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What is really happening in Venezuela?


by: on April 17th, 2019 | 4 Comments »

Plaza Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela

I just returned from 11 days in Venezuela, my sixth trip there since 2005.

Many people have asked me how they can understand what’s really happening in Venezuela based on information from public institutions such as the U.S. government and the mainstream media. Sources they have used include television ranging from Fox News to MSNBC and CNN; newspapers from the New York Times to more “progressive” publications; and radio from private ad-based to public listener-supported stations.

In order to analyze information today and in the future, there are three key points that most people in the United States and in Venezuela can agree on.

1 – No war. Even Venezuelans who did not vote for Nicolás Maduro do not want to be bombed or invaded. Ironically, the threat of military intervention has increased national pride and unity among Venezuelans. Many friends were worried for my safety and the safety of the 12-member delegation. After arriving I felt safer than I expected, and my main fear was about what the United States (my own country, that I love in so many ways) might do. Even in the U.S., most people do not want another Vietnam, or another Libya or Syria.

2 – End U.S. sanctions. Sanctions are a form of economic warfare. Sanctions kill, and children are primary victims. Food and medicines are greatly affected. Sanctions impede the ability of Venezuela – and other countries – to solve their own problems; and unilateral sanctions are out-of-line with the United Nations Charter.

3 – Respect other nations’ sovereignty. Both Venezuelans and people in the U.S. question the credibility of the U.S. government regarding its harsh critiques of Venezuela. The wealthiest country the world has ever known, the United States, has suffered from a growing gap between rich and poor, and from deteriorating schools, non-existent free neighborhood healthcare centers, infant mortality, high incarceration rates, and unjustified killings by police, along with questionable elections of public officials who could potentially solve those problems.

There are two additional facts: the U.S. cannot be the boss of the world, and recent “help” from the U.S. does not always help the people of the world. Other nations are letting us know this, more and more. When we are faced with Washington speeches and media pieces, we can keep these three key points and two additional facts in mind.

* * *

The answers to other questions were also revealed throughout my trip.

Why are the U.S. powers-that-be – both Republicans and Democrats – focused on Venezuela? The biggest reason is not oil. (Remember prior interference in non-oil-rich Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Grenada, Chile, and others.) The problem is that Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998, more than 20 years after the oil industry was nationalized in 1976, and he began to share the wealth with all Venezuelans, not just the already rich. Hugo Chávez led an electoral revolution and then he empowered Venezuelans through literacy programs, neighborhood healthcare centers, and a new constitution designed with citizen participation. Also, like the Venezuelan liberator Simón Bolívar 200 years before, Chávez spread empowerment across Latin America, and beyond, by creating institutions to counterbalance the enormous economic, cultural and political influence of the U.S.

Another disturbing reason is that because the U.S. still uses the obsolete, slavery-based Electoral College, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to alienate a group of swing voters in the swing state of Florida: upper-income Venezuelans who moved there and who organize with hard-line Cuban-Americans.

What was the most encouraging part of my trip to Venezuela? An increased appreciation of the strength of the Venezuelan people. They know from history, both recent and centuries ago, that they can prevail, and they are prevailing now. The self-proclaimed presidency of Juan Guaidó has not taken hold. The vast majority, even those who did not vote for him in May 2018, recognize that Nicolás Maduro is the legitimately elected President, and they know that most other countries – especially outside of North America and Europe – stand with them in recognizing Maduro’s administration. Which reminds me…

What are some key signs that predict U.S. intentions to interfere in a nation’s sovereignty? One sign is using the word “regime” rather than “presidency” or “administration.” Do we refer to Theresa May’s regime? Obama’s regime? Another key sign is using the term “humanitarian crisis” followed by offering “humanitarian aid” that even the International Red Cross and the United Nations recognized as politicized rather than helpful.

In closing, Venezuela is a sovereign nation whose people have experienced improved education, healthcare, and housing. Venezuelans have stayed strong, despite power outages and water shortages, despite sanctions and threats, all of which I experienced during the delegation. They want peace not war, an end to sanctions, and respect for their sovereignty so they have the means to address their own challenges.

Laura Wells blogs about the electoral and social revolutions in Latin America, and how they might apply to California and the United States. She is a Green Party political activist. For a “go to resource” on Venezuela, see venezuelanalysis.com.

