Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

2018: Is the Spirit Rising? -- Part 2

Dear friends,

Today we face a concerted effort to overturn American democracy and to substitute an oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy.

This New American Oligarchy even tries to choke to death our Mother Earth –- the home that makes possible all human life -- by strangling the renewable-energy business while subsidizing Big Oil and Big Coal and removing the anti-pollution regulations that protect the purity of our water, food, and breathable air.  All for its own enormous profit.

You would expect the people who will suffer from this Oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy to rise up and throw these murderous rascals out of office. How do those who attack democracy make themselves electable? By calling forth the latent fears and bigotries that, once given new energy and visibility, begin to deny the human rights of Black folk, of immigrants and refugees, of Muslims and perhaps of Jews, of independent-minded women who are no longer cowed by sexual harassment and violence.

Denying human rights is the goal of Oligarchy. And it also becomes the means by which to achieve that goal. 

What do we do?

Already we have seen the emergence of a movement that calls itself Resistance. To tell the truth, so far it is more Remonstrance than Resistance. When civil-rights organizations begged Congress to pass a law, that was Remonstrance. When four college kids sat down at a lunch counter, that was Resistance. It took both to change America.

One of the most astonishing and important aspects of this movement is that the largest demonstration in US history, three million people scattered all across the country on last January 21, was imagined by women, led by women, and made up mostly, by far, of women.  And they didn’t just march and go home. Thousands of them decided to run for political office for the first time.

That is a systemic breakthrough. It has already had an effect on our culture – on the ubiquitous, iniquitous  sexual harassment, violation, and rape that more and more women are coming out of the closet of shame and impotence to challenge.

What is the role of the Spirit and of religious and spiritual communities in this struggle? The attacks on racial and religious minorities, on women and the GLBTQ community, on immigrants, on the Earth, are all attacks on different limbs and organs of the ONE. These attacks deny the interwoven interbreathing that suffuses all life. These attacks wound and threaten to kill the life that scientists call an ecosystem, in which every species is crucial to all the others. 

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If you harm  even the least of these, you are harming me.” It is what the Sh’ma says: “Hush’sh’sh and listen, you Godwrestlers who live amongst all peoples, hush’sh’sh and listen to the Breath of Life, the still small voice that is our sacred truth: That Voice is One!” It is what the Holy Quran is saying: “God created us from a single pair of human beings in order to evolve into varied tribes and nations, not to despise each other but to know and love each other, bringing our diversities into our single family.”

It is democracy, not Oligarchy, that carries that truth into the world of action. And if our religious and spiritual communities can revive that message, can turn it into liturgies of light and passion, can make festivals like Hanukkah and Advent and Eid into moments when our legs are[raying as we nonviolently confront the Oligarchy, then it will fall and the Spirit will arise.

There will be an election in November that may serve as a referendum on Trumpery –-- not just an “advisory” referendum but more -- either a reconfirmation or a serious reduction in its power. But there is a long way to walk before anyone runs in November, and  I want to lift up what may be the two most dangerous moments we may face this coming year.

One is that Mr. Trump may decide he is in such legal and political danger from the investigation headed by Robert Mueller that he fires Mueller and/or pardons his own family and close advisers. That would be a break in the rule of law in America and a threat to all our spiritual truths. 

If this usurpation of ultimate power were left unchallenged, few of our human rights and little of our democracy would survive.

On the other hand, our traditions teach that when the tyrannies of Pharaoh and Caesar and the power elite of Mecca became unbearable, the Spirit broke through and new communities were born.

The second possible moment of great danger is perhaps a month or two before the November elections, if polls show the Democrats are about to carry the Congress and Mr. Trump decides to pull out of the hat the oldest trick of a politician in trouble: He goes to war and invokes war powers to control the political situation at home.

In regard to the second possibility, I know of no planning or even brainstorming  -- yet. In regard to the first possibility, the on-line progressive stalwart Move On and dozens of other strong progressive groups have joined to set up a Rapid Response network to go into action if Mr. Trump tries to fire Special Counsel Mueller. Within hours, that network intends to mobilize millions of Americans into public demonstrations.

You can access the plans at  <https://act.moveon.org/event/mueller-firing-rapid-response-events/search/>

What would be the demand of such demonstrations?

One proposal I have seen on line is that in such a crucial moment, we demand new general elections in November. For President and Vice-President and for the whole Senate as well as the whole House of Representatives. 

That would be Resistance, not only Remonstrance. It would break the conventional rules, but in a way that affirms the rules.

[Last Sunday, when I raised this possibility at a Human Rights Day gathering in South Jersey sponsored by Amnesty International, the gathering startled me by breaking into applause and cheers. That moment was noted by two local newspapers that covered the event.]

Now a harder question: How could such a demand be carried out, with or without acquiescence by the election apparatus in most states?

To begin with, by insisting, by refusing to leave public squares and streets and even Federal office buildings until the election apparatus agrees.

And where it does not, by holding our own elections in or near the regular precincts, in churches and synagogues and mosques, in schools and community centers. And then sending our own newly elected representatives to Washington –- the White House, the Senate –-  to challenge the credentials and occupy the seats  of those who were voted out.

This is what the Black and white pro-civil-rights community of Mississippi did in 1964, when Black folk couldn’t vote anywhere in the state. They organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and voted in churches and community centers for an independent-minded delegation to the Democratic National Convention that summer.

The delegation, led by Fannie Lou Hamer, demanded that the Convention seat them instead of the all-white pro-segregation, and racist delegation that had long held those Mississippi seats

This suggestion of new elections next November goes even deeper into what we think the rules are, and broader across the whole country. Would it be easy now? Of course not. But if the time were ever ripe for a deep reexamination of our political system, now is when.

What about later in the year?  Say it is September, polls show the Democrats poised for a big win in Congress, and Mr. Trump decides to change the conversation by bombing Iran or North Korea. No declaration of war or authorization by Congress.  

What do we do?

What could our spiritual and religious communities do in such a crisis? 

Let me end by inviting you-all to do three things:

1)  Either click to <https://www.facebook.com/events/881082792061621/> and register to head to Washington DC early tomorrow to join another wave of sit-ins on Capitol Hill to stop the Tax Deform bill, or call 1202-244-3121, ask for Senator Collins and then Senator McCain, and urge them both to announce now they will vote No on final passage of the bill..

2) Click to <https://act.moveon.org/event/mueller-firing-rapid-response-events/search/> and check out the plans for Rapid Response if Speciaal Counsel Mueller is fired.

3)  Join in the brainstorming about what to do if Mr. Trump tries to fire Special Counsel Mueller, or if he goes to war later in 2018.  Write me your thoughts, for publication with your name unless you say not.

Celebrate the festivals of Light in times of Darkness! Kindle the candles of Hanukkah (beginning tonght) and Advent.

