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My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 5

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2017 | Comments Off

Angels and Devils

Today’s lesson is a tough one: angels and demons. “Angels are pure spirits without a body [so much for harps and halos] created to adore and enjoy G’d in heaven.” Hmmm, glorified servants, perfectly useless for us here below. But wait. “also appointed our guardians.” Nice idea. Lovely idea.

I really don’t believe in angels. Unless the term refers to a gracious, benevolent archetype, one of the aids our unconscious provides. That I subscribe to. But as for the wings and robes, I might as well believe in Batman. Angels get a lot of business including literal profit-making business. Nowadays, they appear lacy, childlike, almost always pink and feminine—though the only angels mentioned in the Bible have manly names—Gabriel, Michael, Phanuel, and Raphael (no manly parts, of course)— and engage in manly struggles such as wrestling and rolling away giant stones.

Demons, on the other hand, get less attention and trade except from Satan worshippers and Pentecostals. “Bad angels” feature in Halloween costumes as sexy red demonesses and goateed, lusty devils. Dehorned demons, you might say. Nothing dangerous or powerful. The Sunday School Companion tells us “many of them sinned and were cast into hell and these were called devils or bad angels.”

I definitely believe in demonic aspects of the personality, addictions, compulsions, a seemingly willful refusal of compassion, inability to empathize. I’ve tasted all these and take them seriously.

Is there a small devil in the compulsion to hang onto possessions? I’m struggling to work my way through a vast store of books and papers I’ll never use again. What is the sin that turned the angel of preparedness, safekeeping, memory, and care into fearful clutching and pointless piling? Let me run through the seven deadly ones: Anger? Pride? Lust? Gluttony? Greed? Sloth? I can’t remember the seventh one: Simony? Usury?

Pride could be at play: “Remember that one time when I was semi-important?” But that’s not really it. Anger? Sometimes I hang onto evidence of unresolved events as if I’ll be able to fix them someday, as if I’ll get another chance. And fear– that if I let go of this thing, I’ll need it someday. What does it take to let possessions go?

Faith—that there will be plenty more good things in the world. I know this is true. Hope—for the present and future. And love. Ah yes, love comes in when I give things away. I have a compulsion to keep things because they are high quality even though I don’t use them. There’s a colorful term for that: a “dog in the manger” attitude. A dog can’t eat hay, but he lies in the manger and won’t let the cows eat it either.

My act of contrition? I’m deciding to give away some good possessions that I’ve been saving but not using. And I’m going to go through one box of paper today, armed with Faith, Hope, and Love. I imagine many of you face similar challenges, and I’d love to hear about your approach.

 

 

 

 

 

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 4

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2017 | Comments Off

In my Sunday School Companion, each Lesson begins with official definitions, definitions that have the imprimatur of numerous Catholic officials. The Catechism asks, “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” and answers “…from the Catholic Church through which G’d speaks to us.”

These words are strangely relevant to a recent experience: an eloquent speaker called out people who appropriate another culture – by wearing dreadlocks, for example, or, in my case, having a yin-yang tattoo, or even, also in my case, bearing a name from another culture. It seems I’m a cultural appropriator both by choice and by birth. When I got home, I realized even in this unorthodox Lenten journey I’m a cultural appropriator!

The speaker was angry and justifiably so. How often have sacred symbols been used to make money or cover over the destruction of the very culture they purport to hold up? Too often to count.

And yet, is it always harmful to cross, and mix and blend cultures? Is there a way to share culture in a world where culture changes constantly, sometimes through bitter force but also through chance and choice?

As with so many issues, power enters in. People of less power have been banned from partaking of the objects, places, and even the language of the more powerful, yet perversely, they’ve also been forced to partake of it. White people have been able to cherry-pick without permission and often in complete ignorance.

Yet I want to say something for cultural sharing, for each person’s right to individuate, to seek and find among the myriad offerings of the world that which, often for mysterious reasons, speaks to their souls. Haven’t important movements and groups arisen from such mixtures? The Black Muslims, for example, or Norteño music.

Is culture to be strictly fenced, walled, and patrolled so that petty thieves like me are kept out entirely? Where do the boundaries end? Is it possible to honor as well as appropriate? I’ve always felt a certain softness toward men who like to wear dresses and makeup, shave their legs, etc. as many women do in modern Western culture. Wow, I think, Even though we have less power, they want to join us and be like us. Well, go ahead. Welcome. Does it sometimes seem a caricature of femininity? Maybe, but even so, I can honor the spirit.

