Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present, the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

 

 

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Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present., the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

 

 

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Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org Shabbat shalom, Arthur  

 

This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Still lnside the Book of Exodus? What Now?

 Torah Still Coming

Last week our would-be Pharaoh Trump reached the crucial point of his reign: Should he mobilize the red-hat chariots and drown in the Reed Sea, or grumpily relinquish power? We know what he chose. But the danger of Pharaoh does not end with him. We ourselves have not yet crossed the Sea, chosen a new way of understanding World, affirmed a new Name of God. A Name that intertwines us, interbreathes us, not a Name of Domination, Subjugation.

In the old Egyptian culture, Pharaoh was already seen as a god. His power went to his head. Stiffened his heart. He began to believe his own propaganda about the dangerous Israelites, the Ivrim. They speak a different tongue, worship a different God. They come from somewhere else – globalists, cosmopolitans.

He decided it would be a guarantee of his own power to erase them as a separate community. He issued the order to separate new-born babies from their mothers.  Then murder them. Best to start there. Soon he can kill the grown-ups too.

But some people are horrified. Women -- two midwives and then his own daughter – begin creating a Resistance movement. They start saving children’s lives, including one Moses. Fearing the Pharaoh’s racist police, Moses disappears.

Years later he reappears, possessed of a burning new vision, announcing that the very Name of God must change. A new “Name of God” meant understanding the world in a new way, and then changing the world to embody the new vision. The old Name, “El Shaddai, God of many Breasts,” was about a human society always fed by the nourishing Nile. But now the people must learn that they are part of Earth, not separate from it, not the boss of it.

Every breath they took was interwoven with all other interbreathing life. If they acted cruel, Earth would act cruel toward them. Not a punishment, simply a consequence. The only way to prevent a plague was to breathe into Earth and let Earth breathe into them.  The new Name, just Breathing, YHWH, intertwined all people and all life-forms.

But Pharaoh sneers. “Breathing? That’s a God-Name? Can’t even hear it, it’s so weak. The Nile, Osiris, ME –- I am a God you can hear, you must obey!”

Bragging, he treats Nile and Earth and Sky like tools of his own power, bringing on disaster. Some of his advisers warn him. But by this time he has become addicted to his own power; he fires the advisers and hires sycophants. At each disaster, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and a growing number of critics warm him that he is fighting against the whole process of universal Consequence. At each disaster he first recoils and then returns to his own hubris: The disaster? “Stuff happens!” 

But then his arrogant treatment of Earth brings a devastating disease to afflict his own citizens, his wife, himself. At first he tries to dismiss it. But it grows so terrible that his own Egyptian supporters start denouncing him. He tells the “wetback” foreigners not only that they are free to Go, but they Must Depart. He tells his people to offer them gifts of gold and silver as reparations for hundreds of years of subjugation. 

The cosmopolitan Ivrim smear blood on their doorways as a symbol of going forth from blood-encircled wombs of rebirth, and leave. Many Egyptians sign petitions that he resign and allow his compassionate half-immigrant daughter to become Pharaoh.

And now comes the moment of fateful decision. Pharaoh wakes up the next morning. Should he accept his fall from power, or mobilize a new variety of brown-shirted, armed Egyptians to catch the Israelites at the edge of the Reed Sea, and force them back into slavery? Remind them that back in Egypt forced labor always came with the onions and garlic that they loved, whilst they will have only “God-knows-what?” = Mahn-hu” = “manna”” to eat if they cross the Sea into a wilderness. 

 

So he sends his brown-shirt bullies, legitimated by his own speeches anointing them as the real patriots but only if they will fight in wild melee against the corrupt old leadership. What will the people do? 

Choose the normalcy of slavery with garlic? Or make themselves a civil-disobedient Sea of Reeds, bending and swaying but always returning thick and bristly to block the path of Subjugation?

