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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category



D’var Torah on Parashat Re’eh for Rosh Chodesh Elul

Aug22

by: Rabbi Michael Zimmerman on August 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

picture of opened torah

Credit: Flickr / Lawrie Cate

Today (August 15th) is the New Moon ushering in the month of Elul. According to the Maharal of Prague, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into one’s soul and search one’s deeds, that one may make confession.” [1]

There are numerous practices and customs for the month of Elul, all of which are intended to promote the seeking and granting of forgiveness and the powerful process of teshuvah, (“repentance”). These practices all recognize that none of us have utilized our full potentials, acted from our full sense of decency and responsibility, kept our hearts open to our full capacity for compassion. In other words, we’ve missed the mark. It’s no coincidence that cheit, the Hebrew word for sin, and hamartia, the Greek word referring to the character flaw leading to tragedy, both originated as terms in archery for “missing the mark.” Looking into our own souls, what we find isn’t evil; it’s more like sleeping on the job or losing control or letting our emotions get in the way of our conscience and common sense for one regrettable split second.


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Humanism Unshackled

Aug12

by: Ed Simon on August 12th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

There is welcome news in the July 27th announcement that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reached a settlement in a lawsuit to recognize humanism as a religion. The result of the lawsuit, filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of an Oregon prisoner, is that inmates at all federal prisons who subscribe to humanism as a religious belief are now entitled to the same rights as members of any other faith-group. These include the right to form study groups, recognize certain holidays (in their particular case “Darwin Day”), and have access to chaplains. The Defense Department has for over a year now acknowledged humanism as a religion, alongside atheism and other stances which it may seem confusing to some to label as religions.

Charles Darwin standing next to a tree.

Charles Darwin's birthday of February 12 is celebrated by humanists (among others) as Darwin Day, a holiday to promote science. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The immediate cause for celebration is that men and women in our federal prisons who adhere to humanist beliefs are now able to freely exercise their right to act as a participant in their religious community. But perhaps more importantly, the decision helps to complicate and enrich Americans’ understanding of what constitutes religion, something that benefits all of us, whatever religious position we hold or community at http://samedayessays.org/essay-writing/we belong to. Rather than viewing humanism and atheism as simply the absence of faith and belief, this decision acknowledges that they are also metaphysical positions on ultimate reality, just like monotheism or polytheism. Indeed, the fact that some humanists choose to arrange themselves into communities that mark life with rituals demonstrates precisely that they are a religion and are deserving of the same federally recognized rights that other religions are accorded.


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From Ansel Adams to Calvin: The Surprising Inspiration for Landscape Art

Aug9

by: Mark Stoll on August 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

picture of american landscape

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ansel Adams

We Americans love grand, gorgeous landscapes of natural scenery. Landscape photographers and painters produce a never-ending stream of pictures of Edenic beauty. We buy images by Ansel Adams — such as this famous view of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River — by the hundreds of thousands, in coffee-table books, calendars, datebooks, posters, and framed reproductions. In magazines, calendars, and publicity materials, environmental organizations use photographs by him and many others.

Most of this art shows the timeless ethereal beauty of nature. It also lacks or minimizes the presence of people. Not everyone likes this sort of thing. New York critics had little positive to say about essay help. Landscape art of most cultures in fact include and even highlight humans and their works. Rarely do the credit lines for contemporary landscape art contain names from southern or eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, or Asia.


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Firebombing of Palestinian Homes & Murder of Palestinian Child, plus Murder at Gay Pride Demo

Aug7

by: Tikkun on August 7th, 2015 | No Comments »

Editor’s Note:

Faced with the horrendous crimes of an ultra-orthodox Jew stabbing participants in a gay pride demonstration in Israel, and the firebombing of Palestinian homes and resulting burning to death of an 18 month old Palestinian baby while others in the family are in critical condition and may not survive, many Israelis and American Jews denounced these horrendous acts. Netanyahu and his government ordered a few Israeli settlers arrested in “administrative detention,” the polite word to describe the practice which till now has been used against thousands of Palestinian civilians–arrest without formal charges, often held in detention for months or more without trial, and in the case of Palestinians often tortured. The Israeli settlers arrested did not face what most Palestinians “suspected” of terrorist acts usually suffer: the homes of the family of the suspect are immediately blown up by the occupying Israeli Army in the West Bank. That no such punishment was immediately meted out to the Israeli settler suspects was not surprising, but just another manifestation of the racist treatment Palestinians in the Occupied territory face (though of course we don’t support this tactic against settlers or Palestinians). As many Israeli human rights and peace advocates point out, the firebombing of Palestinian homes is just one of many variants of violence visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, the goal being to make life so difficult that Palestinians will eventually be “ethnically cleansed” and Israel can make the West Bank a fully Jewish-majority part of Israel. I should hasten to add that most West Bank settlers do not participate in acts of violence, though they overwhelmingly vote for extremist right-wing political parties whose policies are racist and whose goals are not fundamentally dissimilar to those of their violent West Bank settler neighbors.

