I’ve said that on Tuesday mornings I would post a quote from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion . This isn’t a quote, but reflections from the chapter called “The Sin of Sodom and the Sin of Lot.” (See Genesis chapter 19 for the biblical story.) It fits our discussion of how to welcome the newly arrived into a fuller American democracy, while respecting those who feel they have been forgotten although they used to think they were the heart of American society.
The sin of Sodom was that they hated foreigners. They barely tolerated Abraham’s cousin Lot, and when he welcomed two strangers to his house they mobbed the house and threatened to rape the visitors. The point was not sex, though much of Christian thought was that their sin was homosexuality; the sin was hatred. But Lot committed a sin that was the sin of Sodom upside-down: he offered to let them rape his own daughters if they would let the foreign visitors alone.
With a little stretch we can see our own dilemma: Shall we save the community that thinks we have forgotten the mystic ties that bind us together as friends and family, or save the newcomers for the sake of sacred justice? Have "the forgotten" fallen into hatred? Or are they frightened, desperate? Have the justice-focused forgotten that we all are entitled to justice, not only the newcomers?
Lot and his family were saved, according to the story – remember, it’s a story! -- when his visitors struck the mob with a light so intense it blinded them from attacking. Already a paradox. A light that darkened. What might that mean for us? How can we insist that our businesses stop pouring CO2 into the air that burns, floods, and kills our families – our children -- while affirming the cultures that believe global scorching is a hoax?
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A letter from Karen Flotte, a member of the Justice Gardeners Team that works closely with the Central Reform Congregation of St Louis and with the nearby Black community to discern what people need and want to eat – and share in making it possible for all who hunger to tend and feed themselves from the communal garden. And who is a member of the Program Coordinator team for The Shalom Center.
This is a deeply personal post and not meant to be prescriptive for anyone.
As the sun was setting yesterday evening, I found myself in a park weeping. Weeping over the nation torn asunder we find ourselves in. My heart as broken as our people.
Yesterday morning, I saw a post asking about a photo of Republican voters, “Who are these people?” I immediately thought, “People I love. My family, dear life-long friends, my neighbors.” My grandparents and parents who taught me to protect those most vulnerable by the ways they lived and acted. My friend of nearly 40 years who held my hand offering emotional and spiritual support and medical wisdom as my sister and father were dying. A friend with whom I can consistently reach across the aisle and speak heart to heart about our different perspectives with respect and love.
My neighbor who cares compassionately and practically for all he meets, especially the elders in my neighborhood. The neighbor who I told my son would protect us with his own life when John Wesley asked if extremists would try to shoot us.
I come from an all-American family, Jewish, Christian and nones; conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats as well as those who do not claim a space on that spectrum; urban and rural; queer and cis-gender straight. Reflecting a part of the erev rav or great mixed multitude that comprises our nation.
For many years, my friend Rabbi Randy Fleisher has been working with the story of Jacob and Esau, the story of a generation divided, of fear and of hatred. In the few short years I have known Randy, he has taught this story in different ways, examining it deeply, wrestling with its meaning for our time. In this story as Jacob returns anticipating meeting his brother Esau, he wrestles for a full night before crossing over to meet his brother.
I have spent the last few days wrestling within. If the election season can be compared to the High Holidays of my adopted tradition, Judaism, I feel like I am standing in Yom Kippur, taking a full accounting of my soul. I live my life on this truth, that the wholeness of the community depends on the wholeness of the entire community. The entire community.
I need to take a full accounting of my soul. How have I personally missed the mark? What are the ways that I have allowed my heart to harden? How have the way I speak about my fears, values and perspectives led to alienation, oppression of others? Has my own speech and thinking contributed to violence, hatred and divide?
How do I need to listen deeper? How do I bring compassion and healing to myself, to others? My inner work, inner healing is necessary if I want to be an active participant in tikkun olam or repair of the world and our nation in the days that follow.
Four years ago on the Shabbat after the election, Rabbi Mem Movshin (of blessed memory), who did the teaching that day, posed this question to all of us, “how will you be a blessing in the days to come?” Jacob and Esau are able to cross the divide and embrace in an act of blessing. I fear that if I am unable to do the work of inner healing, of opening my own heart to the entire community -- person to person, face, to face -- the forces which have torn our people asunder will, in fact, win. As I enter this Shabbat after the election, I ask myself Rabbi Mem’s question again, “how will I be a blessing in the days to come.” And I carry deep within my heart this prayer by St. Francis which I learned in my parent’s home:
Yah, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Breath of Life,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
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A glimmer of answers, a glow of light to let us blur our differences and let us see what we might share:
Rabbi Doris Dyen of Pittsburgh, from one of the congregations that met in the Tree of Life building where murder struck two years ago, recommends two groups that are working to make dialogue possible across what has been our splitness:
Braver Angels -- https://braverangels.org/
The organization was originally called "Better Angels," drawing from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. They facilitate structured "red / blue" conversations between groups of ordinary people with opposing political views. They also provide training for conversation moderators.
Multi-Faith Neighbors Network -- https://www.mfnnetwork.com/
This organization was started by an Evangelical Christian pastor Bob Roberts in Texas, a Muslim leader (also in Texas I believe?) Imam Mohamed Magid, and Rabbi David Saperstein. I participated in their 6-week workshop of guided conversations this summer, taught by Pastor Roberts and Imam Magid, which brought together local spiritual leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths here in Allegheny County.
Pastor Roberts, Imam Magid, and Rabbi Saperstein lead these workshops all over the country: they want to get the spiritual leaders talking/listening to each other, and attending each other's religious services if possible, activities which are then followed up by their congregations doing community service projects together, so that the congregants also begin to establish rapport.
The long-range goal is to build "resilient communities" where people are working cross-culturally for constructive change together on things they can agree on. Our chavurah has since participated in two interfaith community food distribution projects in Pittsburgh with the churches/mosques whose leaders I got to know through the Network workshop series.
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There will be more as we explore this question, for life and not for death. How can we pursue justice and love at the same time, when parts of our people have such different ideas of what both of them mean? Can we create forms of action that almost all of us agree on, in our differences?
Meanwhile, if you want to explore this and other questions in the glowing light of Torah transformed: Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. Click to --
https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.