I wonder how I, as an impoverished American, could relate so strongly to a 17th-century French nobleman, Voltaire? Yet I felt him as a kindred spirit. I learned French, not “my” culture. I also studied Spanish and Hebrew. Come to think of it, even my English isn’t native. I should be speaking German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Russian. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, people feel a strong and deep connection to an “other.” I’m reluctant to criticize all such connections. As my friend, Arlene, pointed out, Catholicism itself is a mixture, a combination and amalgamation of multiple traditions.

On the other hand, if everything blends into a mush, might we lose some important legacies? Maybe we need both: cultural magpies and cultural guardians.

Being Called Out for Cultural Appropriation

Once, my first response to anger and shaming would have been to cower and apologize whether I thought I was in the wrong or not.

Later, I responded with hurt feelings and resentment that someone did not recognize me for who I truly am.

Is there a third response? How can I apply faith, hope, love, and contrition here?

Maybe I have faith that if I really knew this speaker better, I’d see her suffering. Maybe I can have hope that what feels like antagonism can someday be healed or at least accepted. I can think of what I love about that speaker, for example, vocal allegiance to many causes I also support, the speaker’s important work with youth.

And finally, contrition. What can I amend? Can I bring more thought and awareness to the symbols I wear or display, and perhaps accept that no matter what I choose, others may have a different perspective from mine, maybe forever, and, even though at times it may be painful, it’s also important, and necessary.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 3

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

What does Good News Mean to Me? An Act of Contrition?

Near the beginning of my 1888 Sunday School Companion, I find An Act of Faith, An Act of Hope, An Act of Love, and an Act of Contrition. Interesting order.  First, faith, hope, and love, and only in the end, contrition. I like that. Our culture seems rife with self-hatred, self-critique, self-rejection. I can see how we might need to focus on faith, hope, and love first so that contrition doesn’t become “I’m horrible and worthless and there’s no hope.” Maybe the “good news” resides in faith, hope, and love; faith to trust in the power of truth and love; hope that we can make a difference; love, well love is the healing balm that needs no explanation.

Much of the language of these “acts” does not speak to me.

I especially want to roll my eyes at “I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee” as if it doesn’t even matter that another person was hurt. G’d’s the only one that matters (Because in the Jewish tradition, people don’t speak the name of G’d, I’m using this replacement.) And one part just goes in the trash: “I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven…” Isn’t that like saying, “I could kick myself for mouthing off because now I can’t have the car”? Apparently, the philosopher Levinas has worked hard to avoid the eye-popping selfishness of “virtue” done for gain.

But one thing I do love: each Act begins with “Oh my God!” That’s exactly how I felt yesterday when I realized I had not been “vocal and visible” as my friend Kari put it. Those words are such a meme in our culture—OMG!—that it’s funny to find it at the beginning of sober and orthodox prayers from 1888. I’m interested in this idea of doing an act of faith, of hope, and of love and then contrition. I wonder: could I do them all in one day? They might be really small.

For example, I trust, I have confidence in the people who put together a certain program I’m going to read in. Is that an act of faith?  I feel optimistic and hopeful about the experience. I want to do it with love for my fellow participants, the audience, and myself, maybe even “the world”.

And then, contrition. Wow, looking it up, I see contrition includes older meanings of “to rub, wear, scrape away, destroy.” Strong language.

But maybe strong language is needed. I am often burdened with regret. Sometimes even after making amends, I can’t let go of it. Old regrets stay with me: the time I was so rejecting of a nice person in 7th grade. I can still see her hurt blue eyes. And it was all about being popular. It was all about distancing myself from someone low-status. These “sins” (I’m not fond of the word) form a tough, burnt layer that apparently requires major scraping! Maybe that scraping, rubbing, destroying” is needed so that I can not only forgive myself but let go of longterm grudges against others. I strongly suspect the two are intertwined. Hmmm. There’s a lot of freedom in letting both go. A lot of lightness and room for new things to take their places.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 2

Mar2

by: on March 2nd, 2017 | 8 Comments »

On Ash Wednesday, I received a letter from Casa de Clara, the Catholic Worker House in San Jose. In it, the letter connected Executive Order 9066, the Japanese Internment order, with recent events. Which is regrettably easy to do.

The letter also mentioned that on Ash Wednesday, when Catholics receive the ash on their foreheads, they also receive the words, “Repent and believe the Good News.” That was news to me. I’d forgotten or never known that Ash Wednesday was connected to repentance. But a point to ponder.

Repentance

Near the end, came a Dr. King quote, “a time comes when silence is betrayal,” which I found too a propos. Earlier in the day, in an open space with numerous half-enclosed desks, a pal whose politics are more conservative than mine mentioned Trump’s speech. Though he hadn’t voted for Trump, he liked the speech and criticized Democrats for remaining seated while a Navy Seal’s widow was being honored. He has never been a ranter, and I wanted to have a respectful conversation.

