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Torah Commentary- Noah: Transcending Deluge-Era Consciousness


by: on October 16th, 2015 | No Comments »

The story of Noah is on the surface rather straight forward. The people are bad, Noah is good, God decides to wipe out the Earth but saves Noah and a large number of representative animals in a big wooden boat. After bringing down rain for 40 days and nights, the rain stops, and Noah sends out two animal emissaries, when the second finds dry land, they disembark. Makes for a great children’s book, cartoon, or sci-fi movie. Versions of this tale are found throughout the ancient world, and much literature is dedicated to the roots of this story. Ultimately, though, in any version of this, it is a horrible story, so much death and destruction, and it doesn’t even end well for Noah.

My interest is less in the ancient near eastern roots of this narrative, nor about its authenticity. What moves us in this series of essays on Tikkun is what meaning or sense could be derived from the text we have by the serious spiritual thinkers who have encountered these passages over the generations. Is there a meaning beyond “be good or be a good swimmer”?

Much of the Rabbinic writings focus on Noah, why was Noah saved, what merit did he earn that can be emulated? Much like in the contemporary presidential debates, the ‘media’ as it were seeks a winner. If one compares Abraham, Moses, and Noah, among the great religious figures of crisis, who did the right thing and who committed ‘gaffes’? My interest, however, and for which there seems to be no strongly held position, was what did humanity do that was so terrible that a collective punishment of this scale was warranted, and what lessons does it have for us today?


We’re Mad as Hell – But That’s Not Enough


by: James Vrettos on September 15th, 2015 | Comments Off

An intriguing, thoroughly readable, and timely new book has just been published by the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative, containing a collection of the recent writings of Willie Baptist, their Scholar-in-Residence and Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development.

Those unfamiliar with neither the center nor the initiative should know that the mission of Kairos: Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice housed at Union Theological Seminary in New York is to contribute to transformative movements for social change that can draw on the power of both religious and human rights. The cornerstone program of the center is the Poverty Initiative whose mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.

And Willy Baptist certainly fits the bill for the center and this book – a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement, he has 50 years of experience educating and organizing among the poor and dispossessed, including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, the National Union of the Homeless, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights campaign, as well as many other networks.


Dying to Know


by: Libbie Katsev on August 18th, 2015 | Comments Off

In grainy black and white, Timothy Leary tells Congress about an LSD trip. It involves being eaten by a snake and exploding. (To be fair, Congress asked.) The footage is a little shocking, but not surprising: I expected humor from Dying to Know, a documentary about Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. I don’t think I was alone in this, given how ready the audience (which seemed to be mostly Leary-enthusiasts) was to laugh and shout when the film described more extreme experiences with narcotics. But Dying to Know also goes beyond shock to be at times genuinely surprising. In footage from that same testimony before Congress, Leary advocates that drugs be regulated, and says that we have a serious drug abuse problem in America. Leary of “turn on, tune in, and drop out” certainly comes through in Dying to Know, but so does Leary the psychologist, the Leary who believed deeply in understanding and expanding the mind, and who also saw the danger posed by reckless drug usage.

Dying to Know is divided into four segments, based on four different stages of existence: “Birth, Life, Death, and Soul,” and with a fifth segment, “Here After” tacked onto the end. Director Gay Dillingham tells the stories of Dass and Leary in parallel – or, almost parallel. Their lives converge at a major turning point – their infamous drug tests at Harvard (and later in the Millbrook mansion), and diverge again, as Leary sticks with a neuroscience and psychology-based perspective and runs into increasing political trouble, while Dass (then Richard Alpert) goes abroad and takes up his old quest for knowing, this time with a new religious perspective.

