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Cat J. Zavis
Cat J. Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and a collaborative divorce attorney, mediator, coach, and conflict resolution, Empathic Communication trainer.

STOP Calling the Police – Engage Instead


by: on May 17th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Yet another incident of a white person calling the police or security on a black person came to my attention today. In this instance, it was a man walking with his son in a stroller in D.C. #ParentingWhileBlack. I immediately thought of a situation that seemed relevant to this incredible barrage of circumstances in which white people call the police (or security) on a black person for no reason other than being black.

One day I was walking into a pet food store (the pet food store shares a parking lot with a grocery store and a few other establishments – I had just come from the grocery store), and I noticed a baby (maybe 6 months old) sitting alone in his car seat in the back of the car. There was no adult in the car or nearby. The sky light to the car was open and the window near the baby was cracked open. The doors were locked.

I felt concerned and did not know what to do. The child was African American. I knew one thing for sure, I would not call the police. I called out loud and no one responded. There were enough stores around that it seemed futile to begin walking into different stores, and I did not want to leave the child alone. So I decided to wait. I was hoping that the parent (or caretaker) would arrive shortly. I went up to the window next to the child, who was happily playing in his car seat and enjoying himself, so I knew he was fine. I called my husband on my cell phone because I noticed the discomfort in my body and I wanted to have support to manage my discomfort so I didn’t do something stupid – like call the police!


With a heavy heart . . . and then . . .


by: on November 9th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

I’m trying to pick myself up since the election results came in and finding it extremely difficult. While I thought Trump would win, the actual experience of it is altogether different. I have been in shock and like so many of you have been trying to do what needs to be done and yet have not been as able to be as fully present as I would like. So I have largely been silent. Yet slowly, very slowly, I am finding my voice.

And I want to share a few thoughts.

First, please, please take as much time as you need to come back to your highest, most centered self. It will be impossible to heal, repair and transform our world, if we do not deal with our own shock, rage, and grief. We must, each of us in our own way, take the time we need to come home to ourselves. What is it that nurtures you? Who helps you be your highest self? Who provides you unconditional love? Who makes you laugh? Where do you go when you need to grieve? What offers you the greatest solace? Take the time to love and nurture yourself. Offer love and nurturing to others.

Second, when I think of the movements that inspire me, I think of all the nonviolent movements over history. Movements steeped in deep and rich spiritual traditions of refusing to see the ‘other’ as your enemy, refusing to demonize, refusing to pick up arms, refusing to close one’s heart. Where people somehow, often miraculously so, stood in the face of tanks, guns, violent attacks on their bodies, and forces far greater than they to insist on the power of love over the love of power, the power of truth over the power of hate, the power of compassion over the power of fear. We see this today in Standing Rock. This is the path forward. We must refuse to demonize and hate and instead need to dig deep, very deep, to the core of our being – our beating hearts – to find a depth of love and fortitude that perhaps we did not know resided within us.

Third, and from that place we need to organize. I have created a four-session training that addresses the psycho-spiritual suffering that people experience in their lives and in our society. It has modules with readings, recordings, and exercises that provide the tools and skills you need to build a local NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) group and be a spiritual change agent. If you are interested in receiving the training, please email me at  cat@spiritualprogressives.org. We need to find a way to love each other across our differences – to see the humanity in each and every person. To see each other’s brokenness and imperfections not as fundamental flaws, but as scars and wounds that have been inflicted upon each of us through a history of missed connections, misunderstandings, parental projections of pain, and societal structures and systems that fail to see our value beyond our capacity to produce and consume. This training does that and so much more. It provides a framework for understanding the psycho-spiritual crisis in our society and the tools to help others understand it, as well as giving concrete visionary proposals that if adopted would create meaningful and lasting change. Join our efforts.

Fourth, we need to recognize, and this may be the hardest of all, that simply doing the inner work on oneself without simultaneously engaging in societal transformation to heal, repair, and transform the world is a fool’s errand. The two are intricately connected. We will not attain the spiritual depth, connection, and wholeness we seek unless the world changes and the world will not change without us changing. They go hand-in-hand.

If this speaks to you, please consider supporting  our work, not only with your dollars, but also with your time and energy. Contact me (cat@spiritualprogressives.org) to get involved. Come to our conference  this weekend or watch it on livestream (www.tikkun.org/30thcelebration).

