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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



Some Spiritual Lessons from the Rescue of the Soccer Boys from the Thai Cave

Jul16

by: Matthew Fox on July 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

U.S. Airmen advising the Thai military in the operation to save the trapped Thai soccer team. Photo courtesy of US Department of Defense.

The world breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that the first four—and weakest—of the Thai boys were rescued from the cave where they have been trapped for 14 days. Today four more boys have been rescued; tomorrow the rescue is slated for the last four and their coach who, we are told, is himself very weak having shared his meager rations with the kids before himself.

There are deep and perhaps even archetypal lessons in this powerful story which has captured the attention of so many people around the world and brought many people together in the midst of so much chaos and disturbance in the world. Amidst the disunity, unity. I wish to offer a few reflections on these lessons in this essay.

The power of the feminine.
A cave is an archetype of the womb of the Earth (Francis of Assisi loved to pray in caves). A cave is alluring and fascinating—but also dangerous and even deadly. Mother Earth’s beauty is intoxicating but it can also be dangerous; she has her own laws and must be respected—consider Pele now asserting herself in the wild volcanoes exploding in Hawaii, and the monsoons and floods faced by the boys and their coach.


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Trump, the Tragic Flaw of Prevailing Morality, and an Alternative

Jul16

by: John McFadden on July 16th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a magazine cover featuring himself while at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Dec 2015

Then presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a magazine cover featuring himself while at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Dec 2015. Image courtesy of Matt Johnson.

After the Access Hollywood tape exposed Trump as a sexually assaultive man, Bernie Sanders championed the cause of prevailing morality. He said, “We have a president who acknowledged on tape that he assaulted women. I would hope that he pays attention to what’s going on and think about resigning.” And for the most part the world yawned.

Many Americans already knew that prominent psychology professionals had diagnosed Trump as sociopathic. These professionals had much evidence that he fit the diagnosis “malignant narcissist” to a “T.” Reflecting this professional opinion, most Americans felt that Trump was far too immoral to be President. Talk show hosts like Bill Maher persistently attack Trump. Recently, Maher played forward the diagnostic label, “malignant narcissist.” Moral outrage against Trump fills the air. And now more than ever, the world yawns, as if to say, “So what—nobody can do anything about it.” Maybe, just maybe, Mueller will have an effect. And there’s the 2020 election. But discouragement abounds, and the gloom spreading throughout the land is palpable.

This state of affairs points to a difficult realization. Prevailing morality, the system of understandings and practices that underlie our justice system and all personal and social attempts to control bad behavior is tragically flawed. It’s not that well-meaning, intelligent and powerful people are inadequate. Their moralistic understanding of Trump and what to do about him is inadequate.

Prevailing morality teaches that people are more and less bad. Psychiatrists, dating back to what’s sometimes called “early Freud,” capture this view. Freud’s mind was, like practically everyone else, dominated by the moralistic view. Accordingly, he wrote that people are born with destructive impulses that must be tamed by a rational, moral conscience. That’s straight from prevailing morality. This explanation of destructive behavior and what to do about it is standard morality’s tragic flaw. How so?

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Faith in the Face of Bad Faith

Jul4

by: on July 4th, 2018 | No Comments »

Shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, very shortly after, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the Senate would not consider a replacement nominated by President Barack Obama, he not only demonstrated bad faith, but he also showed that he does not function out of a duty to the Constitution of the United States. Worse, to cover up his naked disregard for the Constitution and his disregard for good faith understood as fair play, he used words from a speech given by Joe Biden when he was in the senate taken out of context to craft a fig-leaf, some non-existent something called the Biden Rule.

According to McConnell’s lie, the Biden Rule says that the Senate ought not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. McConnell said “the people” ought to decide who would make the next pick. Clearly McConnell and his invertebrate GOP minions in the Senate who lied then and continue to lie now, who are participants in a theft of a Supreme Court seat, have forgotten that we live in the age of fact checking, that there is video tape that allows us to see what Biden actually said.

First, according to PolitiFacts, the context of Biden’s remarks was very different. When Biden spoke about this in 1992, there was no vacancy on the Court. Biden made his remarks thinking of the toxic political climate at the time and suggested that if a vacancy were to occur, that the process ought to wait until after the election. Second, there was no recommendation that President Bush the elder not fill the vacancy. Biden spoke about compromise in the event that Bill Clinton won the election. (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/mar/17/context-biden-rule-supreme-court-nominations/)

Beyond the lies that McConnell told about the so-called Biden Rule, some people want to say that McConnell’s move to end the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations is the next logical step from the action taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 to end the filibuster for nominations to the federal judiciary below the Supreme Court. This again is an analysis that does not consider the context.

