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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Anti-Semitism is Back … and Won’t Go Away

Mar10

by: Michael Lerner on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Suddenly anti-Semitism is back. Over one hundred headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were overturned in a hate act early Sunday February 26, a week after a similar assault on a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Since the election of Donald Trump there have been hundreds of incidents of bomb threats to Jewish institutions, 20 more on Monday February 27th, along with college campuses reporting a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic graffiti.

 

President Trump is reported to have followed alt-Right conspiracy theorists in suggesting in an off-the-record briefing that these might be false flag operations coming from Jews who are seeking to build sympathy and reclaim our victim status.

 

Jewish leaders around the country are calling upon President Trump to order a full-scale investigation of this surge in acts designed to frighten Jews. Unfortunately, they have been facing some indifference from a media and public which have been overdosed with cries of anti-Semitism. When progressive Jews and some major Protestant denominations have dared to criticize Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians the Jewish establishment and many rabbis in synagogues around the U.S. have said that those people critiquing Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians are either anti-Semites or “self-hating Jews.” Just two weekends ago Congressman Keith Ellison lost his bid to be chair of the Democratic National Committee after Jewish organizations and fundraisers spread the rumor that he was an anti-Semite based on his mild criticisms of Israeli policies. After decades of mainstream Jewish organizations crying wolf by reviling young Jews who want the same rights for Palestinians that Jews correctly have sought for ourselves and many other oppressed groups, the Jewish establishment deserves some responsibility for weakening their own credibility and diminishing the American public’s concern when now our community is facing real anti-Semitism.


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AIPAC Cheered Trump, Now They Will Cheer Pence: We Won’t Be Silent

Mar10

by: Katheryn Simpson on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

 

For six months in 2011 and 2012, I lived just minutes from Beersheba and its Iron Dome. When the siren screamed, people would rush indoors. It stopped missiles, but the threat of rockets remained, simmering as a constant question. It wasn’t a question of if, but when we’d hear the siren again. There is no wall high enough and no dome strong enough to give Jews, Muslims, and Christians true security or peace of mind. Only justice can do that.

Still, AIPAC continues to claim that safety can be found in defense spending. In a recent tweet, AIPAC shared a recent successful test of the improved Iron Dome. They would have us believe that security can be bought. But I never saw that in Israel.

That’s why, at the end of this month, Jews will march up to AIPAC’s doorstep in both Los Angeles and Washington D.C. to make American Jews face a hard truth: AIPAC has failed to show moral Jewish leadership. Instead, for a false sense of safety, this institution — and others in the American Jewish establishment — have undermined the Jewish values of justice and dignity so critical to our own fight for equality.

AIPAC’s mission, it claims, is to work toward the security of the State of Israel. Yet now, fifty years into the Occupation, AIPAC shows no signs of understanding what a path to true security might look like, let alone of how to start traveling down it. Instead, its members gave then-candidate Trump a standing ovation when he promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that could easily —if not surely — inflame violence. AIPAC has also remained silent in the face of David Friedman’s support for non-democratic Jewish rule over all Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In its single-minded pursuit of Israeli security, AIPAC has also been silent about the many threats against Jewish communities in America. It remained silent after the vandalism of Jewish graves in several cities, the more than one hundred bomb threats against JCCs, and the recent spike in hate crimes against Jews. For an organization concerned about the Jewish state, its leaders are noticeably silent about this rise in threats against Jews domestically, threats that appear fueled by rhetoric from the Trump administration.

Though this recent silence in the face of the bigotry and anti-Semitism of Trump’s administration is particularly chilling, AIPAC has long aligned itself with policies that undermine the possibility of peace between Jews and Muslims. In 2016, its national conference hosted Steven Emerson, a man who lied about government ‘no-go zones’ in Muslim areas, including the entire UK city of Birmingham. Nina Rosenwald, a member of its national board, supports multiple organizations that fan the flames of American Islamophobia, such as the Middle East Forum. Emerson and Rosenwald aren’t on the fringes of the organization — they are its core.


