The Guardian’s recent article, “How President Obama can achieve a nuclear deal with Iran,” speaks about why a nuclear deal with Iran is urgently needed, and what Iran must give up. This Guardian piece is a little weak on what the United States and the Western powers must offer as part of the deal. When read by itself, it repeats the “tough-minded” and largely blind to emotional nuance approach that has made the West’s dealings with Iran so fruitless. Here’s what author Tom Rogan writes:
In the cause of peace, the clock is ticking.
Western Intelligence services have delayed a nuclear Iran. Still, the evidence on the ground is unmistakable. Iranian nuclear activities increasingly point to a weaponization agenda. Of most concern: Iran’s soon-to-be plutonium production facility at Arak. As David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security note (pdf), claims of an inherently peaceful nuclear program cannot easily co-exist with a heavy water reactor. Correspondingly, in last weekend’s P5+1 negotiations, the French Foreign Minister suggested that allowing Arak to remain in operation would represent a “sucker’s deal”.
by: Sigfried Gold on November 12th, 2013 | 7 Comments »
Progressives deliver lofty words about embracing people who are different from us, but we often fail to put those words into practice when it comes to religious fundamentalists. In truth, there are many deep forms of spiritual wisdom that fundamentalists could share with us if we approached them with humility, care, and curiosity:
1. Fundamentalists go whole hog. They know what they believe. They know who’s right and who’s wrong. How do they do it? Do they do it about everything? Try asking a fundamentalist: What is it exactly that is fundamental for you? What are the commitments from which you will not budge? Are you able to stay open-minded on religious or political issues outside these commitments? Different fundamentalists will have different answers, of course. But it’s no betrayal of our own commitment to open-mindedness to consider emulating fundamentalists if we find something worth emulating. Which of our own beliefs are we willing to throw ourselves into without reservation? On what are we willing to take a stand from which we will not budge?
2. Fundamentalists have faith. Some of what they believe they believe without objective, empirical evidence, or even against scientific evidence. Are we able to see that they embrace faith not out of stupidity or ignorance but because their faith is confirmed by what they perceive as some deeper spiritual evidence? Can we see the ways that a demonstrably irrational faith can be motivated by entirely reasonable and real concerns and needs? Faith is not simply a choice to believe something without evidence. It begins as an experiment: “What happens if I try believing X?” And when something good happens, it grows. Are we interested in cultivating our own faith? Faith in what?
3. Fundamentalists have been at it a long time. They follow traditions that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. They’ve had time to build up a vast repertoire of practices, concepts, rituals, bits of wisdom. Their rearguard scramble to defend their traditions from modern threats may keep the most absurd parts of their program in clearest relief, but dig a little and you’ll find the richness of all they’ve built and that has sustained them over centuries.
by: Stephen Phelps on November 11th, 2013 | Comments Off
Text: Isaiah 58: 1-9; Luke 12: 54-59
Forty years ago, in the wake of the rebellion at Attica Prison, Rev. Robert Polk of the Riverside clergy founded the Riverside Prison Ministry. Throughout this past weekend, the Prison Ministry has been celebrating this anniversary by anchoring a year-long campaign to bring light and change to life-destroying parole practices in this state and in this society.
Forty-one years ago, in response to that rebellion at Attica, a Rochester man named Steere began a ministry at Attica prison. It still goes on. Volunteers and men inside join each week in a conversation about one thing only, what it is like to be in your own skin, with your own burdens, and how you learn from it. From what I learned and experienced during ten years with that program, I have brought you a number of things over the years.
Forty years of ministry is a good thing. But let’s let that number, “forty years,” seep into our skin alongside the ancient scriptures we have just heard, for our societies haven’t much to show for long exposure to the word of God; and in these United States, the last forty years have looked more like years of wilderness wandering with no Moses and no true law at all. Since those terrible days at Attica, the criminal American justice system has multiplied its prison population sixfold, from 350,000 to more than two million. Those being watched by parole and probation exceed five million men and women. They are blocked from public housing or help with the price of food. “The box” blocks them from working. It’s that box on employment applications – “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” States block the formerly incarcerated from voting, ever, as if to say you will never have a place among us. It seems that society aims to destroy them.
