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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Finding Fresh Water


by: Jessica Fishman on January 21st, 2014 | Comments Off

The Shmaya Mikveh, pictured here, is Israel's only pluralistic, open mikveh.

During difficult times, new beginnings, or endings, people often look for a way to symbolically mark transitions. In her mid-twenties, Miriam had just gone through a difficult break up and was about to make aliyah to Israel from Los Angles. Wanting to start fresh, Miriam remembered an Orthodox woman who ran a pluralistic mikveh who had told her, “If you ever just want to have the experience, you can come and do a dip anytime you want. You don’t have to come only because you’re married.”

Miriam decided to visit the mikveh and told the woman that she wanted to spiritually cleanse herself for her big life changes. While explaining that the mikveh can be a symbol for starting fresh, the woman set out candles and meaningful passages. Miriam describes her first mikveh experience as beautiful and lovely. However, her second mikveh experience was not as welcoming.


Minimum Wage: Rare Case of Moral Consensus


by: on January 17th, 2014 | Comments Off

Picture a world where politics is not so polarized. Imagine that the American people are flat out in favor of a plan that could lift more than a million of their neighbors out of poverty. And they’re arriving at this position not out of narrow self-interests—most Americans aren’t poor—but for essentially moral reasons. Actually, not much imagination is required. At least not when it comes to public opinion on a perennial issue: the minimum wage.

For decades, polling has shown support for a higher minimum wage ranging somewhere between unambiguous and unbelievable. In November, a Gallup survey found that 76 percent of the people would vote for a hypothetical national referendum lifting the bottom wage to $9 an hour. That’s $1.75 more than the current federal minimum; it would also be more than any increase ever passed by Congress. Last summer, a less independent poll conducted by Democratic-leaning Hart Research Associates found eight in ten Americans flocking behind a $10.10 per-hour minimum wage.

Try to identify a considerable subgroup of American opinion that’s content with the $7.25 regime. You’d think, for example, that self-identified Republicans would want to either freeze the wage or tamp it down. You would be mistaken, according to the Gallup breakdown: Republicans favored the $1.75 hike by an unmistakable 58-39 percent margin. Meanwhile, in a previous Gallup poll, the support among self-identified “moderates” was rather immoderate (75 percent).


Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind- A Passion for the Partial


by: on January 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Texts:Philippians 3: 3-16; Matthew 20: 20-28

There is something we all need before we die, if our last day might approach not as debilitating necessity or worse, an evil night meddling with all our days long before they are full. If you have attended a funeral where memories of the deceased kindled intense gratitude and admiration, you might say we need to live in a way that lights such fires in others. That could be a lovely aim, but not a universal one. There is something far more fundamental to our existence than warming many hearts as we go.

We need first to come to peace with all that is undone. I do not mean “resign ourselves” to the fact that our work will be interrupted. No, I mean real peace now; peace that no part of us or our work is ever done. Everything we are and everything we do which is worthy of the names “being” and “doing” is never full, never perfect. Everything is partial. Death is not at the cause of our partial performance, as if our life were a play of several acts whose curtain falls before the performance is finished. No, the cause of our partial performance is that we have no end. We are an infinitude of ends. We are an open mouth of yearning and desiring and need.

Ecclesiastes says that “God has put eternity into the mind, yet so that we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.” Our eye is set on a far thing. If our yearning is base, we call it covetousness. If it is high-minded, the philosophers call it “transcendent” – a fancy word whose roots mean “climbing beyond.” We are always climbing beyond ourselves. It is our nature. Sometimes it seems plain that we cannot finally arrive at anything worth climbing after, but we mostly do not live in peace about this. In fact, all our wars, from the most private torments to the most appalling acts of violence, are driven by the endlessly open mouth of human nature. A Christian’s faith, by contrast – if it is faith and not more duty or a point of pride in climbing over others – mostly shows up as peace in “a passion for the partial.”