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Call to action: hang image of menorah in your window


by: Chaia Heller on December 5th, 2018 | Comments Off

This is a call to Jews and allies during a Hannukah that falls in the wake of the most bloody massacre of Jews in US history. Activist Liz Friedman of Northampton, MA, sought to do what folks in a small town in Montana did in the 90s after a Jewish family was the target of a hate crime. It was Hannukah and the town’s local paper published a large photo of a menorah that people, Jewish and allies, cut out and placed in their windows in a show of solidarity. Liz created an anti-hate website, we-stand-together.org, that is launching an organization to fight anti-Semitism, racism, Islamaphobia, hetero-patriarchy.

Please, let’s stand together against anti-Semitism and for Solidarity against White Supremacy that is strengthening all forms of oppression that are dividing us rather than uniting us to fight for a free, just, and ecological world!

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Hanukah is NOT Hypocrisy–Despite What the NY Times Published on Sunday, Dec. 2nd


by: on December 3rd, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Image of Beyt Tikkun's annual Chanukah celebration in 2014.

On the eve of Chanukah, Dec. 2nd, the N.Y. Times chose to publish an article entitled “The Hypocrisy of Hanukah” by Michael David Lukas. It is worth exploring not only because of the way it reveals the shallowness of those contemporary forms of Jewishness that are more about identity politics, lox and bagels, nostalgia, or fear of the non-Jew than about any substantive belief and so quickly boil down to a mild form of liberalism or a mild form of conservatism without any ethical or spiritual content, but also because of the way it reveals how ill-suited contemporary liberalism is to understand the appeal of right-wing nationalist chauvinism and hence to effectively challenge it.

Lukas portrays the problem of contemporary non-religious Jews in a Christian culture with its powerful and pervasive symbols and music of Christmas. Like most Jews, he doesn’t believe in the supposed miracle of a light that burned for eight days, so he digs deeper and what he finds outrages him. Namely, that Chanukah was, in his representation, a battle between cosmopolitan Jews who wanted to embrace the enlightened thought of Greek culture and a militaristic chauvinistic fundamentalist force, the Maccabees. Since he is sure that those Maccabees would reject him and his liberal ideas and politics, he is tempted to abandon the whole thing. But instead, he decides not to do so because he needs something at this time of year to offer his young daughter who is attracted to Santa Claus. He thinks that offering his daughter something he personally believes to be worse than nonsense is, as he puts, “all about beating Santa. “He can’t understand why anyone would identify with that chauvinist and militarist Judaism represented by Chanukah, when they could become part of the attractive universalist culture (in the Maccabees day–Greek Hellenism with all its deep philosophers, theatre, and technology). To paraphrase a response from Levinas Levinas,”Oh yes, everything we need is in Greek philosophy – everything, that is, except the idea that we should care for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. Look as you may, you won’t find that in Plato and Aristotle or Euripides or in the later works of the Hellenism that developed in Rome.. And that’s why the Torah matters.”

I sympathize with his plight and want to offer some very different perspectives.

Lukas proclaims proudly that he is part of the contemporary assimilationists, and thus wonders why he should celebrate a victory of the fundamentalists. Yet he does so because he wants to give his daughter a way to resist the pervasive Christian culture in which he is raising her. It turns out that indeed he is living in a culture which has put down and oppressed Jews for at least the past 1700 years since the teachings of the Jewish prophet Jesus were twisted into becoming the foundation for a Christian world that used religion to advance a colonialist and then imperialist culture which sought to dominate much of the world to the benefit of a small group of white men whose agenda was explicitly to maximize their wealth at everyone else’s expense.

To refuse to bow down to the symbols of that culture is extremely difficult for people who do not have an alternative transcendent spiritual framework that challenges the values that underlie the Christian hegemony. These values are still imposed on everyone in this society, not by law but by the powerful impact of the capitalist culture with its message that if you care for your family/friends you will spend beyond your means by buying material things that enrich the owners of the corporations. Lukas has become a victim of that culture, and only slightly alters it to participate in the idolatry of the marketplace by giving his consumption a new purpose: to make Chanukah into a pseudo Christmas, unwittingly undermining the potential liberation thrust of Chanukah.

