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We Need Your Help, This New Transformative Year

Here we are – a new Jewish year opening up for us. We can make it a year of great transformation in American society and in the planetary community of all life. The Shalom Center seeks your help in awakening the Spirit for that transformation.

OR -- It can be the year when the West Coast wildfires worsen, many more Covid sufferers die, so do young Blacks at the hands of police sworn to serve and protect them as well as all the rest of us.

Transformation will not be easy. The forces of Domination, Subjugation, even Cruelty, are at their worst when they see their power dissolving. Martin Luther King understood that the “deadly triplets” of racism, militarism, and materialism were threatening the entire future of America and Earth. We have added sexism, the oppression of women and of the GLBTQIA communities. Fifty years later, these four have clenched their fists together. 

And we who are trying to see the world (not just biology) through ecological eyes, through eyes that respect the great array of all life forms and honor all cultures of Spirit and inclusive democracy – we are also coming together.

For the Jewish People, this year can be – must be – extraordinary. There is an accounting of a seven-year cycle that has been kept for about 2500 years. In that accounting, one year from now, there begins what the Bible calls “Shabbat Shabbaton” --  a year of Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath. It is also called “shmita,” release.  Release of Earth from being overworked, release of human beings from being oppressed. 

For centuries, this tradition has been barely mentioned. But now!! – we must awaken it in action. So this coming year is the year we must work toward making those changes real.

At The Shalom Center, we are celebrating the cycle of the festivals as the sacred framework for our work. The festivals are the offspring of a love affair between the Jewish People and Earth. Now Mother Earth is badly wounded, and many human beings suffer from poverty, racism, war and war-like policing. Earth and Humanity need the healing help of their children the festivals.

  • This year, “Share Sukkot: Green and Grow the Vote.”
  • Make Hanukkah the festival of conserving energy by creating solar energy co-ops.
  • On Tu B’Shvat, RebirthDay of the Trees, we can act to reforest Earth.
  • On Pesach, we can face the Carbon Pharaohs of our day who bring plagues upon the people and the planet.
  • On Tisha B’Av, we can mourn the destruction of Temple Earth.

And so on. Indeed, we want to explore how to train Spirit-rooted activists of several traditions, not only Judaism, how to draw on their own symbols, festivals, and practices to heal Earth.

To undergird that broader effort, I wrote Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It envisions how Judaism, Christianity, and other religious and spiritual traditions and communities could draw on and go beyond their existing teachings to create more life-giving and more truthful religious life in the future.

It is being published by Orbis Books in early October. If you want to have me and one of your local leaders weave a conversation with members of your congregation or book club, please drop me a note at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org with “Book Conversation” in the subject line.

For all this, we seek your crucial help. In your own communities, can you help to focus the festivals this way? And can you support The Shalom Center in creating and sharing the new prayers, new actions, new ways of gathering that will help us free human beings from oppression and heal our Earth from the heat brought on by burning fossil fuels?

All this costs money. Money for teachers, money to send new prayers and practices across the continent, money to gather people in virtual meetings to learn and then to teach.

We ask you to click on the “Contribute” banner just below my signature to send the money that we will need, to make this happen. If it is possible for you, we ask you to send a minimum of $72, and if you can, reach up to $720. Why these numbers? Because the number “18” in Jewish mystical lore means “chai, life.” We seek to create new life in the mystical Four Worlds -- Spirit, Creative Intellect, Interpersonal Emotion and Ethics, and Physical Action. 18x4 = 72, and all its multiples: $144, $576, $720.

Is this just mystical, a mystery? When we transform the world, the mystery of Love becomes the practice of Justice and Eco-sanity. It becomes nourishing food, medical care, public health, decent affordable housing, solar energy, the end of racism in our police forces and the whole “criminal Justice” system.  The mystical and the practical become ONE. We ask you to join us in this transformation.

As always, I bless you with Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!