 

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2018: Is the Spirit Rising?

Last night I began to write a review of where the Spirit has led us in American culture, politics, and society this year, and what we may face next year. But right now, an urgent outcry:

 As I write, the Tax Deform hovers on the edge of passage, but the wave of resistance and remonstrance  is rising. More sit-ins are on the way, like the one Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I took part in last week, warning Congressmembers they would get a pink slip” in November if they vote for the bill on final passage.

One Senator who voted to Deform our country ---  Susan Collins of Maine –--  is so shaken by her constituents’ anger and by her party leadership’s betrayal of its promises to her about the bill, that she has said she might reverse her vote.

There is still time to act: Call her, Senator McCain, and Pennsylvania Congressmen Meehan and Costello,  at 1202-224-3121. Come to Capitol Hill if you can on Wednesday morning December 13, to honor the first day of Hanukkah as a nonviolent Maccabee resisting Oligarchy. For more information and to register, click to --  

<https://www.facebook.com/events/881082792061621/

And in the Philadelphia region, plans are under way for a faith-based action (both risking & not risking arrest) at the home offices of three Members of the House. Call -- Melissa Byrne at 609.364.4267 if you would like to take part.

 Why do all this? Because the Tax Deform bill  strangles Obamacare and deeply wounds Medicare and Medicaid and even cancels tax deductions for medical expenses; it heavily burdens the lives of college students and grad students with higher taxes; it tries to choke to death the renewable-energy business while subsidizing Big Oil and Big Coal, thus burning our planet and ourselves.

And while impoverishing the middle class, the Tax Deform bill cuts a trillion dollars from the taxes of the Hyper-wealthy, setting the scene for an Oligarchy to replace American democracy and preparing the way to slash Social Security and Medicare to make up for the staggering deficit created by its radical reduction of money  the Federal government can spend for human needs --  because it has delvered all this extra money to the Hyper-wealthy.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is burning, Puerto Ricans are still dying because they have been deprived of electric power, and the arsonists who caused both disasters are sitting in cushy Corporate offices, Capitol Hill, and the White House.

 

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 This past Sunday was Human Rights Day, commemorating the original adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.  I was invited to speak to the Amnesty International chapter of South Jersey. 

The “Press of Ocean City” covered the event, and its report is at –--

<http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/rabbi-social-activist-discusses-politics-and-resistance-in-ocean-city/article_8ddbddb9-b391-5672-8c0d-82ed54c83371.html>.  

In this letter to you I will divide what I said in two parts: Naming the truth of where we Americans are as 2017 ends, and then looking forward into 2018. This is the first part of what I said; the second, I will send to you tomorrow. 

When we talk about attacks on human rights, usually we have in mind a specific arena: attacks on racial equality, or religious freedom, or freedom of the press, or the rights of women and the GLBTQ community, or the right to vote. 

 When such attacks come in American society, usually they seem like a bad case of the flu or a broken arm in the body of a basically healthy person –--  a momentary break in the over-all context of a healthy functioning democratic society.  Attacks on racial equality are different: They began at the beginning and continue to this day, sometimes more virulent, sometimes less. Right now,  a lot more, with a white-supremacist in the White House.

Most other attacks on human rights in America arise in moments of economic crisis or foreign war, and then they subside. We end up being ashamed of them, and to make sure that we can keep upholding human rights, we support organizations like Amnesty.

But all that is in the context of a healthy functioning democracy (again, except for racism), only occasionally wounded as a healthy person might be.

Today we face something different. We face a concerted effort to overturn American democracy and to substitute  an oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy. At the core of this effort are attacks on every human right, all the human rights, that together make democracy possible – – in fact, are democracy.

Who would have thought that a "tax reform" bill could embody attacks on basic human rights? But the whole point of the bill we now see before Congress is to shift enormous wealth and power into the hands of those who are already enormously wealthy and powerful, and simultaneously to weaken at every turn the ability of 99% of our society to meet our own needs or to bring about public policy that meets our needs. (That ability is what we call "democracy.")

I call the bill not “tax reform” but “Tax Deform.” It twists and deforms America -- our shared religious and ethical values, our future, our hopes and plans for our children and grandchildren.

It tries to choke to death the renewable-energy business while subsidizing Big Oil and Big Coal, it strangles Obamacare and deeply wounds Medicare and Medicaid and even cancels tax deductions for medical expenses, it heavily burdens the lives of college students and grad students with higher taxes.

Details tomorrow! 

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Light & Delight for Hanukkah and Other Festivals

“It is the worst of times, it is the best of times … it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness,” to carry into our own generation a famous novel of the French Revolution.

This morning, as we face the danger that the “Tax Deform” may pass despite its cruelty, the world is growing darker than it was. Yet we can also see the growing glow of Light, like fireflies in the night,  in many hearts, minds, hands that are kindling the candles of commitment.

And many festivals of Light dispelling darkness are soon to come upon us.

The roots of Hanukkah are in a Tree.  A Tree of Light in a time of Dark. A Tree of Growth in a time that threatens death. 

 


Hanukkah begins the evening of December 12 with the lighting of one candle and continues till the evening of  December 20 -- including the lighting of one more candle each night till eight candles are lit on the evening of December 19. 

The festival begins on the 25th of the lunar “moonth” closest to the winter solstice, and watches over the disappearance  of the moon and its reappearance. It thus celebrates with light the darkest time of the moon and the sun in the Northern Hemisphere.

This pattern suggests that almost certainly its true origin was an earth-time festival. It has been overlaid in Jewish tradition as the celebration of the victory of a Jewish revolt against an oppressive and idolatrous empire –- ruled by a king known as Antiochus the Mad. Thus it translated the earthy and spiritual victory of light and hope over a time of darkness and despair into a political and religious level, as the victory of a ragtag guerrilla uprising against a powerful Empire. 

And the rabbinic tradition also defined Hanukkah as the celebration of a miraculous “conservation of energy” when oil capable of lighting the seven-branched Temple Menorah for just one day lasted for eight full days.

On the Shabbat of Hanukkah we will read the Prophetic and ecstatic envisioning by Zechariah of the rebuilding of that Temple after its destruction by another empire -- Babylonia. Zechariah proclaims that in the rebuilt Temple the Menorah will be lit up by two olive trees that will secrete their oil directly –--  without human intervention -- into the Menorah. (The Menorah itself was fashioned in imitation of a tree, with branches and buds and flowers.)

Thus what is made by human hands and what is earthy are intertwined,  just as  the Earth (adamah) and the human “earthling”  (adam) are in Hebrew intertwined, and as they are intertwined in the life-giving ecosystems of our planet.

