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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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Social Action Education as Spiritual Practice – Lessons from Standing Rock

Dec30

by: Rabbi Rain Zohav on December 30th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Every time we take action, we are also educating. If we are lobbying, we are educating our legislators. If we are protesting, we are educating the public and the “powers that be”. And we are educating ourselves in how to be effective and live our values.

In this moment, the Water Protectors at Standing Rock are a strong example of the intertwining of education, action, and spiritual practice. I was privileged to be able to answer the call of Chief Looking Horse for clergy to come to Standing Rock to pray and be in solidarity with the water protectors on Sunday, Dec. 4. This is perhaps the first lesson for allies to any cause: Listen and wait to be invited if you are supporting groups whose oppression you do not share. In the Jewish tradition, our central prayer, the Sh’ma, is all about listening. Listening to the Divine who is One: transcendent, immanent and reflected in the face of every human being.


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Don’t Make A Mystic into a Martyr: Fethullah Gülen as Peacebuilder

Dec21

by: Jon Pahl on December 21st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally published in July by the University of California Press blog, but given the known business connections that raise conflict-of-interest questions between the U.S. President-elect and the Turkish regime, among others, and given the increasing pressure by the Turkish regime to extradite Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania, the argument remains pertinent:    

A man sipping from a teacupI can’t speak to the causes of the recent failed military coup in Turkey—although there is certainly precedent for coups in the history of the Turkish Republic (1960, 1971, 1980). But I can speak to the accusations by journalist Mustafa Akyol and the Turkish government that an imam living an ascetic life of prayer and teaching in a Pennsylvania retreat center was somehow “behind” the most recent military uprising: they’re preposterous.

For the past four years, I’ve been researching a biography that focuses on Fethullah Gülen’s life and theology. I’ve been to the impoverished rural village in Northeastern Turkey where he was born. I’ve visited the mosques across Turkey where he preached and taught—in Edirne, Izmir, and Istanbul. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people inspired by him, and some who simply hate him. And I’ve read nearly everything he’s written that’s been translated into English (over two dozen books, and countless sermons), and I know the vast literature for and against him.

My conclusion? He’s a mystic in the Sufi tradition of Islam. And like other famous mystics in history—notably Gandhi, or Rumi—from whom Gülen draws deeply, Fethullah Gülen is a peacebuilder. And history teaches us that peacebuilders are likely to be misunderstood, vilified, and targeted. It would be tragic if once again historical forces conspire to turn a mystic into a martyr.


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