And now I add, shanah tovah, shinui tov – a good year through transformation for the good!  --  Arthur

Coronavirus: The Lightning Flash, Revealing Truth

One generation ago, my friends and I were struggling to end the US War Against Vietnam. Howard Zinn of blessed memory, the author of the People’s History of the United States, told me that for most of our lives, we walk in the dark. The jagged edges of our society may stab and bloody us, but we cannot see them. Once a generation, a lightning flash may light up the truth. Our job when the lightning flashes, he said, was to see – and to remember.

The war then became, and this Coronavirus moment now has become, a lightning-flash to light up our reality and its failings. Let us emblazon onto our brains what we saw in that moment, so that we can act to heal ourselves, not fall back into a fake nostalgia.

There are two ways to see within and beyond this lightning flash. One is to look at it as if we have never seen a plague and were looking for the first time. The other is to look at it as “the eleventh Plague” -- drawing on our knowledge of the ancient story of the Ten Plagues brought on by a cruel and arrogant Pharaoh.

What we can learn from the Coronavirus Crisis itself:

1. Perhaps the simplest, most obvious lesson of all: We must have universal health care and we must turn far more attention to public health, not merely to health insurance poised for individuals.  Long before a crisis, long-view imagination and planning is necessary. Starving an agency so that it can barely meet immediate needs – as much of our public-health system was starved -- leaves it helpless to address an unplanned, unexpected emergency.

2. We really are one planet. Even prohibitions on “foreign” travel have mostly been too late to prevent transnational contagion. This is true even when human travel is the carrier. Can we translate that knowledge to even stronger cases, like the unity of our dangerously and recklessly overheated atmosphere and oceans affecting the whole pl

3.Governments, businesses, and families can move swiftly for profound change when sufficiently motivated. Many of them at first respond antidemocratically, with silence and lies. They may take serious action only when public outcry cannot be silenced and their own power becomes precarious.

4. Lesson from #3: When we face a crisis, make the grip on power of conventional “leaders” precarious.

5. Our response to the Coronavirus Crisis bears two lessons for our response to the Climate Crisis. We can respond to the Climate Crisis. Our response may come too late for many whose lives were lost by delay rooted in greed. And yet our response can save and transform human society and the web of life on Planet Earth. To do so, we must engage more people in active political struggle. For examples: More effort to fill our activism itself with love, celebration, and community. More engagement by the religious communities, especially each year as we approach Passover and Holy Week. New forms of interconnection, like solar co-ops and change-insistent groups that celebrate together (on-line and in person). Increasing our direct challenge to governments, including our own,  that they will lose power if they don’t respond to the Climate Plagues as vigorously as some of them have – late --to the Coronavirus Plague

6. Protection for the most vulnerable has become a political issue but not yet a political given. How do the homeless “self- isolate” without homes? How do hourly-paid workers choose to stay home and keep themselves and others safe and healthy, if they have no paid sick leave and no health insurance? How do children whose only daily bread is a school lunch eat when schools are closed? How do asylum-seekers stay healthy when they are packed into filthy detention centers or forced into jammed vehicles and sent back to tent cities? And prisoners and guards in way-overcrowded prisons?

7. The lightning-flash  revealed to all of us what some of us knew already: that these specially vulnerable communities over and over had one thing in common: that they were way over-proportionally defined by "race": that Black, brown, some Asian, and Indigenous peoples were killed and damaged by social responses to  the Pandemic far more than their “white” analogs.  That we do not live in a “post-racial” -- let alone a “post-racist” --  society. That if we want to reshape America beyond its inheritance of genocide and slavery, it will take vigorous action to bring about “reparations” --  economic and political and spiritual. transformations.

8. We must also make sure that special government and other aid goes also to those displaced and disemployed people who are worst affected by the Corona Crisis and by the Carbon Corporate poisoning of air and food and water, and most hurt by sudden great shifts in the economy.

9.  “Social distancing” in this crisis must go on long enough to make sure that medical tests and equipment, medical spaces, and trained medical workers are in place, and that the process of contagion has been halted. Any future crisis must be met with thorough healing.

10. Then, as soon as possible, we must make sure that we do not make “social distance” or some other cramping of our lives into a habit. The isolation of our bodies from each other is dangerous to our souls and to the soul of democracy. The open society has to take place in open workplaces, open homes of prayer and Spirit, open visits to open government offices, open vigils and protest rallies, open hugs and handshakes.