So Hanukkah can be celebrated at many levels: 

  • As a time to renew active and activist hope and Light in a time –-- like the present! –-- when many of us feel darkness and near despair about the future of democracy, the future of human civilization, and the future of our planet’s web of life;
  • As a festival to celebrate and act on the conservation of energy and the reduction of our use of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels;
  • As a time of resistance to our modern Empires, both corporate and governmental, including one ruled by a Mad self-worshipping Emperor devoid of empathy and honor;
  • And as a time for celebrating the interwoven, interbreathing life we share with all living beings as part of Mother Earth.

Meanwhile, we are on the verge of other festivals  that also celebrate the emergence of Light in a time of darkness:

The Christian festival of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (December 2) and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24.

The Muslim festival of Mawlid un Nabi, Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, began last night for Sunni Muslims and continues till this coming evening, and for Shia Muslims will begin the evening of December 5.  

Bodhi Day, the Buddhist festival recalling the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, occurs on December 8.

For those who want to celebrate any of these festivals not with tchotchkes but with gifts that bring Light  into our lives, two books and a CD  from The Shalom Center might meet your needs and fulfill your desires.

In one of these books, Godwrestling – Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths, I share the new Torah that emerged from Torah as I read and reimagined it in the context of my own life in the midst of new Jewish communities (feminist, Earth-centered, peace-pursuing, Spirit-called).

In the second book, Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I draw on our lives together to look at the bold, mournful, hilarious, heartbreaking stories of breaking free from slavery and seeking to birth a new society.

In the spirit of the Freedom Journey itself, we invited a radically spiritual white Christian American, a feminist Muslim scholar, and an activist  Black American teacher who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King each to write a chapter on the role of the  Exodus/ Wilderness stories in their own traditions and communities.


You can read these books, a chapter at a time,  to yourself, a teen-age child, a companion, a lover, a spouse. Taste the chapter, talk about it, savor the sparks of Light that rise when you strike the Rock of Torah with the Hammer of our own lives.  And have your companion read the next chapter to you. They will bring sparks of renewed Light into your conversations and your lives.

 

As for the CD named Sing Shalom!, it begins with an improvised jazz duet on flute and shofar by Paul Horn and Reb Zalman. It includes Pete Seeger singing for the first time in public his song Rainbow Race; Peter  Yarrow singing his poignant Hanukkah song Don’t Let the Light Go Out;  Debbie Freedman with  Not by Might, Not by Power;  Shefa Gold with Roni v'simchi;  Kim and Reggie Harris with Go Tell It on the Mountain and stories of the civil-rights movement; Margot Stein, David Shneyer, Linda Hirschhorn, Leila Gal Berner, Jack Kessler, Miraj, Juliet Spitzer, and a dozen others.

There is no other CD like it, weaving together  Jewish and other Songs of the Spirit Rising as our lives need to do.To order these or other Gifts of the Spirit Rising for the Festivals of Light, please click to <https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=10>


Our lives have been, still are, a Time of Darkness; we are the glimmering fireflies that can gather to make ourselves a Menorah  of new Light. More light!

 

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This Thanksgiving: FLOOD THE E.P.A. with Thanks to the Holy One for Mother Earth and Sacred Calls to Heal Her

On Thanksgiving, many Americans of many cultures and traditions join in celebrating the abundance of the Earth that feeds and nurtures us all.

Yet we have just in the last few months suffered from Hyper-Hurricanes and dreadful wildfires that are flooding our communities — and all of Earth — with Floods of Fire and of Water.  They  have been caused or worsened by global scorching — by the climate crisis brought on by burning fossil fuels. 

Still worse, the policies of Scott Pruitt, the present head of the Environmental Protection Agency, are pouring still more fuel and fury into these Floods of Fire and Water.  His policies are turning the EPA into the Earth Poisoning Agency.  For example, he has decided to destroy the CLEAN POWER PLAN, one of the most important steps the U.S. had taken to reduce carbon emissions.

On the other hand, we have just seen a wave of energy in the recent elections that made clear: Most Americans want to heal our country from hatred and injustice, and to heal our Mother Earth from the wounds of burning carbon. (The "two" arenas are interwoven, really one.)

Mr. Pruitt professes to be a person of religious faith. We urge that all  of us speak a profound  and sacred Truth to him and to each other: Our common home, our Mother Earth, and our own lives are not for burning. 

To challenge EPA to prevent worse Floods of Fire and Water, Let’s FLOOD them  with biblical and other sacred texts, prayers, objects, and pictures affirming the holiness of God’s Creation.  

We [signatures below] are calling on all people of faith and on all who believe we have an ethical commitment to heal our Mother Earth,  to write and send the EPA and its director passages from the Bible, Quran, prayer books,  Encyclicals and similar Pronouncements by any and all Wisdom-Keepers, other sacred texts, and any relevant photos or objects,  along with their own earnest, prayerful words. 

We ourselves intend to discuss these concerns at our Thanksgiving dinner tables, and to invite each diner, right then and there, to write Mr, Pruitt our own messages. We invite and encourage you to do the same! We will gather these messages,  and send them to -- 

The Shalom Center

c/o New York Avenue Presbyterian Church

 1313 New York Ave NW,

Washington, DC 20005

 

Please be sure to mail them by November 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

We will gather these offerings and deliver them en masse to Mr. Pruitt with a prayerful vigil in December.  (The specific day and time will be announced.)

We began working on this Call in honor of the Shabbat last month when in the Jewish rhythm of biblcal readings, we read the story of the Flood and of Noah’s work to save all life,  Now we are inviting you —  members of many diverse religious, spiritual, and eco-ethical communities —  to join in this action of truly Giving Thanks.. 

Rabbi Katy Allen (Jewish Climate Action Network, Boston)

Rabbi Elliot Dorff (Rector and Professor, American Jewish University)

Dr. Mirele Goldsmith (Jewish Climate Action Network, NYC)

Rabbi Arthur Green (Rector, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College)

Rabbi David Ingber (Congregation Romemu)

Rabbi Raachel Jurovics (President, Ohalah: Association of Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinic Pastors for Jewish Renewal) 

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Ruth Messinger (American Jewish World Service; Board, Hazon)

Rabbi David Shneyer (Congregation Am Kolel)

Rabbi Susan Talve (Central Reform Congregation, St Louis)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (The Shalom Center)

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz ((Uri L'Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice) 

Rabbi Rain Zohav (Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington)

[Signers are signing as individuals only; affiliations are mentioned for identification only.)

 

We are offering three suggestions for how to deal with this at your Thanksgiving meal and/or at your congregational service on Thanksgiving weekend.  These suggestions are only that: We welcome your own creativity.

One is —  For your Thanksgiving gathering, make multiple copies of the “Between the Fires”  prayer below;  begin your meal with the prayer and candle-lighting; share some conversation about the Earth and about giving active thanks for its abundance by working to end the climate crisis; invite each person to write their own letter to Mr. Pruitt on the reverse of the prayer,  and to sign it with their address. Bundle them together and send to the address above, in Washington. Mail no later than November 26.

        = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Between the Fires:

A Prayer for Lighting Candles of 

Thanksgiving  and Commitment

 

We are the generation that lives between the fires:

Behind us are the flame and smoke that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon, from the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us melted ice fields, flooded cities, scorching droughts.

Before us is the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

 

"Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace,“

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --

Yet for all who revere My Interbreathing Name, 

a sun of justice will arise 

with healing in its wings, its rays, its winds. . . . 

 

“Here! Before the coming 

of the great and awesome day

 of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

 I will send you the Prophet Elijah

 to turn the hearts of parents to their children 

and the hearts of children to their parents,

 lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."

 (Malachi 3: 19-20, 23-24.)

 

Here! We ourselves are ready to become Elijah

To turn the hearts of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that we do not bring upon ourselves this deadly day of smiting.

                                                                        

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing 

One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly 

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

                               Are not for burning.                                             

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in the many-colored faces

Of all life.

 

Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the many who make One.

 

[Light the candles.}

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Our second suggestion is that you might do what Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia is planning: To embody a story of water and covenant, and send the embodied story to  Washington for the vigil at EPA. The story is at <https://www.uua.org/worship/words/story/higgins-drop-dream>, and here is what they plan to do:

Tabernacle United Church, at the suggestion of  Eloise Chevrier,  is planning next Sunday to make cutouts of water-drops (rain-drops, tear-drops) for everyone in the congregation. On one side they’ll write a concern/lament; on the other, a dream (about climate, of course)  The drops will be strung on a clothesline, with a big cutout of a bucket that has the story on it, and the whole thing sent to NY Avenue Presbyterian Church at the address above … Then two people could carry the clothesline with all the drops from the church in Washington to the EPA.  

And third, we suggest you invite your companions in Thanks Giving to write their own sacred words, share their own sacred offerings.

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It takes a village to heal America; it takes a village to heal the Earth

Seven Axioms for healing transformation:

  1. No house can long stand half slave and half free.
  2. No house can long stand where, of its resident family, 1% are masters and 99% are bewildered.
  3. No house can long stand if its masters plan for its grandchildren to suffer death and disaster.
  4. No house can long stand if its family shrieks only No as fire consumes their home but has created no vision of a life-giving alternative.

    5. Scattered individuals, inspired from afar but not connected with each other, cannot heal and transform a house, a country, a planet.

6.  It takes a village of people who speak, sing, chant, dance, plant, build, and dare with each other to heal the present and give life to the future.

7. Many such villages, in fact.

In the past, The Shalom Center has been a healing force when we were able to bring inspiration to people who became villages by connecting with each other.

At our beginning, in 1983, we gave a Jewishly inflected voice on the dangers of nuclear holocaust – – what the ancient rabbis called a Flood of Fire – – to Jews who had become lost in the thickets of "national security."

We called together young Jews for weeks of training in how to draw on Jewish wisdom – – liturgy, symbols, festivals, life-cycle markers, texts of Torah – – to become in the same breath effective renewers of Judaism and effective workers for tikkun olam, the healing of the great round world.  They called themselves “Jewcies,” reveling in the pun that put pungent flavor into a tradition that had become worn and boring.

When an American presidency lied our country into a war against Iraq, we spoke out even before the invasion to say how immoral, how false, how disastrous that war would be. 

We inspired pockets of opposition among rabbis and within synagogues and other Jewish gatherings, and brought those resisters together into villages of shared support  until they could challenge their official organizations into change. We acted like a tugboat that could nudge great ocean liners into changing course.

As it became clearer and clearer that the burning of fossil fuels was scorching our Mother Earth, we re-examined  the weave of ancient Torah to find in it a strong thread of wisdom about how human beings could resonate with the Earth of which we are always a part.

We sowed the seeds of Eco-Judaism until they began here and there to sprout.  But there is still no Jewish organization other than The Shalom Center that makes the healing of the Earth and the survival of human civilization its first priority. Indeed, the very best Jewish impulses for social justice  still too rarely respond to the truth that in our generation, social justice and planetary healing are inextricably intertwined.

It is time to turn sprouts into verdant fields.  It is time to move from individual inspiration into the making of villages.

And it is already time for Earth-concerned Jewish villages to connect directly with Earth-concerned villages from other spiritual, religious, and ethical traditions  -- including the scientific community. It is time for us to make from each separate "wisdom species" a cultural ecosystem in which each species gives life to the others, precisely because it brings its own unique wisdom to the ecosystem as a whole.

It is time to awaken the very last words of the last of the ancient Hebrew prophets: "I will send you Elijah the Prophet to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest the Breath of Life become a destructive wind, a Hyper-Hurricane, to utterly destroy the Earth."  (Malachi 3:23-24.)

What does this mean today? It is time to refocus our response to the climate crisis and global scorching not only with a No to the burning of fossil fuels but also the creation of Yeses that can heal and restore the climate for our children and grandchildren so that it brings as much life-givingness as when it nurtured our parents and grandparents. 

How do we create such villages in every community of every tradition?

We urge that you who are the readers and supporters and members of The Shalom Center do the following:

Ask in your synagogue, your church, your mosque, your PTA, your neighborhood, who would like to gather as an Earth-healing Village to act in several  ways:

  1. To organize a congregation-rooted or neighborhood-rooted Solar Co-op.  It can save its members money by reducing their electrical expenses, it can reduce the rates of asthma and cancer in some neighborhoods where coal-fired plants or oil refineries spew poison into the air,  it can physically reduce the CO2 emissions that  are bringing on Hyper-Hurricanes and city-crippling Floods and region-wrecking Droughts and Famines and Floods of refugees. And each Solar Co-op could become a neighborly group and a political base for broader change.

2. The same people in the same Co-op could join with others to become a reading and self-education group to learn how we can use the knowledge scientists are amassing to bring about Healthy Climate Restoration.

3. The same people in the same Co-op could join with others to challenge elected officials and corporate managers to  adopt strong policies to end emissions of CO2 and methane, and act to withdraw from the atmosphere a trillion tons  of disastrous CO2 that we have already put there earlier -- before we realized what the results would be. 

4. If some or all of these same people are members of religious congregations, together they could introduce new versions of the prayer and meditation process that will focus sacred attention on our sacred commitment to the Earth, to ourselves, and to future generations of our families.

What can The Shalom Center do to help empower this kind of grass-roots work? 

This letter, this Shalom Report, is already long enough to spark discussions among your family, your friends, your colleagues at work, your neighbors, your fellow-congregants. We invite you to forward it by email or even print it out, to share it with some of them. Invite them over for an evening of nosherei  (“munchies”) and conversation to discuss what this might mean.

Write us what you do and what emerges.

