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Call to action: hang image of menorah in your window

Dec5

by: Chaia Heller on December 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

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!

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

Dec3

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.

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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.

Ecumenism of the Deep Well

Nov21

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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An Activist’s Penitence

Sep26

by: Simon Mont on September 26th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Bringing shortcomings to light is a form of self-love. (Image courtesy of Ian Chen)

I long to see a world of justice and joy; a world where all people’s material needs are met, and we lovingly support each other’s emotional, spiritual, and creative flourishing. Though my life is directed toward manifesting this vision, I often do things that subvert it. Though I long to be a force of peace and transformation, I often commit violence and perpetuate societal distortions.

As I walk the path back to love, truth, and unity, I have noticed more and more the ways in which I have missed the mark; ways in which I have fallen short of expressing what is truly in my heart. In the spirit and wisdom of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of return to wholeness and connection, I offer just some of the things I have noticed here. My intention is that by expressing them publicly I will be more accountable to changing my behavior. My hope is that others will see themselves in my confession, and join me on the path back to love. My prayer is that this offering will help us all heal and welcome each other in beloved community.

I have hidden.

I have stayed in the comfort of my own mental constructs. I have dismissed worldviews that contradict my own.

 

I have used thoughts to avoid confronting my feelings; used beliefs to cloak my needs and wounds; and used arguments to mask my fears.

 

I have tried to use my mind to control, predict, and create safety. I have fled from the tender power of my heart, and the truths that compassion makes me confront.

 

I have hated.

 

I have hated patterns of oppression. Hated them when they appeared in me, then hated myself. Hated them when they appeared in others, then hated others.

 

I have branded and shunned people who see the world differently. I have done it in my own mind, and I have done it with my language and my actions.

 

I have frozen people in one moment in time, and not allowed room for their growth, healing, and transformation.

 

I have fully internalized a distorted view of myself, believed myself to be nothing more than my unchosen role in an an oppressive system, and hated myself for things beyond my control.

I have diminished.

 

I have reduced people to nothing more than the distorted societal patterns that manifest in their behavior.

 

I have failed to see people’s true humanity and complexity; and then imagined myself insightful for doing so.

 

I have thought the only truths worth speaking about are pain, oppression, and injustice and have failed to make space for love, transcendence, and hope.

 

I have allowed my understanding of my true nature to be limited to what people around me are comfortable with.

 

I have judged.

 

I have seen people only for the harm or threat they pose, and not the wounds they suffer from.

 

I have interpreted people’s different experiences, understandings of politics, and uses of language as character flaws.

 

I have fixated on people’s missteps and failed to see their humanity.

 

I have reduced people to nothing more than their unchosen roles in social systems

 

I have used my words as weapons.

I have gossiped about people’s political or identity shortcomings and by doing so, trapped them in the box of my limited understanding.

 

I have imagined myself as superior to other people, then leveraged politics to put other people down.

 

I have used an analysis of oppression to display intellectual dominance.

 

I have leveraged my access to various forms of education and mentorship to make other people feel stupid, ashamed, unsafe, and unwelcomed.

 

I have worshipped my own self image.

 

I have imagined a world where some people are morally superior to others. I have enforced that vision on others to inflate my sense of self worth, and avoid confronting my own human struggles.

 

I have been infatuated with my self-righteousness.

 

I have idolized my own understanding so much that I could not see the truths of others.

 

I have used the language of revolution to inflate my ego.

 

I have used politics and social movements as a forum to acquire social status.

 

I have feared.

 

I have remained palatable to enforcers of radical left political correctness because I am afraid of being misunderstood or ostracized.

 

I have clung to my beliefs and not allowed room for contradictory truths to emerge.

 

I have failed to speak my truth because I believe I will be judged or shunned by my progressive/leftist/radical community.

 

I have presented myself as a victim in order to be welcomed as credible.

 

I have limited my circle of compassion to only those who agree with me.

 

I have become attached to mental constructs of justice and failed to cultivate the courage to love and act directly from the heart.

This is an incomplete list of what I have done. I doubt any of it will come as a surprise to those who know me, especially those who have suffered at my hand. I welcome folks to add to this list with things they have observed in me, or in themselves.

