Thursday, November 22, 2007

Loving The Enemy

There’s a very hip and widely-seen bumper sticker (in the Bay Area at least!) which is inspired by Jesus’ teaching that we must strive always to love our enemies. The bumper sticker, in an obvious comment on ‘our’ lovely war on terror and against Islam and Muslim and Arab people, says something to the effect of When Jesus Said to Love Our Enemies He Probably Meant Don’t Kill Them.

Y’know, I have a problem with this message, as it applies to current US foreign policy goals and actions. Sometimes this teaching of loving ones’ enemies is a useful instruction. I remember when the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and vicious attacker of non-Christians, queers, feminists and oh-so-many-others, died recently. I felt torn because I try to always retain the capacity to mourn at a loss of life. . .and I feel strongly that he and his agenda have already gotten more than enough attention from me and the world, at the expense of better people, ideas and movements upon which I’d rather concentrate. Plus, he really hated everything I stand for and in which I believe. I was heartened and educated by some mainstream gay organizations that publicly encouraged their communities to respectfully mark his passing while remaining unapologetically focused on human liberation. This, to me, is the essence of loving an enemy, to be able to acknowledge that there are those grieving Falwell’s death, in spite of the fact that Falwell and his followers did everything in their power to declare themselves my enemy.

However, people darker than I am, in lands unfamiliar to me, of religions different from mine, are actually not necessarily at all my enemies. Often they are strangers (still a far cry from enemies), and sometimes they are familiar friends. They can be and in many ways are comrades and teachers of mine. My enemies, those whom I love and those towards whom I am not (yet?) able to feel any affection or respect, are not the people my country is making war against.

Better Late Than Never

Whenever I miss a day or two of news, I’m always glad to get back in the radio and newspaper loop. . .Even though often the news that I find myself catching up on is anything but joyful and encouraging. I really do want to be fully human and alive and I know and feel good about what that task actually means, which is, in part, facing the suffering of the world. (As well as working to transform and lift pain and cruelty and also reveling in beauty and fun.) But the news can be a real downer, right? I’m so grateful when news of resistance and love and peace worms its way into my heart and consciousness too.

Now that it’s Thursday, for pity’s sake, I’ve just this morning gotten around to reading last Sunday’s The New York Times. In the November 18, 2007 edition, there appeared a paid open letter from Christian leaders, clergy and scholars. It was titled Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You and is in response to A Common Word Between Us and You, which was a recent open letter written and signed by 138 Muslim scholar and clerics who represent all major schools of Islamic thought in the world.

(The English website where you can read these texts in their entirety as well as find additional information and endorse the letter yourself is (You need to click on the link called New Content, in order to find the text of the Christian letter that appeared in The NYT.))

Both of these open letters were totally new to me. Sheesh-- Where have I been? I read this letter with deep interest and genuine pleasure! It’s nice to be able to say that in these trying time, huh? I was especially excited to observe how the Christian response began by offering gratitude and props for the many Muslim efforts towards peaceful coexistence. It’s crucial for dominant culture folks (here, Christians) to be able and willing to recognize and name that they follow the leadership of those whom they have wronged historically and continue to treat unjustly today. Such humility and understanding goes a long way in avoiding the all too common mistake of social change agents with privilege unwittingly re- inscribing the very oppressive dynamics they work so diligently to counter by how they go about their work. This is especially true in terms of how people understand who instigates peace and justice work and who offers the first hand in friendship and solidarity.

Friday, November 2, 2007

My Vegetarian Beef

I’m really aware of how progressive and educated people work to interrupt Islamophobic discourse by trying to educate people about Islamic theology. A really key point that often gets raised is that the prophet Mohammed, may peace and blessings be upon him, isn’t considered the founder of a brand new religion. This is a common misconception for lots of people from different political and other perspectives. I know I’ve had really fun and thought-provoking conversations with people when I share the little I know about Islamic thought and Muslim history. I think dialogue like this is an important piece of any strategic work around these important issues today.

So here’s my beef: As a result of Christian supremacy, most religious philosophy gets continually compared to Christian theology and Christ-centered frameworks. So I hear people who are trying to be good allies to Muslims insist that Mohammed isn’t like Jesus, the same blessings upon him also, who is assumedly the clear and undisputed founder of the sparkly new Christian religion.

But HELLO. That isn’t true either! Jesus was a Jewish radical. So were his mother and Paul and most of the people we now consider early Christians, for that matter. Christianity did not spring forth, fully formed, from a static and monolithic Judaism. And at the very least, Jesus had no conception of a separate religion, let alone the intent to create one by his lonesome. It’s cool that what ended up happening is now a distinct religion but we need to remember and interpret our history correctly here, people.

Isn’t it interesting how we can disorient simplistic versions of one thing and keep the same idea completely intact elsewhere?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mine! All Mine!

The issue of cultural (mis)appropriation came up very briefly in the discussion in my online class for which I’m writing this blog and I have a couple thoughts:

The first is how easy it is (for myself too!) to get out the thesaurus whenever there’s some uneasy about potentially unethical behavior. Cultural appropriation is itself a rather euphemistic term. It definitely sounds more acceptable than, say, stealing. Or cultural theft or rape or exploitation, for example. I think there are a lot of different levels of complicated realities going on when we (especially if ‘we’ come from a dominant cultural location) are trying to figure out how to engage and learn from all the cool traditions in our world. So I’m not saying it’s all necessarily 100 % exploitative, mind you.