We will follow up. Indeed, at The Shalom Center we are already preparing for some shared long-distance computer-enabled conversations where we can both teach and learn what visions, what actions, can heal us.

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Puerto Rico: Healing those who Suffer & Naming the Killers

Dear friends,

When a natural disaster strikes, we have one urgent obligation: to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the injured, and restore key services like electricity and water.

When an unnatural disaster strikes, one caused or worsened  by human action, we have two urgent obligations: to meet the immediate needs of those who are suffering, and to speak the truth about the disastrous behavior that has brought about the suffering.

The American people have just suffered through three Hyper-Hurricanes. All three were made far more furious and destructive by the burning of fossil fuels that is scorching our planet. In all three cases, the worst suffering landed on the poorest people, especially those in the Black and Latino communities.

It is not surprising that the Trump Administration, in its zeal to protect the wealthy and white supremacy and its hostility to the poor, to the middle class, and to people of color, is doing its best to bring about future Hyper-Hurricanes, future droughts and famines, and future floods to destroy our coastal cities. And not only "our" in the sense of the American people, but “our” in the sense of the human race and the entire web of life that makes up Mother Earth.

So it is not surprising that when their efforts to support Big Oil and Big Coal result in predictable disasters, the Trumpist officials say it is "insensitive" to talk about the causes and to name their complicity in what amounts to murder.

In the three Hyper-Hurricanes we have just experienced,  the racism, white supremacism, and xenophobia  of the Trump Administration had their worst effects on  Puerto Rico.  The Trump government waited more than a week to send the US Navy and Air Force into emergency relief, and has not yet even asked Congress for the billions in emergency aid that Congress passed for Texas within days of Hurricane Harvey.

So The Shalom Center urges you, our members and supporters, to address both urgent needs in the face of a man-made unnatural disaster: relief for those suffering now, and organizing to prevent future disasters.

  1. We have checked out various groups funneling aid to  Puerto Rico. People are dying because there is no electric power. We urge you to send money to El Puente, a state-side Puerto Rican organization that has very close relationships with Puerto Ricans on the battered island and is ready to supply them with emergency solar energy.

This meets three urgent needs: Immediate emergency electricity; longer-term people-based alternatives to the shattered Puerto Rican coal-based electric-power system; and urass-roots climate-concerned organizing to stymie racism and prevent future disastrous Hyper-Hurricanes. 

Please click to --

<https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1441788?uniqueID=634588002278884597>

and check off the box marked “Puerto Rico Emergency Solar Energy Fund.”

2. And please help The Shalom Center organize for a renewable-energy world despite the modern Carbon Pharaohs of our day -- fossil fuel killer corporations and their governmental boot-lickers.

This appeal is especially urgent right now. Every year, Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur time is one of our major times for incoming contributions to The Shalom Center. This year, the three Hyper-Hurricanes swept into us during the same period. So many of our regular donors wrote they were devoting some of their money to emergency relief.

We utterly understand –-- and we also know that unless the Carbon Pharaohs are stopped, these disasters will come even more often and get still worse.

The Shalom Center has been one of the key pioneers in the Jewish and the multireligious worlds to awaken the sleeping giant of American religious life to act against global scorching.

Now more than ever, we need your help –--  and  now even more than ever, the work we do is crucial to our children and the children of our children.

Please click on the maroon “Contribute” banner on the left-hand margin of this page, and please make a strong contribution to sustain our work for a sustainable future.

 

 

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Isaiah Lives! -- The Challenge of Yom Kippur

At the heart of Yom Kippur is, of all things, a critique of “Yom Kippur”   -– if it is a ritual without compassion or commitment to radical change.

Long ago the Prophet Isaiah walked into the crowd celebrating the holy day by fasting and chanting psalms. 

Is this the fast that the God Who freed the slaves is demanding?” he asked.

And --  to use the words that would speak an Isaiah living today --

No! 

You must break off the handcuffs and free from prison those poor and outcast whom you have made the victims of police brutality,  mass incarceration, and a criminal injustice system!

“You must welcome in your midst the despairing refugees from ‘foreign’ lands whom you have deported, whose families you have broken.

“You have let the rich scorch your planet till great storms have destroyed many homes, great droughts have parched many crops.

“You must make sure the hungry are fed, the homeless find homes, the jobless find well-paying, worthy work -- – not just for a day but a lifetime!”

And for hundreds of years, we have read these challenges at the heart of our day of deepest transformation.

How do we keep these words themselves from becoming mere “liturgy,” became exactly what Isaiah was challenging?

Let me share with you three examples:

(1)  P’nai Or of Philadelphia will carry Isaiah into the streets. They have made placards, each with a line in English and Hebrew from Isaiah, and will march from their prayer service into public space, carrying Isaiah, speaking the truth and the challenge of today. To all who gather for prayer they will explain:

 

TODAY we will hear the words of Isaiah

after the Torah service

“Let the oppressed

go free.

Break off every yoke!

Share your bread

with the hungry

Do not hide yourself

from them!”

 THIS YEAR, LET’S TURN THESE WORDS INTO ACTION AS WE

BECOME MODERN DAY ISAIAHS!

ALL WHO ARE ABLE WILL MARCH FROM OUR SHUL

INTO PUBLIC SPACE AT NEARBY SHOPS & STORES --

TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT CURRENT YOKES OF OPPRESSION

(APPROXIMATELY 3:00-4:00 PM)

Several members will speak out about actions we can take this year to promote social justice in the Delaware Valley. All those who march can participate as witnesses and by handing out information to shoppers.

This year, we will also share a collaboration with the Highpoint Café which will be collecting donations for food for the poor and homeless of our city.

Those who remain at shul will send us off with blessings and continue with the Yizkor ritual where small groups share events in their lives that were joyous and those that brought grief. We on the march will gather to observe Yizkor outside for our beloveds and for those who have died this year in the name of social justice and due to hurricanes and earthquakes. We will return to join in El Maley Rachamim, the memorial prayer for the dead,  with the whole community.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

(2) A way to prepare your own heart, mind, and spirit for Yom Kippur: We encourage you to watch a remarkable on-line video recitation in words,  music ,and graphics of the Isaiah Prophetic reading, at

<https://theshalomcenter.org/video/video-yom-kippur-haftarah-isaiah-5714-5814-midrashically-translated-rabbi-arthur-waskow>

(If the link appears broken on your screen and clicking to it does not work, please copy the whole link between the <> signs and paste it into your browser. )

(3)  Using the translation below, B*R*E*A*K  into the text with brief messages from today. For examples, see below – but feel free to choose your own.