I said maybe they were remembering Trump’s treatment of the parents of a Muslim soldier who had died. I mentioned how polarized the country is and how hard to hear another point of view, but offered that the left, too, could use a better tone. We parted on cordial terms, and I walked to the kitchen passing an African-American colleague and a Japanese-American colleague. I wondered: if they overheard me, would they have considered me an ally? Had I been so eager to be nice and avoid conflict that I didn’t say my truth clearly?

I wished I’d responded, not heatedly, but openly, to one point: “Why can’t they give him a chance?” To do what? Is what I wish I’d replied. When his actions harm people, and choices for the Dept. of Education and Dept. of Labor, in particular are people who oppose the mission of their posts? When I thought of repentance, that failure stabbed me. I followed up with an email to my pal in which I mentioned Trump’s Cabinet choices in particular and left no question which side I was on, while never ranting. Of course, my colleagues would have no way of knowing I did that.

P. S. My wonderful activist friend, Kari, mentioned the importance of being “vocal and visible.” In some ways, I have been, but I commit to being more so.

So that’s the repentance side for me.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Recently, I went to Niles with my friends to have tea and lollygag in the antique stores. One of the treasures I departed with was an 1888 Sunday School Companion with an actual literal imprimatur from an Archbishop! That gave me an idea.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, but from my years at a Jesuit university I gained a greater awareness of the enormous scope of Catholicism, many pieces of which I now see as valuable for me. Even Lent which had once seemed an unpalatable and needless mortification of the flesh to achieve social control through self-degradation (or possibly because by early spring, people were running low on food) suggested meaningful possiblities. I read a few works whose names I wish I could remember which made me think some Lenten practices might be helpful psychologically and spiritually.


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Trump, Netanyahu, and a Roadmap for Disaster

Feb14

by: Rebecca Vilkomerson on February 14th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, we can look to Israel as an alarming roadmap for where the Trump administration would like to take the United States. The two leaders, who share a similar worldview, will likely compare notes on building walls and banning people due to nationality and religion, and discuss their hawkish policies on Iran, expanding illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Its recent mild criticism of settlements notwithstanding, the Trump administration has demonstrated a disturbing alignment with the far-right in the Israeli government and settler movement that is encouraging Israel to further cement its occupation and a de facto one-state reality with separate and unequal policies for Jews and Palestinians. In other words, apartheid. Israel may be a few years ahead of the U.S., but the “shared values” of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are increasingly manifest here too.

Standing outside Terminal 4 at JFK the morning after Trump’s executive order barring refugees and Muslim immigrants – with hundreds, and then thousands, of people protesting, I thought about my recent trip to Israel. Israel already has its own walls and restrictive, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim immigration policies, and I have plenty of Palestinian and Muslim friends who have been turned away when they try to enter. But I sailed through border control without even a question due to my Jewish identity and Israeli family. Israel employs a discriminatory immigration system that encourages Jewish immigration from around the world while preventing Palestinian refugees, who it expelled, from returning to their homeland. Israel also has laws denying entry to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, and takes a hard line against asylum seekers. In short, all the policies that have inspired protests not seen in a generation in the U.S. have already been in place in Israel for decades.


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A New King: Inaugurating Resistance Along with a President

Feb3

by: David Seidenberg on February 3rd, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Who is wise? Someone one who learns from every person.

I. We have three Pharaohs in our Torah. The first Pharaoh, less memorable, receives Abraham and Sarah and then sends them away. The second, the good Pharaoh, is the one who raises Joseph from imprisoned slave to ruler over all Egypt. Only the third one, who did not know Joseph, is called “melekh chadash,” “a new king” – new because he inaugurated a radically new political order.

The new Pharaoh’s first policy, based on fear of foreigners, was to cast the entire Hebrew people into slavery. His next policy was to kill the Hebrew male babies, bringing God’s judgment upon himself and his nation. We began his story when we began the book of Exodus, the day after Trump’s inauguration. Interwoven with his story is the story of Shifra and Puah, the Hebrews’ midwives, who inaugurate resistance to the Pharaoh of the Exodus when they refuse to implement his policy of male infanticide.

How different is the story of the second Pharaoh, Joseph’s Pharaoh, that comes at the end of Genesis? He essentially becomes a pupil at Joseph’s feet, handing over to Joseph the reins of power. We need to understand what Joseph did with that power if we want to understand how Egypt became a fascist state under the Pharaoh who never knew Joseph. In the same way, we need to understand how the use of power by progressive forces in the U.S. has helped set up the world of pain our country is now entering.

