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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Why Noah’s Ark?

Sep17

by: on September 17th, 2014 | No Comments »

Originally published on National Catholic Reporter

Noah's ark climate march

The ark comes to mind as a good symbol for crowded, unpleasant conditions, ones we get when try to repair or resurrect the environment, along with Noah. Credit: Creative Commons/Taiwan boi

We are five days out from the People’s Climate March in New York. The ark, a float in the upcoming march, is built and on its flatbread truck on its way to Manhattan.

You are probably wondering why the ark became the symbol for Green Faith.  Obviously, we are looking for a miracle to happen on September 21. We want God to repent God’s anger and give us one more chance.  We want to see the bow in the sky.  And we are mightily interested in all the colors of all the animals on earth coming together to create a new beginning for humanity.  In fact, the biggest question being asked internally about the march is why people of color should participate in it.  The answers so far are less invitational than they might be.  But I’ll get to that.

We know the march will be big, if for no other reason than our phones are ringing off their hooks. We don’t yet know if it will be a miracle or not.  Miracles are something the divine pulls off, even if we assist mightily as partners in miracle making.  Plus, there is always the possibility it is too late for the climate and that repair, not restoration or new beginning, is all that we can hope for.


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Homophobia and Anti-Semitism in the Same Breath: The Politics of the Westboro Baptist Church

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Westboro Baptist Church

Students kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protestors at Oberlin College in Ohio. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and protested Iowa because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:

 Hello Professor.

Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll. God did that.  His righteous judgments are wonderful!

PS:  Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs?  You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I’m just sayin’.

Shirley Phelps-Roper


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9/11: Never Forget

Sep11

by: on September 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

 

Do you remember where you were, what you were doing that fateful morning on September 11, 2001? A Pew survey shows that 97 percent of Americans remember exactly where they were when 9/11 occurred, the highest percentage, followed by JFK’s assassination (95 percent) and Pearl Harbor (89 percent).

I certainly remember where I was when the terrorists attacked. I was eating breakfast, preparing to drive to my classes at the University at Central Florida when my husband called to tell me to turn on the television. I thought it was a cruel joke. Sadly, tragically, it was reality. Life changed for everyone that day, and the term 9/11 is indelibly inked into our collective consciousness. How we as a nation became more paranoid, more stressed, is the subject for another time and place. Countless studies show the effects of 9/11 on our health, short-term mental well-being, and so much more. But these reports often fail to address the positives.


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A Real Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Sep10

by: Sigfried Gold on September 10th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

meditation

Prayer without belief in a supernatural listener is not the same as meditation, but is it worth the extra effort you'd need to bring to it as a non-believer? Credit: Creative Commons/Sebastien Wiertz

Sam Harris has just published Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Simon & Schuster, 2014), and for those of us who care about such things, a call to spirituality from one of the New Atheism’s four horsemen is a cause for rejoicing. This book, however, does not quite deliver on its promise. In a review I wrote for Skeptic I discuss some problems with Harris’s argument and approach. Here, though, I want to describe the book I wish Harris had written, a book that could really serve as a guide to spirituality without religion for readers skeptical as to why they should be interested in spirituality at all but willing to consider it seriously and maybe even to give it a try.

Spiritual Experience, Spiritual Practice, Spiritual Wisdom, Spiritual Community

A guide to spirituality without religion should give a broad account of what spirituality is and why people do it, without, of course, relying on the metaphysical assumptions of religions. So, sure, you can be spiritual because that’s what God commands or that’s the way to escape suffering in future incarnations; but in terms of this life, referencing nothing beyond the material, psychological and social realities of this world, where does spirituality fit in?

What needs to be resisted here is any single idea of what spirituality is for and how it’s done. We can do it for the earthshaking transcendent experiences we luck into once in a while, we can do it to give our lives a sense of purpose, we can do it to get through a rough patch, we can do it because we need a rest and zoning out with our eyes closed chanting a mantra is probably healthier than zoning out in front of the television, we can do it to explore and strengthen our ethical commitments, and we can do it to deepen our connections with and compassion for other people or other creatures.