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Fordham Shows the Hypocrisy of its Values by Banning SJP, Silencing Students

Mar10

by: Brian Walt on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Jewish tradition celebrates  ‘makhloket l’shem shamayim’  or ‘disagreement for the sake of heaven’ – the principle that open debate and critical dissent on ethical and moral issues is a necessary and holy task. Open debate, especially on controversial moral issues, is critical in any community committed to the sacred Jewish commitment to pursue justice,  tzedek,for all.

As a Jewish child growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I saw how many of those who opposed Apartheid were often silenced, shamed, banned, not allowed to organize, arrested, imprisoned and murdered. As a result, we all lived in fear of openly expressing our opinion and too many in my Jewish community and in other faith communities betrayed our faiths by not speaking up for justice and not challenging the denial of freedom of speech.


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​Reading the Megillah for Purim

Mar9

by: Beth Kissileff on March 9th, 2017 | Comments Off

The New York Times ran aneditorial by Francis X Clines about “dystopian classics” that “are being consulted as a literary trove for plumbing the national Id.” While I did read Philip K. Dick’sThe Man in the High Castleand Philip Roth’sThe Plot Against Americaduring the Republican Convention instead of watching it, and I definitely plan to read Sinclair Lewis’It Can’t Happen Hereand Richard Condon’sThe Manchurian Candidate, and reread1984and Brave New World, I want to suggest one that might be best reading for the Jews.

The only book of the Bible not to ever mention the name of God, the Book of Esther is the historically latest book to be included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. People have been divided for ages how toread it. Is the book a satire? A mockery of political language and an incompetently run palace? Wishful thinking that Jews might possibly defeat an advisor who wishes to do them evil? Wish fulfillment about the fate of the Jews in a world where they are in exile without political power?

I would like to suggest that much of the strategy and wisdom needed to foment resistance in America under Trump can be found in this odd book. It’s message ultimately? Though appeal is made obliquely to a higher power it is decisive human action that saves the day. In asking Esther to act, Mordechai tells her that if she keeps silent at this time, salvation will come from elsewhere(Esther4:14) which has been interpreted by classical Jewish sources as from God. But,whether because of this threat or not, Esther does act, does not assume that she, in the King’s palace will be spared the fate of the other Jews(Esther4:13).

What does Esther do? Esther says she will fast for 3 days and asks the rest of the Jews to do likewise. Then, after the 3 day fast she will try her luck with the king and “if I perish, I perish”( Esther4:16). Once she goes to him, she invites him first to one banquet and then to a second; intervening between the two banquets is a sleepless night for the king. To help his insomnia, he asks for his record book, literally his “book of memories, the words of the days” to be brought to him(Esther 6:1). It is found in writing that Mordechai had informed him of the plot by the two courtiers to kill him and that no consequent honor or dignity had been conferred on Mordechai. It is this written “memory” that causes the king to have an understanding that he must reward the loyalty of this trustworthy subject. This re-inscribing and then re-enacting of the events of the past, made possible through the vehicle of writing, turns the plot of this potentially tragic story decisively on its head. At the second banquet, Esther fingers Haman as the one behind the plot to exterminate her and her people and the king immediately declares that Haman must hang.

The eradication of the man who wished to kill the Jews is not enough to finish the job. Instead, letters must be written, not to countermand the king’s orders, since a royal decree once promulgated cannot be undone. Language itself is the weapon to combat the word of the king. Esther and Mordechai are nowin a position to write letters of their own.

There is something in the act of writing that is itself powerful. Recall that Mordechai’s report of the plot on the king’s life was recorded in writing, and that because his deeds were recorded, they were able to have an effect beyond the limited memories of the time at which they were done. When something is written it can have a potency and effectiveness that extends beyond when it happens. What do Esther and Mordechai do to consolidate their power? They write letters once(Esther 9: 20) and then a second time(Esther 9: 29). Writing puts ideas out in the world, disseminates them with effectiveness.

