Started some 15 years ago after the first conference on The Politics of Meaning in Washington DC, The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP) is a nationwide group of lawyers, law professors, and law students who seek to shift the focus of American law and legal institutions away from the individualism, self-interest, and materialism that undergirds all of American law and toward seeing law as a central cultural arena for fostering empathy, compassion, and mutual understanding.
We have taken to heart Martin Luther King Jr.’s definition of Justice as “love correcting that which revolts against love” and are seeking to build a new movement in law that makes restoring community through understanding and social healing our highest value. Sometimes out-and-out adversarial battles are necessary, but the principal shift that needs to take place in legal culture is toward the new bottom line articulated by the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) — that institutions be valued according to how much love and generosity they generate rather than only focusing on a material war of all against all in a socially separated, self-interested world. That’s why PISLAP is glad to be the “legal arm” of the NSP, serving as its task force in this important professional and cultural arena.
Below is the welcoming letter and agenda for our upcoming gathering in New York, an agenda-building gathering for the coming year among the organization’s leadership group. I’ll post follow-ups in Tikkun Daily, including the final plan we decide upon as we move forward toward fundamentally transforming law and legal culture. You out there in other professions: Why not do the same?
It’s now been two weeks since the midterm elections, and I’m noticing that many folks I know are depressed — not consciously about the elections, which have receded somewhat from view, but about various things in their lives. One is exhausted from all the pressures in her life, raising children, caring for parents, working too hard or too aimlessly; another is undecided about what to do next in life, not sure how to chart a meaningful path. Everyone has his or her personal story.
But behind all the personal stories and giving unity to the feeling of despair are the elections — not because of the specific legislative consequences of the Republican victory but because of what it means for the state of whether “we can” or “we can’t,” or of whether “we” exist at all.
Elections evoke a great deal of passion even though their direct practical consequences for our lives are often minimal, even nonexistent. A huge struggle takes place culminating on election day, but what is the struggle really about? My own practical life — the details of my everyday physical existence — is almost completely unaffected by the outcome. I have the same work, the same family, the same friends, no matter what the outcome. So why all the brouhaha? Something huge appears to be at stake? But what?
The answer is that elections are crystallizations of the emotional field. Like the “declare” in high-low poker, the election is a moment when we tell each other whether we will or will not extend ourselves to each other, whether we believe in our connection and dare hope to realize it in community enough to declare it, or whether we do not and dare not.
Artist Christopher Reiger sent Tikkun an email expressing his differences with my piece “A Call for Sacred Biologists,” which his painting “submerged in his erotic mystification” accompanied in the March/April 2010 issue of Tikkun. I responded and a conversation developed. Our intern Sarah Ackley has edited our emails down to this post.
If I could sum it up in a phrase, I would say that Christopher is committed to the idea that science and religion are both valid ways of knowing but they are separate ways, whereas I believe we have to move towards a unified approach to knowledge (the nature of which I’ll take up in a forthcoming issue of the magazine). I was happy to have such a reasonable conversation about a topic that arouses such passion. We’ve laid out his emails as the indented quotes and mine as the text in between. Christopher Reiger has given us two recent drawings to accompany the exchange.
In “A Call for Sacred Biologists” Gabel explores the gulf between a strictly rational, scientific world view and that of, for lack of a better description, holistic panentheism. Gabel’s subject is near and dear to me, but his language unfortunately suggests that he has a deep-seated mistrust of, as he puts it, “the so-called ‘scientific method’” (emphasis mine).
"A beating of kettles and cutlery, to scare the beast" by Christopher Reiger.
Last week I introduced Tikkun Daily readers to the new blog at the Project for Integrating Law, Politics and Spirituality, with a post by Nanette Schorr about Sunny Schwartz’s restorative justice work in a San Francisco County jail. The third member of our team at that blog is Doug Ammar, and I love this first post by him. With this story he gives us an idea of what it means for him to practice law with a full intention of connecting at a human level with his clients, including those who spend many years in prison. Here it is in full:
By Doug Ammar
“How can you do that? How can you visit a guy serving a life sentence?”
“What do you mean?” I reply.
“Well, you were his lawyer, right? The client was convicted while he was your client, right?”
“That’s right. Either I or someone else in our office was his lawyer. But, yes we visit our folks in prison,” I answer.
“And you all just keep showing up – years after the case is over? That has to be tough? What do you talk about? Doesn’t he hate you? Doesn’t he want to kill you?”
I would like to introduce you to a new blog by a group of us who are partly associated with the Tikkun community: the Project for Integrating Law, Politics and Spirituality. Nanette Schorr, Doug Ammar and I will be sharing duties of blogging, and will be posting items by others. Nanette introduced the blog on August 24 with this post:
I’ve been asked to be the first writer to kick off the new spiritlawpolitics blog. I’m really happy to be contributing on a website dedicated to our new legal culture; a culture characterized by social justice, individual and social healing and community participation. The spiritlawpolitics initiative was founded back in 1996, as part of a larger “politics of meaning” movement whose aim was to create a “new bottom line” in American society which reflected these values. The Project’s focus is still on the importance of supporting such initiatives as they emerge in the society. Exciting changes are happening in the law, but they can only fully take root if they are grounded in changes in consciousness and social practice which embody these values on a larger social level.
One of the initiatives we’ve long admired and supported is the movement broadly called “restorative justice.”