in the civic sphere, would these young men still be with us? Two of them took their own lives – the result of spiritual and verbal bullying – they are the victims of living in a country where certain segments of society love to portray gay people as “sick”, “diseased”, “perverted” and “going to hell”. If it weren’t tough enough for gay kids to face abuse and torment in this world, they’re warned that after a life of bullying here, they’re going to hell to suffer forever – for simply being who they are.
Fred Phelps, who is now famous for picketing military funerals, cut his teeth in the funeral picket business with Matthew Shepard’s funeral. For many years he kept a ticker on his website that said “Matt in hell” for however long it’s been since his death, now they have the Perpetual gospel memorial to Matthew Shepard. Matt in Hell is even a YouTube video now put out by Phelps’ group. I mention him because this is where it gets very tricky for Christians . . . and I admit to being very – passionate about the topic. If you take Phelps's message “God hates fags” – it’s jolting and shocking and immediately people are repulsed by it. But if you stop for a moment and consider his other message, that of “Matt is in hell” . . . how is it very different from anything that so many of us have been taught in church our entire lives? What separates the “good” Christians from Phelps? It’s semantics . . . Phelps uses inflammatory language, but sometimes even the self-styled “good guys” will say the exact same thing - with nicer words. We aren’t so foolish as to not be able to see that the message is the same, whether it’s sugar coated or laced with with fire and brimstone. This is the baggage that Christians of all stripes must bear as they wade into the culture wars. Whether it’s fair or not is something I can’t answer – but that’s the reality for Christians – they have baggage they must carry—and the stickers on that luggage says, “God hates fags.”
I said all of that to “set the table” so to speak. This is what glbt people have rattling around in their brains, day in and day out, reinforced with appearances by Tony Perkins from FRC, or Pat Robertson, and the rest. This is our back story – many of us spent our lives in churches and youth groups and internalized the things we were taught – those things are with us forever. Thus, when we hear Cathy’s glib “traditional values” – we know the dog whistle code, and we know the players . . . and we get angry. We’ve already heard about the Kill the Gays legislation in Uganda and then find out those behind it were some of the groups financed by Dave Cathy and Chik-fil-a, and we’re indignant and amazed that people think it’s all about someone’s freedom to speak their minds – when our life experience tells us these people are out to hurt us - sometimes physically, sometimes by inciting hate, and sometimes by exclaiming, like the pastor in North Carolina, that we need to be rounded up and put behind barbed wire fences.
There’s a saying in retail: “Perception is reality.” And whether Christians like it or not, the perception that most of us in the gay community have is that Christians are narrow-minded bigots, who condemn us to hell, who seek to deprive us not only of our civil rights but of our humanity. Is that true? I often feel that it is. But it isn’t my job to change the paradigm – it’s the job of Christians to change the paradigm.
The most Jewish of the NT books is the book of James – it’s good stuff, and James had quite a bit to say that many Evangelicals find hard to swallow . . . things like: “let everyone be slow to speak, slow to anger: for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (1.19,20) and “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.: (2.12,13). But the most important thing James said was “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. . .Someone will say you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by works will show you my faith.” (2. 17-18). James is talking about performing mitzvot, or tzedakah (righteous deeds), literally fulfilling the commandments – not just giving them lip service. We don’t want to hear your words – we want to see your deeds.
The story of Rabbi Hillel is an interesting one, it is the story of a young man who sought out several great teachers and asked them to teach him the entire Torah – but they must be able to do it standing on one foot. Several teachers refused – who could teach the entire Torah on one foot? Then he came to Rabbi Hillel, who replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor - that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn it!"
Saturday, July 28, 2012
For me, at least, the controversy swirling around Chik-fil-a is deeply personal. As a lesbian, who grew up in a strict fundamentalist household and attended church three times a week (at least), attended a Christian high school and four-year Bible College, I have a lot of “skin” in this game. I daily watch my Facebook newsfeed fill up with ‘I love Chik'-fil-a’, I see “likes” for anti-gay comments, pictures (completely unwelcome on my page) of Sarah Palin sporting a freshly filled Chik-fil-a take out bag, and support for organizations like NOM and AFA and Focus on the Family. But for me, these aren’t simply affirmations of personal belief systems, these are deeply personal reminders of the rejection faced by gay people every where – and the rejection I feel (often against my will) by the world in which I was raised. I’ve learned over the years that friendships can and will end over issues of coming out, that family members will wish you dead, or non-existent, or at the very least conformist and unhappy as opposed to out, open and happily coupled.