Writing does have power, allowing one to put into concrete form what has here-to-fore existed only in one’s head. I often wonder whether writing can have an effect on the world, what its purpose is, but at the same time, know that it can change things. Writing about something, expressing feelings and sharing them with others can catalyze others to action and to think in new ways, to have empathy or yearning for something new. The fascinating thing about the book of Esther and what makes it seem so modern and applicable to the world today is that humans have to use the tools at their disposal, including writing, to get their message out.

In fact, in the last few verses of Esther, it is twice mentioned in 9: 32 and in 10: 2 that these events were written in a book. Now, Jews have a book, a “sefer divrei hayamim” a book of the matters of the day, just like the Persians did at the beginning of the book(Esther2:23), and as the last two books of the Bible, Divrei Hayamim, usually translated asChroniclesin English, are called. Perhaps the scroll of Esther is really about the process of writing a book of history, which requires both words and deeds to be complete. So much of the plot of megillat Esther depends on the written word taking effect, having a force in the world – once a decree is issued it can’t be annulled. Mordechai’s recognition of Bigtan and Teresh’s plot against the king in chapter two becoming part of the king’s consciousness because it is written and then read, Jews defending themselves because decrees about this go out.

What Jews in the age of Trump can learn from Esther’s book is a threefold strategy.Listen and be vigilant, at the king’s gate and elsewhere, about what is going on in the precincts of the palace and where power is contained. Be willing to risk everything- lives are at stake if a tyrant is not stopped. Send letters, commit things to writingas an effective means of both protest and of establishing a new order from a baseline of truth.

Mostly though the book of Esther shows that human action and vigilance will save the day. The morning after the election, my husband said to me, “I feel like I am Mordechai in the book of Esther” andexplained that the first thing Mordechai did was to be vigilant, to sit at the king’s gate and see what was going on(Esther 2: 19,21). He added that sitting at the gate and observing, we have a chance to know what is going on and intervene. In his sitting at the gate, Mordechai overheard some terrorists plotting to assassinate the king, told Queen Esther(significantly, here in2:22is the first use of her title) and she informed the king who investigated and thwarted the attempt on his life.

Like Esther and Mordechai, not only do Jews need to use the playbook of the book of Esther to observe, but to write down facts and send letters and act. And believe it or not(see Elliot Horowitz’ bookReckless Ritesfor more on this) the Jews did physically I am not suggesting we need to fight physically yet, but I do think we need to observe all, pay attention to what historian Heather Richardson of Boston University has called a “shock event”meant to destabilize a society and throw it into chaos. We must also galvanize ourselves, even to risking our lives if necessary as Esther did. And continue to write letters that will help our lawmakers know our opinions as they promulgate law.

The positive thing about all this is that Purim is the one holiday that will remain operative in the time of the Messiah, according to tradition. Why? Maimonides inHilkhot Megillah2:18, quotes Esther9:28about the endurance of the holiday in every generation. Even when the Messiah comes, and no action is needed on our part, still Jews should remember this one holiday above all others. I would suggest that humans can value the fact that even without divine intervention, sometimes we are capable of making good decisions, in order to put power in the hands of those who will use it well.

Until then, the words of Philip Roth’sThe Plot Against Americaremain in my mind. “The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.” But I remember that though we can’t see and foresee everything we still can and must act, and can learn from the playbook of histories, fictional histories and enduring histories.

 

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Beth Kissileff is the author of the novel Questioning Return and editor of the anthology Reading Genesis. Visit her on line atwww.bethkissileff.com

 

Review of Preludes and Fugues by Emmanuel Moses, Transl. Marilyn Hacker

Mar6

by: Paige Foreman on March 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

“Who built the church where the whole world huddles?”