by: Amy B. Dean on November 7th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Doug Geisler)
Jews understand what it means to start a new life in another country. As a nation of immigrants, the US welcomed and protected generations of Jews who fled persecution, famine and poverty in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to begin a new life in the US together with their families. Today, a commitment to the core Jewish mandate of “welcoming the stranger” takes a different form. This year, Jewish activists around the country have mobilized – some even getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience – to push Congress to pass an immigration reform package that would put an end to families being separated by deportation and establish a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
But as progress on immigration reform stalls in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, some hard-line GOP members want to withhold all access to citizenship for one of the most vulnerable groups of immigrants: the undocumented. Moreover, some politically conservative Jews have been quoted in the press as being involved in this push against a pathway to citizenship for newcomers to the US. One vocal opponent to reform is Stephen Steinlight, former director of national affairs for the American Jewish Council (AJC), who in June told the Jewish Daily Forward that he views Jewish pro-immigration reform activists as “do-gooders leaning over backwards for the aggrieved.” Can Jews overcome such political difference within their ranks to achieve justice for immigrants?
I opened my email to the news that Governor Brown had vetoed AB 1229 which would have allowed local governments to require a smidgen of affordable housing along with luxury developments. Immediately, I felt tense and angry, outraged that rent control is illegal in California, and now this further setback. I was despondent and disgusted that a liberal governor would veto one tiny step toward affordable housing.
Then I opened another email about a community college inviting for-profit education companies, at least one of whom had said public education was “broken,” to hold a conference on campus.
My stomach tensed. My forehead ached. I felt antagonistic, judgmental, enraged and ready to shout.
Once this state of mind didn’t trouble me. I may even have welcomed the adrenaline.
by: Jeff Garson on October 14th, 2013 | Comments Off
My recent blog, The Case for Radical Decency, brought the following provocative reaction – the subject of this week’s reflection:
“If ‘picking and choosing’ where to practice Radical Decency is ‘doomed to failure’ does that mean only saints can succeed? How does one incrementally improve?”
“If Radical Decency is doomed to failure unless applied at all times to everything, must I be a Buddhist monk or the equivalent?”
(Credit: Creative Commons)
How this Mindset Traps and Defeats Us
Radical Decency seeks to diverge from the culture’s wildly out of balance emphasis on competitive, win/lose values, advocating a decisive shift in priority toward a more humane set of values. That is its central purpose.
With this in mind, notice the extent to which this self-judgmental approach replicates the very values the philosophy seeks to replace. Tally up the evidence and make a judgment: Have I succeeded in being radically decent – or not? Am I a saint – or a failure?
I’m going through one of those bumpy passages on the journey to belonging.I moved a couple of months ago, and while the reason was love and I feel the opposite of regret, the adjustment to a new community is pushing some ancient buttons. As with many children of immigrants, I know what it’s like to feel in it but not of it. By now, the catalog of my own complaints is intensely boring to me: I don’t know how to meet the people who might belong to my own quirky tribe if only I knew who they were; I’m always getting a little lost; the relatively short distance to my old neighborhood and old friends seems much longer now that I’m on the other side of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
I imagine that this too shall pass, and probably pretty quickly. I’ve moved more than 25 times in my life, so I know the dance. I’ve been doing some online research. I even wrote a couple of the messages I tend to generate in such circumstances: e-introductions to fellow artists and activists with whom I have some vague virtual connection (who so far have not replied, but never mind). So I’m not worried, but I am noticing the tenderness that gathers up memories of alienation and stacks them in my forebrain. I am noticing how the little story – the little, highly personal kvetch – connects to the slightly larger and eventually the big stories of our world, adding an extra charge.
Across the world, gay Catholics and allies have been rejoicing over the comments made by Pope Francis in his America magazine interview. Yet looking strictly at the pope’s comments on homosexuality, I see only a more clever iteration of the Catholic church’s “love the sinner, hate the sin” teaching. Frankly, as one who rejects sexual identity labels as nothing more than the social trauma-rooted intellectual residue of the twentieth century, and who embraces homosexuality as an extraordinary erotic gift from Almighty God that is available to all men and women of open mind and open heart, I think the pope’s ever-evolving cleverness on homosexuality is getting way too much attention.
Yet far more interesting and substantive are his remarks on abortion, given in his America magazine interview and subsequent sermon to a group of Catholic gynecologists.
Credit: Creative Commons
To the Catholic gynecologists, Francis said abortion was part of the “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” Just a day earlier, the pope caused a stir stemming from his America magazine interview when he said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.”
Reviewing the pope’s zigzaggery on this issue, at least in terms of his communication style, a legitimate question could be raised: Could Pope Francis be trying to turn a new page on the Catholic approach to abortion, specifically an approach that would uphold the fundamental sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception, while simultaneously steering conservative Catholics away from their decades-long effort to use the heavy club of state power to control the lives of women who seek elective abortions?
Credit: Creative Commons
As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.
It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.
Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.