11. When deep change does happen, along with death and danger it may swiftly bring forth its own unexpected rewards. The sky above Wuhan, dirty and smoggy for decades, has become blue again during the Great Pause. The waters of Venice, long impenetrably muddy, have become once again transparent during the Great Pause. Though the first motive for the Pause was fear, many people are reporting that the social responses are filled with love and a desire to strengthen community even as “social distancing” strains it.These blessings may more likely come to the more privileged; those already marginal and deprived will probablky become still more so.Having seen the possible joy and possible degradation, many from both experiences can choose to make the blessings universal. We can choosee to make this Great Pause a restful, just, and joyful Shabbat for all – even perhaps a Several Sabbatical Months.

12. And somewhere, somewhen, as with the weekly and the seventh-year Shabbat, but not till we have freed society from the Plague, we must take up the joy and justice-seeking of honorable work for good lives and livelihoods, in physical communities of work as well as celebration. We must integrate into the fullness of our ongoing lives what we have learned from this moment.

13. What did we learn? That all Earth and all Humanity are intertwined, a Grand Ecosystem connected by the Breath of Life and tinged with Divinity. And that efforts by any part to subjugate the rest will destroy us all.  That we must transform our biology, our politics, our culture, from the assumption of Hierarchy and Subjugation to the patterns of Ecology: affirming diversity that makes up the larger One.

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

[We are in the midst of an extraordinary event in American history: a multiracial nation-wide uprising against deeply dug-in racism. It started with rejection of the use of racist violence by some among police forces. That was a profoundly wise response, since our whole society has assigned the police the American monopoly on the legitimate use of violence inside our country. If they use that license in racist ways, the whole society is responsible to change course.

[This movement has broadened, to look at other aspects of institutionalized  racism that have been the long long shadow of enslavement. One question that has arisen is whether some form of reparations is due from America to the Black community. For Jews, this question has special importance. For we and the Japanese-American community are the only segments of American society that have in fact received reparations --  Jews from Germany, for the almost unfathomable violence against the Jewish people in the Holocaust; and Japanese-Americans from the US government, for their imprisonment in detention camps and loss of property during World War II. So the Jewish community may have some special insight into the ethical issues involved in reparations.

[In addition, our deepest spiritual and religious roots – the biblical story of the Exodus – are intertwined with a story of reparations to the whole people for having been enslaved by Pharaoh, the embodiment of Mitzrayyim – the Hebrew word for Egypt, which means “the tight and narrow place.”  So The Shalom Center will bring our members and readers a series of articles from various standpoints – religious, historical, and personal -- on the question of reparations. The following is the first in a series of such essays. It is a much-abbreviated version of Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein’s extraordinary 2018 article, “The Torah Case for Reparations,”  which you can read in full at this link. The author prepared this shortened version especially for The Shalom Center. --  AW, ed.]

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

In the last several years, cultural and political winds have moved the demand for reparations to Black Americans from the fringe into the mainstream of American politics. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s magisterial 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations”, deserves much of the credit for this shift. Slavery and its aftermath sit at the heart of the mythic consciousness of Judaism. Does Judaism have anything to contribute to a national consideration of reparations? I think it does. 

 We Took Reparations

Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation. The Torah emphasizes that on the way out of Egypt, the Israelites emptied their Egyptian neighbors of their wealth (Exodus 12:35-36).

This taking of reparations was not castigated as dishonest plundering or sinful vindictiveness, nor even as an optional bonus, but was a required component of liberation, as God had explicitly commanded the day before (Exodus 11:2). Receiving reparations was a core component of the Exodus. God’s first promise to liberate the Israelite slaves, spoken to Moses at the burning bush, already explicitly included abundant reparations (Exodus 3:21-22). The taking of reparations is at the very heart of the slavery story, even promised to Abram as part and parcel of the Bible’s first premonition of slavery and redemption.