Announcing we will no longer obey this Pharaoh and his bully-boy brown-shirts? Reaching out to his frightened, despairing followers with new tools, windmills and solar collectors, to make peace with wounded Earth?  Choosing to hear our own ”still small Voice of Breath,” pointing our way toward a Loving and Beloved Community?

It’s up to us. It always has been.

At about 4 pm on Infamous Insurrection Wednesday, we were one of the very first  groups  to urge our members to call Congress and demand Trump be impeached. Done! Now, if you want to end the power of our would-be Pharaoh and prevent a future effort, call 1202-224-3121. Ask for your own Senators or Sen. McConnell, who says he is undecided. insist on removing  Trump and disqualifying him from future office. 

 

 

 

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Prayer & Action : First Steps toward Renewing Our Democracy

Action to Remove a Cruel and Dangerous Ruler

Dear folks (written at 4 pm Thursdaay, January 7), I am watching the Capitol, as I assume you are.  I don’t intend to make a “Case” for what needs to be done, because you know as well as I do. Just to suggest the mechanism ands details And to follow with a prayer to strengthen us as we invoke the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, the Breath of Life. 

 Not only for the symbolism, but for reality ---  to prevent further crime by  the President--  he should be impeached,  removed, and prevented (as the Constitution provides) from ever again holding any office under the United States,. As for us, the People, we should be demanding the impeachment  / removal processs of every Member of Congress.The phone number 1202-224-3121 is where to call for your Senator or House Member, as well as the home district of each Member. I urge each of us to call again and again.  (Residents of D.C. who have no voting representative could ask for the Speaker and for Senator Schumer.) 

Trump's promise Thursday morning to permit a peaceful transfer of authority is worthless. Not only does he lie more often than one can count, a democracy does not depend on the whims of a would-be dictator -- but rather on the power of the people. 

Any of our Senators or House Members who -- even after the attack on the Capitol -- joined the Trumpist effort to call for a fake post-election audit,  tell them to resign. 

After Trump has been removed from office,  he should be indicted for a myriad of crimes. If he commits another crime by pardoning himself, that should be ignored.  

Please share this letter and the prayer below, or write your own to all your friends. 

A Prayer  in Time of Coup & Insurrection

 You Who taught us 3,000 years ago that the only king we needed was the Interbreathing Spirit of all Life,

You Who when we insisted we needed a king instructed us  to limit the powers of a king,

You Who empowered yeomen farmers and taught us always to honor their own dignity,

You Who instructed Moses that every seventh year the whole people, even small children, should  assemble  to rethink the Sacred Teaching,

You Who inspired Ezra and Nehemiah to call on the People to vote on whether they would affirm the Torah,

Inspire us now, at this moment of great peril –

Inspire us with the strength to demand the removal of a ruler –

Who has shown contempt for Your Creation and Your People,

Who has acted with cruelty to mothers, fathers, and children,

Who has incited a violent mob to attack the place where our representatives gather to struggle toward our good.

 Inspire us to unite to affirm once more the sacred Image in our diversity

And to banish Cruelty, Subjugation, and Violence from the halls of leadership.

 

 

 

 


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Deep Breath: New Year, New Call to Sacred Democracy

Dear friends,

 The Shalom Center begins the new “civil year” with the profound hope that our new Administration will help make this a far more civil year in politics than the last one.

 Even while we hope, we will ourselves act. We look at an honest picture of the truth: We are standing at the edge of a great abyss.  Where we are, is a crescendo of Cruelty and Subjugation. Some of us—like Pharaoh’s Army at the edge of the Red Sea – want to force and cajole us back into what has been “normal” --  being subjugated with a few perks of tasty garlic and onions. Some want us to take small “incremental” steps that will meet no one’s needs and do what small steps at the edge of an abyss do --simply plunge us into the abyss. And some of us – as we at The Shalom Center have done – are encouraging us to leap across to create a new society beyond paralysis.