This is the time my friends. We are in this together. We, atTikkunand the Network of Spiritual Progressives, are doing the work that, if embraced, really could heal, repair, and transform our world – work that is now even more desperately needed than we thought previously. We will not be silenced. We will continue to speak truth to power. We will continue to bring our fullest selves with our loving, broken, scared hearts and provide the spiritual guidance, compassion, and fierce truths that have inspired people for the past 30 years. Won’t you join us?

With a very heavy heart,

~ Cat

More Blood Flowing, Will It Ever End?


by: on July 11th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Two more black men shot dead by police, blood flowing from their bodies. As I think about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the blood flowing from their dying and dead bodies, I wonder if their souls are free from the societal stories about who black men are and the internalization of some of those stories. I think about the impact these stories have on the psychological, spiritual, physical, and social presence and existence of Black people in our society and how police and others react to them as a result of these stories.

Our society treats African Americans as though black bodies are less worthy or less valuable than white bodies; that black human beings are dangerous and threatening. I want to paint their bodies full of life, full of blood, but with different letters and societal stories inscribed on them. I want our societal stories to be ones of love, of acceptance, of worthiness, of value, of safety, of nonviolence, of beauty, of strength, of grace. Stories that in fact are the truth of who all of us are but on black bodies all we see are the negative images. I want these positive stories to shine brightly.

How might we get there? Spiritually, we need a mikvah – a bath of flowing, fresh water washing over each and every one of us that brings down the loving grace of the transformative energy of the universe to cleanse us. So each and every one of us can compassionately and gently, with love and strength, disrobe ourselves from these places of constriction, these stories that have become so embedded in our beings and in our culture that they become us instead of just stories. So that black bodies are finally free from the stories that they are dangerous and to be feared, from the hatred and prejudice that our society has imprinted on them so we can see their humanity rather than be obscured by our projections. And so that those of us who fail to see through these inscribed stories can wash ourselves clean of the stories imprinted upon us that impede our capacity to see the humanity of others.

What would happen then? Might black lives be freed from the legacies of prejudice, fear, and hatred that our society places upon them? Might police officers be freed from seeing black men as dangerous and threatening? Might we all be able to see the humanity in each other?

As I enter Shabbat with a heavy heart, I hold in my heart the memories of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, their family members and all who loved them, the Black women and men who are reminded once again of their own fragility in a country that is supposedly free, and of all the lives throughout the world who are killed and whose true stories we are unable to see. May we one day find a path to our true freedom where we see through the stories to the souls that live within each of us. Until that time, may we continue to do the work needed to fundamentally heal and transform our world.

Cat Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. She is also an attorney, mediator, and trainer in conflict resolution and empathic communication. She has co-led trainings with Rabbi Michael Lerner on integrating spirituality and activism and on communicating across differences on Israel and Palestine. You can reach Cat at cat@spiritualprogressives.org. To learn more about the Network of Spiritual Progressives, go to: www.spiritualprogressives.org.

A Call for Love in the Face of Hatred: Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammad Ali’s Memorial


by: on June 16th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In case you who missed it, here’s Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammed Ali’s funeral.His vision is all the more relevant given the horrific killings in Orlando and the way it is being used to promote fear, hatred and Islamophobia. It has gone viral on social media and inspired over a million people already. If it inspires you as well, please read below for how to be an ally with Rabbi Lerner to help build the world he describes.

Wondering why Rabbi Lerner got invited and how to respond to the handful of naysayers who have been upset by Lerner’s powerful message? Please read below.

Muhammad Ali had known Rabbi Lerner as a friend and ally in the 1960s and early 1970s when both were indicted by the U.S. government for their roles in opposing the war in Vietnam. He then wrote Rabbi Lerner to praise his book with Cornel WestJews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin.Approximately seven years ago, he decided to invite Rabbi Lerner to represent the American Jewish community at his memorial service. Rabbi Lerner only received a phone call invitation from the Ali family four days before he got on an airplane to Louisville.