There is no denying that my journey in coming out was also the catalyst in my journey away from fundamentalism. I have often remarked that if the fundamentalists could lie so much about gay and lesbian people, what else were they lying about? These questions led me, at first, away from God – away from faith at all – into a sort agnostic/atheistic morass. If there was a God, I hated Him, and resented Her manipulative games. For a long time picking up a Bible was almost impossible, and when I did - hurling it across the room was inevitable And prayer? Well, if you consider swearing at God prayer, then yes, I did pray. I also resented “Christians”, hated them in fact. I hated them for saying how much they loved me, or that they would always be there. And yet, my dearest friend would eventually cut me out of her life completely – with a jarring finality that even today, 14 years later is difficult to comprehend. How do you choose between maintaining a friendship and ripping out your own soul? And what sort of “friend” would blackmail you with continued support if you conformed or threaten you with complete banishment if you did not, indeed could not, turn your back on an essential truth – an essential reality about who you were?
But, I survived – by the grace of God – the dark days, the utter depression, the darkness, the desire to end my life. And it wasn’t long before God pursued me – and chased me into the arms of wonderful church in Moorestown, NJ. I have never in my life known such love and acceptance, such gentle kindness toward strangers. It took years of being a part of this gentle, loving, accepting congregation before I could make peace with God. For a long time I would open my hymnal with good intentions, but would be unable to sing those old familiar words, they would stick in my throat and flood my mind with bitter memories, of friendships lost, of isolation and loneliness. But the wonderful people at FBC continued to love, to support, to shed tears and to envelope my partner and I with such a grace and mercy that I could no longer resist the wooing of God. Eventually, the songs returned to my lips, I could open the Bible and find hope and solace, and had made my peace with God.
And yet . . . I can still feel the “sting” of loss and the pain of rejection. I don’t take the words of strangers personally. But each anti-gay word, each “like” of an anti-gay group, each attack on GLBT people in the name of “religion", or “christianity”, or “tradition” that is perpetrated by someone I know – and more importantly by someone who knows me – these I take personally. All the more so because I’m not in the closet anymore and my sexual orientation is pretty obvious. Sure everyone has a right to their opinions and beliefs . . . but do they have a right – according to their own faith traditions to hurt and marginalize others – to create an “other” at all? Maybe they think they do. I’m not innocent or perfect in the war of words – but I’m personally affected by this debate in more ways than any Republican -Conservative Christian will ever be affected by any political, religious debate.
For me however, I have one wish . . . that with each bite of a Chik-fil-a meal they remember one thing: me – someone who used to be their friend, who once encouraged them and laughed with them, and perhaps even helped them in some small way. To borrow a phrase from the New Testament “As oft as eat this bread and drink this cup” . . . remember me, Leslie, your roommate, dorm-mate, sister, friend, co-worker. Spend your money however you wish, but I think you owe it to yourself and to others to keep in mind the people you’re seeking to marginalize. . . . we’re a part of your past, your present, and your future. Other people will pay a heavy toll with your continued support of places like Chik-fil-a . . . and you’re exacting a pound of flesh from people you’ve never met. Our only fault is working each day, paying our taxes and our bills, and loving someone of the same sex. It’s your choice, it’s your money, it’s your faith . . .but I think you should at lease have the courtesy to remember me – remember us.
Monday, May 28, 2012
When the children of Israel were finally ready to enter the promised land, it required a step of faith. Moses was gone, having died within sight of the land of Canaan, and the tribe was under the guidance and leadership of Joshua. When they escaped Egypt, God had parted the yam suph and the peoples crossed through on dry land. But, the entrance into Canaan would be different. God told Joshua that the priests were enter into the Jordan River – while it was still running high from the rains. . . it was only as the priests were obedient, and stepped out into the flowing river on faith, that God held back the river, which enabled the people to pass through on dry ground.
