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The Dangerous Unity in Community

Jan17

by: on January 17th, 2018 | Comments Off

This Martin Luther King holiday, I attended an annual community celebration in East St. Louis that, this year, commemorated the 50th anniversary of King’s death. Its theme was “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” which is also the title of a book King published in 1967. This King holiday found the public discourse a buzz with the question of whether or not the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is a racist because of remarks he made calling Haiti along with African and Latin American countries “shitholes.” In a meeting with congress-members regarding legislation around immigration, he also expressed a preference for people from countries such as Norway to immigrate to the United States.

Many political pundits expressed outrage at the comments, and some told the stories of their families who had come from places that could have been considered “shitholes” at the time their ancestors left. The story of the United States is the story of people who had the get up and go to get up and go, searching for a better life. Trump’s grandfather was a German immigrant, and his mother was an immigrant from Scotland. However, the questions that kept coming to my mind, other than the obvious racial question, are: what is the definition of a “shithole” place? What are its characteristics? How do we know it when we see it?

Is a “shithole” place a place where poor people live? Does it lack basic infrastructure? Is there a high unemployment rate? Do young people leave because there are no decent job opportunities? Is there poor education, poor medical care, and high rates of violence because people make their living through an underground economy?

If this is the description of a “shithole” place, Trump ought to look at the states where people voted for him. He ought to concern himself about “shithole” America. The ten poorest states in the United States including the District of Columbia measured by the percent of its population who are living in poverty are: Mississippi 20.8; New Mexico 19.1; Kentucky 18.3; Arizona 18.2; West Virginia 17.7; District of Columbia 17.3; Alabama 16.8; Arkansas 16.8; Georgia 16.8; Florida 15.3. Trump carried all of these places except New Mexico and the District of Columbia. (United States Census Bureau)

East St. Louis is a poor small city. It needs infrastructure repairs. Our young people leave because there are not many good job opportunities here. They move to the suburbs or to other cities because there is not much decent housing. The underground economy thrives, and there are far too many gunshots in the night. However, we are also the City of Champions, East Boogie, and the 89 blocks. We have a great spirit of civic pride because we have produced significant figures in various aspects of human endeavor, including jazz great Miles Davis and Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee. A documentary about the championship season of the East St. Louis High School Football team – “89 Blocks” – aired recently on the Fox Sports channel.

Many people see East St. Louis as a “shithole” place. But, they would be looking with eyes that do not see its potential clearly. One reason that I believe Senator Dick Durbin was so deeply offended by Trump’s remarks is that he was reared in East St. Louis and now represents us in the United States Senate. He could recognize the vile racism of the remarks that were an insult not only to Africa, Haiti and Latin America, but were an insult to poor people all over the nation. Why did not Tom Cotton who represents Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the nation, and David Perdue of Georgia, also one of the poorest states in the nation recognize the insult? They did not recognize the insult because they were blinded by their own racism.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrated his 39th and last birthday in Atlanta with a multi-racial group of people who were in the early stages of planning a poor people’s campaign. King and the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had decided to shift its work from racial desegregation to attacking the problem of poverty. Poverty cuts across all races in America. It bares its teeth in every section of the country. King saw it as a part of the tripartite evils of America – racism, militarism, and materialism. King, one of the few leaders in America with the moral authority to bring people together across racial lines for nonviolent direct action with the aim of calling attention to and ending systemic poverty, became more of a threat.

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It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

Jan14

by: on January 14th, 2018 | 12 Comments »

 

I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way. My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years. I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war.I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up. They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day. During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County. (Read here aboutThe Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

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Star Wars: Where Are the Black Women?

Dec26

by: on December 26th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away there was a world where there could be found no black woman who could speak more than a sentence. It was a world of the most strange creatures and robots and technologies, but black women could only be seen in the background, usually at a bar or some place of entertainment. It was a period of civil war where rebels were fighting a war of resistance against evil forces in the universe. It was a world where The Force, a power that holds all things together in balance, both the good and the evil, the light and the dark could be summoned for the sake of restoring justice and peace to the galaxy. But, there were no black women of any consequence to be found.

