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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Theaster’s Way


by: on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”

His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.

So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.


Project Prithvi: Cleaning Beaches to Live Out the Hindu Principle of Ahimsa


by: Sunita Viswanath on February 2nd, 2014 | 4 Comments »

The Atharva Veda, one of the sacred texts of Hinduism, says: “Let there be peace in the heavens, the Earth, the atmosphere, the water, the herbs, the vegetation, among the divine beings and in Brahman, the absolute reality. Let everything be at peace and in peace. Only then will we find peace.”

What would it mean to put sacred calls like these into action?

That is the question that our group – Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus – is seeking to answer. We are an all-volunteer group of New York-based Hindus who first came together in 2011. Our purpose is to bring a progressive Hindu voice into the public discourse, and to live out the social justice principles at the heart of Hinduism.


Glory, Fame, and Ambition: the Custer Model


by: on January 29th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

George Armstrong Custer. "The last thing we need in our homes, workplaces, and national leadership is a Custer," Kurth writes. Credit: Creative Commons/National Archives and Records Administration.

When I was a girl, my father called me a “glory-hound,” and I was embarrassed and indignant, probably because it was so true. Most writers, it seems, long for glory, fame, acknowledgement. Some of that is a human need to be seen and valued, an experience we all deserve. But lately, I’ve been seeing a very real danger in the obsessive pursuit of fame and even the pursuit of achievement.

What could be wrong with “following your dream” or “being all you can be?”

In a radio interview, a spiritual author writing a book about a religious icon, mentioned a key moment when she was allowed to see the icon. At that moment, her companion and guide, an elderly man, was so affected, he collapsed to the floor. Her reaction was something very close to, Oh, that’s all I need: a dead guide on my hands.

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t a spiritual quest draw us closer to others, make us sympathetic to their suffering and possible death? That moment is undoubtedly not typical of the writer’s attitude overall, but it made me certainly made me ponder ambition, my own and others’, and where it stands in the way of humanity. Where do we find ourselves seeing others and even their suffering as mere obstacles to our goals?

Custer: A Far Scarier Example

Soon after hearing the radio program, I watched a PBS feature on Custer, a horrible and disturbing story. My mind kept flipping back and forth between two visions. One was a popular picture of Custer in his time, glamorous Custer, a “gallant” triumphant competitor, a rule-breaker and risk-taker, adventurous, courageous, confident, dashing, a man who dressed with flare and had a passionate romance with an equally high-voltage woman, his wife, Libby. This, I thought, is the archetype of success in our culture, the fireworks person, the Steve Jobs, the important one who drives himself beyond human limits and achieves fame, power, and money – and makes us feel bad about ourselves.


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.


How to Create a Tikkun/NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) Presence in YOUR Community


by: on November 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

Our goal: A change in consciousness. Nothing will change our world till we have popularized the following notions:

1. Our well being depends upon the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself. So our goal is to create The Caring Society – Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

2. A New Bottom Line, so that our corporations, our economic policies, our political institutions, proposed legislation, government policies, our health care system, our legal system, our educational system all are considered “rational” or “productive” or “efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and kindness, caring and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, compassion and empathy, justice and peace, and enhance our capacity to go beyond a utilitarian approach to others and the world (“what’s in it for me?”) so that we can respond to all human beings as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the natural order around us with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.

3. The fundamental changes that have happened in society happen when people decide to stop being “realistic” ( because what is or is not realistic is almost always defined for us by the powerful) and instead use our creative energies to struggle for what is desirable and needed to maximize the future well-being of humanity and the planet Earth. So we don’t engage in causes, campaigns, political activities based on our assessment of how likely we are to win them, but rather on the basis of whether they are helping people define for themselves what kind of a world they really want to live in and give to their children and grandchildren. In short, our activities are judged by whether they open up possibilities for us to educate ourselves and each other about our vision of that which is worth struggling to achieve. Any activity that opens the minds of others to our way of thinking is valuable, whether or not we “win” or “lose” in more narrowly defined terms. So, don’t be realistic – put your life energies behind a new vision of a world based on our New Bottom Line.

It follows from this that there is no one correct way to spread the Tikkun/ Network of Spiritual Progressives worldview – there are many, many paths that can work.


How “Spirit Matters” Broke Me Out of My Rut


by: on November 7th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

It’s not often that we come across a vision that really moves us. When I came across “Spirit Matters” it “arrived in [my] life at exactly the right moment,” as Michael Lerner’s preface suggested it had.