I am sorry. My actions have hurt people. I have hurt people I care about. I have slowed the cultivation of the compassionate world that I long to see, and I have done it in the name of speeding it up. I cannot guarantee that I will be able to fully stop behaving this way, will commit myself to doing the best I can, knowing full well that next year will be another Yom Kippur, another time for repentance, another opportunity for a more full return.

I also apologize to myself. I have been so hard on myself; constantly aspiring to an unachievable standard and then feeling bad that I don’t meet it. It is easier for me to see and share my mistakes then to notice and be proud of my successes. The gentle heart that motivates my life often goes unrecognized by the mind that sees nothing but how much more work there is to be done. Tomorrow, when the season turns from repentance to joy, I might just follow my father’s advice and write a piece about how much I’ve grown and transformed. Somehow that feels way riskier for me, so today I’ll just bask in the paradox that bringing shortcomings to light is a form of self-love.

I feel a discomfort in sharing all this, but I feel no shame. We are all missing the mark of what we could be; we are all trying our best to return to our loving and compassionate natures; and we are all walking this path on a landscape scarred by the violence of our times in a world we did not choose to be born into. I feel healing in offering my missteps into the light of repentance. Today, I recommit to loving myself, to loving you, and allowing the light of our hearts to warm us during this cold night of history we find ourselves in.

___________
Simon Mont is an Oakland based artist, healer, facilitator, and organizer. To learn more about Simon’s work consulting to support collaborative leadership for just, joyful, and strategic organizations visit www.Harmonize.work. Simon welcomes opportunities to connect, collaborate, and explore.

Day of Atonement 2018- Ritual, Personal, and Political Atonement

Sep18

by: on September 18th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward… (Walter Benjamin, Theses on History)

Zizek notes that the pile continues to grow skyward, why is there no resolution, why isn’t the debris cleared? What is preventing the pile from dissipating? Zizek proposes that one the one hand there can be resolution, for some catastrophes there must be no attempt at “resolution”, much as trying to make sense of or come to a resolution of events like genocide or slavery. This is why at the end of the book of Job, God essentially agrees with Job and never provides an “answer”, and even if Job rebuilds and creates a new family, it is not expected that things will have “returned to normal”. On the other hand, he proposes that Benjamin meant a kind of divine “emancipatory” violence that moves history forward, a political explosion that Zizek then tries to read as a form of ultimate love.

Traditionally, on Yom Kippur, when we think of repentance, traditionally we say that the day of Yom Kippur itself heals “religious” ritual sins, Sabbath violations, improper foods, etc, however, in order to heal sins of individuals against other individuals, rituals and prayers are inadequate, but rather a face to face request for forgiveness is necessary.

Yet, the traditional texts do refer to the matter of greater catastrophes. The Sefat Emet quotes an early Midrash, the Tana D’vei Eliyahu, as linking Yom Kippur to the sin of the golden calf. If one counts the days from the sin of the golden calf and the smashing of the first Luhot (tablets of the law) on the Ninth of Av, and the second 40 days in which Moses ascends back up on Mt Sinai, then it works out that Yom Kippur is the day the second set of Luhot were brought down. The midrash states that in order to prevent the earlier mistake, the People of Israel fasted and cried all night on the final night, were appeased, and the day, which corresponds to Yom Kippur, was fixed as a day of atonement for the generations.

The Sefat Emet, in his reading of this text, notes that the Temple service as described in the Torah is done specifically by Aaron the high priest, and the reason for this is that it was Aaron who sinned with the people and thus he leads the people in repentance with him and this complete unity of leadership and people caused the healing to be engraved upon their hearts and enabled the proper reception of the tablets of the law, of the divine covenant.

Let us remember, what was the sin of the golden calf? It was, as we wrote in the essay for Ki Tissa, a crisis of leadership, with Moses gone, Aaron was afraid that in the absence of a strong symbolic leadership, the exodus project might collapse. While Aaron’s intentions were good, it was a devastating political failure to pledge allegiance to an orange-gold symbol of hedonistic deviance, an idol image that was popular among the masses, EVEN if it seemed at the time to be “good for Israel”. This “red wave” did not make the Israelites “great again” and in fact ultimately led to great destruction.