The religious fanaticism of the Maccabees was generated first and foremost by the oppressive policies of Greek imperialism (not Roman, which he mistakenly identifies as the enemy), and that like America and the West of the past several hundred years, its cultural and scientific strength were used to create a global culture which subordinated the independent farmers of Judea and most of the other countries of the Mediterranean, teaching them that material rewards and physical prowess represented by the gymnasium and “perfect bodies” (which is why they criminalized the practice of circumcision) would be the best way to enforce their political and economic domination. The reason that rural farmers joined the Maccabean revolt was because the rule imposed first by Alexander “the Great” (conqueror and oppressor), forced them to give so much of their crops to the ruling Syria-based Seleucid or Egypt-based Ptolemaic Hellenists (two of the major societies that fought over control of Judea which lay between them) that these farmers were unable to adequately feed and provide sustenance to their families.

But why were the rebellions primarily in Judea and not elsewhere in the Greek and subsequent Roman empires? Because the Jews had the teachings of their Torah that taught them that there was a force in the universe, Yud Hey Vav Hey, (namely, that force in the universe that makes possible the transformation of ‘that which is’ into ‘that which can and should be’, often mistranslated as Jehovah or Yahweh) and that force made it possible to get out of the slavery of Egypt and could again aid them to get out of this latest form of oppression. It was their faith in this force that led them to believe that the power of ordinary people could be “greater than the man’s technology” (to alter slightly the slogan of many liberation groups of the past and the present).

So instead of thinking that liberation lies with those Jews, past and present, who identify with the ruling powers of each historical period, whether that was the Jewish assimilationists of ancient Judaea or the Jared Kushners of our own time who cuddle up to President Trump and his bundle of liars and self-enriching imperialists, Chanukah teaches that there is another path: to utterly reject their system.

Now here comes the big problem: reject them for what alternative? The liberals and universalists of our time, like those of the Maccabean order, did not have a worldview that could include what was good and potentially soul-nourishing in the religious and spiritual cultures of the past. That culture challenged the selfishness and materialism of class societies even while sometimes trying to accommodate to it. Just as the liberals cannot see the positive values in religions when they correctly critique fundamentalism, so too fundamentalists cannot see the positive values in liberal insistence on fundamental human rights and individual liberties.

The rabbis of the Talmud understood this dilemma. They did not want to legitimate the militarism, corruption,and violence of the Hashmonaim regimes that the Maccabees installed in place of Syrian Hellenistic rule, so they created the myth of the oil that burned for eight days and made that the miracle of Chanukah. What they should have done instead is to identify the real miracle: that people can unify against oppression and win against what at first seems like overwhelming odds against the forces that have all the conventional instruments of power in their hands, if and only if they can believe that there is something about the universe that makes such struggles winnable. Don’t call it God if that term offends you, but develop some consciousness that there is something in the universe that makes liberation possible. That something is celebrated when in the darkest and (for many) scariest time of each year many of us light candles of Chanukah, or Christians light the candles celebrating their own version of that force in the birth of a baby who would become a liberator or savior.

So instead of capitulating to the logic of the capitalist marketplace and trying to out-buy and out-shine our neighbors, we can embrace the possibility of possibility that Chanukah and Christmas both celebrate. There is nothing hypocritical about that, even if we do that celebration using the melodies and concepts of our own traditions to do so.

We cannot beat the fundamentalists unless we have an alternative worldview which acknowledges what is right in their rejection of the dominant materialist cultures of supposedly enlightened societies. Providing a meaning to life that bucks up against capitalism’s celebration of material things and the money it takes to get them is an attractive element in much of the fundamentalist worlds (including the versions that flourish in sections of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc). Liberal capitalists who shape much of the discourse in the Democratic Party don’t get this, and that is why they often lose. Yet the answer for us at Tikkun is not to embrace fundamentalism, but to embrace a spiritual OR religious perspective that affirms higher meaning to life but still embraces the potentially liberatory elements in Western cultures, manifested today in the struggles for human rights and support for refugees while opposing racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other form of xenophobia–yet purging out of Western societies their insane commitment to endless growth, accumulation of goods, and rejection of any higher meaning to life besides domination over others or the endless pursuit of “winning” and proving ourselves better than others while ignoring the damage we are doing to the earth.