For us at Tikkun, all this has left us stunned, saddened, repenting for these horrific crimes on the part of our people, and all the more determined to insist on the need to end the Occupation and create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, while purging our own peple of the hatred and racism that too many Israelis and their American Jewish allies have been willing to ignore, apologize for, or deny. On the other hand, the attack on homosexuals, equally outrageous and horrendous, does not flow from the policies of the State of Israel, which have been friendly to gays and lesbians in the past decade, but rather from the homophobic perspective of the ultra-orthodox community. Until those attitudes are purged from the orthodox world, gays and lesbians will face oppressive treatment in those communities. As I argued in my book Jewish Renewal, the anti-gay texts in the Torah can be reinterpreted in the same spirit that led the rabbis to redefine all the commands for animal sacrifices to be understood as really commands to pray (avodah zeh hu teffillah). Where there is a communal will there is a Hallakhic way, so just as Jewish religious law has evolved on many other issues, so it can follow the rulings of Conservative Movement in Judaism and make changes in their understanding of Torah on this issue–if the will to stamp out homophobia prevails, as it should.

Below we publish some responses to these events. We will be repenting for these acts at our High Holiday services at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley (click here for more information) and we urge you if you are Jewish to speak to your local rabbis and ask them to explicitly include these issues in the list of “sins” being articulated during the “Al Cheyt” prayers for the High Holidays. The list of “sins” we’ve developed will be online at www.tikkun.org within the next week, plenty of time to approach local synagogues to ask them to include these in their services. If there is no synagogue in your area willing to do that, you are invited to come to Berkeley, Ca. to pray with me! Of course, non-Jews are also welcome to register for and attend these services (and we will be focusing also on the destructive realities of American racism, the growing insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the homeless, and the environmental crisis–issues that are not just for Jews to repent but for everyone!). Please do read the articles below.

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Pope Francis’s Encyclical and the Coming of Age of Creation Spirituality

Jul6

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on July 6th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

 

Aerial shot of melting glaciers.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Doc Searls.

Pope Francis’s recent encyclical boasts a title borrowed from the famous poem to Brother Sun and Sister Moon by his namesake, Francis of Assisi. “Laudato si’”, which translates as “Praise Be to You”, carries a message and a spirit that echoes much of the soul of St. Francis. Humans around the world are eager for some moral voices to stand up and be counted, so beset are we by multinational corporations and their lobbyists and their media moguls who, like secular popes, declare infallibly each day what is and is not news while they pad their corporate pockets with dark money raised by an avalanche of consumer goodies most of which feed the world unnecessary goodies. Surely this is one reason the Dalai Lama has the following he does. And it is the reason Pope Francis is being heard by more and more people around the world and why, borrowing from his idol, Pope John XXIII, he addressed this encyclical on climate change and ecology to all persons of the world, Christian or not, believers or not.

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Voicing the Ineffable in Charleston

Jul2

by: Ed Simon on July 2nd, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Does theological language still have any real use? Sometimes a half a millennium of modernity has seemingly taught us that the center not only can’t hold, but didn’t. But theological language is just that, a language: a system of inexact metaphors whose correspondence to a literal reality is constantly shifting.

And yet, is this not the great strength of religious language, of religious stories? Inerrancy is a fallacy, literalism an error, and no more so than with religious language. Rather it is the adaptability of theological language that is its great power, and it is the ever-changing yet continuous historical chain of the emotionally powerful language and stories of faith that allow this vocabulary to still have such resonance, a power which other ways of speaking don’t have. To ignore this power is a mistake.

Religion is a fiction – this does not mean that the social phenomenon of religion isn’t real – it obviously is. Rather it means that the claims and principles of religion are fictional. But there, there is the crux. For if religion is a system of fiction, more of a way of speaking than anything, it still contains the seeds to redeem itself, and indeed, to redeem us. The assertions of religion may be fictional, they may not be real, but the words are potent, and can still contain power in a way that other systems do not.