The first time the Torah’s core story — slavery and liberation — is revealed, the entire content of that liberation is the future departure from Egypt with reparations: “Know for sure that your seed shall be an alien in a land not their own, and shall serve them; and they shall abuse them -- four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with significant property” (Genesis 15:13-14). We recite this passage ritually in our Passover seders to this day, annually reviewing that God’s faithfulness is expressed through a promise kept over hundreds of years, and that that promise was reparations for slavery.

Are these Really Reparations?

The Rabbis of the Talmud understood the wealth taken by the Israelites as slavery reparations, as shown in a piquant story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) which imagines the Egyptians suing the Jews in the court of Alexander the Great to return the wealth they took on the way out of Egypt. A non-rabbi named Geviha ben Pesisa serves as defense attorney for the Jews and countersues: “I, too will bring you evidence only from the Torah, as is said, ‘And the Israelites’ residence, which they resided in Egypt was 430 years’ (Ex. 12:40): Give us payment for the labor of 600,000, whom you enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.”

The Egyptians offer no response and drop their case. Egypt had exploited the Israelites for hundreds of years, stealing their labor. Egypt owed the Israelites generations of reparations, but was not about to pay them willingly or to acknowledge the depth of its wrongdoing. According to the Talmud and even the Torah itself, not only were reparations just, but taking them by any means necessary, even deception, was just and commanded by God and should be intelligible to the international community.

The Rabbis place this (fictional) lawsuit during a Sabbatical year, when Jews are prohibited from farming. Observing the sabbatical year disrupts anyone’s domination over land and people. The land is released to grow wild and debts are relieved. Temporary economic straits, then, cannot plunge a person into structural poverty and servitude.

Just as the Torah contrasts Egyptian slavery with observance of the weekly sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), the prophet Jeremiah tells the people that God commanded the Sabbatical year laws “on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Jeremiah 34:13). For the Rabbis, Egyptian spoils

Torah Teaches: Consult the WHOLE People. How Can WE, USA 2020?

Who should get to vote in an American election?

Especially an epochal election that will decide on life or death for tens of thousands of Americans living in the midst of a botched governmental response to a world pandemic;  an epochal election that will decide whether American democracy survives or is subjugated by a fascist government; an epochal election that will decide the future of life on this planet?

Many of our politicians act as if this were just a matter of partisan politics. But our most ancient spiritual teachings insist that at such epochal moments, the whole society must take part.

Let us look briefly at three such moments: when the people of Israel, the Godwrestling folk, stood at Sinai to receive Revelation; when the people were just about to leave the wilderness and begin to live as shepherds and farmers in the land beyond the Jordan River; and when those who had been exiled to Babylon returned and were trying to establish a People with a Covenant.

And after looking at these teachings, I will share with you what we can do to uphold them is this epochal moment,

Deuteronomy 5: 1-3:

Moses called all of Israel together and said to them ... “YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut with us a covenant at Horeb [=Sinai, but with a name that means “knife”}. Not with our forebears did YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut this covenant , but with us, yes, us, those here today, all of us alive.”

Deuteronomy 29: 13-14:

Not with you, you-alone do I cut this covenant and this oath, but with the one that is here [at Sinai]/ Horeb], standing with us today, facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] our God, and also with the one who is not here with us today.

Deuteronomy 31: 10-11:

And Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the year of release, on the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to be seen facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] your God, at the place The One chooses, you are to proclaim this instruction in front of all Israel in their ears.

“Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the little ones, and your sojourner that is in your gates, in order that they may hearken, in order that they may learn and have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God to carefully observe all the words of this instruction;

“So that even their children, who do not fully understand, may hearken and learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God all the days that you remain alive on the soil that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Excerpts from Nehemiah 9 and 10

Chapter 9: 1 Now the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.

4 On the stairs of the Levites they cried with a loud voice to YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life] their God..  

 

 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our rulers, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our forebears, and all your people.

36 “Behold, we are subjugated-people this day; in the land that you gave to our forebears to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are subjugated-people. 37 And its rich yield goes to the rulers whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

38  “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of[6] our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

Chapter 10: Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor;the Levites;10 their associates; 14 the leaders of the people; 28 the rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life]..