I’ve Had It With Cynical Faux-Realists Attacking Bernie Sanders Idealists


by: on February 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note:We at Tikkun do not endorse any candidate or political party, and we know that there are people in our community who are members of the Green Party, and that some of our members in the Democratic Party are supporters of Hillary and some of Bernie. This article is not meant to take sides on how to vote. Rather, it is an expression of exasperation at one of the arguments made against voting for Bernie–namely that doing so is “unrealistic.” As those of you who follow Tikkun know, one of our major concerns is to help people move away from the notion that our political choices should be defined by what the media and political leaders tell us is or is not realistic. It is in that regard that we are sending you the article that appeared onSalon.com-written by Cat Zavis.–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley (AP Photo/)(Credit: AP/Nati Harnik)

I can appreciate the concern and fear underlying the words of John Avignone (“I have had it with naïve Bernie Sanders idealists”) and Paul Krugman (who wrote a piece in the NYT saying Sanders was not realistic and we can only hope for the incremental change proposed by Hilary Clinton) and others who are choosing to support Clinton, even though they want our country to move further to the ideals and values put forth by Bernie than those expressed by Hillary.

They articulate a fear that I have heard spoken by many – Bernie is not electable and if Bernie is the Democratic nomination, a Republican (i.e., Trump) will win and we will be in a very dangerous situation. Their solution is to support Hillary rather than rally behind a candidate who – yes, has shortcomings, as do all the candidates – is trying to build a movement that would be there to support his reform efforts. He recognizes that he cannot create the meaningful and systemic change he seeks for the betterment of our country and the world on his own.

There has been throughout history, and will continue to be, a battle between two competing approaches to social change and underlying that, two worldviews. On the one hand, we have the view of Clinton and her supporters – the realists. The realists (and many involved in social change work fall into this camp) argue that we have to fight for what is achievable because otherwise we will be way worse off. In this case that means cast your vote for Hillary because she is more “realistic,” and thus more likely to win. This is essentially casting a vote for the lesser evil. This approach to social and political change is steeped in fear. Those in this camp believe that the only way we can arrive where we want to get is through incremental (i.e., realistic) change. But what they fail to understand is that those with power and money define their definition of realistic. When we narrow our vision of what is possible to what those in power tell us is possible, we actually bolster their power.

But there’s a reason people limit their vision. Putting forth a vision for radical transformation is a vulnerable and scary leap of faith. Millions of people rallied behind Obama’s call for hope. He professed that we are one country, not a nation of blacks and whites, but all one. He promised to work across the political divide to find solutions to the pressing issues before him and our nation. Within months of being in office, after the collapse of the economic system, Obama chose to bail out Wall Street rather than help Main Street, even though it was Main Street that put him in the White House.

As his tenure in office continued, he implemented policies and approaches that were in direct conflict with his election message (failing to close Guantánamo or end the war in Afghanistan, to name a few). People who were inspired by his message and whose hopes were raised that they finally had a progressive president who would fight for their interests rather than the interests of the elite became disillusioned and disenchanted. Many withdrew from politics and/or became supporters of local efforts to work for “realistic” change believing that transformative, systemic change is “unrealistic.”


Fear and Response After Paris…


by: on November 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

I have seen on social media and heard from friends the depth of fear that is permeating our society since the attacks in Paris. Seeing and hearing the stories of Parisians who were impacted by the attacks is bringing the violence home in a way that is similar to 9-11. The media is bringing the lives and sorrows of Parisians into our homes with interviews, photos and stories of their lives. This pierces the veil of security and safety in ways that the children washing up on the shores of Europe, starving children around the world and bodies in Beirut did not do. When our government is sending drones into communities, dropping bombs in far away lands, and supporting economic policies and sanctions that create daily suffering and death around the globe, it does not pierce our sense of safety because we can easily (and even realistically) tell ourselves this will not happen to us. We will not be the target of a drone strike or a U.S. bomb and we fail to see the connection between U.S. economic policies on the daily suffering around us as clearly as an attack of the magnitude we saw in Paris. It is as if you can imagine, as one friend said, “Coming soon to a café or theater near you.”

Pablo Picasso, Guernica

So what do we do? How do we respond? Can we really be safe in a world in which violence seems to be the only response to violence? And if so, how? What would you do if someone entered a theater and started shooting? (I want to acknowledge that the likelihood of being killed by a young white man at a school or in a movie theater, or by a drunk driver or in a random car accident, or, if you are African American by a police officer is far greater than the likelihood of being killed by Daesh [ISIL] and yet at this particular moment, that is what is most terrifying.)