Isaiah breaks into the official liturgy of Yom Kippur

The Prophetic Reading for the Fast of Yom Kippur, Isaiah 57:14-58:14
[Slightly midrashic translation by Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow]

And God said:
Open up, open up, Clear a path!
Clear away all obstacles
From the path of My People!
For so says the One
Who high aloft forever dwells,
Whose Name is Holy:

I dwell on high, in holiness,
And therefore with the lowly and humiliated,
To breathe new breath into the humble,
To give new heart to the broken-hearted.

For your sin of greed
Through My Hurricane of Breath YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh
I smashed you.

 


Worse: I hid My face, withheld My Breath.

Yet I will not do battle against you forever,
I will not be angry with you forever.
From Me comes the breath that floats out to make all worlds.
I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

When you wander off the path as your own heart,
wayward, takes you.
I see the path you need —— and I will heal you.
I will guide and comfort you
With words of courage and of consolation
For those who mourn among you.
Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near,
Says the Breath-of-Life —-
And I will heal you.

But the wicked are like a troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, said my God,
For the wicked.

Cry out aloud, don’t hold back,
Lift up your voice like the shofar!


Tell My people what they are doing wrong,
Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds.
For day after day they go out searching for Me,
They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —-
As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds
And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

They keep asking Me for the rules of justice
As if they would take delight in being close to God.

They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering?
We press down our egos —- but You don’t pay attention!”

Look! On the very day you fast, you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast, you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?

 



No!



This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

 

 



Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don’t hide yourself from them!

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out, YHWH will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

If you banish the yoke from your midst,
If you rid yourself of scornful finger-pointing
And words of contempt;

 


If you open up your life-experience to the hungry
And soothe the life that has been trampled under foot,

Then even in darkness your light will shine out
And your moments of gloom turn bright as noonday.
Then the Breath of Life will always be your guide,
Will soothe your own life in your own times of dryness
And strengthen your bones when they are weary.

Then you shall be like a garden given water,
Like a wellspring whose waters never fail.
Those who spring from you shall rebuild the ancient ruins
And you shall lay foundations for the coming generation.
You shall be called “Those who mend torn places,”
You shall be called “Those who build lanes to live in.”

If you refrain from trampling my Renewal-time*
And from being busy-busy on My holy day;
If you will not only call Renewal-time* delightful
But also turn far from your usual way
And set aside your business and your chatter
To be yourselves the rays by which God’s Holiness
Can turn this world into a radiant joy —-

Then indeed you will find delight in YHWH.
For then —- when you have joined the lowly —-
I will set you all with Me,
Astride the heights of earth.
Then —- when you feed others —- I will let you eat your fill
From what is truly due you as the heirs of Jacob.

Now!
For this word comes from the Mouth that
Breathes all life.

 [The "Burning Bush" and "Torah of the Earth" graphins are by Michael Bogdanow. For more of his work, and to

bring prints into your own home, click to <http://www.michaelbogdanow.com/>]

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The World Itself is Blowing the Great Shofar: Awake!

We are approaching Rosh Hashanah, when we ourselves blow the Shofar  -- puffing a small breath of air into the small end of the ram’s horn to come out the other end as an outcry of four distinct notes: alarm, broken-heart, grief, and awe-filled transformation.

Close to the end of this  Shalom Report, we will suggest five actions that will turn the symbolic Shofar into our active reality.

Why must we do this? Because in just the past four weeks, the world itself has cried out four far more powerful separate soundings of the Shofar.

All four soundings of alarm share the same danger: that those whom we exclude from “our” society can in despair become a danger to the society that excludes them, and that responding to that danger with still more exclusion brings on more violence to contain the danger.

There is only one response that in the long run works: inclusion, connection, or to use the short and embarrassing word – – love.

The first Shofar blast was sounded at Charlottesville, and became even more shrill when the White House commented on what happened there. It called on us, "Awake!" to the resurgence of violent white supremacism, white nationalism, Neo-Nazi-ism no longer at the margins of American society but now with sympathizers and defenders and believers at the very peak of American power in the White House and the presidency itself.

More deeply, it called out the pain and despair of some “old Americans” who feel severed economically, culturally, and spiritually from a new transnational, multicultural world.

A second Shofar blast was sounded by the hurricane that shattered many parts of Texas. Far fewer  Americans could also hear the same Shofar crying out from Asia, in the floods that killed thousands in Nepal, India, and Bangla Desh.  These storms called on us, "Awake!" to the truth of global scorching caused by the corporate greed  of Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Unnatural Gas,  now vigorously made the “Law of Greed is God” by the White House.

Here it is the Earth itself that those who rule our society try to exclude and subjugate -- pretending that all the Earth is not an ecosystem and that what we do to rip and tear its interwovenness does not come back to harm us.

Third, the Shofar blast of a Hydrogen Bomb and long-distance missiles tested successfully by the government of North Korea, echoed by war-like threats of “fire and fury” from the US government  -- together with the announcement that the White House will seek Congressional authorization of a trillion-dollar budget to ”upgrade” and “strengthen” the US arsenal of thousands of H-Bombs. This is the Shofar blast of The Bomb reawakened, after almost thirty years of comfortable neglect as we thought the genocidal danger had been parked in a musty barn, unvisited.

The trillion dollars proposed for  making fancier H-Bombs could instead be spent on removing a trillion tons of CO2 from our planet’s atmosphere, Then our children and grandchildren could take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of our forebears did not experience.

Fourth: The Shofar blast of efforts to wreck the lives of Dreamers and other immigrants, documented or not. We hear the wailing of heartbreak and sorrow in worsening deportation sweeps of these last few months, and in the cancelation of the DACA exemptions from deportation of the Dreamers who came as little children to the United States. These actions not only cruelty shatter immigrant families, but are also inexorably moving toward wounding  the civil liberties and freedoms of many others.

In all four of these Traumas, there is the possibility of Transformation.

  • We could bring together the different segments of working-class and lower-middle-class Americans of every race and gender and ethnicity in a joyful amalgam, a New New Deal of sharing.
  • We could affirm our interconnectedness with all of our planet’s life-forms, and take action to heal and restore a livable climate.
  • We could move swiftly to carry out the Treaty to abolish all nuclear weapons that was recently adopted by the United Nations, freeing us all from the threat of nuclear holocaust. And we could take legal, political, and economic steps to welcome North Korea into the comity of nations, even though we do not like its government.
  • We could rework our entire approach to immigration. We could not only welcome into citizenship all migrants in our midst, but with a new “Marshall Plan” we could revitalize the economies and polities of Mexico and Central America.  Then their citizens would not feel flight from poverty, violence, and despair is their only choice.

In short, in each dimension of these echoing Shofar-outcries we could respond not with more repression but with Transformative inclusion -- Love.

Jewish tradition teaches that God' s own self will blow the Great Shofar to herald the coming of Messiah and the days of healing, peace, and justice. As one ancient rabbi said, "May Messiah come, indeed, indeed .-- And may I not live to suffer through the turmoil that will accompany the Coming!” 