The teaching is clear: We in the United States have turned Moses’ call to Assemble the people every seven years to hear and commit to Torah, into a commitment to gather the people every two years to choose our national leaders.

If some part of the government seizes the moment to exclude some people, so as to elevate its own power, it is violating not only the Constitution but the most basic spiritual truth: Especially when the whole people faces an epochal choice, the whole people must be present and involved.

How do we make this happen, in the USA, in 2020?

The “whole people,” it is now most clear in the midst of pandemic, need the US Postal Service and Vote-by-Mail if the whole people is to be involved. It is hardly surprising, if one of the epochal choices we face !s democracy vs. authoritarian rule, that authoritarians want to shatter that possibility. And they are doing what they can to break USPS, the most democratic and most beloved of all the Federal agencies. One built on connecting We the People.

I have tried to imagine some way We the People could create our own way out of this. I imagined “Democracy Bonds,” which the public would buy (as patriotic people bought “War Bonds” during World War II)  to lend the Postal Workers Union – not USPS --  enough money to get them and us past the election. Then a new President and Congress could repay the bonds. Clever, a number of people said, but it would take six months to set up the arrangements. Too late.

Okay. Next best, try to make the Federal system, even authoritarians, support the democratic institution. At least to make utterly clear to all who need the mail, who is disrupting its delivery.

Two channels: Congress, and the Board of the USPS. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is mobilizing people TONIGHT to lean heavily on Congress. Click to www.rac.org/everyweek

Eve Ilsen warmly circulates a proposal from Varda B, below.  

"Hello People -- In case you don't see any other way - PLEASE WRITE & CALL the 6 People who supervise the USPS Board -- See all contact info below, and SHARE this info!!

"Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General and Trump appointee who is now dismantling the USPS on Trump's behalf, “serves at the pleasure of” and reports to the 6-member USPS Board of Governors. These six men have the power & duty to #StopDeJoy & prevent Election Day chaos.

Join Life-Conversations with my book: Dancing in God’s Earthquake

In my next-to-last letter to you, I mentioned that my book Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion will be published in October. A number of you wrote asking for more information and how to order the book. I am glad to invite you to a special virtual gathering with me, before publication. Here is the way it will work:

I will meet with you and other clergy and spiritual leaders for a series of three sessions from 7 to 8:30 pm Eastern US time, on Tuesday evenings, August 11, 18, and 25. For each session, I will send you ahead of time one chapter of the book. For each session, we will discuss that chapter. When the book is published in October, I will send you a free copy, personally inscribed to you from me.

The cost of the series will be $72. To register, please click to ex ex ex ex

I am sharing with you the endorsements of the book that will be published on the back cover.

A wonderful book! Before the hierarchies and divisions of religions, there was the all-inclusive circle of spirituality. In Dancing in God’s Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow helps us trace our path back to our spiritual home.” –Gloria Steinem

“Rabbi Waskow calls each of us to reach down deep in our moral and religious traditions and have a grownup conversation about the response our present crisis requires. I'm glad to lift up this invitation for all to join the divine dance of love and justice.” –William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign

Like poetry on a cold day, this book warms the heart and mind both. A fierce look at religion, a willingness to question history, to see the connections between the world’s faiths, to suggest how we might move forward from today’s hard times.”—Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service

“We are in a moment of great crises and gathering travail, and so one thing we need to learn is how to steadily, joyfully, determinedly pass through these trials, not just intact, but in love with the world around us. There could be no better guide than Arthur Waskow.”—Bill McKibben, author, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

“This is a delightful and refreshing book, full of wit, wisdom, and hope--all of which we so desperately need amid the perpetual upheaval and crisis of the world today. I'm deeply thankful for both Arthur and this book.”—Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

There are also a number that will be published inside, because they didn’t fit on the back cover. I will send you the endorsements of these others later, but I can tell you now that they include Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Marge Piercy; and other notables from the Christian and Muslim worlds. And I can tell you that these endorsements follow from people having insisted on reading the entire book before they wrote their comments.