This political error was a great catastrophe that the classical texts tell us is still unresolved, and in a sense lingers on in all the communal (political) errors made throughout history. The Sefat Emet states:

… In truth, the sin of the golden calf is preserved throughout the generations, however, every Yom Kippur we can atone a bit for this sin, we can enter the gates of holiness and alter our hearts…

In other words, aside from the ritual sins requiring absolution, and the interpersonal sins that require resolution, there is an aspect of Yom Kippur that demands a rethinking of sins and errors in the political sphere. We need to consider again, whether following a gold covered but ultimately corrupt symbol, even if it appears to be “good for Israel” at the moment, must be rejected and tossed into the too-high pile of debris accumulated over the centuries, for the sake of communal healing.

…This storm is what we call progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Our Dreams Will You Know Us: Impeachment Edition

Aug23

by: on August 23rd, 2018 | Comments Off

“In dreams begin responsibilities,” wrote the poet Delmore Schwartz. What do our dreams reveal about our responsibilities to the body politic?

Everyone I know is ecstatic that two individuals have been definitively revealed as guilty of serious criminal action in direct service to the Present Occupant of the White House. As Michael Cohen’s attorney said, “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

The New York Times editorial sums it up nicely and links to the relevant details. Many experts are weighing in to say the grounds for impeachment have been met. There is powerful organizing to impeach this shameful excuse for a president: By The People is well worth following and supporting. You can find a recording of their latest online orientation on Facebook Live.

Impeachment is my dream. Or better yet, the speedier option of a Nixon-style resignation to avoid a long impeachment process. Frank Bruni dreams of Melania Trump as an undercover heroine.

What’s your dream?

This question of our dreams against the depredations of the state has engaged me for decades, ever since I read Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, which braided personal and collective politics in an exciting way, new and complex and deep. The main character, Anna Wulf, works with the British Communist Party. In one of the four notebooks that make up the bulk of the novel, she records a dream she has heard recounted by fellow communists. Here’s how I summarized it in “Our Dreams and the President’s,” an essay published almost exactly 13 years ago (it’s short and I have an idea you may want to read the whole thing):

In The Golden Notebook, her masterpiece of disillusionment, Doris Lessing wrote about the dream of a fellow stalwart of the British Communist Party. The book was published half a dozen years after Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations to the 20th party congress in 1956 of Stalin’s terrible crimes. In the party worker’s fantasy, he goes to Russia, and is called from his hotel to see Comrade Stalin at the Kremlin. The Stalin he meets is a modest and humble man who asks for news of the British labor movement. The visitor, flattered beyond bearing, does his best. Stalin responds with kindly and helpful advice, then returns to his ceaseless labors.

I thought of this yesterday when a friend called long-distance to share her dream, that George Bush had been awakened from his complacency by the events following Hurricane Katrina, and had declared his intention to make t’shuvah (to use the Hebrew term), to turn away from distortion toward healing, to make things right.

I have no love for George Bush, but evidently even he has some shred of conscience, having been moved by our national shame to speak out against this president’s policies.

The point is that even with respect to someone as clueless and corruptible as Bush, people were able to dream of awakening and redemption. Of course, these dreams—whether of Stalin or Bush—did not come true. But it says a great deal about how things have changed that I have not heard a single person share the fantasy that the Present Occupant of the White House will awaken to the harm of his actions and enter the process of t’shuvah—redemption, repentance, reorientation—to transform his presidency.

As he seems unredeemable, even in dreams the body politic has to expel him. Impeachment or resignation are the sweet dreams. All the rest are nightmares.

In Ulysses, James Joyce’s alter-ego Stephen Dedalus says, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The legacy of our collective history weighs heavily in this moment: an Electoral College put in place to prevent direct democracy and protect slavery states; a money-driven electoral system that supports victory by the highest bidder; a Republican Party that enriches the wealthiest and treats the planet as expendable as it actively campaigns to suppress voting by people of color; a Democratic Party that seeks funding from fossil-fuel corporations, reinforcing our shameful corpocracy…. I’ll stop there. This system doesn’t allow us to impeach a president for willful stupidity, nauseating cupidity, or the other crimes of character so evident in every day’s news coverage. Even if it did, the foundation of honor among thieves is fear of exposing oneself, and I don’t see too many of the elected officials benefiting from the current system willing to risk their own cozy turpitude by speaking out.