 The constitutional structure we have inherited from an anti-democratic past did not, this past fall, deliver the necessary energy to leap the gap. The heritage of slavery is structurally slanted against democracy, and has not yet been transformed. Indeed, it informs many other versions of subjugation --  of the poor and more and more of what was the “middle class,” of women and GLBTQIA communities, of immigrants and refugees, of Muslims and perhaps of Jews, even of Earth our common home and mother.

The Electoral College is structurally slanted against democracy; the Senate is structurally slanted against democracy; and so is, for now, the Supreme Court – which has gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and gutted a century’s worth of law restraining corporate and hyperwealthy interventions of money into election campaigns.

 A majority of Seven Million votes produced only a 50-50 balance of political power  -- paralysis.

 And it is now clear that this 50-50 balance is between one fairly normal mildly progressive political party not yet fully galvanized by an Earth-shaking planetary crisis --  pandemic, climate chaos, mass extinctions -- and a bitterly furious political current so desperate to hold power and prevent change -– especially change from being a corporate-controlled society with a male white Christian culture -- that it is willing to threaten its own state officials to get them to steal an election, as happened in a conversation between the President and the Secretary of State of Georgia just this past weekend.

We still have a couple of days to know whether the Senate will be able to legislate in a way that will even barely begin to meet our needs, or be utterly paralyzed by an attempt to prevent any forward action undertaken by a new President.

So what is our task at The Shalom Center? I believe we are called by the Spirit to map out how to leap across the abyss, not to fall into it.  That is what happened in that ancient tale of the Red Sea: We plunged ahead into the Unknown. Would the Sea split, or drown us? We did not know. Would it swamp Pharaoh’s chariot army, or let it through to subjugate us again? We did not know. Would the Wilderness sustain us, or starve us?  We did not know.

Here is what The Shalom Center plans: 

  • The Seventh Year of Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, is by the Bible called “Shmita” or “Release.” Release for  Earth from being overworked and poisoned, “Release” for our society from worsening economic and political inequality and subjugation.
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  • That Seventh Year begins, according to the ancient count, this coming fall. It is the Bible’s version of the “other side” of the Great Abyss. It is what we may today call the Great Turning. We cannot simply imitate the Bible’s regulations. But we can welcome the Spirit’s invitation to work out our own new version.
  • Part of our Shmita task will be to heal Earth. There was more to the biblical Shmita, and we will add more as we celebrate our own -- addressing racism, the crush of debt, the need for public health, and more. Earth won't wait, as the pandemic, the fires, floods, and fanines, the asthma, insist. 
  • We can end the paralysis of fear and hatred that is preventing us from healing our neighborhoods, our country, and the great round Earth. We can leap past politicians to every American neighborhood to fund at the neighborly level solar and wind co-ops. We can save money, save lives, save dignity, save hope, heal Earth.
  • We do not have to choose between the Globe and the Neighborhood. We can meet the needs of both, give new life to both..   
  • How? By a Green New Neighborhood Campaign:  rural and small-town, big city and suburban. Climate Justice for every neighborhood, climate healing for Earth. 
  • The sacred festivals of every community were ultimately born from the love affair between our varied human communities and the dance of Earth, Moon, and Sun. Now Earth and human earthlings are suffering; how can we shape our offspring the festivals – the children of that love affair -- to heal us from our sickness? 
  •  Sukkot, Hanukkah, the Advent Season => Christmas, Passover and its younger sibling the Holy Week of Christianity, the moonth of Ramadan – how can they become public actions to heal climate, prevent pandemics, end extinctions? 
  • The Shalom Center will create and share prayers, liturgies, vigils, nonviolent actions, voter turnout practices that any cluster of people, any congregation, can use.

And we are already planning a Multireligious Training Institute for Climate Activists.

We promise to do what we can to stir to wakefulness the sleepy giant of American social transformation – the communities of faith. “We” means all of us who read this and the friends we share it with.  “We” will mean time, money, skill, passion, and compassion.   