I want to explore what underlies this fear, how the Right (and even the hawks on the Left) capitalize on this fear to push their pro-war, pro-weapons agenda and how we might respond in the face of knowing that ultimately there is no way to protect ourselves from random acts of violence anymore then there is a way to protect ourselves from random accidents.


What I Want to Hear from a Presidential Candidate


by: on October 30th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

I just finished reading the New York Times this morning (that was a big mistake!) and learned even more gruesome tales of the suffering on this planet. I read of people fleeing their homes and countries because of war and the trials and tribulations along the way. A 7 year-old child is running along in the muddy forests near the Macedonian-Serbian border, his boots caked in mud making it hard for him to lift his feet when he suddenly realizes his family is no longer behind him. He sits down beside a tree to wait. A man asks him what he’s doing and when he explains he tells him there are police all over the forest and he needs to keep going. So this 7 year-old boy runs on in a strange land in the hopes of reaching a safe haven without his family. Young girls fleeing sexual and physical violence in their home countries are subjected (on the road) to multiple rapes and sexual violence so sadistic that their youth caseworkers choose not to detail them in their reports.

In South Sudan a bloody civil war has led to countless deaths from torture too grim to repeat here. In Nigeria girls continue to be stolen from their schools and families by Boko Harem and sold into sex slavery. And in Saudia Arabia (an ally of the U.S.) a 17 year-old boy is awaiting a beheading and then crucifixion for joining in anti-government demonstrations.

This is all some of the news from one morning.

And what are the Republicans debating? How to cut more money from government services. How to decrease taxes on the rich and corporations. How to squeeze the poor and working classes so the elites have more riches for themselves while the masses suffer.

I am angry and horrified. We are living in a time in history when we have the resources for all human beings to live lives of sufficiency – sufficient food, sufficient shelter, sufficient healthcare, sufficient education. And yet we choose to produce and distribute our resources in ways that ensure wars, violence and suffering.

I want a presidential candidate with a backbone who has the audacity and insight to put forth a vision of a different world. Not a world divided by borders – physical, spiritual, religious, racial, gender, or other. But a world joined by our similarities and our unity where our differences are celebrated and honored. We live on one planet. We share the same water, the same air and the same genetics. I want a candidate who will speak to our shared humanity – not just of Americans, but of all of us. If the President is the leader of the free world, then she or he should stand for policies and values that actually promote a free world – a world where everyone is healthy, safe, cared for, fed, clothed, provided shelter, education, healthcare and an opportunity to have a meaningful life.


#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: Will This Racism Never End?


by: on October 27th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

It was 1977, I was 12 or 13 years old, and Roots was released on television for the first time. I sat riveted to the screen with my parents and sister. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The living room with our white framed couches with bright colorful cushions, the big coffee table in the middle of the room and the small television screen built into the cabinet on the wall. I am sitting on the floor staring up at the t.v. in disbelief, watching in horror as Kunta Kinte is ripped from his mother’s arms and dragged kicking and screaming (as his mom and other family members and friends scream and look on in horror, having no power to do anything to stop this outrage) into a truck, sold to a new slave owner. As I watch this scene unfold, I am wailing and screaming barely able to hold my little self and my body together and yet I know I am safe – I am white, I am at home with my parents, this is not me, this is not now. Still, I am outraged and horrified at the capacity of human beings to treat one another with such disregard and I make an internal vow to do all I can in my power to contribute to a better, more just and loving world.

And then yesterday (and still today), 38 years later, I watch in horror as a Black school aged girl is ripped from her desk by a white police officer, thrown on the ground on her head and back, dragged and thrown across the room, and held down while handcuffed and eventually arrested. (Don’t even ask, “what did she do to deserve this” – the answer is nothing. No, she did not have a gun. No, they did not think she had a gun or other weapon. No, she had not threatened anyone, unless you think a teenager not complying with the demands of someone in authority is threatening – I suppose some might if that child is black.) The Black teacher had called the officer allegedly because the girl had supposedly refused to put away her cell phone. (That is disputed by the student who shot the video – http://goblackcentral.com/2015/10/6-things-that-should-enrage-you-about-the-assaultatspringvalleyhigh/.) Another student objected to the officer’s behavior and through her tears said, “This is wrong;” that student was also arrested for “disrupting” school. What? It is the officer who disrupted the school, not the student, the one student who somehow had the internal strength and clarity to speak up while both terrified and outraged. She deserves a medal of honor. I would hope my child would stand up in that situation and say, “This is wrong” and call upon others students to do so as well.