“Good,” “Evil,” “Salvation,” “Sin,” “Redemption,” even “Heaven” and “Hell.” These may perhaps be literally meaningless words to our dominant paradigms today, but even if God is asleep those words need not lose their meaning. In fact, these may be the exact words we need. If we do not let them control us but rather use them as our own tools of expression they provide a means to encapsulate certain human experiences.

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Interdependence Day Celebration

Jul2

by: on July 2nd, 2015 | 17 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons / epicfireworks.com/blog

[The article below gives advice on how anyone anywhere can transform the U.S. "Independence Day" celebrations July 4 into Interdependence Day, and why you should! Now, if you happen to be in the SF Bay area, or even anywhere in northern California on July 3rd, we can also invite you to Rabbi Michael Lerner's vegetarian pot-luck celebration this evening of Interdependence Day, followed for those who might be interested, in a Jewish Renewal style Shabbat celebration. You don't have to be Jewish to attend either of these or both, and the only cost to you is to bring a main course vegetarian dish to share.

It's at 951 Cragmont Ave, Berkeley, a few doors south of where Cragmont intersects Marin, one block east of where Marin intersects Spruce St. from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

We will have a vegetarian pot-luck and celebrate inter-dependence day by recognizing our interconnection will all beings and transcending narrow nationalist themes sometimes attached toJuly 4th, but also celebrating what is good and valuable in the USA. Since Shabbat starts so late in the summer, we'll eat first and celebrate interdependence.

Bring your favorite poems, songs, dances, and musical instruments that somehow connect to our emphasis on the interdependence of all of us with all other people on the planet, and our interdependence with the Earth. At 8:30 p.m.we will light Shabbat candles and do the Jewish Renewal Shabbat celebration.]

July 4th

Faced with July 4th celebrations that are focused on militarism, ultra-nationalism, and “bombs bursting in air,” many American families who do not share those values turn July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports and fireworks while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast.

We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives believe that this is a net loss. There is much worth celebrating in American history that deserves attention on July 4th, though it is rarely the focus of the public events.

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Sacred Activism: A Meditation on Inner Transformation

Jun25

by: Shaikh Kabir Helminski on June 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A bay at sunset.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Yetto.

To be a contemplative is to focus the heart on the Absolute Reality that gives meaning to life; to be a spiritual activist is to be engaged in the social world without losing the perspective of that heavenly Absolute Reality.

To be an activist is also to be a realist, to realize that many people are tied primarily to the materialistic plane, the secular world, the outer appearances. And yet no sane human being is entirely without a sense of values, an inner life which, if we are honest, is the key to happiness.

The contemplative faces that inner world of values directly and draws strength and wisdom from it http://samedayessays.org/term-paper/, but no human being is devoid of those inner values, no matter how confused, egotistical, or negative they may be.

The gap between the religious world and the secular world seems to be growing larger; both sides seem to lack a way to communicate with each other. This is one of the greatest challenges of our times. The secular world views the many disparate beliefs and the conflicts among them and wants no part of it. The religious world, suspicious of the freedoms claimed by the secular world, looks at the erosion of values and morals and sees religion as something that can protect the moral nature of humankind.

But there is a third perspective, and this may be the hope of the future. This third perspective recognizes the limitations of all religious beliefs, but without discarding the core values of spirituality. It also recognizes how much the secular world sacrifices to the idols of consumerism and materialism. But it respects secularism for not imposing a single interpretation of belief upon society and for allowing the freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle.

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Canonize Junipero Serra? Really?

Jun23

by: Matthew Fox on June 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Alter for Junipero Serra.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Art4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon.

American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall. Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California. The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance – after all these hundreds of years – of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike. And it is sad that as many nations and peoples await the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.

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For the Sake of Heaven

Jun23

by: Melissa Weininger on June 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off

Close up of a flame.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Oliver.

According to reports, when a young stranger walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday night, the senior pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, invited the young man to sit next to him so that he would feel welcome. It was literally an article of faith that the church should embrace the young man, though he was not a regular member of the community, though he was white in a historically black church. These things didn’t matter to Pinckney and the other members of the Bible study group that met that night. What mattered to them were tenets of faith and the standards of their community, a congregation built on the premise of inclusion, particularly inclusion of the marginalized and rejected.

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