Yom Kippur’s Call for Environmental Repentance: Overcoming Social Sin

FIRST I MUST THANK YOU, the people of the Beyt Tikkun community, for the invitation to be with you during these High Holy Days and also for the splendid spirit and warmth with which you have welcomed me to your community and to the Bay Area. I am grateful to you for making me feel at home!

I cannot talk with you in this context without also naming the deep tension that I experience in doing so as a follower of that extraordinary first-century Jewish teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. I am painfully aware that my faith forbearers, throughout history and still today, have brutalized and murdered yours. I am particularly aware because I am situated in the Lutheran heritage, and Martin Luther’s violent writings against Jewish people are some of the most vitriolic anti-Semitic writings the world has known. They added fuel to the Holocaust.

Learning of that some years ago is one of the reasons that I believe one cannot be faithful to a religious tradition without being highly critical of where it has betrayed itself and the good it seeks to express. So I am situated very critically within Lutheran traditions. Rabbi Lerner once wrote that the Scripture contains both the word of God and the word of human brokenness. Reading that—long before I knew him or Tikkun—was very helpful to me in understanding that religious traditions, including my own, both pass on and betray the good that they seek to know and embody.

Human brokenness and betrayal of the good to which we are called gives rise to the profound need for and power of repentance. This need and power bring us to today, Yom Kippur.

Let me ask you a question: how many of you have experienced some moments of anguish or grief or anger or hunger to repent when your heart faces the realities of climate change or of economic injustice in our world today?

Take a step back in time, if you will, some millions of years. Imagine a world of splendor and abundance beyond belief—a dawn every 24 hours. Sun called forth from indigo sky. Birdsong fills the air. Fragrance wafts from living blossoms in glorious shapes and colors. Drops of glistening water powder the land at the birth of each day. Air shimmers with fluttering leaves. Light rays dance. Luscious fruits hang from trees. Everywhere is breath. Life is birthing.

In this fertile circle of life, the weave of interdependence is breathtaking: a radiant ball of energy from eons past issues energy to meet the needs of all. All that dies nurtures life for others. A decaying log nurses her young. Death brings life. Days and planets, creatures and colors are born and die and bring new life. Complexity and simplicity unite.

It is a wild, raucous, fire-spewing, earth-quaking, communion of life, joined in the hymn of all creation, praising the Source of all that is. Only one thing surpasses the splendor of this world. It is the radiant love of its Creator embracing Her creation and coursing through it. This world is beloved.

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Source Citation

Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 4: 22-25


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