So it’s up to We The People. We still have absolute power to break the chain of causality, stepping off this undemocratic, mercenary, and venal path. For some reason, I stopped asking the three questions that for years were my watchword. I think it’s time to revive them:

Who are we as a people?
What do we stand for?
How do we want to be remembered?

As the people who finally drew the line and made the dream of impeachment real.

“Politician,” performed by Los Lobos.

When Two Truths Collide, Part Two: Can You See Yourself as The Accused?

Aug17

by: on August 17th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Something in our body politic is troubling me. I do not think it is possible to have a just society without understanding that every member of society bears the same potential to harm or heal. I do not think we can have just laws and processes without imagining how we would ourselves be treated as either the accuser of wrongdoing or the accused. Yet I hear so many people exempting themselves from these deep truths, advocating positions conditioned on understanding their own virtue as unimpeachable, on seeing themselves as incapable of serious wrongdoing.

The antidote I think we need is perspective, the ability to see our own virtue, accomplishments, or status as subject to change, to braid empathy and imagination with justice.

A few days ago, I wrote about conflicting views of how best to respond to abuse charges leveled against a respected person. As a case-in-point, I explored progressive responses to the charge that Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison had abused his former partner, Karen Monahan. Since then Ellison has won the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General. It remains to be seen how whatever unfolds will affect both him and Monahan, but whatever happens, that won’t end the discussion. I could have picked a different example in which any man long regarded as dedicated to equity and justice is publicly charged with abuse. The choice is appallingly plentiful, the debate ongoing.

To reduce the two perspectives I discussed to a few words, I’d characterize them as “Believe Women. Period,” leading to immediate calls for the accused to step down; or “Investigate Before Action,” in which charges are taken seriously, but the call for punishment is conditioned on obtaining full information.

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We, too, wandered lost in the desert; A Rabbi in solidarity work with migrants

Aug3

by: Rabbi Brant Rosen on August 3rd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Some of Jewish tradition’s most cherished spiritual lessons derive from the narrative of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, guided by God’s presence as they make their way toward the Promised Land. Today, as we hear increasing reports of migrants risking incarceration, starvation, and death in the deserts along our southwest border, these sacred stories call out to us with a desperate immediacy.

It is all too clear that U.S. border policy is creating a crisis of death and disappearance in the southwest borderlands. It is unconscionable that our government is leaving migrants to die in the desert – and that humanitarian workers are now being criminalized for helping them. As a Rabbi and a Jew, my faith compels me to witness and to respond.

Image of car door among some trees, painted with sign: "No Mas Muertes, Bienvenidos"

Entrance to No Mas Muertes desert aid camp near Arivaca, AZ. Image courtesy of Patrice Clark.

No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes – a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona – has documented how border enforcement pushes migration routes into some of the most remote, dangerous areas in Arizona’s deserts. As violence and hardship grow in parts of Latin America – in direct response to US foreign policy – and as pathways to asylum and other relief are cut off, growing numbers of people are crossing the border to reunite with their families and seek safety.

In 2017, 57 sets of human remains were found in Arizona’s West Desert, including 32 on the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge – a vast and remote stretch of land that shares 56 miles with the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet this number represents only a fraction of the people who have disappeared and died in the region; some estimate that 10 times as many people die trying to cross these deserts.

For the past three years, No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes has left water, food, socks and blankets for migrants crossing the Cabeza Wildlife Refuge, but outrageously enough, these humanitarian relief efforts have now been criminalized by the Trump administration. Earlier this year, Scott Warren, a humanitarian aid provider with No More Deaths, and two people receiving humanitarian aid were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol. Now Warren is facing federal felony charges, and he and eight other No More Deaths volunteers are also facing federal misdemeanor charges relating to their humanitarian aid work on the Cabeza.