Chanukah is not just about having a response to the consumption craze around Christmas, it is about affirming a different worldview, a hopeful worldview, about replacing cultures of domination with a culture of love and justice, and recognizing that that alternative is not yet fully articulated in the Jewish world and needs all of us to make that clearer not only to the larger world but to our own communities, synagogues and Jewish organizations, just as Christians need to do in reclaiming Christmas from the emptiness of capitalist consumption. That is why we should not fear Christianity, but support those elements in the Christian world that are similarly committed to rejecting the ethos of the competitive marketplace (and NO, you don’t have to be religious to do this, and we welcome secular humanists and atheists who share this perspective as well, but it’s nice to have all those values rooted in traditions that have been at this struggle for thousands of years, no matter how much they have been distorted at times, because so have marxist and socialist and even anti-patriarchal traditions been distorted as well). It’s in this consciousness that we join with all peoples to celebrate the holidays and recommit to helping the refugees and the asylum seekers at the borders with Mexico this holiday season.


Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, co-chair with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers - The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from Amazon.com and in hard copy from tikkun.org/eip. He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership comes with a subscription to Tikkun magazine). You can contact him at rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com.

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This Just In: The Latest Dispatch from Surreal World


by: on November 30th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

In the first part of last night’s dream, I was trapped in a building, but as soon as I began to wake up, I lost that image. What lingered was a swarming crowd, people rushing to join a mass on the horizon, gazes transfixed skyward. Huge fireballs were forming in the blue air, spinning as they fell to earth, landing somewhere out of sight. Voices began to sound, the ordinary tones of TV newsreaders: clear, oddly animated, slightly robotic. They described the scene around me, the completely unprecedented and unexplained rain of enormous fireballs, in exactly the same way they might tell a story about a road accident or a snowstorm.

Then they began to joke in the usual fashion of newsreaders: “Wow! The one that landed on highway 50 must have surprised those commuters.” “A whole ‘nother meaning to ‘hair on fire,’ huh, Ted?” As the inanities rang out, my brain threw out that ancient joke on the idiocy of reportage: “Aside from all that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

What came to mind as I emerged from the half-light of the dream was Doris Lessing’s short story, “Report on the Threatened City,” set nearly fifty years ago. It was framed as an alien dispatch, detailing failed attempts to warn the residents of San Francisco about an impending earthquake.

Then I was fully awake, thinking about the October UN report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the federally mandated National Climate Assessment released over Thanksgiving (presumably to bury its dire findings under a soothing blanket of mashed potatoes and gravy). Images surged: families tear-gassed along the border, election tampering and voter suppression, crooks in high places and much, much more. In Lessing’s story, governmental authorities are aware of alien attempts to warn the populace, but write them off as what is now called “fake news.” Ground-level resistance swells, but the result is conflict between camps of opinion, not action to avoid mass extinction.

And of course, nearly a half-century after Lessing’s story, San Francisco still stands.

With friends on Thanksgiving, we took turns around the table sharing whatever we wished—gratitude, if we could summon it, but whatever was true for each of us.

Some were certain that despite both the darkness of the moment, with a madman in the White House and moral cowardice swamping those best-positioned to stop him, despite the glimmers of light shown in recent elections, the worst is yet to come. The human project was spoken of as a failed experiment, the end of human life as a necessary cleansing, hope as a delusion.

Some were certain that the massive resistance and remarkable flowering of alternative visions, that the Great Mystery all of us have experienced but none of us can explain, the resilience, beauty, resourcefulness, and will to live built into the human subject will carry us through. Things will change, but the earth and the life it supports will abide, and fresh possibility will emerge. History justifies hope—action grounded in hope, to be sure, but hope nonetheless.

Some—myself among them—spoke of not-knowing. No matter how dire the predictions, how strongly rooted in scientific research, none of us can foretell the future. The end of life has been predicted many times, and always our challenge has been to live. This time may be different—indeed, it may be the end—but there is no more ground for that certainty than for its opposite, that humankind will be rescued by some remarkable and magical redemption not of our making. No one knows.

It is not my aim to persuade people that their predictions are wrong, that they are betting on the wrong horse, that a different future surely awaits us. I have no interest in debunking the science that points to the great likelihood of disaster. How could I? But likelihood is not certainty, because it cannot be known what healing actions—even what miracles—may follow the alarm that has been sounded. (Please check out the Green New Deal, for instance.)