It has been almost a year since I felt the pull of Judaism was too strong to ignore and I reached out to a friend and a local Rabbi for advice. I attended a class required for conversion, “Pathways to a deeper Judaism”, and began to attend the synagogue whenever my schedule would allow. As a part time graduate student and full-time department manager- that meant that I haven’t been able to make every Shabbat service. In addition, I have found it completely overwhelming at times to sit alone in an unfamiliar place, fumbling through the prayer book sometimes completely lost. Sometimes what you know is easier – even when your heart is really someplace else – and thus I still found it much easier to attend church – all the while wishing I had the courage and self-assurance to attend Shabbat on my own.
When my partner agreed to attend some Friday evenings with me it was a God-send – it was a chance for me to gain a foothold without being completely alone. On the other hand, it revealed an essential truth to me: I had to transfer my spiritual loyalties from the church to the synagogue, regardless of my comfort level. Almost everyone that I knew in the church had already expressed support for my decision and had wished me well. I just hadn’t taken the next step because – I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was simply waiting until I felt more a part of the synagogue. But, then I realized that as long as I clung to the church, I had no need to really cling to the synagogue and work toward becoming a contributing member of “the tribe.” I had to formally end my church membership in order to move toward the “Promised Land.”
It sounded pretty cut and dry, and the process was a simple one But I found it was far more emotional than I anticipated. I began to feel really lost – untethered from any spiritual anchor, unaffiliated with any religious organization. That didn’t matter when I was in the midst of my angst about being gay, hating fundamentalism and denying the existence of God. But once those things regained importance – and I was able to reconcile sexual orientation with faith – the need for a spiritual home was important again. This lack of attachment was disconcerting, but taught (is teaching) me a valuable lesson about that old story from Joshua: the importance of actions and deeds in relation to faith. When the letter from the church arrived, it stated, tersely, that as per my request, and by recommendation of the diaconate and vote of the church members, I had been removed the rolls, it was difficult to take in. It had all been at my instigation, but it really marked a death, a finality that was undeniable. That was it, I was no longer a church member.
So a new journey begins – I have crossed – not my Rubicon – but my Jordan River. Now the work begins to create a new spiritual home, a new loyalty to the Torah, Judaism and the the Synagogue . . .
Sunday, May 20, 2012
My faith journey has taken quite a few twists and turns. I was raised Roman Catholic . . . became born again at the age of ten . . . survived six years of Christian School education and four years of Bible College (earning a degree in Biblical Studies). I was squarely in the fundamentalist camp for many years – and by the “fundamentalist camp”, I mean I adhered to the theological fundamentals – the deity of Jesus, the veracity of the virgin birth, the reality of the resurrection. I was not a fan of the strict legalistic side of the religion: no pants for women, no movies, no rock music, no holding hands, etc., etc.
Coming out changed all that and necessitated a restructuring of my faith. How could I believe anything I’d been taught before in light of the fact that everything I’d been told about gay people was wrong? A long period of wrestling with God over my sexual orientation and the fundamentalist viewpoint ensued, and after a decade of being a part of the “un-churched”, I found a new church home in a welcoming and affirming congregation. For much of the time it was like spiritual triage. I couldn’t sing the old hymns because of the painful memories, I couldn’t pick up a Bible since had been used as “blunt instrument”, and I had not yet acquired enough distance from dispensational premillennial eschatology to look at scripture as it was meant to be read.
Slowly, the gentle caring of a wonderful body of Christian believers created a safe space for me. I began to sing again, to read scripture again, and believe that God had a plan that included full participation in a faith family. As I began to study scripture anew, after enough time had elapsed from the old fundamentalist dogma, I began to see new beauty and new possibilities in the old familiar books. But I also began to see something else . . . that the early believers did not necessarily see Jesus as God. In fact, since they were Jewish, it is more than likely that Jesus was seen as a prophet and a rabbi rather than as God himself. But I also began to see the Jesus movement in context – the context of first century apocalyptic movements that included a host of would-be Messiahs and groups like the Zealots, the Essenes and the Sicarii. The Jesus movement, however, had something the others didn’t – and that was Paul, who re-vamped the mostly Jewish Jesus movement, and made it palatable for gentiles.
But I also stumbled across a statement by Thomas Jefferson in the correspondence between Jefferson and John Adams dated August 22, 1813:
“I remember to have heard Dr. Priestly say that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all: and I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three: and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one . . .”