dying to know posterUltimately, Dying to Know comes across as more of a film about Leary, with Dass used both as a counterpoint and a means to access Leary’s thoughts, both personal and intellectual. This may have originated from the initial conceit of the film – Dillingham said in a post-film Q&A that she decided to make a movie after she learned that Leary was dying, and later decided to bring Dass into the project. Through interviews, old footage and photos, and conversations between Dass and Leary toward the end of the latter’s life, Dying to Know creates a surprisingly complex portrait of a figure whose image has in recent decades been turned into something of a caricature. I, at least, often found it difficult to dissociate Leary’s and Dass’s stories from the cultural context into which they’ve already been fixed – especially when, after being fired (or quitting, there’s a little ambiguity there) for including an undergrad in the tests, Leary and Dass set up shop in a New York mansion, live communally, continue the tests, and themselves do a lot of drugs. And Dying to Know certainly doesn’t try to downplay the more recreational aspects of Leary’s and Dass’s quest. But as it turns out, the questions they grapple with are universal, and allowed me to see their search as something with significance beyond its effects on the ’60s counterculture. In the process, it also presents some serious thought about how we live, and – Dying to Know suggests, at least as important – how we die.


Beneath the Well of Grief is a Spring of Joy


by: on June 29th, 2015 | Comments Off

A man sitting on the beach at sunset

Credit: CreativeCommons / Robin Ducker.

David Whyte’s well of grief can be compared to a Black Hole in space but it’s deep within many who live in fear, but at its center is a point of convergence- a state of consciousness that lies beyond time and space, a Unified Field of love and soul consciousness whose principle property is the urge to unite, or as Longfellow once wrote, the thread of all sustaining beauty that runs through all and doth all unite: Allen L Roland, Ph.D.

“We are put on Earth a little space to bear the beams of love” ~ William Blake

It’s not surprising that our lives are so inextricably bound with archetypal images of terror which we then project onto the world around us. For our entry into life is a traumatic passage through a black tunnel of fear- an experience of being inescapably drawn into and swallowed by a terrifying black hole that pulls us into another world!


Sacred Activism: A Meditation on Inner Transformation


by: Shaikh Kabir Helminski on June 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A bay at sunset.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Yetto.

To be a contemplative is to focus the heart on the Absolute Reality that gives meaning to life; to be a spiritual activist is to be engaged in the social world without losing the perspective of that heavenly Absolute Reality.

To be an activist is also to be a realist, to realize that many people are tied primarily to the materialistic plane, the secular world, the outer appearances. And yet no sane human being is entirely without a sense of values, an inner life which, if we are honest, is the key to happiness.

The contemplative faces that inner world of values directly and draws strength and wisdom from it, but no human being is devoid of those inner values, no matter how confused, egotistical, or negative they may be.

The gap between the religious world and the secular world seems to be growing larger; both sides seem to lack a way to communicate with each other. This is one of the greatest challenges of our times. The secular world views the many disparate beliefs and the conflicts among them and wants no part of it. The religious world, suspicious of the freedoms claimed by the secular world, looks at the erosion of values and morals and sees religion as something that can protect the moral nature of humankind.

But there is a third perspective, and this may be the hope of the future. This third perspective recognizes the limitations of all religious beliefs, but without discarding the core values of spirituality. It also recognizes how much the secular world sacrifices to the idols of consumerism and materialism. But it respects secularism for not imposing a single interpretation of belief upon society and for allowing the freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle.


The Pope Might Save the Planet… if You Would Join an Interfaith Effort to Support His Direction!


by: on June 18th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A portrait of Pope Francis.

Credit: Alberto Pizzoli via Getty Images.

The Pope issued a powerful letter to the world today, called Laudato Si, in which he called upon the people of the world as well as the members of the Catholic Church to make saving the planet from environmental destruction the major and urgent focus of our activity in the 21st century. And he highlighted how climate change will be particularly destructive to the poor. I want to share with you the following piece I wrote, which appeared on the front page of the Huffington Post today. If you prefer, you may read it there. Please never say “I didn’t know what to do in face of the environmental crisis,” because we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are inviting you to become involved with us in some very specific steps you could take! Please read the article below!

Warm regards and blessings,

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si plea for environmental sanity and a serious recommitment to the Bible’s call for humanity to be stewards of this planet earth just might make a huge difference by puncturing through the emotional depression that keeps most of the people of the earth paralyzed in face of the growing crisis.