I have one aim in these times, and that is to demonstrate the power of not-knowing, to stick a pin in the illusion that we can know what has not yet come to pass, and to raise the question of desire in the place of hope. What power will be released in the act of freeing ourselves from the delusion that we can know what has not yet unfolded? What gifts will we be able to bring to the moment if we stop believing our own predictions? Sitting with the awareness of not knowing—of the impossibility of knowing—what do we desire? Beginning with not knowing, how do we move toward our desire?

Hanukkah starts this weekend. During the holiday, we’ll have another chance to be with friends, to go around the circle and ask a generative question. The holiday marks the return of light from the darkness of winter, the miracle of a small amount of oil burning for eight days to light the repair of the temple destroyed by soldiers of the Seleucid Empire a couple of hundred years before the common era. Last Hanukkah’s question was, “What light do you wish to bring into the world?” Some people chose not to answer, refusing to validate what they saw as superstition. Some denounced the idea of bringing light as trivial, counseling us to bring on the fight instead. Most shared their hopes for the Great Awakening we all desire, even those who think to hope for it is foolish.

When I consider what to say this year, I think of shining a light of awakening on the newsreaders in my dream, to be sure, but also the countless voices in waking life who support, intentionally or not, the ordinary lies that insure us to suffering, that normalize absurdity and invite us into complicity with the indifference that perpetuates these delusions.

I am not much of a believer. I’m more given to desires, to questions, to exploration than to certitude. But I do have two convictions: first, that by joining our conscious intentions, speaking them aloud and allowing them to amplify each other, ring out, and spread, we can build energy, influencing actions to the good. Second, that if we align ourselves with the certainty of failure—if we abandon all hope despite the fact that the future cannot be known—we deplete the energy that animates healing. So at this season, I wish each of us the will to embrace not-knowing and spirit to let freedom ring!

In his amazing short essay, “The Creative Process,” James Baldwin wrote that “the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.” I’m deeply into Rev. Sekou these days. Think about the face of this nation as you listen to “Loving You Is Killing Me.”

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Interdependence in Action: How to Change Agreements with Care


by: on November 28th, 2018 | Comments Off

In 2004, a few days into the first of four week-long retreats of a yearlong program I was co-leading, one participant, who I will call Barbara, informed the program leaders that she was intending to leave the program after the first retreat, because it wasn’t what she had signed up for. To her surprise, we asked her to engage with the whole group about her decision before finalizing it. Barbara, who had lived in many cultures and came from a community-based tradition, quickly recognized the reality that her leaving would have an impact on the whole group, and thus accepted the challenge and invitation to engage in this process.

We then brought the topic to the group. Barbara laid out her needs that were not attended to within the program; other people brought up their needs and the impact of her potentially leaving and not coming back after that retreat. We’d been in process for a while when one woman exclaimed, in utter incredulity: “Wait a minute, but it’s her decision!” We replied: “No, if you take interdependence seriously, it’s not her decision alone to make.” The woman remained stunned, and we continued the process. At the end, we reached shared clarity that what it would take to attend to Barbara’s needs would stretch the program and the group too much, and we all accepted and mourned together the decision we made collectively for Barbara not to come back.

Something similar happened three years later with another participant who was astonished to discover that other people would be affected by him leaving and, at the end of the process, decided to stay. I am still in touch with this person, and I know from him that this process shifted something in terms of his understanding and experience of interdependence. In his case the situation is more pronounced, because he actually shifted his position based on the feedback he received, rather than reaffirming his original intention.

Engaging interdependently with others in the process of making decisions feels to many people like giving up autonomy. The freedom to make whatever decisions we want to make so long as we are not harming others is one of the core attractions of the modern world. I see it as a consolation prize for the loss of community and care.

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Dear Mississippi White People


by: on November 22nd, 2018 | 2 Comments »

November 22, 2018

Dear Mississippi White People,

Both of my parents were born and reared in Mississippi. They were part of the Great Migration of African Americans north in the early 1950s. When I was a little girl, we would go south for funerals. For most of my life, I have never felt comfortable south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I was fine for about 48 hours, then something inside of me, something that felt like an old soul, the spirit of an enslaved ancestor, wanted desperately to head back home. Follow the North Star.

Even so, I have some good memories of my time in Mississippi. This is primarily due to my relatives, to aunts and uncles and cousins who made my time with them meaningful. One of the best memories of my life is getting up early one morning and having coffee with my Aunt Mary Anna on her front porch in Indianola. Her house was always full of people of all ages, and she would get up before everyone else and sit on her front porch. This morning, I was up with her, drinking coffee, listening to a rooster crow, enjoying her stories of reality and mystery. It was peace.