What I have written here is only a sketch, a skeleton. We will put flesh on these bones, breath into these bodies. With the help of the great Interbreathing Spirit of the world, in all Their Names, we will take the practical prophetic steps to heal us from our suffering.

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

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"Subversive Prayer": A J Heschel on His Yohrzeit

The yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is 18 Tevet, and this year the date coincides with this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Va’yehi. As Chapter 6 begins of my new book Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis), I quote three  brief passages from Heschel:

 “I felt as if my legs were praying.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, on returning from the Selma Alabama march demanding full voting rights for Black Americans)

 "The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God" (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) 

 "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

[This photo finds Rabbi Heschel with Rev. Martin Luther King in a prayerful moment with a Torah Scroll, at a public event of opposition to the US war against Vietnam.]

 Several chapters of Dancing in God's Earthquake are about sacred street action toward sacred justice. Chapter 6 is about “subversive prayer.” Truly to learn from a teacher is to crystallize what you have learned in some new reality. One form that I have found fruitful is this: For the Amidah, the murmured prayer in which we might take our “stance” by standing, by the lotus position, or perhaps through another posture as our stance in God, the prayer community scatters outside, each finding a tree to listen to.

At first the listening is for the breath the tree is breathing out – the oxygen we need, transmuted by the tree from the CO2 we have breathed into it. Then we learn to listen for the tree’s prayer. And then to rejoin the prayerful community to recite the tree’s prayer that we have heard. Bringing each tree into the minyan. For after all, could the minyan exist if the trees were not fruitfully breathing, praying?

Our tradition teaches that to honor a teacher, we may on his or her yahrzeit learn from the wisdom s/he has left.  For many subversive texts by and about Heschel to shake our assumptions about what prayer and action are, this Shabbat see https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/52

 

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Planning Hanukkah #8Days4Climate

Green Menorah Covenant

Gather in community to devise a Green Menorah Covenant, binding the community together in continued climate justice action in the coming year. Write us what you are planning, at GMCovenant@theshalomcenter.org

Hanukkah begins Thursday evening, December 10. What do we want the commitment of our community to be, to do, by the last night?

We urge that you, we, together create the Green Menorah Covenant  -- a local group in your own community that will grow connections with Jews around the nation and the world. Green Menorah Covenanters will celebrate the Tree of Light that was the Menorah in the Temple, for the sake of protecting the Tree of Life and the Interbreathing of Life everywhere.  Healing our wounded Mother Earth and ourselves from the climate crisis.  

First of all, the original Mishkan Menorah was shaped like a tree -- branches, buds, flowers. At the heart of Hanukkah is this Tree of Light, connecting Earth with the handiwork of human earthlings. (Exodus 25: 31-39) This medieval portrayal makes the point, as does our generation's symbol for the Green Menorah Covenant:

 

Each year for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, we read a breathtaking passage from the Prophet Zechariah that goes even deeper to connect Earth with Humanity:  The Prophet Zechariah imagines two olive trees beside the Menorah in a yet-to-be-rebuilt Temple – already a radical departure from the Torah’s original ground-plan of the Holy House. The Haftarah explains the meaning of this prophetic vision: “Not by might and not by power but by My Interbreathing Spirit/Wind of Change, says YHWH [Yahhh/ the Breath of life].”  Let us remember this wisdom at the heart of Hanukkah, as we face the greedy power and the selfish might of carbon Empires that are condemning Earth to fires, floods, and famines.  