We are hearing the Breath of Life, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, blowing the still small Voice into the small end of our planet’s Great Shofar, sending a flood of sound into our ears and hearts.

On Rosh Hashanah we can only emulate the Great Shofar, to show that we are joining in the great outcry of Transformation.

While The Shalom Center has responded with action-suggestions to all four of these Shofar-soundings of alarm and transformation, we have chosen to focus most of our work on the existential threat to human civilization and to many other life-forms that arises from the climate crisis, from global scorching.

We have chosen that for three reasons: (a) The danger is greatest; (b) The organized Jewish community has been much slower to respond to that danger than to other important issues like hostility to immigrants and refugees, religious bigotry,  racism, and gender bigotry; (c) The Hebrew Scriptures are the spiritual expression of an earth-based people, and have a rich treasury of wisdom for shaping a loving relationship between human earthlings and the Earth --  but that wisdom has mostly been ignored, and could now be drawn upon to inspire strong religious action for the earth.

We suggest five actions you could take immediately, to begin the year with Transformative Action:

(1)  Click here to donate to TEJAS --  Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.  (<http://tejasbarrios.org/a-just-harvey-recovery-fund/>

They are front-line folks in the Latino community who have had poisonous Big Oil thrust down their throats for years, who have suffered even more than most Texans from the hurricane,  and who have already been conscious and active about the dangers of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to their own lives. So a donation supports both immediate relief and longer-range organizing against the real danger.

(2) Prepare for Rosh Hashanah by clicking to

<https://theshalomcenter.org/content/rosh-hashanah-we-turn-heal-earth>  (Many of these prayers express the visions and commitments not only of Judaism but also of other spiritual and religious communities So those of other communities should feel free to draw on them.)

(3) As part of a Rosh Hashanah or another gathering, invite congregants or neighbors  to discuss organizing a solar-energy co-op as an act of healing, a Birthday present for the Earth, .  To begin the discussion, print out and share the explanation at

<http://nwphillysolarcoop.com/about/>

(4) Invite congregants to a study group –-  perhaps the same people who create the solar co-op --  focused on the following vision: Taking action not only to end new CO2 and methane emissions, but also for a public policy to withdraw a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. 

The goal of this policy is that our children and grandchildren can take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of our forebears did not experience. Invite scientists,  leaders of religious and ethical thought, and political activists to explore this vision with you.

(5) Gather your friends and congregants into a “sustainers covenant” to help The Shalom Center keep doing this work. There are many ways we could sustain these efforts with Transformation Tool-kits, but only if you sustain us with the money it takes to prepare them.

With blessings for shalom, salaam, paz, peace for Earth and all of us --  Arthur

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Turning Time--From Eid Mubarak to Shanah Tovah

Brief Comments on a Long Crisis

Tonight and tomorrow, the Muslim world through Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Offering, is celebrating an event that will become salient for the Jewish community on Rosh Hashanah, almost a month from now.

That event is the readiness of our shared forebear Abraham to make an offering-up of his son at God's command, and his willingness to change direction on a moment’s notice – – again at God's command – – to refrain from killing his child, and instead to make an offering of a ram with horns that were caught in a nearby thicket.

For Muslims, the Festival is celebrated in part by sharing roasted lamb or mutton in memory of that ram.  The sharing extends to making sure that the poor receive the food.

One could interpret the whole teaching in these words:

"Do not kill your children; feed the poor!"

For Jews, the story comes with all its torment in the traditional Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It follows on the teaching of the first day, when Abraham sends his other son out into the wilderness.

Islam and Judaism traditionally disagree about which son was bound up on the mountaintop – – Ishmael or Isaac. As with many family stories, we can take these different versions of the past as hostile,

or as different threads in a sacred fabric woven of different sacred teachings.

In the one-story, we learn from a family broken. In the other story, we learn from the family never broken, always joyful. Both are part of human experience, and we need to learn from both instead of rejecting either one.

 You could say that for millennia, many human communities have faced the dilemma: Does God demand of us that we kill our children by going to war against some Other with a different story, or does God demand of us that we feed the hungry of all communities?

In the Torah’s teaching of the story, after God has sent Abraham up the mountain, when the Voice says not to harm the child, the Voice must call out twice for Abraham to pay attention and to change the future.

Today we face the dreadful danger of killing our children not only through war, but by slowly choking our Mother Earth herself, and all her life-forms, by global scorching. So perhaps this year we need to draw on another deeply valid teaching about Rosh Hashanah: Yom harat olam, today is the birthing of the world!

At the end of this letter, you will find a brief preface to the candle-lighting on the evenings of Rosh Hashanah --  or on any sacred occasion in which we seek to turn fire into a way to light up the path ahead of us.

Will we turn our ears, our hearts, to hearing that we need to change the future? To hear that pursuing "business as usual" – – and I do mean "business" – – will ruin us all? How many times must the Voice cry out, "Abraham… Abraham! – – ABRAHAM!" for us to hearken?

“Katrina! –--  Sandy! –--  Houston! – – Bangladesh! – – Drought and famine in central Africa! – –  Drought and famine in Syria!…"

What if the Voice had spoken into deaf ears, deaf years?

"Sleepers, awake!" cries out the sound of the ram's horn as we walk toward Rosh Hashanah.

Tradition teaches that at Sinai one horn of that same ram that saved our children blew Truth into the world, and that the other horn of that same ram will signal the world's readiness to bring the messianic days of peace and justice.

Time now, these days of Turning, Transformation, for Homo Sapiens to make the Great Turning that every life-form yearns for.

 

Between the Fires:

A Prayer for lighting Candles of Commitment

 

We are the generation that stands 

between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

 that bring upon us

Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze,

Not fire and fury,

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing

One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

Are not for burning.              

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces.

Baruch attah YHWH --  Yahhh --  elohenu ruakh ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvot vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel yomtov, Yom Harat Olam.

Blessed are You, Interbreathing Spirit of the world, Source of all creation, Who calls us into holiness through making connections with each other, and Who calls on us to connect by kindling the lights of this festival, the Day of the Birthing of the World.

{Light candles of commitment and joy]

 

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Hilarious Nonviolence, Assertive Free Assembly

Since Charlottesville, some progressives have questioned whether continuing our commitment to acting nonviolently and to affirming Freedom of Assembly even for neo-Nazis is worthwhile.

Before we look more deeply into the ethical issues involved, let me first share some unconventional imaginings of what nonviolence and free assembly could be like. (1) How might we more imaginatively and even hilariously challenge racists and neo-Nazis when they assemble? (2) And how might we create new forms of Free Assembly of our own?