Some of us do not live in the United States of Amnesia. We remember 2013 and before that. We remember the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where Republican leaders of Congress met at dinner to conspire to obstruct EVERYTHING President Obama would propose. This while President and Mrs. Obama were dancing at the various inauguration balls. This while the nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, while fighting two wars.

Mitch McConnell did not attend this dinner, but he announced that his primary goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, and the Republicans in the Senate did all they could to not only stop President Obama’s legislative efforts, but to stop his nominations for cabinet positions and for judgships. The unprecedented obstruction continued after President Obama won a second term. This is why Reid and the Democrats who were in the majority changed the rule.

When the Republicans won the majority in 2014, they had the numbers to take obstruction to its ultimate by refusing to allow President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court the respect of a hearing and a vote. During the 2016 election, more than one Republican senator spoke of refusing to give a hearing or a vote to anyone who Hillary Clinton would nominate if she were to win. For McConnell and the Republicans to talk about the nonexistent Biden Rule or to blame their obstruction on Harry Reid is disingenuous in the extreme. The refusal of the majority of one body to do its job was probably unthinkable to the founders.

So, McConnell is a liar and a thief. He and his colleagues failed to honor the Constitution that they are sworn to defend. Here is the oath of office for United States senators:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (https://www.cop.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm)

Regarding nominations to the Court, the Constitution says in Article II Section 2 describing presidential powers:

“. . . and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.” (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript)

There is nothing here about an exception for an election year. The people voiced their preference during the previous election, and the president’s term is four years.

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The Siamese Twins

Jun15

by: Uri Avnery on June 15th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image of President Gerald R. Ford and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting in the Oval Office

President Gerald R. Ford and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting in the Oval Office. Image courtesy of Crethi Plethi.

After commenting on most of the episodes on the first Israeli Prime Ministers in Raviv Drucker’s TV series “The Captains”, I must come back to the one whose episode I have not yet covered: Yitzhak Rabin.

Let me state right from the beginning: I liked the man.

He was a man after my own heart: honest, logical, straightforward, to the point.

No nonsense, no small talk. You entered his room, he poured you a straight whisky (seemed to me he detested water), got you seated, and asked a question that compelled you to come straight to the point.

How refreshing, compared to other politicians. But Rabin was no real politician. He was a military man through and through. He was also the man who could have changed the history of Israel.

That is why he was murdered.

The salient fact of his life was that, at the age of 70, he completely changed his basic outlook.

He was not born a man of peace. Far from it.

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A Family Reunion

Jun6

by: on June 6th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

When my family gets together it is a good time.

This Memorial Day Weekend, my paternal extended family met in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a good time. A family reunion is interesting because it links past and present in the eternal now, and we see in real time, in flesh and blood and music and dancing and food and stories told and new memories made and worship and more food and more music and more dancing our connection—in blood and in love—to other human beings. These people look like us and act like us, and we are growing old together.

Since my father’s death in 2013, I am part of the elder generation. We get together and laugh about who is the eldest of the elders, remembering when we were the young bunch. We see younger cousins who remind us of aunts and uncles and cousins who were long dead when they were born. We tell the stories of these people so the younger generations will know that they too are connected.

While in Memphis, our family visited the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. This is a historical site that tells the story of the Underground Railroad, a system of houses and hideouts that helped enslaved people to escape slavery into the north even into Canada. When my younger cousins who had organized the reunion said we were going to the Slave Haven, I must confess that I experienced cognitive dissonance. What kind of haven could there be for slaves? Now that I am of the elder generation, I am determined not to be a mean old lady who is constantly critical of the younger generations. So, I held my peace and just decided that I would see in the due course of time what a slave haven was. I was not disappointed. (http://www.slavehavenmemphis.com/)

The museum is located in the home of Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant and a member of the anti-slavery movement who helped enslaved people escape from 1855 until the end of the Civil War. I know the story of the Underground Railroad well. When I lived in Rochester, New York, I lived near houses that were stops on the way to Canada. When I lived in Dayton, Ohio, I learned of the route of the enslaved as they crossed the Ohio River on their way to Michigan and on to Canada. I have always pictured the houses on the secret road to freedom to be in the north. I always imagined slaves hiding in swamps or in the southern woods until they found their way north. However, the Slave Haven helped me to understand that there must have been people in the south who were willing to risk their own lives to help other people get to freedom by allowing their homes to be a stopping point.