When I lived in Philadelphia, my Aunt Rosie would send me shelled pecans from her Indianola, Mississippi tree. I loved eating the pecans, and I loved her for loving me enough to take the time to shell them and to send them to me. God is Divine Love, and her love for me was a visitation of God in my life. Eating the pecans was a kind of communion.

A few years ago, I drove my father, who was then in his mid-eighties, down to Indianola for a funeral. The part of the cemetery where my cousin’s husband was buried was populated by the earthly remains of aunts who loved me and by cousins who I had enjoyed just being around and who had been my role models. Dad said that would be his final trip to Mississippi, and he was right.

One of my cousins invited me to come down when there was not a funeral and she would show me around. I wanted to visit the civil rights and the blues history of the Mississippi Delta. So, I finally did. My cousin was true to her word. We visited the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum and gravesite in Ruleville. She took me to the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, and she drove me to the various addresses in Greenville, where my mother’s family had lived. The last few times I have gone south, I have not felt the need to escape. I see my cousins living productive lives, making important contributions to their communities, and the south in general and Mississippi in particular no longer seem oppressive.

And then came the comments by Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Speaking about her regard for a supporter she said: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” What? Then she refused to apologize until a debate with her opponent Secretary Mike Espy, saying in part: “You know, for anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, non whatsoever in my statements. I have worked with all Mississippians. It didn’t matter their skin color type, their age or their income. That’s my record.” Then she proceeded to blame her opponent for turning her comments into a weapon. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mississippi-sen-cindy-hyde-smith-apologizes-to-anyone-offended-by-comments-about-public-hanging-as-opponent-mike-espy-says-she-gave-the-state-a-black-eye/2018/11/20/6eeb3a14-ed0c-11e8-baac-2a674e91502b_story.html?utm_term=.c68bdc76a246)

Hyde-Smith has also been caught on mike joking, she says, about voter suppression. In 2014, she posted a picture of herself wearing a confederate soldier’s cap and holding a gun at the home and presidential library of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. She called the site “Mississippi history at its best.” Is this a celebration of the Civil War?

According to the website Mississippi History Now, “The American Civil War (1861-1865) left Mississippi in chaos with its social structures overturned, its economy in ruins, and its people shattered.” And, the reason for the devastation was the will to preserve slavery. The Mississippi declaration of secession says: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.”

It is important to remember that the Civil War was fought with conscript soldiers. The Confederacy confiscated crops and livestock from ordinary people to feed the army, a generation of men were killed or left wounded. The south has yet to recover from the economic devastation of the war. Yet, so many white people are still enamored with that war.

In her novel “Gone with the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell writes of her heroine Scarlett O’Hara who is in love with Ashley Wilkes. She thinks he loves her, but he does not. The love she imagines is a dream. It is not and never was real. Such is the case with white people who love the dream of the “Old South”, a fantasy where everyone was happy occupying their assigned place. It never was, is not now, and never will be.

When I read Hyde-Smith’s comments about attending a public hanging, I was working on an essay about African-American soldiers home from World War I who faced beatings and lynching. How could anyone knowing Mississippi history not be offended by Hyde-Smith’s joke? What positive connotation can there be in a history rife with the violence of lynching? The violence of lynching was an attempt to re-establish white supremacy after the Reconstruction period. The violence of voter suppression is also real in a state where Fannie Lou Hamer and others took a beating because they wanted to register to vote. Civil rights workers were killed in their efforts to register voters. How could she think that joking about voter suppression would be funny given this history? How could she think such a thing as she runs for the United State Senate?

Then suddenly, like a flash of lightning, it occurred to me that the expression about attending a public hanging was probably an expression that Hyde-Smith heard in her youth. She very likely grew up with it, and it was a way to express regard for someone. Whenever I see pictures of a lynching, my gaze goes to the body of the person being lynched. I think of their family and of the African-American community that would resist being terrorized by such savagery. However, there is also the crowd of white people who thought of such events as entertainment. I have never considered the crowd as a group of individuals, only as a human mass of barbaric hatred and evil.