And the ways we can do it are legion: we can meditate or engage in less formal types of contemplation or reflection, we can pray, we can sing, we can consult spiritual leaders or any kind of trusted adviser, we can commune with nature, we can intentionally try to infuse everyday activities with serenity or love or awareness, we can light incense or candles, we can read things that might inspire us, we can engage in charity or social justice work, and we can participate in rituals alone or with others.

What a guide to spirituality without religion should offer, though, is not just a broad account of all the various forms of spirituality, but some discussion of the particular challenges involved in practicing these for people who are unwilling to accept the tenets of any particular religion. For instance, can you pray if you don’t believe any otherworldly being is listening to you? You can, but you may have to think about it in a different way than people usually think about prayer. Prayer without belief in a supernatural listener is not the same as meditation, but is it worth the extra effort you’d need to bring to it as a non-believer?


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Why the Network of Spiritual Progressives?

Sep4

by: on September 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

heal the world

Join us to create a new society based on love, justice, and peace. Credit: Creative Commons/Pixabay

Just two months ago, I was living in Bellingham, Washington working as a collaborative divorce attorney, mediator, coach and trainer. I had a successful business contributing in a meaningful way to my local community. And I was engaged in local activism in various ways.  Then I was offered an opportunity of a lifetime — to be executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. When offered an opportunity to try to build a spiritually progressive social change movement for one-third the salary I was earning as an attorney, mediator and trainer, I jumped at the opportunity.  So why would I walk away from a successful and enjoyable business contributing in a way I enjoy to take on a rather herculean task?

More about that in a minute. First let me explain the political landscape as I see it.

Here in the United States, there are thousands of wonderful local organizations focusing on either local issues or fighting against one or another form of injustice. And often they make contributions and progress to better the lives of some. But ultimately as activists spend hours and hours on end struggling to take out a right-wing bill or policy or win a lasting but limited victory (such as our gains in women’s rights and gay rights), global capitalists and the U.S. government emerge unscathed and continue to pound us with attacks that undermine all our efforts. Our government and the transnational corporate forces with which it is allied launch their attacks on social change struggles without any provocation at all or any care for the casualties of human suffering here and abroad. Meanwhile the tireless efforts of thousands upon thousands of people around the world continue to try to poke holes in the defenses of global capitalism—ultimately to no meaningful effect. Even when we win a few battles or a few rights, we do not change the larger context in which corporate power and right-wing ideology are becoming more abusive to the powerless, the middle class, and the earth that sustains and nurtures us.


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Behaving Like Jews

Sep3

by: Melissa Weininger on September 3rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
-Gerald Stern, “Behaving Like a Jew”

It’s been almost a month since a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the shooting, residents of Ferguson concerned about police brutality and racism turned out in the streets to protest peacefully, and were met with tanks, riot gear, and tear gas. A small number of people were involved in either looting local businesses or throwing bottles and other small-scale weaponry, which was used to justify the police crackdown. Journalists, local politicians, and scores of people doing nothing but exercising a constitutionally protected right to free assembly were arrested and harassed.

During this period of unrest, my Facebook newsfeed was full of outrage and despair. But very little of that passion was directed at Ferguson. Instead, it was largely about Operation Protective Edge, in Gaza. Every day I was greeted with scores of articles defending Israel’s right to defend itself, justifying the scale of force in Gaza, and reporting on both rocket fire and tunnels dug by Hamas into Israeli territory. To be fair, however, I also saw numerous articles reporting on peace demonstrations, critiquing the scale of Israeli response to rocket fire, and mourning the loss of life on both sides.

Though this is merely anecdotal, it seems fairly representative of the institutional American Jewish response to events in Ferguson. While individual rabbis and Jewish leaders have called attention to and even protested against the violence in Missouri, and many articles, including those in Tikkun, have argued strongly for a Jewish ethical obligation to the Ferguson protestors, major, mainstream Jewish organizations have been largely silent. The Anti-Defamation League offers a lesson plan for talking about Ferguson with students on its website, but its only official statement is a denunciation of the presence of the New Black Panther Party at the Ferguson protests. Of the mainstream American Jewish religious movements, only the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism issued a press release regarding the violence in Ferguson.