On Christmas Day, my children and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie. We have been going to see these movies since they were children. I suppose I have become inured to the absence of black women until this movie when it came to the casino scene. There were black women represented in the latest version of the Star Wars bar, then it occurred to me: There was no black woman character of any consequence. I started to pay attention, and I started to look for the black women. C-3PO has more lines than any black woman in the movie. I left the movie livid.

So, I came home to think about the presence of black people as main characters in the films. I could think of only three black men – Billy D. Williams as Lando Calrissian in “Empire Strikes Back: Return of the Jedi”; Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in “Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace”; and John Boyega as Finn Galfridian in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”. I am not counting James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader or Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata. They are black actors who did not play identifiable black characters.

Star Wars has been a multi-billion dollar franchise for movies, toys, and other merchandise for 40 years. Yet, the Star Wars imagination does not stretch to include black women in any major way. Why is this?

Perhaps the creative minds that created the Star Wars world are not familiar with human history and the place of black women in it. As of this writing, science tells us that all of humanity descends from a black woman in East Africa. Black women have been queens in Africa one of the most famous of which is Hatshepsut in ancient Egypt. Amina is a 15th century warrior queen of Zaria, Nigeria. Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana fought against British colonization. Ana Nzinga Mbanda of what is now Angola resisted the Portuguese slave trade and colonization. The Dahomey warrior women are renowned for being fierce fighters and the last line of defense to protect the king.

Perhaps African history is too obscure to expect the creative minds behind Star Wars to know. They ought to know that there was a black woman who was Queen of England, Queen Charlotte the wife of George III, having descended from the Africans in the Portuguese royal line. Josephine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Empress of the French, was born to a wealthy Creole family in Martinique.

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An Angel Tree Christmas

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2017 | Comments Off

As I write this, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has tracked Santa somewhere over Texas. As you know Christmas Eve is a long day for all four Santas. The northern hemisphere Santa starts east and travels west to work the time zones. Sometimes, if he has time, he will stop by my house of coffee and cornbread. But, not this year. He knows that my schedule is jammed with my own efforts of resistance against Trump, and Santa approves.

I did not even go to the North Pole to help in my usual capacity of address verification. There is a group of us who go every year to help Santa locate children who may have moved or become homeless or who have been displaced for some other reason. When I told Santa that I would not be able to come this year. He gave me a local assignment. “I want you to visit the Angel Tree program at your church,” he said. Santa never commands, but it is very difficult to say no to him.

I have been familiar with the Angel Tree program for years. It is a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship where parents in prison sign their children up to receive Christmas presents from them. Local churches take the names and buy, wrap, and distribute the gifts. My mother was committed to Angel Tree. My Christmas memories of her include her shopping for and wrapping the presents in our basement. And she did it all with such joy. I find Christmas tedious. I am bah humbug about the whole thing. I consider the holidays female slave days full of shopping, cooking and cleaning until I hear the Messiah, especially the Quincy Jones adaptation, and then I can breathe in the true meaning of the season. This was not the case with my mother. She seemed to enjoy all the shopping, cooking, and even the cleaning for the holidays.

So, I did not mind going to the Angel Tree program. At our church, the Angel Tree families are invited to come and have breakfast and lunch. We break into groups for Bible study after breakfast, and then return for lunch and the distribution of the gifts. This year when I went, I asked how I could help and it turned out that the person who was supposed to work with children six and under may not be able to make it. So, here I was saying yes to working with little children.

Once upon a time in my life, I was a teacher, but I taught adults. Post graduate adults. Most were young adults, but adults none-the-less. I taught my first Sunday School class when I was sixteen- years- old, but the students were eight-years-old. This was way out of my comfort zone. Two other women and I took a group of ten to fifteen children into the nursery to play and to talk about the Christmas story. The older children sat with me at a table and we talked about the nativity. They had the experience of going on a road trip and having to stay at a motel. They could imagine how scary it would be not to have a room at the end of the day. When I told them Mary was about to have her baby and that the only place she and Joseph could go was the stable were the animals were, the six-year-old girl in the group was horrified.