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Conspiracies, Left and Right

Jun1

by: Jonathan Zimmerman on June 1st, 2018 | No Comments »

Last week, the president of the United States went into full-on conspiracy-theory mode. Donald J. Trump asserted that a “criminal deep state” planted a spy in his 2016 campaign, in a failed effort to install Hillary Clinton in the White House. And so “Spygate” was born.

Meanwhile, Trump was being blackmailed by the Russians with a lurid tape showing prostitutes urinating in front of him. That’s why he has refrained from attacking Vladimir Putin, who conspired to swing the election to . . . Donald J. Trump.

No, wait:thatconspiracy theory is being spread by Trump’s enemies, not by the president. And by indulging in their own flights of fantasy, they make it harder to criticize our fact-challenged commander-in-chief.

Let’s be clear: there’s no evidence – none – that anyone planted a “spy” in Trump’s campaign. True, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant contacted the campaign as part of the investigation of Russian meddling in the election. But Trump claims that the informant was sent by the Obama White House to infiltrate his operation, which is – quite simply – a fantasy.

Yet the “Pee-Gate” story is pretty fantastical, too. It comes to us from a dossier compiled by British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who has admitted that some parts of the dossier might not be accurate. He described it as a set of leads, not as a full report.

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Our Toxic Civil Discourse

May21

by: on May 21st, 2018 | Comments Off

A Love/Hate Relationship: What Can Be Done?

We complain about the toxic level of our public discourse even as we practice and indulge it. We genuinely want that toxicity to go away, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from promoting it. We are, it seems, both habitual perps and frustrated victims, advocates for civility in our public conversations while, at the same time, unapologetic advocates for standing up for what we believe and for passionately “calling-it-like-it-is” in language of our choosing. I have been thinking about this lately and have become uncomfortably aware that, if I don’t at least own up to my personal duplicity, my hypocrisy, I ought, in good conscience, not complain; I’m not totally without principle. I can’t have it both ways; at least, I shouldn’t.

No longer willing to turn a blind eye to my moral dishonesty by shuttling between these two positions, and chagrined by my naively waiting for someone to come and fix the problem, I’ve begun pondering this conundrum. I have some thoughts and insights I’d like to share, starting with the observation and experience that life consists of speed-bumps wherein we are continuously finding ourselves caught in binds that force us to choose between competing principles we value and having to then live with the consequences of those choices. These binds can be between principles that are petty and personal, (e.g. Do I park illegally to catch the end of my granddaughter’s soccer game, or obey the law and disappoint my granddaughter?) They can be personal and consequential. (e.g. Do I look the other way at the malfeasance of my boss to ensure my paycheck that will send my children to college, or do I risk the latter for the sake of an abstract notion, justice?) These binds are often communal (e.g. Do I shout down and silence that public speaker spewing lies and hatred, or do I support his right to free-speech and do nothing as he befouls the spirit and decency of my community?) Finally, they can be national and political. (e.g. Do we crush an emerging nation’s efforts at self-determination to insure they don’t opt for a governing system that might threaten our status as global leader, our commerce and, with that, our national security, or do our democratic values of fairness and freedom come ahead of those values?) In short, betrayals of principle are neither abnormal nor rare: they are a normative part of our daily lives.

Nonetheless, we manage to live with the consequences of these betrayals. We accept them as inevitable or out of our control. We feel bad for a moment, even feel guilt and remorse, but we promptly forget and move on. We don’t berate or flog ourselves; we learn and grow from this experience. We become wiser to the ways of the world and of mankind and about ourselves. We see and understand that life is neither simple nor easy. We forgive ourselves and accept that we’re not perfect and life isn’t either. We see that for everything there is a season. So we do the best we can and truck on.

But there’s a problem regarding our current betrayals: we may be getting older, but we are not becoming wiser. We do berate and flog, only this time, the other fellow – not ourselves. We are certainly not moving on, not in the sense of growth and wisdom, we are missing a step. We’re missing that step where we feel bad. We don’t feel bad, not even for an instant, and we neither notice nor care. It is as if, for that learning and growing step, there must first be some reaction to our infidelity, at least some acknowledgment that our choice had consequences, that there’s a principle we value that we’re dishonoring.