The truth is that these crowds were composed of people who had children and grandchildren, who were aunts and uncles and cousins, who loved their kin the way my people love me. Hyde-Smith very likely heard this expression from a beloved relative in a context of joviality and good family fun.

Dear Mississippi White People, you have some serious introspection to do. What is the origin of such an expression? Were the people who nurtured you and loved you also the people who populated the crowds that participated in public hangings by their presence on the front row? To what lengths are you willing to go to preserve a dream that was never true? Are you willing to keep your state at the bottom of the list of states on almost every measure of achievement because you want to hold onto the deception of white supremacy?

To even know that she has said something vile, Senator Hyde-Smith needs to do the difficult work of introspection and to realize that the people who raised her, who loved her, were also willing to become a part of a murderous evil mob because people will act in a mob the way they would never act as individuals. You all need to do this work for the sake of bringing about real and lasting change in Mississippi. This is your work to do White People because you are the ones holding onto a deception.

The good news is that we live in a country that allows us to make a choice with every election. We can choose to stay stuck in a past that has not served us well, or we can move forward. Dear Mississippi White People, this is your choice on Tuesday in the special election. In his proclamation that established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called for repentance as an aspect of our prayers on this day.

He wrote: “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, we all can be thankful that we live in the United States of America where we have both a responsibility and an opportunity to work for healing, to form a more perfect union, where we can work toward the goals of human equality and universal human rights.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Valerie Elverton Dixon





Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

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Ecumenism of the Deep Well


by: Pat Devine on November 21st, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Graphic of books surrounded by circle of interfaith symbols

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What does ecumenism have to offer the postmodern world? How do major religions of the world work together in the spirit of ecumenism? How does ecumenism embrace new reemerging, indigenous traditions? To find an answer to these questions, let us first look to the word “ecumenism,” its roots and its evolution to the present day.

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, the word “ecumenism” comes from a family of classical Greek words: oikos, meaning a “house,” “family,” “people” or “nation;” oikoumene, “the whole inhabited world,” and oikoumenikos, “open to or participating in the whole world.” The early ecumenical movement in Christianity is a child of the Reformation. Since the splitting of Christianity into multiple sects, there have been attempts to bring the “family” together again into one united “house” and to become one united “people.” Since 1948, the World Council of Churches is the main organization that has been responsible for fostering Christian unity in the world.

In the decade of the 1960′s, the ecumenical movement became filled with the energy and passion characteristic of this period of great social change in America. Ecumenical efforts started out simple and grew. Initially, Catholic and Reform clergy began to socialize together. Priests and ministers started holding congregational meetings to educate their parishioners about a new idea called “ecumenism.” Later, Protestant ministers and Catholic priests were invited to give joint lectures about their traditions and to speak at length about their respective worship styles, liturgies and belief systems. Communities began to sponsor interfaith dinners. Interfaith services began to be held. These were all positive developments for faith traditions that a few years earlier had barely tolerated each other.

In addition to ecumenism evolving in Christian communities, the era of the 1960′s was breaking down barriers and posing new religious challenges; for example, the Anti-War Movement, the Women’s Movement and the Environmental Movement to name a few. Americans soon saw strange people dressed in orange robes, who they called “Hare Krishnas,” chanting and dancing at airports and in the downtowns of major U.S. cities. They heard about a peaceful looking man called the Dali Lama, who had just lost his home in a faraway land. They watched on their television sets Buddhist monks in crimson robes setting themselves on fire in protest over the Vietnam War. An Eastern group calling themselves “Moonies” tried to enlist converts on American city streets. Eastern gurus established rural communities in Iowa and Oregon. One of the Beatles traveled to the East to visit a “spiritual master.” A Zen retreat center on the coast of California became a desired “destination.” Meditation and yoga began to be incorporated into the lifestyles of many Americans. The East was meeting the West and, at the same time, indigenous spiritualities were beginning to reemerge. Where did ecumenism fit in this new spiritual landscape? To find an answer to this question, let us look to two sources: Christian Theologian Matthew Fox and to a leader in the interfaith community.

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Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March, & Anti-Semitism


by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on November 21st, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Image of Linda Sarsour courtesy of Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr.

In recent days there have been some calls from some people in the Jewish community to boycott the planned Women’s March on January 19. This call has been explained on the ground that some of the March leaders have been unwilling to specifically denounce Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his many blatantly anti-Semitic views and speeches.

