The Moment of Greatest Danger;
The Moment of Greatest Freedom
The Moment of Greatest Danger;
The Moment of Greatest Freedom
Beyond the Deadly Triplets of "Racism, Militarism, & Materialism" toward the Beloved Community
As we move into the weekend of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, I want to flag the fact that this year, April 4 will be the 50th anniversary of his death.
It will also be the 51st anniversary of his most profound teaching, his speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” In that speech he warned America against the deadly "triplets" of racism, militarism, and materialism, and called us to face "the fierce urgency of Now." (This photo is from a demonstration against the US War in Vitenam, led by Dr. King and Dr. Benjamin Spock.)
And this April 4 will be the 49th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, using the first multireligious/ multiracial Passover Haggadah –- held during Passover in 1969, deliberately on Dr. King’s first yohrzeit to honor and continue and renew his prophetic vision. .
Both this weekend and as we approach April 4, we can lift up what we have learned from Dr. King’s life and work, and what we need to reconfigure for our own generation. For example, his warning about "materialism" in our lives evokes both the worsening economic inequality in our country, a new Oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy, and the worsening danger of climate chaos brought on by the homicidal greed of the Carbon Pharaohs.
This very weekend, we could add a reading of excerpts from Dr. King’s prophetic vision to prayer services of Jumah, Shabbat. and the Sunday Sabbath. Key excerpts are posted on our Home Page at <https://theshalomcenter.org/content/fierce-urgency-now-excerpts-mlks-beyond-vietnam-april-4-1967>
Plans and actions are already afoot around the country for recognizing this dark and bloody moment in American history, and turning it toward the transformation of America –- taking steps toward the birth of the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned.
Among these efforts: Rev. Dr. William Barber is leading the New Poor People’s Campaign, a multi-city echo of the work Dr. King was doing in his last days. On April 4 itself, he will be leading activist commemorations in Memphis, where Dr. King was killed. The National Council of Churches is planning a major gathering on the National Mall that day, focusing on “Truth and Racial Justice.”
What can we ourselves do in taking this time as a Season of Truth and Transformation?
The assassination of Dr. King crystallizes into one moment a great many of the bloody streaks in US history -- violence by the powerful against the disempowered:
Americans have never collectively and at a spiritual level faced this part of our history, seen it as a continuing self-inflicted wound, done penance for it, and committed ourselves to heal ourselves from its hurt.
Could we make April 4, 2018, a National Day of Atonement and At-One-ment, perhaps a fast day from sunrise to sunset? In Jewish life there has grown up a profoundly serious word-play rooted in Yom Kippur as, in English, the Day of Atonement — also the Day of At-One-ment. The day when we not only atone for our misdeeds but turn toward The One — the Source of Life, the Unity of all. Both Atonement and At-One-ment are what a National Fast Day on April 4, 2018, would aim at.
On the website <MLK50.org> you can find the full text of “Beyond Vietnam” and several others of Dr. King’s speeches — both in writing, and by voice — and some powerful writings about him and the effects of his work even into our own generation. These materials could assist you in organizing an all-day or all-night teach-in on applying the wisdom of Dr. King today.
In addition, this year the 6th night of Passover begins the evening of April 4. This could be a powerful moment for a Freedom Seder. (The photo below is from the original Freedom Seder in 1969.) If any of you, our readers and members, wants to organize such a Freedom Seder, please let us know. Write us at <MLK50@theshalomcenter.org>.
You will find helpful materials on The Shalom Center ’s website at
We will write more about these possibilities as we move closer to April 4. We invite you to write us at <MLK50@theshalomcenter.org>what you are planning, so that we can share and enrich our separate efforts into a network of Truth and Transformation..
This could become a year of Truth and Transformation. Truth about the painful past, the promising past. Transformation of the future toward making real the Beloved Community.
Just as I sat down to write you-all a letter on my sense of what we face and how we can take action in 2018, I received an oddly, ironically relevant link to an article in the New Yorker, just appearing.
In it I am quoted from a recent interview for the New Yorker story -- about a conference I took part in 50 years ago. The Foreign Policy Association, which sponsored the conference, aimed at predicting what life would be like 50 years afterward –- that is, this year. Then they published a book of predictive essays -- with not a single woman author, nothing on race relations, and no author under 35 years old.
Were their predictions on target? One participant warned that “large-scale climate modification will be effected inadvertently” from rising levels of carbon dioxide. A few others foresaw the rise of complex “big data” computers.
Otherwise, no worthwhile predictions. No one foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage , or the election of a fascist President of the United States.
The article, by Paul Collins, quotes me:
For Waskow, such omissions were no accident. “That’s what I ended up feeling about this whole cluster of people,” he remembers today:
“They were trying to figure out how to describe the future, and mostly in ways that would have them still in charge of it. Their technology was all stuff that would fit within the basic framework of corporate capitalism of the sixties and seventies.”
“I was interested in changing the world—not trying to predict the future, but to create the future.”
I still am. The prophetic voice does not predict the future, it “possidicts” the future with a strong ethical dimension to the vision. If you do x, you will get x-squared. If you do y, you will get y-cubed. What you sow is what you will reap. All the prophetic voice can do is warn of danger if we do x and offer transformation if we do y. If is the word of truth.