Then, in a passage just a few lines later, Zechariah asks for a further explanation:

“‘And what,’ I asked [God’s messenger], ‘are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the light-bearing Menorah? What are the two outgrowths of the olive trees that feed their golden oil through those two golden tubes? Then s/he explained, ‘These two reach out to take their stance to make a lordly connective-link to all the Earth for the shining oil-of-anointment.’” (Zechariah 4:11-14)

So from the Prophet Zechariah, we learn of the self-renewing miniature ecosystem that sustains the eternal burning of the Temple Menorah: two olive trees that feed their oil directly into the Menorah, with no human intervention needed. And what allows for it to be eternally alight with sacred fire? Trees that, springing directly forth from Earth, directly provide the resource necessary for the Menorah’s functioning. Trees, who spring from the Eternal Breath of Life and interweave their breath with all Earth’s animals and so sustain the human beings who fashion the Gold Menorah. And so the Eternal loop of Light and Life and Love that lights our way in the gusts of Winds of change.

Hanukkah was created in a time of resisting tyranny and honoring the resistance with a teaching and a practice: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Breath of Life.” And the proof: One day’s energy, one day’s olive oil, met eight days’ needs! If we resisted tyranny and refused to worship idols, we could learn how to make sure that it would take only a minimum of nature’s energy to serve us.

What can we learn from the Green Menorah of the Temple -- one that is sustained indefinitely by cooperative relationship with the ecology of its surroundings? That we are reliant on the resources of our Earth around us and within us, and that we need to create social systems that not only sustain us, but allow for us and the Earth we’re harvesting to mutually sustain one another. Forever.

Therefore, when Hanukkah comes to a close, we invite you to open your imagination from thinking immediate to thinking long-term. What continued action can you commit to over the coming year? What covenant will you enter into with your community to ensure that Hanukkah’s lessons on resource conservation last all year?

And will continue to nurture us – IF we act to make sure our own mechanical out-breath of CO2 does not poison and burn the planet.  

What then could we promise to each other during Hanukkah?

We could promise to create our own congregational and neighborhood solar energy co-ops. And we could commit ourselves that these co-ops will work to support a national campaign for Federal grants to neighborhood solar-energy co-ops in every neighborhood --  urban, suburban, small town, rural.

In the spirit of Hanukah, we could watch on the evening of December 10 a PBS TV show that asks the question -- Why doesn’t every home in America have solar panels?

Watch Property Brothers star Jonathan Scott explain on PBS Power Trip how we can change America’s energy future together. Bring your questions to a  screening and Q+A discussion with Scott and Anya Schoolman, founder and exec of the Solar United Neigborhoods (SUN) program that has solarized many neighborhoods in DC and beyond. The show can be seen anytime with Q and A from 7 pm to 10 pm on December 10.  RSVP here today!  

That evening is the first night of Hanukkah. We can join by Zoom with family and friends to light the first Hanukkah candle, either at 6:30 pm Eastern Time, before this amazing PBS TV show, or after it finishes at 10 pm Eastern Time.  

Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops can bypass state and local officials. The new solar systems radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries. Infusing national money into this local transformation would create millions of new “green jobs” in communities now hollowed out and dying. And the new solar systems would greatly reduce CO2 emissions that are scorching and burning our home – our planet.

What’s more, the co-ops themselves would become grass-roots political challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines.

I sketch this approach as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America – simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” -- might look like. I suggest that it could be good practical politics as well as good value politics – appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who started out opposing the national program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.

For that very reason, it may be bitterly opposed by the same politicians who bitterly opposed Obamacare, and still do. All the more reason for us to vigorously support it!

It's time to start preparing for the eight days of Hanukkah  and the twelve days of Christmas (starts Christmas Eve, December 24). When better for a healed economy, a healing Earth?

 

 

 

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Dancing in God's Earthquake: Sodom, Lot, & America Today

I’ve said that on Tuesday mornings I would post a quote from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion . This isn’t a quote, but reflections from the chapter called “The Sin of Sodom and the Sin of Lot.” (See Genesis chapter 19 for the biblical story.) It fits our discussion of how to welcome the newly arrived into a fuller American democracy, while respecting those who feel they have been forgotten although they used to think they were the heart of American society.

