By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The midterm Congressional elections of 2006 and their aftermath open up the possibilities of change.
During the election campaign, The Shalom Center scrupulously adhered to our obligation to focus on spiritually rooted policies, not on candidates for election. And the election results in terms of specific people and their connection to specific ethical policies are somewhat spotty.
But over-all, the window has been opened for fresh winds of change, to bring new life into what was an airless, lethal lock-box.
And this we should celebrate!
In the Passover Seder, there is a puzzling song that celebrates each step of liberation as if that step were enough. "If we had gotten to the Red Sea but the waters had not split for us - Enough! Dayenu!" "If we had gotten to Sinai but no Torah had appeared - Enough! Dayenu!"
How can this be? These steps would NOT have been "enough." The wise "Dayenu" song teaches that we should celebrate each step, each victory AS IF this one were enough - "Dayenu!!" - Then move on to the next verse in the song, the next world-repair job we need to do.
For we are still living in a profound world crisis in which the human race -- adam -- and the planet in which we live -adamah -- are living in the midst of a world-wide earthquake: political, economic, technological, military, religious, ecological.
The crisis is still there, and so is the drive to deal with it in short-sighted and destructive ways. One of the blessings of our religious and spiritual outlook is that we can choose to bring a deeper vision and a broader perspective.
We need to decide whether ethical and spiritual concerns are merely frosting on the cake of world power - mere sugary slogans -- or are the place from which we begin to weave a world community that is adequate to the needs of our generation.
Our country and the world are being endangered by three competing versions of world order that are all based on the use of top-down, unaccountable power.
One cites the language and vision of democracy but acts to impose top-down control by the US and its connected corporations on other nations and on the earth itself. In this approach, "democracy" means not the will of the peoples of various nations but their conformity to the forms of elections while accepting the policies of the US.
This pattern includes not only the Iraq war but also the support of Big Oil and Big Coal despite the onset of global scorching; the shift of enormous power and wealth to the super-rich by means of huge tax cuts; the starvation of health care and education for workers and the middle class; the embrace of torture, surveillance without warrants, etc. Up till now, that has been the vision of the present Bush Administration.
Another approach shuffles the power of various nations and corporations to achieve a "concert of power" seeking no value but its own stability as a top-down controlling force. If used at all, "democracy" and "human rights" are slogans, not policies. This was the outlook of Daddy Bush and of practically all US policy during most of the Cold War and since it ended.
The substitution of Gates for Rumsfeld and the impending Baker report on Iraq may indicate that the Administration is now reverting to this mode. (Both Gates and Baker were Daddy Bush's people. The President's face and posture at his press conference dumping Rumsfeld hinted at how excruciating is his discovery that Daddy was "right" after all, and that his triumphant outdoing of his father was actually a disaster.)
This reversion to "normal" so far is confined only to the SecDefense-ship. Whether it actually applies even to Iraq, let alone to such issues as global scorching, is not yet clear.
Both these models come from places of already established power. From places that feel disempowered comes still another approach that concentrates power in top-down ways, even while claiming the legitimacy of the underdog. It uses the slogans of ending oppression and humiliation , empowering the poor -- but actually acts against others' top-down power by organizing its own: tiny minorities, filled with rage and unaccountable to broader communities, to use extreme violence.
Often this approach is justified by the desire to "solve" the present world crisis by going back to some version of the pre-Modern age - with intense "religious" insistence on putting women, other communities and cultures, and the earth itself "back in their place" - subordinate.
We seek another way, rooted in the grass roots of the earth and of humanity and taking seriously God's teachings of justice and compassion.
For the disempowered, that path requires nonviolent direct action, often including civil disobedience, that involves large numbers of people.
For people who live inside the Great Powers, with some measure of democratic power at home, it can also mean this kind of Gandhian power at the grass roots. And it can mean using the kind of electoral power to begin making change that the American people brought into action this week.
\What grass-roots policies rooted in justice and compassion would fit with grass-roots action rooted in justice and compassion?
For the last month, we have been working with a number of rabbis and cantors on A JEWISH CALL TO HEAL GOD'S WORLD BY WEAVING WORLD COMMUNITY.
It lays out a series of urgent calls to the US government for policies that would weave a new generation of world community, rooted in justice and compassion.
Though we have begun with rabbis and cantors, we will soon be ready to share this approach more broadly..
We began working on it before the elections, knowing that it would be necessary no matter how they came out. Thank God we can now come to it with high-hearted hope, rather than dread and depression.
If this approach speaks to you, please help us act on it - and help us to help you act on it! -- with a (tax-deductible) donation. (Please go to
and click on the blue button.) Thanks!
With blessings of hope, celebration, shalom, salaam, peace -