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Review of Steve Herrmann’s Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times

Aug1

by: Reverend Dr. Matthew Fox on August 1st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

This exciting and important book is filled with verve and insight that only Dickinson can awaken. With the help of Carl Jung and the inspiration of his own deep work, including his penetrating insights on Walt Whitman’s launching of an American movement of Spiritual Democracy, Herrmann sheds brilliant light on the spiritual genius of Emily Dickinson. Rightly does the author call Dickinson a “medicine woman for our challenging times,” for even today – 130 years after her death – she still brings forth wisdom and insight to challenge patriarchy. The book is filled with insights triggered by James, Jung, Whitman, Emerson, Everson, Jeffers, Melville, Humboldt, and the author’s own well-traveled soul. Herrmann’s acute exegesis of many poems that sometimes seem opaque is sensible and eye-opening.

Herrmann argues that the crux of Dickinson’s struggle was her wrestling with the archetype of vocation. It was her vocation as a poet that charged her with awe and ecstasy as when she wrote: “Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy,/ And I am richer than all my fellow Men–/ Ill it becometh me to dwell so wealthily/ When at my very Door are those possessing more,/ In abject poverty – ” (#1640) Yet she had to sacrifice her career as a public poet in her lifetime because she was excluded for the most part from the male-dominated world of publishing. Herrmann believes that Dickinson underwent a “crucifixion of her ego on the cross of her poetic vocation.” After suffering a breakdown she revealed how she rose not as a wounded bird but riding “the Ether into the air or sky as shamans do.”


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A Prayer of Boundless Love: Extending the Shema to Include All Beings

Jul5

by: Charles Burack on July 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As part of my integral worship each morning, I recite the Shema, the central Jewish prayer. The opening verses of the Shema proclaim the People of Israel’s responsibility to affirm the unity of divinity and love the One with all our heart and soul and might. For many Jews, the initial verse “Shema Yisrael YHVH Elohaynu YHVH echad” means “Hear, O Israel, YHVH is our God, YHVH is one.” For some mystically inclined Jews like myself, the opening verse means the “Hear, O Israel, YHVH is our divinity, YHVH is Oneness.

YHVH is the holy, unpronounceable divine name that traditional Jews replace with Adon [Our Lord], and that modern scholars designate as the tetragrammaton (Four-Letter Name) and vocalize as Yahweh. Various Rabbinic commentators gloss YHVH as “the Eternal One” because it appears to merge three singular forms of the Hebrew word for “to be”: was-is-will be (hayah, hoveh, yehiyeh). The Sages also associate YHVH with the quality of divine compassion (middat ha-rachamim) – which is the “womb [rechem] consciousness” of divinity. Jewish mystics note that the numerological value (in Gematriya ) of YHVH is 26, which is equivalent to the sum of the values of the two central concepts in the Shema : love (a havah = 13) and one (e chad = 13). This spiritual equation “YHVH = Love + One” implies that divinity is fundamentally unified and loving and that love itself is the primary means for creating and sustaining unity.

While many mainstream traditional Jews understand the divine as wholly transcendent, many Jewish mystics affirm, along with the Zohar , that the Infinite One ( Ein Sof ) both fills and surrounds all worlds (memalai kol olmin v’sovev kol olmin). The divine is in All, and All is in It, and there is no place where divinity is not present.

Like many other members of the Jewish Renewal community, which integrates neo-Chasidism with progressive views and values and honors the insights and practices of other religious and spiritual traditions, I understand the Shema as enjoining “God-wrestlers” to experience the Oneness – of Being, Non-Being and Beyond – as divine. I like Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s translation of Israel (Yisrael) as “God-wrestler” not only because the Bible itself explains that it means “one who contends [struggles, wrestles] with God” (Genesis 32:29) but also because this gloss gives the word a more universal meaning that can speak to anyone, whether Jewish or not. Indeed, I am inclined to tell the students who take my Kabbalah courses, “If you are a God- or Goddess-wrestler, consider yourself an honorary Israelite.” Then I quickly add with a smile, “Most rabbis would not agree with that statement!”

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