The sin of Sodom was that they hated foreigners. They barely tolerated Abraham’s cousin Lot, and when he welcomed two strangers to his house they mobbed the house and threatened to rape the visitors. The point was not sex, though much of Christian thought was that their sin was homosexuality; the sin was hatred. But Lot committed a sin that was the sin of Sodom upside-down: he offered to let them rape his own daughters if they would let the foreign visitors alone.

With a little stretch we can see our own dilemma: Shall we save the community that thinks we have forgotten the mystic ties that bind us together as friends and family, or save the newcomers for the sake of sacred justice? Have "the forgotten" fallen into hatred? Or are they frightened, desperate? Have the justice-focused forgotten that we all are entitled to justice, not only the newcomers? 

Lot and his family were saved, according to the story – remember, it’s a story! --  when his visitors struck the mob with a light so intense it blinded them from attacking. Already a paradox. A light that darkened.  What might that mean for us? How can we insist that our businesses stop pouring CO2 into the air that burns, floods, and kills our families – our children --  while affirming the cultures that believe global scorching is a hoax?

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A letter from Karen Flotte, a member of the Justice Gardeners Team that works closely with the Central Reform Congregation of St Louis and with the nearby Black community to discern what people need and want to eat – and share in making it possible for all who hunger to tend and feed themselves from the communal garden. And who is a member of the Program Coordinator team for The Shalom Center.

This is a deeply personal post and not meant to be prescriptive for anyone. 

As the sun was setting yesterday evening, I found myself in a park weeping.  Weeping over the nation torn asunder we find ourselves in.  My heart as broken as our people.  

 Yesterday morning, I saw a post asking about a photo of Republican voters, “Who are these people?”  I immediately thought, “People I love.  My family, dear life-long friends, my neighbors.”  My grandparents and parents who taught me to protect those most vulnerable by the ways they lived and acted.  My friend of nearly 40 years who held my hand offering emotional and spiritual support and medical wisdom as my sister and father were dying.  A friend with whom I can consistently reach across the aisle and speak heart to heart about our different perspectives with respect and love. 

My neighbor who cares compassionately and practically for all he meets, especially the elders in my neighborhood.  The neighbor who I told my son would protect us with his own life when John Wesley asked if extremists would try to shoot us. 

I come from an all-American family, Jewish, Christian and nones; conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats as well as those who do not claim a space on that spectrum; urban and rural; queer and cis-gender straight.  Reflecting a part of the erev rav or great mixed multitude that comprises our nation.

 For many years, my friend Rabbi Randy Fleisher has been working with the story of Jacob and Esau, the story of a generation divided, of fear and of hatred.  In the few short years I have known Randy, he has taught this story in different ways, examining it deeply, wrestling with its meaning for our time.  In this story as Jacob returns anticipating meeting his brother Esau, he wrestles for a full night before crossing over to meet his brother.

 I have spent the last few days wrestling within.  If the election season can be compared to the High Holidays of my adopted tradition, Judaism, I feel like I am standing in Yom Kippur, taking a full accounting of my soul.  I live my life on this truth, that the wholeness of the community depends on the wholeness of the entire community.  The entire community.  

I need to take a full accounting of my soul.    How have I personally missed the mark?  What are the ways that I have allowed my heart to harden?  How have the way I speak about my fears, values and perspectives led to alienation, oppression of others?  Has my own speech and thinking contributed to violence, hatred and divide?   

How do I need to listen deeper?  How do I bring compassion and healing to myself, to others?  My inner work, inner healing is necessary if I want to be an active participant in tikkun olam or repair of the world and our nation in the days that follow.

Four years ago on the Shabbat after the election, Rabbi Mem Movshin (of blessed memory), who did the teaching that day, posed this question to all of us, “how will you be a blessing in the days to come?”  Jacob and Esau are able to cross the divide and embrace in an act of blessing.  I fear that if I am unable to do the work of inner healing, of opening my own heart to the entire community -- person to person, face, to face -- the forces which have torn our people asunder will, in fact, win.  As I enter this Shabbat after the election, I ask myself Rabbi Mem’s question again, “how will I be a blessing in the days to come.”  And I carry deep within my heart this prayer by St. Francis which I learned in my parent’s home:

Yah, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Breath of Life,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

Amen.