II. The story of Joseph’s Pharaoh is a story about a world turned upside down, first by Nature, then by Joseph himself. Seven years of extravagant abundance, swallowed up by seven years of deadly famine. And a young man, a Hebrew slave, who saved the world. Joseph gathered up enough grain during the seven fat years to supply the seven lean ones.


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Love and Prayer as Resistance: Interfaith Action at Standing Rock

Jan23

by: Paige Foreman on January 23rd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Seminary students huddle around a table with bright red ministerial stoles in an intimate, round chapel at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. The students were supposed to leave at 3:00 PM, but about twenty people from the  Starr King community want to bless them before they leave. The room is packed with parents, professors, students, friends. Together they pray, singing hymns about water. Many cry, moved by what they know is happening at Standing Rock and the show of support around them. Even though they are not ordained, the group insists the students have the red stoles.

“In the Episcopal tradition, the color red is the color of witnessing,” said Rev. Deb Hansen, an interfaith minister and Starr King student.

Immediately after the service, the eight students piled into two cars and drove for 30 hours to respond to North Dakota Episcopal priest John Floberg’s clergy call for solidarity in early November. A ninth student from Virginia would meet the group in North Dakota. A week ago, 140 protesters were arrested there after a violent confrontation with the police.

They drove together through the snowy Donner Pass, stopped at a diner in Reno, watched the sun rise over brilliant red sandstone in Utah, and gazed at the deer that lined the roads in Wyoming. They drove past oil wells and wind farms. In Wyoming they saw an armory—a giant, two-story grey block surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. And about two hours later, one of the cars — in which the passengers were two women, a gay man, and black man — was stopped for speeding by a state trooper.


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“Worst Campuses for Jewish Students”: A Laughable List

Jan18

by: Paul Von Blum on January 18th, 2017 | Comments Off

View of Royce HallRecently, the Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner, released its list of the “40 Worst Campuses for Jewish Students in the United States and Canada.” Included in this list of infamy were such internationally known institutions as Columbia University (#1 for hostility against Jewish students), the University of Chicago, the University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of Washington, Vassar College, New York University, and many others. UCLA, where I have taught for almost four decades, came in at number 6. The Algemiener list is scarcely the only one of its kind. UCLA also makes the cut from the notorious David Horowitz, who is always on guard for any sentiments, especially on college and university campuses, that offend his right-wing agenda.

The rap against UCLA often stems from an unfortunate incident on February 10, 2015. A young Jewish woman student, Rachel Beyda, was nominated for a position on the student Judicial Board. When she appeared before the Student Council, she was questioned about her religion and her ability to serve impartially: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

Later, Ms. Beyda was voted in unanimously and the four council members who initially voted against her apologized. This incident was unambiguously anti-Semitic and was roundly condemned throughout the campus community and through the national media. I took every opportunity personally, in class and in private conversations, to condemn the original student council action and the odious questions to Rachel Beyda. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I am acutely sensitive to all forms of racism and anti-Semitism (and sexism and homophobia) and I always speak out wherever and whenever I encounter them.

But this regrettable incident also needs proper perspective. In various social gatherings for the past two years, I have been asked, even confronted, about the allegedly dangerous atmosphere that Jews face at UCLA. Inevitably, the first example I hear is the story of the Rachel Beyda affair. This incident was a matter of juvenile ignorance rather than evidence of systemic anti-Jewish bias on campus. University students sometimes do dumb things; this was one of the dumber things I have seen in my many years of university teaching.


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Can a Two-State Solution Survive?

Jan18

by: Joel Beinin on January 18th, 2017 | Comments Off

French foreign minister in front of officerFrench Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hosted the foreign ministers of some 70 countries on January 15 at a Paris conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “re-launch” the peace process. Mr. Ayrault hoped that the meeting would “reaffirm the necessity of having two states.” France supports “a viable and democratic independent Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside Israel.” Jerusalem would be the capital of both states. The border between them would be based on the ceasefire lines prior to the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, with mutually agreed modifications and equivalent land swaps.

Since the 1980 Venice Declaration of the European Union (then called the European Economic Community), international opinion has gradually reached near unanimity that something like this is the only viable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the French initiative, like many other well-intentioned efforts, produced no concrete results. Indeed, there was no reason to expect it would.

On April 18, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry was launching his effort to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that, “the window for a two-state solution is shutting…I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.” If Secretary Kerry’s words have any meaning, the two-state solution has been clinically dead for nearly two years. Nonetheless, international diplomatic activity aimed at keeping it on life support continues zealously.


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