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Letter to Pope Francis on Obliterating the Gender Scripts

Sep3

by: on September 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Pope Francis

Credit: Creative Commons/Aleteia Image Department

Dear Pope Francis, Your Holiness,

Word is out that you are intending to travel to the United States in September 2015 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where you will speak at that city’s commemoration of World Family Day. Your arrival here has sparked excitement by United States Catholics and non-Catholics alike who have been encouraged by your efforts to reform and to heal the Church from past policies and actions that have had the effort of turning people away from what has been viewed by many as misinterpretations of scripture and as a massive covering over of sexual abuses.

As a non-Catholic myself, I hope during your talk in Philadelphia you will discuss an inclusive concept of “family” by acknowledging diversity in terms of human sexuality, gender expression, and the multidimensional varieties of human relationships. Unfortunately, your predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in my estimation, failed in this regard.

For example, in January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a New Year’s speech to diplomats from approximately 180 countries, declaring that marriage for same-sex couples “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” And in 2008, during Benedict’s end-of-the-year Vatican address, he asserted that humanity needs to “listen to the language of creation” to realize the intended roles of man and woman. He warned of the “blurring” of the natural distinctions between males and females, and called for humanity to protect itself from self-destruction. The Pope compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”


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Empathy Workshops in Oregon

Sep3

by: Tikkun Admin on September 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Rabbi Michael Lerner will be the keynote speaker on Sunday evening, Sept. 7th in Ashland Oregon at the Awards Dinner held by the Peace House. You can purchase tickets here or by calling 541-482-9625.

Rabbi Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis, executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and empathic communication trainer and mediator will co-lead two separate workshops, Sept. 7th and 8th. Both workshops will be held at the Peace House at 345 S. Mountain Avenue, Ashland, Oregon.

Sunday, Sept. 7th from 2:00-5:00pm, Rabbi Lerner and Cat Zavis will co-lead a workshop called: Grieving for Israel and Palestine: a training on how empathy can become a path to Middle East peace. The cost for this workshop is $20.00.

In this 3-hour workshop, you will learn techniques to deal with your distress, rage, and upset about the situation in Israel and Palestine and also have opportunities to learn and practice skills for hearing those who don’t agree with you and expressing yourself more effectively. You will leave feeling empowered to engage in healthy discourse, even with those with whom you disagree.

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6 Reasons that Debunk the Myth of Islam Promoting Hatred of Jews and Christians

Sep2

by: Ro Waseem on September 2nd, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Amidst the tragic situation in Palestine these days, a few Muslims seem to have found a way to express their anger and frustration. No, not by constructively doing anything about it, but by bashing Jews and hailing Hitler as a hero! Wrongly equating the actions of the Israeli government with Judaism, they continue generalizing approximately 15 million Jews – painting them all with the same brush!

A few days earlier, as I was browsing through my Facebook news feed, I came across this meme praising Hitler for killing Jews, with the hashtag #Hitlerwasright:

Hitler meme

Exasperated as I was, I tried to maintain my composure and calmly responded to this individual that there are many Jews who condemn the actions of the Israeli government, much like us Muslims who condemn the actions of Jihadist terrorist groups, and so it is naïve to generalize all Jews based on the situation in Palestine. Without taking a minute, he responded back to me quoting the Quranic verse that “asks Muslims not to be friends with Jews”, justifying his bigotry through the Quran!

Checkmate? Probably, if I hadn’t known better!


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Militant Resistance Can Look Like This

Sep1

by: on September 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Last night in Downtown Oakland, supported by dozens of lay Buddhist practitioners, Buddhist monks, and interfaith allies, nine people sat in silent meditation, blocking the doors of the Marriott Hotel, which will host Urban Shield this week. Urban Shield is a militarized police expo and SWAT Team training where police forces from around the country come to learn about and purchase militarized weapons that they will then use on citizenry, as we saw so vividly in Ferguson recently.


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