One of the March leaders cited in this call has been Linda Sarsour, an important leader of the Women’s March movement that became powerful the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration as President, and onward from then.  Ms. Sarsour has not only spoken words but also taken action strongly condemning anti-Semitism.  She has, for example, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help repair desecrated Jewish cemeteries and to assist the survivors of the “Tree of Life” synagogue mass murders in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Sarsour privately circulated a letter explaining her views on these matters.  I was and am deeply moved by it, and asked her permission to share it with the Jewish public.  She wrote back, “Please share as you see fit. Hope it brings some healing to broken hearts.  – Linda”

Here is her letter, followed by some comments of my own about ways in which she and I disagree, and other ways in which we agree.

I am requesting for all who read my email to approach it with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not an email to persuade or to convince, it is an email with my voice and my experience and my truth – one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got.


The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL “exposed/ promoted” a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour’s Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker.

Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son’s father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother’s life. I won’t rehash this but note it here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific Tree of Life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women’s March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women’s March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked into a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.

A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger’s (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence.

Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration — the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power. —  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

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A Visit to a Settlement: A Catalyst for Righteous Anger


by: Paul Von Blum on November 17th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I have opposed the Israeli occupation and its settlements in the West Bank for as long as I can remember. I have been public about these views in my teaching, my public presentations, and in some of my writings. But until last July, I had never actually visited an Israeli settlement and seen how it works and how some of the people live. The experience has not changed my mind; indeed, it has actually reinforced my view that these settlements remain a colossal impediment to peace in the region and are an egregious violation of international law.

How it happened: I was part of a group organized by Academic Exchange for almost two weeks in early to mid July, 2018. Consisting of approximately 30 academics and a few other legal and diplomatic professionals, the group toured Israel and listened to experts from several fields with multiple perspectives. We mostly heard from Israeli authorities and spent the majority of time in Israeli settings but we also listened to several thoughtful Palestinian figures when we visited Ramallah. To its credit, Academic Exchange provided a multiple perspectives and experiences without any attempt to indoctrinate any particular viewpoint. It offered an outstanding opportunity to gain first-hand experience in Israel and Palestine, including a moving tour of Yad Vashem, and to meet and talk with many people living in this troubled and complex region of the world.

One of the early Academic Exchange visits was to the settlement of Eli in the occupied West Bank. Our bus from Tel Aviv had no trouble entering the area and going through the Israeli checkpoint; that, of course, would not be the case for Palestinians. Shortly before we arrived, an energetic, American-born, middle-aged woman joined us. She became our guide for the next several hours. Well educated, articulate, and extremely engaging, she accompanied us to her home in the settlement.

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Armistice-Veterans Day 2018


by: on November 12th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As human beings, we are a carbon-based life form.

We are close kin to the higher order apes.

We are homo sapiens, a bit of earth that can think.

We stand up straight; have an opposable thumb; have the capacity for rational thought; are able to use symbols to communicate abstract thoughts; we can use symbols to communicate about symbols; we can remember the past and plan for the future.

The gospel according to Jamie Lannister of the television version of “Game of Thrones”: “Strange thing, first time you cut a man, you realize we’re nothing but sacs of meat, blood and some bone to keep is all standing.”

I say: we are bags of water, flesh, blood, and bone called by a proper name.

We are body soul mind mysteries as long as we breathe the breath of life. We are character and personality that loves and hates, that laughs and cries, that sings and dances, that wills and desires, and sometimes just does not give a care. And when the breath leaves for the last time, our bodies become dust and ashes. We leave an empty space. Other human beings grieve.

The chemicals in our bodies are worth about one dollar.

So, what sense does it make to think that the color of the bag of water flesh blood and bone called by a proper name makes an individual more or less than any other? What sense does it make that the shape of it or the strength of it gives an individual the right to treat the Other as an object for one’s own drunken pleasure to be tossed away and forgotten like used tissue? What sense does it make that some bags think that they are superior because of the bit of earth upon which they were born or upon which they now stand or that they have a right to keep other bags from coming to that place? What makes the bags that we are fear the Other, hate the Other, and want to kill the Other to point of war?

World War I stands as one of the most deadly wars in the history of humankind. Between 15 and 19 million human beings died. Some 23 million military personnel were wounded. We do not know how many lives were shattered because of post-traumatic stress disorder, known at the time as shell shock.

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