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On A Royal Wedding Sermon: The Power of Love or When Love is the Way

May20

by: on May 20th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

When the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, prepared the address he delivered at the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he knew he would not only be speaking to the couple about to be pronounced married and to the 600 guests in the building and thousands more outside. He knew he would be speaking to millions of people across the globe, and he did not miss his opportunity to preach the good news about God who is Love.

There was no title for his address published in the order of service that I saw, but I say: we can title his remarks the “The Power of Love” or “When Love is the Way.” When Meghan married Harry, the couple brought elements of an African ethos into the proceedings, a way of being in the world born from the history, beliefs, philosophy, and spirituality of a people. An African ethos is one that values community and a spirituality that comes from the participation of the community in ritual.

Within an African, African-American, African-Caribbean, African-British, context the preaching moment is an oral performance that invites and even requires audience participation. The task of the speaker is to bring speaker and audience together into a spiritual community that unifies head and heart, intellect and emotion, to hear the voice and the will of the Divine. The truth cannot come forth from a passive listening to a speech stripped of emotion for the sake of decorum. Within a pan-African ethos, the voice of the Divine comes from the affirmation of the people. It is not given to a consecrated individual who tells a passive audience what God wants. It does not come through a sovereign, constitutional or otherwise. It is bottom up, not top down.

Bishop Curry brought emotion and logic to his sermon in a way that baffled and or amused some in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle who were not accustomed to the African-American preaching tradition. No one there would break decorum and give Bishop Curry the out loud “Amens” that he would have received in a black church setting. However, this did not stop the power of his words from reaching millions across the globe. The truth of his sermon resonated anyway.

He started by quoting a part of the scripture reading from the Song of Solomon that speaks of the power of love, that speaks of love as a fire that cannot be extinguished. Next he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. on the power of love. He told his global audience that God is Love and that Jesus commanded his followers to love God with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love the neighbor as we would love ourselves. Such love is deeper than the love between lover and beloved. Such love is revolutionary.

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STOP Calling the Police – Engage Instead

May17

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!

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Hate Speech, Violence, and Sacred Texts

May7

by: on May 7th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

In the Winter 2017 edition of Tikkun, Rabbi Michael Lerner and Peter Gabel wrote of rising racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the current political and social face of America. Much was made of attempts to narrow today’s divisive gap between “Trump-ism” and the progressive political movements. Among the valuable suggestions made on how to achieve this goal was an emphasis on Tikkun‘s Network of Spiritual Progressives. Speaking truth to power was mentioned more than once.

However, if there is one area in which speaking truth to power is simply not acceptable, it is what the world embraces as spiritual. This is true not only of religions of which we are not a part, it is true of our own spiritual texts.

In the long history of the spiritual fracturing of these three great Biblical religions, each tradition has pointed to problematic texts in the religions of the others. But the response is not the same when criticism is leveled at our own. There are texts of hatred and racism in the sacred texts of other traditions, but that is another essay. I am interested in dealing with our sacred texts because when it comes to our own, we have all sorts of red herring excuses, dogmatic apologetics, and other evasive responses to any who would point to racism, sexism, and xenophobia in our Torah. It is easy to focus on the problems of the others, but almost impossible to do so when we are challenged about our own bits of the spiritually abhorrent.

One of the things I have admired about Tikkun and its writers is their willingness to challenge Israel when it violates the greatest of our moral teachings. Perhaps that is easy because it can be seen as a political issue rather than one rooted in parts of our spiritually foundational texts. I suggest that without an honest examination of the roots of these spiritual forms of hatred, we will accomplish little.

As Jewish children attend regular religious schools and services, Torah passages where “God” commands genocide, texts of racism, xenophobia, and sexism are judiciously avoided. They don’t learn them. Many a rabbi, including myself, don’t read them the whole meghillah; we stop the hanging of Haman, thus avoiding the rampage of our Israelite ancestors who killed tens of thousands of the evil Haman’s followers. We rush past the extermination of other tribes in our passage to the Holy Land. We teach them “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” Noah and the rainbow, Jacob’s dream, and Elijah’s chariot in the sky. The “rest of the story” gets no mention, or is rapidly glossed over.


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