I have become so accustomed to the Christmas story that it has become rote. It is routine. This little girl’s shock reminded me that the idea of a human being having to give birth in a stable is a shocking, horrible, heartless thing.

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#GivingTuesday is tomorrow!

Nov27

by: on November 27th, 2017 | Comments Off

Giving Tuesday logo superimposed over image of people gathered for Tikkun Conference 2016

Thank you for your support! Without you, we cannot continue to spread a vision of a world based on love and justice.

Tomorrow is#GivingTuesday–would you be willing to take a few minutes to help us? If you haven’t done so already, it’s not too late to set up a fundraiser on your personal Facebook page. Clickherefor more information about how to do that. Or, if you’d rather just donate, you can do that directly through theTikkun Facebook pageor theNSP Facebook pageby clicking on the donate button below the cover photo.Remember:starting at 8:00 a.m. EST, Facebook will be matching any donation you make–and we’ll give a free subscription toTikkunto anyone who donates $50 or more!

It’s also not too late to sign up for our next Spiritual Activism Training: Beyond Resistance – Strategies in the Age of Trump, which beginstomorrow! Clickhereto learn more. Want to know what people have to say about the training? Here are just two testimonials:

  • “I am pretty much blown away, in a very, very good way. I am grateful beyond words for the work you have done to create this most amazing (and so very necessary) course. Thank you for your vision, your work, your courage and your ongoing commitment.”~ Heidi Van Ert
  • “The Spiritual Activism training is a vital step for building the world we value and reversing the world-wide slide into anti-democractic and even fascistic ways of thinking. This training and the movement behind it deserve generous financial support and far greater visibility and participation.”~ Rabbi Michael Zimmerman

We hope you’ll consider setting up a fundraiser or donating tomorrow–and please think about registering for our upcoming training! We couldn’t do this work without you, and we greatly appreciate your support.

With warmth & in solidarity,

Rabbi Lerner, Cat, Rev. Carolyn, Simon, Rebekah, and Chris

An Interview with Frankenstein

Oct31

by: on October 31st, 2017 | Comments Off

All Hallows Eve is the time when the thin silver thread that divides life and death, divides fact from fantasy from flesh, disappears. It is a time when imaginary beings come to life. As I write this, that time is almost over in the Central Time Zone. I worried for a moment that I would not be able to finish my interview with Frankenstein before the dividing line returned. However, Frankenstein, contrary to his persona, is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and he made sure to speak to me before the dividing line re-emerged, and we would not be able to communicate again until next year.

I must confess that these last two days have been difficult for me. I have been depressed. Just sad. I cannot quite put my finger on the reasons for my melancholy state. The weather where I live has finally turned to fall, and the past two days have been a gloomy gray. I am sad for my country, heartbroken for the United States of America. The perp-walks have begun. Indictments of people close to the Trump campaign for president are facing charges. One has pleaded guilty. I thought that this would make me happy, but it does not. I am happy that our system of checks and balances on corruption and power is working, or at least, it has the possibility of working if justice is served.

At the same time, it is a sad commentary on the state of our nation. Some of us resist daily the various ways that the United States of America allows injustice. We defend the right to protest, the right of NFL players to take a knee. We question the sanity of John Kelly, Trump’s chief-of-staff when he lies on a member of Congress or “misremembers” in a pathetic attempt to shield Trump. Now he says that the Civil War happened because the two sides could not compromise. What kind of compromise does he imagine? We resist the laws that are being passed under the radar, laws that allow Internet providers to sell our browsing history without our knowledge or consent and without compensation to us. We resist the law just passed that takes away the right of bank customers to join in class action suits. Trump is taking away the requirement that employers provide funding for contraceptives, and we will not begin to think about the various ways that this administration is weakening the EPA and other agencies intended to protect people. Immigration authorities want to hold a sick child in custody, preparing to deport her.