(1) How might we challenge public gatherings of neo-Nazis and racists without ourselves resorting to violence and glorifying it?  Let’s be clear: ”Nonviolence” is not “passive” resistance. Nonviolence can be active, assertive, colorful, even hilarious. Decades ago, when the ACLU supported the legal right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors, I suggested that any counter-demonstration draw on the tradition of the Jewish festival of Purim --  satire, parody, ridicule, caricature.

Like this:

That photo comes from a recent New York Times article about a town in Germany that has responded to recent Neo-Nazi  marches in that way. See

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/opinion/how-to-make-fun-of-nazis.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

The photo, however, is not German: it shows an American action years ago  of the same flavor, aimed against the Klan.

The white-supremacist movement depends on two emotions: resentment at being marginalized, and (to jump across those feelings of impotence), dramatic pretend-performances of superior power and subjugation of others. 

So these might be far better chanted challenges than shouting “Nazi scum!” ---

“Our enemy is Wall Street --

Not each other!”

and  --

“Hitler was a loser goon

Brought his country down to ruin.

Trump is another loser loon

Don't let him bring America to ruin”

The first directly invites the “Other” out of marginalization into the dignity of alliance in a struggle against the HyperWealthy who oppress us all, and the second also invites a truly patriotic love of country while warning that an isolated right wing become losers, not victors.

And further -- what if each counter-protester in Charlottesville and Boston and Phoenix had promised to contribute $1 to  the Resistance for every racist, every Nazi who showed up praising Trump? That would turn every neo-fascist “victory” upside down, into a simultaneous defeat.  

These approaches turn real and potential conflict into a topsy-turvy invitation. Topsy-turvy always has an element of the clown, the joke, hilarity. Just below the surface of hilarity there lies a deeper wisdom.

Meanwhile, let’s reframe our own Freedom of Assembly as pilgrimages to the sacred sites of Democracy. Pilgrimages for peace and justice that treat the offices of Members of Congress or City Councilmembers as sacred places – tiny Temples -- where We The People are entitled to visit and bring Offerings, not to be forced away.

  • Offerings of fair-trade chocolate bars.
  • Offerings of murky water from a frack-infested stream, alongside bottles of pure water protected by the regulations that POTUS Trump is abolishing.
  • Offerings of green and flowering plants endangered by the global scorching that Trump is abetting for the sake of Big Oil and Big Coal hyper-profits.
  • And of course,  Offerings of truthful words – clear, calm, prayerful as befits a sacred Offering.

Now let us turn to the underlying ethics. Although the new pro-counter-violence responses from progressives are understandable because they arise out of shock and fear,  I think they are short-sighted and likely to be self-destructive.

First of all, affirming violence as a political tool poisons the deep assertion at the root of progressive politics and prophetic religion: the assertion that all human beings are sacred, equal not in their abilities or even in their ethics but in their worth and dignity.

Poisoning that truth is not only a spiritual or ethical failure; it invites political disaster. It is no accident that Trump was able to appeal to some large part of his political base by pointing to the fact that “antifa” (antifascist) activists could be seen on video acting violently in Charlottesville.

Thank God, the overwhelming majority of American society was able to see that the Nazi glorification and use of violence was not morally equivalent to the antifa movement. But press reports since Charlottesville indicate that many Trump supporters did think exactly that. 

Detaching those supporters from their support for national neo--fascist officials like Trump himself might be a great deal easier if there were no factual basis for claims that "both sides" created violence.

 There is a close connection between the practice of nonviolence and the deeper meaning of  the First Amendment’s commitment to Freedom of Assembly.

The entire First Amendment (free press, free religion, free assembly) is a hymn to the nonviolent process of covenant, conversation, and decision-making. It forbids the violent use of repression by a government – – whether an un-elected King or an elected Führer.

It encourages rational debate over policy, but it never assumes the debate will be only and always "rational." Its authors lived through the Boston Tea Party. That was a symbolic, emotional, and even spiritual act of nonviolent resistance to taxation without representation – – the violent imposition of a tax upon the community without its participation in the decision-making.  The authors of the First Amendment knew full well the importance of a flag, songs, and other "non-rational" elements in bringing about profound social change.

We have already seen how most of the American people have responded to seeing the Confederate battle flag and the Nazi swastika --- symbols that celebrated violence in the past  -- used to glorify the use of violence in the present. Slavery, segregation, lynching, racism, anti-Semitism, fear and hatred of immigrants,  of Muslims, and of all genders and sexualities other than heterosexual male,  and the treatment of Mother Earth herself as a mere object for destructive exploitation – – all these are rooted in the insistence on subjugating the "other" and on using violence to do it.

Instead of abolishing Freedom of Assembly for those who espouse violence, we can make sure that the weapons of violence cannot be used to poison an assemblage.

I have taken part in many demonstrations where the permits and the police insist that even wooden sticks cannot be used to hold a protest sign, and that we must use cardboard tubes instead. This rule was a way of insisting that the nonviolence that lies at the root of Freedom of Assembly must be carried out in the assembly itself.

The police in Boston forbade the presence of guns, knives, clubs, and similar weapons in either of the two assemblages that gathered this past Saturday. They also insisted on a broad separation – – about half the length of a football field – – between the two demonstrations. Both these arrangements upheld, rather than desecrating, Freedom of Assembly.

The true lesson of Charlottesville is that the Boston Way is the way a police force in any town or city must enforce the Constitution. That approach does not surrender to the violent impulses at the root of Nazism, racism, anti-Semitism; it is by far the most effective way of exposing and weakening them.

The true lesson of Charlottesville is that the city did not act in this way – – and that every city must.

 Indeed, when Boston acted this way, the White Supremacists abandoned their plans far nation-wide “Charlottesville” marches on September 9.

How do we make sure that other cities act like Boston, and what should we do where it does not happen?

I suggest that when the city government and its police fail justice and the Constitution as miserably as they did in Charlottesville, there should be consequences:

  • Lawsuits in advance to require local officials to proactively uphold the Constitution.
  • Lawsuits afterward for damages, brought by those who were wounded, threatened, denied their own freedom of worship in synagogues and churches that were left unprotected as Nazis and racists shouted threats.
  • Political campaigns to oust from power politicians who refused to prepare for an onslaught of those whose ideologies glorify violence. "Preparing" not by forbidding their assembly but making sure their assemblage could not kill, wound, or intimidate the people whom they hate..
  • Political campaigns against officials who still cannot understand that monuments revering Jefferson Davis or Robert E Lee or Stonewall Jackson are as abhorrent as would be statues honoring Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, or Hermann Goering.

 Let me end by going back to the idea of Free Assembly as a sacred pilgrimage bearing sacred Offerings to the offices of those we have elected. 

“What’s the charge, Officer? “   

“Giving the Senator a chocolate bar and a blooming tulip!”

“Oh, is that a crime? I plead guilty!”

This is where Freedom of Assembly and nonviolent direct action meet. It is where our movements need to be.

 

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