  I look forward to having a conversation with you about the book. and with the book about our lives. -- I see the book as a harvest of my whole life experience in religious commitment, spiritual delight, and social transformation. Many people look on a “harvest” as a product of past sowing and growing. But I see this book as what a harvest is really supposed to be – food for the future

Please join us by clicking to the registration page:

“I Can’t Breathe” -- WE Can’t Breathe -- Earth Can’t Breathe

 “I Can’t Breathe”

Again and again,

With gun or choke-hold.

Police steal the breath of Black Americans

The police are not merely police

For they hold a national authority

To use violence on behalf of the nation:

To serve us all, protect us all.

When they subjugate the Black community

They implicate us all,

They make us all Subjugators

And their misdeeds have stirred

A great Uprising against racism.

 

We can’t breathe.

All humanity is choking

From a virus that invades our lungs.

We have left no space for other species

And the virus leaps into our lives,

And then when our rulers ignore the danger

It becomes still worse--  

Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,

Our democracy. Our lives. 

 

Earth Can’t Breathe

All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing

Plants breathe in Carbon dioxide, breathe out Oxygen.

Animals breathe in Oxygen, breathe out Carbon dioxide.

Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive.

Nishmat kol chai, tivarekh et shimcha: Yahhhh elohenu:

The breath of all life praises Your Name;

For your Name in truth whispers all life.

YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh/ Yah, is our God.

The God of all life.

But too much CO2 is the “climate crisis” -- 

Chokes our breathing.

And when Earth can't breathe

We ourselves can't breathe:

The fires that ravage California

Send smoke that chokes our breathing.

Earth can’t breathe.

Can't   -----  br--- the.

  

"You shall not take My Name with an empty heart."

Every breath we take

Is Itself the Name,

Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.

You shall not rob My peoples

And My life-forms

Of My Name, My Breath.

We must breathe.

             

My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis


Dear friends,

This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed,  the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.

It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.

There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.

"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.

In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.

More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.

The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.

That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.

What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.

And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence.  Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.

I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.

In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.

Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.

With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –
 Arthur

Is Coronavirus a Biblical "Plague"?

In the ancient biblical tradition, what is a "plague"? Where does it come from? Is it anything like coronavirus? Is it anything like the wildfires that have so damaged California and Australia? Can these ancient stories teach us anything today?

Some of the great plagues of the Exodus are what we would call diseases, but not all. There is a cattle affliction that sounds something like mad cow disease. There is an affliction of all water in the land of Egypt, not only the Nile but even water in pots and pans. There is the death of all firstborns.

But there are also the invasions of frogs, of locusts, of lice or mosquitoes. These are ordinary animals in extraordinary numbers and places. But so are diseases. The Coronavirus is perfectly normal until it leaps a species. Carbon dioxide is perfectly normal – – even necessary – – until human corporations create so much of it by burning fossil fuels that it becomes extraordinary, planet-destroying. The Exodus move to a freely wandering, struggling, learning, growing journey in a Wilderness, seeking to become a loving and beloved community.

The Exodus is empowered by a series of Ten Plagues. In some understandings, they were brought on by a God Who is a sort of Super-Pharaoh in the sky, proving he is even more powerful and more cruel than the Pharaoh on the Egyptian throne, who claims to be a god. Pharaoh enslaves Israelites; God kills Egyptians.

This understanding that the Exodus is a contest between a king and a Super-King is underlined by the false biblical translation of YHWH as “LORD.” (The rabbinic tradition substituted “Adonai/ Lord” for “YHWH” but the Hebrew Bible does not.) It is more likely that YHWH with no vowels is simply a breath – Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life, sometimes the Wind of change, sometimes the Hurricane of destruction. 

This Ruach (Hebrew for “breath, wind, spirit”) is what intertwines all life. We know now this is literally, physically, scientifically true: the Oxygen-CO2 interbreathing between animals and vegetation keeps all life alive. So YHWH is the bearer of consequence, not punishment or rewards. Try reading the whole Plague narrative substituting “Interbreath of life” instead of “LORD.”  For me and others who have tried this, it changes the whole story. 