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A glimmer of answers, a glow of light to let us blur our differences and let us see what we might share:

 Rabbi Doris Dyen of Pittsburgh, from one of the congregations that met in the Tree of Life building where murder struck two years ago, recommends two groups that are working to make dialogue possible across what has been our splitness:

 Braver Angels --  https://braverangels.org/ 

The organization was originally called "Better Angels," drawing from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  They facilitate structured "red / blue" conversations between groups of ordinary people with opposing political views.  They also provide training for conversation moderators.

 

Multi-Faith Neighbors Network --  https://www.mfnnetwork.com/ 

This organization was started by an Evangelical Christian pastor Bob Roberts in Texas, a Muslim leader (also in Texas I believe?) Imam Mohamed Magid, and Rabbi David Saperstein.  I participated in their 6-week workshop of guided conversations this summer, taught by Pastor Roberts and Imam Magid, which brought together local spiritual leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths here in Allegheny County. 

Pastor Roberts, Imam Magid, and Rabbi Saperstein lead these workshops all over the country:  they want to get the spiritual leaders talking/listening to each other, and attending each other's religious services if possible, activities which are then followed up by their congregations doing community service projects together, so that the congregants also begin to establish rapport. 

The long-range goal is to build "resilient communities" where people are working cross-culturally for constructive change together on things they can agree on.  Our chavurah has since participated in two interfaith community food distribution projects in Pittsburgh with the churches/mosques whose leaders I got to know through the Network workshop series.  

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There will be more as we explore this question, for life and not for death.  How can we pursue justice and love at the same time, when parts of our people have such different ideas of what both of them mean?  Can we create forms of action that almost all of us agree on, in our differences?

Meanwhile, if you want to explore this and other questions in the glowing light of Torah transformed: Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. Click to --

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

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From "Dancing in God's Earthquake": Limits on the Powers of a King

Dear friends, I promised that every Tuesday I would post a passage from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion,  This passage seems extraordinarily fitting, on the morning of the most  important election in US history. It’s from Chapter 10, and it was written more than a year ago.


 The king is not to multiply the horses he would need for aggressive imperial warfare. He must not pile up money for himself as a side-benefit for his service to the People. He is not to multiply wives for himself, lest the sexual overload distract him from the public good. And he must sit before the priests who are part of the tribe of Levi, to read aloud from Torah these passages that limit his power and other passages that protect the poor.  (Deut. 17: 1-20)

 The Torah “Constitution” may have thought that the priests could not be overawed. But there is no suggestion of how their supervision of the king’s  recitation can become more than literally listening. Can they, do they, interrupt in public to say, “That last line you read about not equipping your army with chariots –- Have you obeyed it?”

 Our Supreme Court seems less independent from the git-go than the ancient priesthood, because it is appointed by the President whose authority it judges.  Does it defer to presidential power? Up to some limit, our experience shows that the Court draws on public confidence and its life-long terms of office to strike down presidential actions that go beyond the rules. But our experience also shows that beyond some “normal” limit, the more egregious the president is in breaking rules and limits on presidential power, the more likely he will be able to shape or overawe a Court so that it defers to him. 

There was a king, Solomon's son,  who told a group of protesting elders, "My father whipped you with whips. I will whip you with scorpions." There was a revolution against his illegitimate authority, and the kingdom was split in  two.


There’s a lot more in the chapter about the choice to have a king in the first place, about nonviolent resistance to tyrannical actions by the king, and about limits on his power to fight wars.

The book is my sketch of the do-able , transformable future. Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised it. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. See 

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!   --  Arthur

 

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