If you want to read the whole article, click to --
If you want to hear a prophetic voice, not predictions, keep tuned here:
There are three crucial aspects to the present effort to turn a precariously democratic society into an Oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy:
a. Personal egomania and paranoia, well positioned to evoke the same responses in fear and disgust toward Blacks, Browns, immigrants, the poor, students and teachers, elders, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, maybe Jews, the Earth itself and those who try to protect water, air, food, land, national parks, from poisoning and corporate take-over. The desired result: emotional distress and economic misery among these folks, enough to keep them so busy surviving and so suspicious of each other that they cannot take time to organize an insurgent politics
b. Shifting enormous amounts of wealth and power to those already Hyper-Wealthy.
c. Preparing to choke off debate and dissent. The goals: –- taking over the FBI and “re-Hooverizing” it as a politically repressive force; ending Net Neutrality; bashing and ultimately limiting independent judges and the critical press; defining networks like Black Lives Matter as proto-terrorist, etc. This part of the process is so far mostly at the “shouting” rather than the “choking” stage
We have seen the emergence of larger and broader grass-roots opposition. Much of it has been single-issue from different sectors of American society, each responding to the pressure on itself. But there has been an increasing recognition that “we are all in this together,” that subjugation is the DNA that all the different pressures share, that democracy itself is in serious danger.
a. Many thousands of women have been moved into action beyond anything before, even in the movement to win the right to vote. Many women have seen the links between political threats to the right to choose birth control and abortion, with individual, personal, and intimate attacks on their bodies and dignity.
b. From a seed planted in North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement has grown the organizing of a new Poor People’s Campaign, drawing on memories of Dr. Martin Luther King, reaching across racial and regional boundaries as King was hoping to do when he was murdered, and enlivened now by the prophetic intelligence and eloquence of Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Barber has called for a “fusion politics” that brings together not only economic issues and resistance to racism but also the threats to newly won freedom for women and varied sexual and gender minorities, exploitation of the Earth, the extreme weather events caused by global scorching and the climate crisis.
c. There are three dates that will arise this year that will test the strength and courage of the movements to renew American democracy. One of these dates we do not yet know. It will come if the present powers in control of the US government respond to growing opposition with a crack-down. That might take the form of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It might take the form of a war unleashed –- the classic resort of a frightened politician. It might take the form of a violent attack on civil liberties in response to a terrorist attack. These possible events may not arise, but IF they do, widespread rapid-response grass-roots resistance will be crucial.
d. This coming April 4 is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. It is also the 51st anniversary of his most profound speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he named “racism, militarism, and materialism” as the deadly “triplets” afflicting America, and warned of the “fierce urgency of Now.” (See the website <MLK50.org> for a wealth of wisdom from him and about him for our generation.)
The National Council of Churches is planning a large gathering on April 4 on the National Mall in Washington DC; Dr. Barber will be in Memphis where Dr. King was killed as he worked to support the rights of garbage workers. This day comes shortly after Easter (April 1) and in the midst of Passover (the 5th day).
The week or so preceding it and April 4 itself could be the occasion for a myriad “MLK50” actions all across the country –-- teach-ins and prayer vigils, marches and sit-ins, voter-registration campaigns and strikes for a $15 minimum wage and a four-day work week with no cuts in take-home pay, blockages of oil and gas pipelines that threaten both local towns and neighborhoods and the planet as a whole -- and many other forms of united resistance.
Those days could also be the moment to begin work on democratic alternatives -- neighborhood food co-ops, neighborhood and congregational solar and wind energy co-ops, “B Corporations” legally committed to the common good, “freedom schools” to teach about participatory democracy in the past and future, newspaper-sponsored dialogues on American democracy open to all, with the grass-roots conversations then published by the papers, and many more.
e. The next crucial date for the renewal of American democracy will be the November elections for Congress and many state and local offices. Voter turn-out of Black and Latino communities, of women and GLBTQ folk, of labor-union members and un-unionized workers, of students and young people, of elders alert to attacks on Social Security and Medicare –- all these will be crucial. It is not that a renewed and vigorously progressive Congress and city councils will be enough –- but without them, the task of resisting the Oligarchy will be much harder.
f. The values and authenticity of America’s myriad religious traditions are in question. Are they – we! -- ready to act on the values we claim of compassion and community, of love for our neighbors and for our Mother Earth? Are we willing to see the varied strands of religious practice as evidence of God’s Infinity to be cherished, rather than as evidence of bad faith and wickedness?
Prophetic activism: Truth and Transformation
In a time of crisis 50 years ago, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that ““Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood.” Do our religious communities affirm that vision?
The subjugation of human beings and the destruction of our increasingly fragile planet go hand in hand. We cannot return to the rapacious past and still survive. The threats to our hope of creating the Beloved Community are rooted in greed and in fear. Can our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples both call for and in themselves live out a loving world?
These are the worst of times, these are the best of times. For all of us, in the worlds where we have lived in comfort or discomfort, that world is coming to an end. What world we shape instead is up to us. What we sow is what we then will reap. As was true in 1968, still true is it today: Our task is not to predict but to create. IF is the word of truth. Truth and Transformation? It is up to us.
Blessings to each of you and all of us that we can shape this newest year for shalom, salaam, paz, peace, for Earth and all her myriad earthlings -- Arthur
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.
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 --
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.
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 –--
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.
“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:
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!
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
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.}
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
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.
Seven Axioms for healing transformation:
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:
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.
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.
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 --
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.
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 --
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
Break off every yoke!
Share your bread
with the hungry
Do not hide yourself
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
(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.
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?
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.
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/>]