I say and say again that we get the government we deserve.

That was yesterday. Today, another human being decided that it was his duty to commit a mass killing. He thought it was his responsibility to some ideology, to some way of thinking that makes the murder of other human beings not only thinkable, but justifiable. All of this was on my mind when I finally was able to connect with Frankenstein. Here is a portion of our conversation.

VED: Mr. Frankenstein, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I know that Halloween must be a busy time for you.

FRANKENSTEIN: Please, you do not have to call me mister. Frankenstein is enough. I am happy to be with you.

VED: Let me begin with today’s terrible news about another mass killing in New York City. This time, it was a young man driving a truck in a space for bicyclists and pedestrians. What is your opinion of this type of violence?

FRANKENSTEIN: First let me explain that I have lived many lives. Since I am a character of the human imagination, I come into existence at different moments in history in different forms. I exist to bring certain archetypes into focus so that humanity can see outside its own mind its deepest fears, dreams, desires, and capabilities.

In my first incarnation, in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s novel, I was a murderer. I accidentally killed a young boy. An innocent woman was convicted of the crime. Then I killed as a matter of revenge. I killed my creator’s best friend and his bride. These were not mass killings. I did not kill for ideological reasons. I killed because of my own pain. The old saying is true: “Hurt people hurt people.” Human beings do harm out of their own pain.

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Embracing the Stranger, Part I: Connected in Difference

Oct29

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on October 29th, 2017 | Comments Off

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We at Tikkun feel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Stay tuned for parts II, III, and IV in this series!

Connected in Difference: Reflections of an Interview with AnaLouise Keating

Inspired by writers and scholars before her, Professor AnaLouise Keating is developing her lifelong work focusing on the possibilities of change in the midst of difference. She is currently a professor of gender studies, however, “If I could rename my field of study, I would name it transformation studies,” she says, “because my work focuses on discovering and inventing innovative ways to effect personal and collective change, in the service of social justice.” AnaLouise is the author of multiple books on women-of-color feminisms, spiritual activism, transformational dialogue, post-oppositional theory, and the work of Gloria Anzaldúa. Knowing the breadth of AnaLouise’s work, she has immense insight into the possibilities of developing commonalities within a world of difference.

Like many scholars, AnaLouise’s research and teaching has been shaped by her experiences and identities; unlike many scholars, AnaLouise is aware of her own evolution and the unique insights that creates. AnaLouise begins discussing her intellectual development by sharing that she has never been someone who fits in well with any specific group. “I’m a person of color but light skinned. I’m not gay, I’m not heterosexual. I wasn’t comfortable with my family’s very conservative Christian Protestant beliefs. So I just read a lot and tried to figure myself out and find myself. [...] Then I started reading women of color, especially lesbians of color, to find myself, and I was especially drawn to [Gloria] Anzaldúa, [Audre] Lorde, and Paula Gunn Allen. I think it’s because in different ways they didn’t fit into any monolithic race, gender, sexuality, or social justice group.” As outsiders, they could see the limitations in numerous group identities; they learned from their experiences and developed innovative approaches to building radically more inclusive communities.

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Questioning Everything

Oct26

by: on October 26th, 2017 | Comments Off

Questioning Everything

by Madisyn Taylor

Being open-minded means that we are willing to question everything, including those things we take for granted.

A lot of people feel threatened if they feel they are being asked to question their cherished beliefs or their perception of reality. Yet questioning is what keeps our minds supple and strong. Simply settling on one way of seeing things and refusing to be open to other possibilities makes the mind rigid and generally creates a restrictive and uncomfortable atmosphere. We all know someone who refuses to budge on one or more issues, and we may have our own sacred cows that could use a little prodding. Being open-minded means that we are willing to question everything, including those things we take for granted.