Just as my body shook in horror, grief and rage 38 years ago, and as tears flowed down my cheeks then, they do so now. And again, I was not there. This is not me. So if I feel this level of internal dis-ease from simply watching the video on my computer screen, I can only begin to imagine what the students must have felt and what every black and brown person in this country must feel and live with every single day.


Black History Matters, Black Lives Matter, Black Votes Matter


by: on October 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Requiring that people have photo ids to register to vote and then closing all the state offices that issue photo ids in black communities; having “history” books that refer to slaves as “workers”; being outraged at your “inconvenience” when Black Lives Matter take to the streets to demand justice when Black men and women are being gunned down on the street or end up “mysteriously” dead after a routine traffic stop; challenging affirmative action laws on the grounds that they “discriminate” against whites – these are just some of tactics and reactions of politicians, publishers, white people and police when trying to whitewash the legacy of slavery and discrimination that pervades our country.

Photo by Dread Scott, Flickr

Our country was founded on and built upon the backs of African American slaves, Native Americans, Chinese and other people of color as well as white indentured servants. When the founders of our country were drafting the Constitution they ensured that only white, male property owners would have a say in the shaping of our country. All the people who worked to build this country were excluded from voting, holding office or participating in the building of the democracy in which we reside today. So it is no great surprise that the needs of those excluded were not at the forefront of their minds and thus not included. To ensure that Southern States would have a larger representation in the House of Representatives, they fought to have slaves counted as 3/5 a person. In this way, Southern States would have a more equal voice in the House of Representatives even though those with the voice (white men) represented actually a much smaller proportion of the population of the country, thereby essentially giving the Southern States a disproportionate voice and power in the shaping of our country than they actually represented.

The Civil Rights movement began to challenge, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act began to dismantle this history of disenfranchisement. But in recent times, those opposed to these laws have been undermined and disassembled the gains made in the past, once again disenfranchising thousands of African Americans and ensuring that Southern Whites win election by gerrymandering voting districts, and passing laws that severely restrict people’s ability to vote (under the guise of “voting rights”). And now, McGraw-Hill has published a high school history book that whitewashes slavery by stating that the “Atlantic Slave Trade between 1500-1800 brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations” and claims that giving teachers stickers to cover over the offensive text along with a educational toolkit to use this as a teaching opportunity toschools that request it is an adequate way to address this egregious wrong. When our history and education books not only fail to accurately reflect the history of slavery, discrimination and disenfranchisement but actually paint an entirely different and inaccurate picture of what happened and when laws subtlety yet powerfully buttress this discrimination, together they undermine the voices of Black Lives Matter today. When people do not know this history or understand just how insidious racism is in our country, then the righteous outrage and call for justice by the Black Lives Matter movement can seem misplaced or an over-reaction.


Stop Telling Me It’s Impossible


by: on September 8th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Stop telling me it’s impossible . . .

We’ve put men on the moon,

We’ve counted the stars, planets and galaxies,

We’ve built weapons of mass destruction . . .

If we can compete to get into space,

If we can compete to produce more goods that anyone needs,

If we can compete to create the best weapons,

Then we can feed everyone on this planet healthy food that nourishes people and the planet.

Instead of competing to create the next best phone, car, or weapon, why don’t we compete to wipe out starvation and hunger?

If we can win the race to the moon, why don’t we win the race to stop the production of weapons and create peace?

If we can create a house that can self-adjust its temperature, why can’t we create enough homes so everyone has a safe place to live?

If we can build towers that span the sky, why are people living on the streets?

If we stopped caring so much about winning the “race” and cared more about caring for others and the planet, we would solve our world’s greatest problems.

So stop telling me we can’t and it’s impossible and let’s get down to the business of taking care of each other and the planet. Then we will all win.