On Being at the Center of a Controversy within the U.S. Jewish Community


by: on January 5th, 2014 | 54 Comments »

Recently, due to my writing on the issue of boycotts and Israel, I was asked by a prominent Jewish organization to make a public, political statement before being allowed into its building to speak about my book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

This request, as well as its troubling implications, are part of a sudden controversy which has arisen in the American Jewish community over what can, and cannot, be discussed regarding Israel.

My Story

I recently had the honor of being invited by the Israel Committee of Santa Barbara to be a keynote speaker at its annual, signature event this spring. The event is physically housed by Santa Barbara Hillel, which describes itself as a home for Jews open to all political and religious stripes, stating, “We are as diverse as the human race.”

At first, it was going to be my temporary home – a place in which I was to tell the narrative of my reconciliation with a Palestinian family. However, when a member of the Hillel staff found a political post of mine in which I attempted to argue that boycotts and sanctions against Israel are legitimate forms of nonviolent protest – and which understandably was misunderstood as my joining the BDS movement – I was no longer welcome.

Which is when the request, or pre-condition, came from Santa Barbara Hillel after it viewed my post as a violation of Hillel’s guidelines:

Make a political statement clarifying your position on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, and you may enter our building. Otherwise, you are not allowed within our walls.


Time of Discernment


by: on December 31st, 2013 | Comments Off

Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later.

Pope Francis, quoted in James Carroll’s recent New Yorker profile

What is worth discerning as 2013 draws to a close? It’s a little nuts to assess the tenor of a year on the day it ends. I get a mental image of a panel of fishes commenting on the nature of water as it rushes past: “Wet,” they say, nodding their silver heads sagely, “definitely wet.”

Still, on the cusp of 2014, I sense a sea-change in what Paulo Freire called our “thematic universe,” that stormy ocean of ideas and events in dialectical interaction that characterizes an epoch.In a thematic universe, no single idea or manifestation predominates. It’s the whole wriggling mass of ideas and their consequences that shape a moment: blind faith in fundamentalist religious dogma and its twin in overconfidence, the convictions that we’re nothing but chemicals and forces and that science will unmask all mysteries; rampant acquisition and exploitation and elective simplicity, living lightly; white supremacy and racial equality. The conjoined pairs that wriggle the most vigorously – including those I’ve mentioned – form the warp and weft of our era. But the tapestry is complex, many-colored, many-textured.


Weekly Sermon- Learner’s Mind: Holy Hidden Human


by: on December 30th, 2013 | 2 Comments »


Text: Isaiah 7: 10-16 + 8: 3-4; Matthew 1: 18-25

You don’t need to be a bible scholar to find out that the prophet Isaiah did not say that “a virgin shall conceive.” Ancient Hebrew has a word for “virgin,” but Isaiah used a different word, meaning “young woman.” And he spoke not of “a” young woman but “the young woman,” which suggests that he knew the woman of whom he spoke. If it’s your guess that the young woman he had in mind was his own wife, you may feel the need of a bible scholar to back you up. You can find them by the dozens.

When I went to seminary, I felt a passion to get to the bottom of questions like this. I had seen that Matthew made a new meaning of the ancient Isaiah oracle, and I felt troubled that most Christians seemed unaware or even in denial about this. I was eager for the tools of the historical-critical method. In that first fall of my study, we read scholars who quickly laid things bare.

About 750 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel made an alliance with its traditional enemy to the east, Syria. Together, they attacked Jerusalem, hoping to get rid of King Ahaz and compel his army to join their rebellion against the empire of Assyria. King Ahaz was terrified. Isaiah wrote that “his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Ahaz wanted miliary aid to fight off Israel and Damascus. He was ready to make a pact with the Assyrian empire to get the needed help.


Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind- The Unexpected Hour


by: on December 2nd, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Text: Isaiah 1: 10-18; Matthew 24: 36-44

Whoever means to be serious about the possibility that there is a God somewhere needs to be serious about the possibility that the way we worship is no good. Please don’t hear me wrong. This word is not a secret message I want to pass around to some Riversiders about some aspects of worship here. No, this word is for all churches everywhere, and therefore for our church, too. It is a waking word, a buzzing, persistent word come down from the prophets like locusts on the field at harvest. It is a word which, after centuries of silence, shivered again to life in Prophet Jesus, who would not relent from uttering woe on the way they worshiped.

Now Christians have an easy out if they want it. They can always claim that the prophets and Jesus had in mind Temple worship, and that Christian worship is not Temple worship, but true worship, and so we’re in the clear. But that is plain denial. Isaiah presses the point to the flesh.

Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your religious games: weekly Sabbaths, meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more! I hate them! You’ve worn me out! . . . Do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.


An American Muslim Thanksgiving Journey


by: on November 27th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

This year will be the first time my family officially participates in the tradition of Thanksgiving, despite having lived in the United States for the last 15 years. That’s not to say I’m against American holidays, but being an American Muslim often implies conflict in terms of national and international observances. So while other immigrants are quick to participate in the celebrations of their adopted countries, American Muslims like me, who identify strongly with their religion, find it difficult to tread this path lightly. Here’s why.


Jewish vs. Goyish! – Hilarious Video just in time for Hanukkah


by: on November 25th, 2013 | Comments Off

JvG Josh burger

As Hanukkah approaches this week, earlier and more turkey-filled than ever, it’s important to ask that age-old question: What’s really Jewish?

Rabbis and poets and the atheist uncles at my family’s Seder table have debated the question for generations. Forget the scholars and drunks, I say. The best answer I’ve ever heard came from a comedian. His name was Lenny Bruce.

Our greatest comic and patron saint of profanity, I remember the first time I heard Lenny Bruce’s classic take on the issue. Being Jewish, he taught us, simply meant being…not goyish. And if you didn’t know what goyish was, all that meant was…not Jewish. Pretty simple, right?

The difference between the two, however, can sometimes be very subtle. Lenny explained what it meant back in the 1960s, but I wondered: how can we explain this critical, vitally important issue to the Youtube generation?

So, with my friends over at 3200stories.org, I decided to make an updated version for 2013. I studied the ancient texts, examined every pop culture trend, and came up with some surprising results. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure. Buckle your online seat belts, this is a comedic trip from Mos Def to masturbation to God himself to see who comes out ahead in that age-old battle: Jewish vs. Goyish.

Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind- A Fragrance Fills the House


by: on November 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Text: John 12: 1-8; 2 Corinthians 9: 1-12

The apostle Paul was a good fund-raiser. In this part of his letter to the Corinthians, he was encouraging them to take part in a campaign underway in all the new churches of the Mediterranean. He called the campaign “the ministry to the saints.” Can’t you see the four-color posters? The goal was to bring a big gift of money to Jerusalem to support the mother church. Now, Paul had had a serious fight with that mother church some time back as to whether God’s promises covered Christians who weren’t Jews. Jerusalem said No, they don’t. Paul said Yes they do – and eventually they were persuaded to support his mission. But surely it did not hurt to bind up the wounds from that dispute with real money. The saints in Jerusalem were poor. The saints in the cities of the empire had plenty. The need of the one and the abundance of others were balanced in acts of generosity.

Paul is brilliant. He is perceptive and practical and persistent. Here he favors them with comparisons to other churches; there he stings them with doubts about their failing zeal, which might embarrass all with a meager gift. Here, as elsewhere in the letter, he has them putting something aside every week. It is a wise counsel. Which of you could give in one week from your income the whole sum you offer in the course of a year? If you can, then your giving is not yet spiritually significant. Paul teaches to give regularly. He calls this practice “being ready.” He teaches giving proportionally, according to means. Then he lightens up. “You must give only as your heart leads you, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Then he pours again and again from the pitcher of spiritual assurance. “God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.”