But some of it is, right? In Unitarian Universalism we talk a lot about sharing religious and cultural resources. Sometimes I think this is a good term for considering our work and its relationship(s) to other collective groups. Yet sometimes I feel like we’re skirting a less pleasant truth, which is one about power and agency and who has it and how that impacts who feels free to use or share what. Even though words are important, I want to hang onto the feeling that this is life and death stuff and not a contest about nuanced vocabulary.

When this came up as an aside in our class discussion, it called to mind how disappointed I’ve been to find such a low functioning conversation about these issues at Starr King School. A couple years ago I took an amazing class from a fellow student of mine, Carol Bodeau. She’s this great teacher and activist who offered a class called Paganism in a UU Context. I sort of stumbled into the course in a less intentional way than how I usually pick classes and was totally welcomed and educated. We should all be so lucky!

ANYWAY, in Carol’s class we talked some about what is means for primarily white, non-indigenous folks, like many of those who make up and define UU communities, to get all enamored with the stylish depth of different Native American ritual practices. That conversation may have been the saddest and angriest I’ve been in a class at seminary. We acknowledged that there was this concept that some people held and believed in of cultural appropriation and then debated whether or not it was real and existed. I couldn’t believe that we actually arguing about whether or not power hierarchies and colonial gaze and imperialism was real! Or, if it was real, whether or not it impacted how we dealt with our own and others’ cultures.

It’s a whole other conversation to start from a perspective of accepting the reality of people sometimes not having control over their cultures’ destinies and having questions about when that is and/or isn’t going on in a particular worship service or ideology or whatever. But if we can’t even agree that occasionally dominant cultures take what isn’t quite theirs, then we’ll never get to a place where we can have that deeper conversation. And I want to!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

As Usual: More Questions than Answers

Questions of authority arise when we undertake projects of deconstruction. How do we remain open to questions, content to rest in those questions, and still be firm in who we are and what we think and feel?

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had was with the Unitarian Universalist high school youth group I used to advise. The teens were talking about how to describe our religion and its values. Some people expressed that we were totally open and accepting of everything, everyone and every kind of belief. And then I challenged that a little. Are we really open to everything under the sun? Like, do we accept people who litter? Yeah. Sure. Do we accept people who don’t believe in marriage equality? Yeah, but that’s not a super commonly expressed view. And collectively we try to welcome a journey towards belief in equality. Do we accept people who deny the Nazi Holocaust? Not really. Hopefully we can hold space for them to be human, yet most folks in most UU congregations would find the expression of these beliefs repugnant.

These might not be stellar examples, yet I hope they can be of some use. The central question in all this is: How open should we aspire to be?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My Cherry Tree

Recently I’ve been thinking about how often I google stuff and pass it off as my own knowledge. It’s so easy to do and the random basic websites that pop us, especially when I google really basic Jewish stuff, like the names of holy days, are such important resources in my life. That seems a little embarrassing to me when I type it but, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie.

Being a Jew in a primarily non-Jewish environment means that I often get cast in the role of Person Who Shall Educate. This usually happens because people know I’m Jewish and want to learn about Judaism and validate me and my existence. While I appreciate the intent, often the impact can be intense.

Occasionally it feels like a burden and I have to remind myself that transformative change happens slowly and not by me standing up and shouting, “Go look it up your damn self unless you are going to pay me to be your tutor!” Of course, sometimes I feel really good about sharing whatever information I posses, especially when I actually have something interesting and knowledgeable to offer. Yet when I have no idea how to answer the question, I can feel humiliated. If I can’t be Expert Jew, after all, I must be Fake Jew. This may (or may not) seem pretty simplistic, but these categories do exist-- and not only in my insecure mind.

And so, I totally use sites like and when non-Jews ask me questions about Jewish-ness that I have no idea how to answer. Then I can look stuff up, internally merge it with my own background and knowing and pretend like religious Jewish etiquette just welled up in my soul, despite having a Dad who’s barely darkened the door of synagogue since he made his bar mitzvah.

Friday, September 28, 2007

After the Revolution

I read on Wiki the other day that Audre Lorde was legally blind. And my first thought was, “Wow, it’s so amazing that she accomplished such precious and powerful things.” Immediately I realized how horrible it is that my default setting when learning some random, neutral bit of biographical information about someone was to go to this place of marginalizing them for a characteristic that’s part of them.

I think, on closer inspection, that my reaction is really about my own issues with my own sight. Or lack thereof. I got my first pair of glasses in 3rd grade and began wearing contact lenses in 7th grade. Sometimes I have these rushes of gratitude about living in a time and place where there is such incredible technology that allows me to see with 20/20 vision. I’m truly lucky and blessed that I have the privilege to access these wonders.

But usually I just hate hate hate having to wear corrective lenses. I hate it when my eye gets irritated by some speck of dirt and causes this drama about where/how I’m going to rinse out my contact lens. It can interrupt my activity at ANY MOMENT. I hate going camping with contacts. I hate how my eyes get hurty and dry and red when I spend the night in jail. I have to think ahead about the possibility of tear gas and pepper spray when I go to protests. I hate it when I run out of cleansing and conditioning solution and have to run to the drugstore in the middle of the night. Words cannot describe how ever-present these thoughts and worries are, rattling around in my brain!

It all leads to this fantasy of that magic balm, lasik eye surgery. I just know that if/when I do get it done, I will instantly become a completely different, totally carefree and spontaneous person. Really. Any day now. I can just almost taste my brand new, hassle-free existence.