The cathedral’s heavy wooden doors were wide open, inviting the world inside for the Washington Bach Consort’s free noontime organ and cantata performance. I crossed the threshold and was surrounded by van Gogh stained glass. Swirls of twilight purples and blues surrounded outlines of dark, quiet church towns and sunlight streaming through yellow glass illuminated figures of Christ. The outline of a labyrinth twisted beneath my feet as I walked down the aisle and sat in the front pew.

People in pews, stained glass windows, pipe organ.At noon, the cathedral’s great pipe organ roared to life with music. Bach’s Fugue in F major shook the very foundations of the church, and I thought of the organ as an actual heart beating life into the church through contrapuntal veins. A fugue builds up like a storm cloud as a musical theme is examined in different voices that eventually all intertwine with each other towards the end, almost losing control of itself.

The crowd applauded at the end of the fugue and J. Reilly Lewis, the director of the Bach Consort and a master organist, stepped out to conduct the cantata. He was a warm, charismatic man with silver hair and a great sense of humor. Lewis was my own music teacher’s mentor and I was told that I absolutely had to see him conduct. Lewis was a brilliant interpreter of Bach and his orchestra used authentic Baroque instruments.

One month later, my music teacher was flying back to Washington, D.C. for Lewis’ funeral. I saw the last noontime concert Lewis ever conducted at before he died of a heart attack. He had vanished beyond what Emmanuel Moses calls, “the impassable threshold,” in his Preludes and Fugues poetry collection translated by Marilyn Hacker.


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Hands Up, Herbie!: Bugsy Siegel and Uncle Shmatik

Mar6

by: Joey Perr on March 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Introductory note: This is an excerpt from the comic book, Hands Up,Herbie!, by Joey Perr. A unique documentary work drawn from an oral history of Herb Perr, art teacher and art activist, it also offers a Jewish family history less outside the norm than younger Tikkun readers might expect. Jewish involvement with organized crime during the first half of the twentieth century coincided with lower middle class status and inaccessibility to many professions. Herb leaves home for Greenwich Village and its excitements, becomes an artist and art teacher, and finally founds the leading arts activist group during the Reagan years. He never quite leaves his family’s past behind, at least not in memory.

~Paul Buhle

 


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Joey Perr is a comic artist and public high school history teacher in New York City. His comic artwork has been published in Jewish Currents, Guernica, and elsewhere. Hands Up, Herbie! is his first graphic novel.

A Response to Jane Eisner’s Op-Ed in Forward on the Sanctuary Movement

Mar6

by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on March 6th, 2017 | Comments Off

A group of protesters holding up signs supporting the Sanctuary Movement.

A Shomeret Shalom crew joins Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity at the monthly interfaith vigil in front of West County Detention Center in Richmond, California.

As a board member of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, an organization that mobilizes faith-based communities in California in pursuit of immigrant justice, I was sickened by Forward Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner’s ambivalent stance toward the new Sanctuary Movement. In her opinion piece published on February 28th, Eisner demonstrates her failure to understand that the decades-old Sanctuary Movement is rooted in communities of color, that is, communities most at risk for deportation. Eisner discourages synagogues from participating in the Sanctuary Movement because she believes that congregations that offer sanctuary will cause “further politicization of religious life.” This is terrible advice at a time we desperately need an intersectional, multifaith coalition that confronts racism as well as the root causes of what compels people to leave their homes in the first place.

Eisner believes religion and politics should be separate in American life and, in her view, offering physical sanctuary to human beings about to be deported politicizes religious spaces. However, offering sanctuary is first and foremost, a religious act, according to Jewish teachings. Talmudic sages elaborate and clarify biblical commandments and values by prioritizing them:  “What are the greatest principles of Torah? Save one life, save an entire world; human dignity overrides every negative precept of Torah; love your neighbor as yourself. How? Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” These are not suggestions; they are commandments. Piety without instrumental action is condemned by prophets and sages alike. Defying ruling systems that wield unjust power is exactly how our religion got started! The midwives resisting Pharaoh come to mind.


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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.