I had just started my first semester as a graduate student in Secondary Education, after having graduated with a bachelor’s in Philosophy in the spring. When I first started college four years ago, I was a wide-eyed idealist and a political junkie – not two descriptions you often hear together! Actually, I had been interested in politics since I was in elementary school because to my young and naïve mind, it seemed that what I was watching on television was a series of thoughtful, philosophical debates about the true, the good, and the beautiful and what a society based on these things would look like. Nobody embodied these hopes more than Barack Obama in 2008. I became enamored with his message. I was convinced that real, meaningful change was on the way and accordingly felt that a career in politics would be the realm in which I would find the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I enrolled at the University of Scranton in 2009 as a Political Science major, and boy, was I in for an appropriate “smack down” at the hand of the truth.


Can Liberal Judaism Be Saved from Liberalism?


by: Sigfried Gold on November 4th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Jerusalem Prayer Team)

Is the death of Judaism or liberal American Judaism suggested by the Pew report on American Judaism cause for alarm or remorse or an opportunity for creative renewal? I’ll side with the latter, along with Rabbi Rami Shapiro as he calls for abandoning the American Jewish status quo as a lost cause and starting something new. He lays out a vision he labels “Judaism Next” that embraces the inescapable skepticism and pluralism of our secular age and mixes Judaism’s wiser scriptures and traditions with contemporary philosophy, literature and moral sensibilities (and decorates the result with an avalanche of anarchic philanthropic experiments in Jewish meaning making.) He invites further conversation, asking us “not to argue with my vision of Judaism but to share your own.”

I applaud Rabbi Shapiro’s blunt prognosis and his invitation to creative rebuilding, and I’m sympathetic with much of his vision, but, despite my best efforts, I find myself succumbing to some inner compulsion to argue, even to the point that the presentation of my own vision will have to wait for a future article. My vision is still murky, complicated, not quite articulate, and can’t compete with Rabbi Shapiro’s unless I poke a couple holes in his first and question one of his underlying assumptions.

Well, the hole I want to call attention to doesn’t need to be poked so much as investigated: it’s the absence of faith in Rabbi Shapiro’s program. I can’t tell how intentional this absence is or if it constitutes a real tear in the overall fabric, but I see it in the space between Rabbi Shapiro’s skepticism and his sense of meaning and goodness.


Obama’s Vacation, and the End of Downtime


by: on August 9th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

At a time when too many people are out of work and too many others are holding down two or three jobs just to survive, it might seem a bit frivolous to lament the lost art of leisure. But leisure – restorative time – is a basic human need. And fewer people are getting the benefit of it, apparently even when they’re on paid vacations.

A new Harris survey finds that more than half of all U.S. employees planned to work during their summer vacations this year – up six percent from the previous year. (Email is a prime suspect in this crime against leisure.) Soon enough, all of us will be taking presidential-style vacations like the one starting tomorrow. That’s when the Obamas arrive on Martha’s Vineyard, no doubt just in time for the president’s first briefing on national security.

In my mind, no one has gone to the philosophical and theological heart of this matter more tellingly than the German American thinker Josef Pieper in his 1952 classic, Leisure: the Basis of Culture.


Trayvon Martin and Tisha B’av: A Jewish Response


by: on July 15th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.

……………  The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?

Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.

There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.

So where’s the justice?


An Easy Essay on Community


by: on June 18th, 2013 | Comments Off

Abbey Church at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

I’m just back from three days at the monastery with a working group on community-pastors, scholars, monastics and new monastics trying to understand what it is we mean when we say we want “community” and how this desire is cultivated and directed toward the common good in our society. One of my great heroes in the American pursuit of beloved community is Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day. He was a street teacher who distilled his message into “easy essays.” I’m not sure this is yet 100 proof (as we say in NC moonshine country), but I tried to do a little distilling of what we discussed in our time together.

Toward a Definition of Community

Community is not the crowd where we are together without being known (though a crowd is fine-unless it becomes a mob).
It’s not the club where we commit without encumbrance (though a club is fine-unless it becomes a clique).
Neither is it the clan where we find safety in shared history (though one’s clan is fine, too-unless it becomes a gang… or a military superpower).

Beloved community is, instead, that fellowship in which we know ourselves as we are known in mutual dependence.
It is the membership in which we learn to take responsibility for our future in mutual accountability.
It is the circle of trust in which we know our flourishing depends upon mutual welcome.