It is not that people don’t know about the environmental crisis that keeps us stuck in our current situation. It is rather that most people are unable to see any way out of the mess that global capitalism has created for us. Feeling hopeless about the possibility of the kinds of fundamental transformations needed to save the planet, much of humanity has chosen the ostrich strategy: deny the problem, and focus instead on getting as much as one can for oneself in the decades ahead as the planet whimpers under the increasing destructiveness of the capitalist imperative to growth without limits and accumulation of money, power or things as the only meaning to life. Yet it is this very growth and accumulation of things, produced at the expense of the earth, that guarantees earth-destruction if not of the planet than at least of its life-support-system that makes human life on it possible.


The Ecological Encyclical: How Far Will Francis Go?


by: on June 7th, 2015 | Comments Off

Credit: CreativeCommon / Benson Kua.

Word comes that June 18 is the unveiling date of Pope Francis’s widely anticipated encyclical letter on themes related to the environment. Media coverage will predictably dwell on the newness of such a papal pronouncement, which is to be expected from news. And there will be enough novelty in the occasion, starting with the fact that no pope has ever offered up an ecological encyclical. More interesting, though, is not what Francis will say about the new (about climate change and such), but what he will do with the old – with timeless notions of morality, justice, and the divine.


Predicting the Future of Religion: A Thought Experiment


by: Ed Simon on June 4th, 2015 | Comments Off

A gloved hand holding a marble reflecting the inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Heidi.


The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

Last month’s news from Pew on the decline of institutional Christianity, with its trove of data on the “unaffiliated” and the decline of the mainstream, has stolen the stage from its previous report on the Future of World Religions — a study that concluded that while atheists, agnostics and the unchurched are on the rise in the U.S. their numbers are projected to decline globally. But while Pew’s prediction that Islam will overtake Christianity made headlines, the authors of the study were quick to remind us that their findings are not the direct results of polling but projections.

It would seem hard enough to project something as simple as population growth, but what of the mercurial nature of religious faith itself? It might well be impossible to predict the “turn of the soul” for one individual, let alone that of an entire community.


Kneading Challah as a Springboard to God


by: Dahlia Abraham-Klein on January 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

kneading challah

Credit: dreamstime

Every week before Shabbat in the sanctuary of observant Jewish homes, we are graced with a special capacity to meditate and to converse with God while kneading dough to make challah. The kneading is an action meditation, best understood as the performance of commandments and rituals. While meditatively kneading, you can clear the mind for a holy intention and open the channel as a springboard to reach God.

The first step to having the right intention is through practicing breath control. When God created Adam, the Torah says, “God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man [thus] became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for breath is neshima, while the Hebrew word for soul is neshama. We can understand from this verse that breath and soul are intimately connected. God breathed into man and by doing so, bestowed upon him a spark of the divine – a soul. God did not breathe into any other creature but Adam. Only man has the ability to use his breath in order to control his mind and thereby body, to draw closer to God.


On the Survival of Our Human Species


by: Fred E. Katz on January 9th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

hands on planet

Credit: Creative Commons / PublicDomainPictures

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The Spiritual Progressive agenda of creating a caring society presupposes that our human species will actually continue to exist. Yet, by our own actions, our human species is endangered. During the past century we managed to kill over 100 million of our fellow-human beings. We produced genocides and ever-more sophisticated forms of warfare, including nuclear weapons that may yet put an end to human life on this earth. We attempted to put a stop to social horrors by creating the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second World War. Those attempts did not stop the endangerment of our species. Neither did the efforts of the psychological and social sciences (my own background) produce a viable end to our social impotence.

From Henry Margenau, a highly respected theoretical physicist of the past century, we have the lesson that the most basic tools of science are Constructs. What are constructs? The Periodic Table is a construct in chemistry. Gravitation is a construct in physics. DNA is a construct in genetics. What do all of these have in common? Each takes something that exists in nature and adds the Mental Leap to make sense of it! The resulting constructs can become mainstays of a very real and practical science.

For the past decade I have operated from the conviction that we need better science about the Social Space in which we humans operate. Only then can we achieve better control over our actions and, with it, work toward a more secure and humane social existence. We can do so by developing, and seeing the power of four constructs: Links, Transcendence, Closed Moral Worlds, and The Second Path. I am going to give you a brief taste of each of these below.