A willingness to question everything, even things we are sure we are right about, can shake us out of complacency and reinvigorate our minds, opening us up to understanding people and perspectives that were alien to us before. This alone is good reason to remain inquisitive, no matter how much experience we have or how old we get. In the Zen tradition, this willingness to question is known as beginner’s mind, and it has a way of generating possibilities we couldn’t have seen from the point of view of knowing something with certainty. The willingness to question everything doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t believe in anything at all, and it doesn’t mean we have to question every single thing in the world every minute of the day. It just means that we are humble enough to acknowledge how little we actually know about the mysterious universe we call home.

Nearly every revolutionary change in the history of human progress came about because someone questioned some time-honored belief or tradition and in doing so revealed a new truth, a new way of doing things, or a new standard for ethical and moral behavior. Just so, a commitment to staying open and inquisitive in our own individual lives can lead us to new personal revolutions and truths, truths that we will hopefully, for the sake of our growth, remain open to questioning.

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Live in NYC or Rockland County? You’re invited!

Oct13

by: on October 13th, 2017 | Comments Off

You are invited a series of events when Rabbi Lerner speaks in NYC and Rockland County!  The President of Brooklyn College has invited him to make a major address Thursday Oct 19 in the series she set up in response to the growth of hate in U.S. politics.  That morning he will speak on a panel at Medgar Evers College. And then on Friday night and Saturday he will be the scholar-in-residence at a synagogue in north Nyack in Rockland County where on Friday night he will address “Developing Empathy for BOTH Israel and Palestine” and on Saturday morning he will address  the Torah reading (about Noah) and the theme of “Environment and How it is Impacted by Ethics and America’s Spiritual Crisis.”

 

All of these events are free.  Details are below.

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I Surrender

Oct2

by: on October 2nd, 2017 | Comments Off

This morning when I opened my tablet to the newspapers, I was greeted with the reports of another mass shooting in the United States. This time, it is the deadliest mass shooting in history. I had no words. No tears. No feeling. I watched with a kind of numb sense of surrender. I told myself it was time to face the awful tragic fact that I live in a country that does not mind mass murder. They happen nearly every day in the United States and only make the news, only make us stop in our tracks, when the numbers are high. We value guns more than human life.

I have written about gun violence in the country over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again at the Tikkun Daily Blog alone.

This June, in my Juneteenth essay, I wrote about our nation’s enslavement to gun violence.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/06/19/juneteenth-2017/

In April, I tried to take a more humorous view of gun safety laws as a homage to April Fool’s Day and called for a rule that no white man under the age of 65 be permitted to buy a gun

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/04/01/a-modest-proposal/

In June 2016, after the mass shooting in an Orlando night club I wrote about how this happens over and over.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2016/06/13/here-we-go-again/

I have written about the gun culture in the United States as idolatry.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2016/01/11/human-sacrifice-and-the-idolatry-of-the-gun/#more-58931

After the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white racist gunman killed black people at a prayer meeting, I wrote a two-part essay about the Cost of Cowardice, the cowardice to face issues of race, and the cowardice of our elected official to defy the National Rifle Association and give us gun safety laws.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/06/24/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-one/#more-56596

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/07/22/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-two/#more-57034

In 2013, I wrote about the Power of Mothers to bring about change, comparing the relatively new organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. My hope was that as women organized around the issue of gun safety laws, it would make a real change in our nation’s politics.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2013/05/16/the-power-of-moms/#more-38552

After the killing of elementary school children in Newton, Connecticut, all I could do was lament and keep saying that we have to elect representatives who will not fear the NRA.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/12/24/a-lamentation/#more-35141

In December of 2012, grieving over the deaths of children in Newton, I quoted a portion of my book where I propose the unicorn as a symbol for the world of justice and peace that we want to establish.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/12/21/unicorns-exist/#more-35139

After the mass shooting that nearly killed Rep. Gabby Giffords, I wrote about the Second Amendment within the context of 21st century technology. This amendment was not intended for a moment where guns can kill tens and wound hundreds in a matter of minutes.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2011/01/10/21st-century-weapons-technology-and-the-second-amendment/#more-18559

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