From this vantage point, the concentrated power and the arrogance, cruelty, and stubbornness of a Pharaoh whose subjugation of human beings soon became subjugation of Earth. The cruelty that Pharaoh sows, all Egypt reaps.

Those plagues did not come from outside us. They came from our own society, from our own government, from our own way of living. "We" allowed a Pharaoh who turned Egyptian farmers into sharecroppers and an immigrant community into slaves.

And that's the case today. The coronavirus only becomes destructive and deadly because we don't leave space between ourselves and various other species. We don't leave space for bats who fly around perfectly well carrying that virus. We take up all the space there is, and we take up all the air there is with far too much CO2. We allow ourselves to become "sharecroppers" within the system that brings plagues upon us. And we become accustomed to the system of domination, so much that we think it is normal. It is not arrogance, it is not cruelty; it is normal.

Until Earth rebels, and what is normal becomes lethal. Some groups of us suffer more from the "diseases" than others, die more than others. More and more of us even begin to notice that the "overseers" who casually murdered Israelite slaves in the ancient story are not so different from the police today who use their legitimized authority to kill more Blacks. Then more and more of us realize that some of us are sharecroppers and some of us are enslaved.

Yet these plagues have an unexpected effect, in the ancient story and for us today. Though the ancient plagues were the horrifying results of Pharaoh’s cruelty, they became the instruments of liberation.

How could both truths be true? The Exodus story splits the targets of the plagues. For Egyptians, they were utterly destructive. For Israelites, who according to the story were physically and ecologically separated in their own region of Goshen, the plagues were liberating. Zoom becomes our Goshen. And if we stop to think, we know that Zoom is a class and racial privilege. The deeply poor do not get to live in Zoom.

Whether the separation was factually accurate or a part of a larger parable, it was a way of celebrating the emergence of a new kind of community  -- committed to a new birth of freedom yet welcoming, as the story of Pharaoh’s daughter indicates, to “renegade refugees” even from the palace of privilege and power.

We, living in the midst of the Coronavirus Plague and the varied plagues of global scorching, do not have the luxury of regional separation.  Our own “Goshen” is retreat into our own homes, scattered everywhere. Our own new plagues imposed by modern pharaohs are again horrifying and might-be liberating: Undrinkable water.  Intrusive “forever plastics,” even inside human bodies. Droughts. Famines. Floods. Fires. Human beings becoming unable to see each other through the darkness of fear. Ultimately, the dangerously impending death of the next generation of the human species -- our own first- and second- and tenth-borns.

Our new Plagues might be sounding the death-knell of an old world order of Domination and Hierarchy. Or they might by making uprising for freedom so difficult to do in public and by destroying jobs and workplaces, reinforce the power of our pharaohs until all of us are conscripted into the chariot army that drowns in the Sea of misery, despair, and death.

Which future is our future depends on us. Can we suffer from the plagues and yet --  and therefore! -- act on them as birth-cries of a new worldview of ecological interwovenness: seeing our communities of life as conscious interconnected ecosystems of biology, culture, and society--rooted in love and flowering in life-affirming justice? 

In the ancient story, on the very night when they must choose Exodus or Death, the Israelites must encircle the doorways of their houses with blood. To leave the Tight and Narrow Land, they must leave a household rimmed with blood. There is one bloody house that every human being exits: the womb, in every birth.  Here a whole people is reborn.

 And then, those Israelites who made that choice – not every descendant of Abraham and Sarah did, and some Egyptian-born, like Pharaoh’s daughter, joined that choice to be reborn –- met another birth-choice on the seventh day.

On that day they found themselves at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, a roaring, roiling ocean. Behind them they heard the drumming hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s horse-chariot army. It was coming to insist they turn back to familiar life: slavery, yes, and accustomed onions, garlic, chewy meat.

Which should they choose? The unknown? The Sea of drowning? A wilderness beckoning on the other shore -- still more unknown?

They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.

Today the whole human species is standing between the Unknown Sea and the world of Customary Order – garlic, onions, and slavery.

Time to choose.

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