I can recall reading these words in 2009 because they shot through me like a trumpet blast. That’s it! I thought. Jefferson is right! In other places he would state that “No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity” (letter to theologian James Smith -- December 8, 1822). But Jefferson’s words – reaching across the centuries crystallized the truth for me in an instant.
The net effect of the historical context of Christianity’s apocalyptic birth, the words of Jefferson, and a subsequent study of the book of Revelation (in preparation for teaching an adult Bible Study)– which borrows lavishly from the Jewish pseudepigraphal book of Enoch led me to a place I had never dreamed . . . acknowledging the truth of the Shema “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one . . .” There was nothing left for me to do but to find my Jewish soul and begin a journey that will one day lead to my complete conversion to Reform Judaism.
There will be many, both Jews and Christians who will question my decision to convert. And I am not naïve in thinking that my conversion will satisfy Orthodox authorities for what they consider a “proper” conversion. But, like coming out of the closet, I have found that acknowledging my lifelong interest in Judaism, and the overwhelming sense of “coming home” spiritually as I stutter and stumble my way through Lecha Dodi and Shalom Rav has, in itself, affirmed the truth of Judaism to me.
I may not always get each ritual perfect, but I keep trying. With each Shabbat that I’m able to light the candles, or each holiday I imperfectly celebrate, I hope that it brings me one step closer to the mikveh. Each Shabbat that I’m able to attend synagogue and with each song I’m able to sing without looking at the words, I feel myself becoming more and more a part of the great sweeping history of Jewish religious tradition and belief. A tradition that creates a wholeness and a centeredness I had not anticipated.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
As soon as we past through the checkpoint the difference becomes as stark as when you pass from the fertile Galilee to the desert. You understand and can sense that you are in a place that is poverty-stricken, depressed and so different from anything you've experienced before.
The first thing that happened was that before we even went to the church of the Nativity we were herded into a 'Gift Shop - to peruse the olive wood carvings of crucifixes, Jerusalem crosses and holy families. As you come in the door you're handed a shopping basket and people are just standing at counters and various stations waiting to help you and ring up your purchases. There was a certain desperation to it all - which may or may not have been
real. Everything felt very contrived and orchestrated and made me more than a little uncomfortable.
Having grown up in the 1980s - the height of the Cold War and the Evil Empire talk - and the hype about the 'bad' Soviet system and the 'artificial' sense of society they created - I related this experience to that propaganda . . . So I was left to wonder if the feelings reflected a reality - or my own imagination.
We walked uphill to the Church of the Nativity - but I was struck by feeling very closed in by the buildings and by the barren-ness - not in the desert sense, but in the sense of commerce, tourism, hustle and bustle. It was early in the morning but still, "O Little Town of Bethlehem . . ." with its 60% unemployment and refugee population obviously suffers from some crushing poverty.
How much are we (as in we Americans) corporately blame as we allow right-wing evangelicals (like John Hagee and CUFI) to de-humanize and de-legitimize the Palestinian population. I don't know the answer -- but I felt enough guilt that I couldn't look anyone in the eye.
I shouldn't have been surprised when the street vendors approached us - hawking beads, postcards and trinkets. There is no other source of income except for the steady stream (trickle) of foreign tourists who are able to come in.
The Church itself was - a church - a very old church - with a very small entrance! It's more than a little worn around the edges and divided between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. It was also the site of the great broom fight of Christmas 2011. . . which our guide would not talk about! I was really interested in this "war on Christmas" which would no doubt have special significance in the city of Jesus birth.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
"Via Dolorosa Souvenir Shop"
And doesn't that really sum up what has happened over the centuries? The religion that was begun by a man who drove out the moneylenders and proclaimed "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" has become a three-ring circus and spawned millions of catchy tourist trinkets and shops.
And is there anything more obscene than the idea of a souvenir shop along the way of sorrows ? I know that in strictly realistic terms this is just another street in a city where people need to have businesses in order to survive . . . But still . . . Doesn't it seem to be so - ironic? Here the place of extreme suffering and "man's inhumanity to man" collide with God's ultimate display of love according to Christian doctrine . . .and right in the middle of that we're going to sell Agfa film and batteries . . .
And 1500 years ago it was pieces of the true cross, the spikes used in the crucifixion, and perhaps John the Baptist's teeth . . .