Trauma & Tashlich

If we were sitting inside a synagogue today, one of the stories we would hear would be when Sarah ordered Abraham to “cast out” Hagar and Ishmael to the desert.  To cast out, tashlich.  Many a queer person knows what it means to be cast out of their families; when those who presumably know us most deeply turned their backs on us.  My beloved and I each experienced versions of that, when we were each young lesbians in the beginning of the 1980s. Thankfully, over the last 30 years more and more families, including our own, have made teshuvah (repentance) for acting out of fear instead of love.

Today, however, there are those who would like families to again, cast out their queer, trans and nonbinary youth.  In the last year there have been 300 anti-queer and trans bills in 23 states; 13 of those states have signed their bills into law. This rhetoric has led to more families, again, casting out their kids. Indeed, over the past year in this country there were over 4.2 million youth who are either homeless or have instable housing; of those 40% are queer and trans youth. 

In our country’s current divisiveness, it is no longer just queer and trans youth who have been cast out, as we are also witnessing the reversal of laws over bodily autonomy and reproductive health.  Neighbor and family being encouraged to report on – to cast out – women who seek abortions or parents who get there trans kids the medical support they need to affirm their genders.  It makes folks worry what other rights might be taken away. More and more, political schisms have fractured families – parent from child, siblings from other siblings… with the youngest generation frustrated that none of the adults seem to be making true inroads in protecting our fragile planet… and wonder what kind of world they are inheriting.

We’re not immune here in Oregon, as we’ve watched communities to our south ban any signs which promote the welfare of black and queer youth in their schools. And even the centrist candidate for governor has accused the democratic candidate of “Bringing the culture wars to your kid’s classroom,” as if children with queer parents or who are themselves queer, trans or nonbinary are not already subjected to the culture of prejudice. And both centrist and conservative candidates want to roll back environmental protections to make possible more logging and more industrial pollution, placing profit above the common good and the health of our planet.

While each of the candidates bemoan the homeless crisis, governments cannot change the systemic nature of this crisis when every attempt to create safe alternatives (for those who our capitalist society has left behind) is met with “Not in my backyard!”  We have turned those who lost their housing (to the real estate collapse or the covid job market or simply because greed has made affordable low income housing a myth) into the Other.  We turn away, hoping to not see ourselves in their eyes.

We on the left have not helped matters when we boil everything down to tropes about the right’s lack of intelligence and compassion. “If they only got educated about the issues”…. we say. But we have not educated ourselves about how the powers that be fan the flames of division; media conglomerates spinning different realities depending on where their viewers call home.  We have forgotten how to have civic discourse, let alone civil and compassionate conversations.  I was recently reminded of an image from the animated movie, Wall-E where all the people were glued to their screens, oblivious to the living breathing people within arm’s reach.  It no longer feels so far-fetched.  

How did we get here?  Unnoticed amid the louder political debates, there was a study a few years ago, which found that in the growing climate crisis, there is a correlation between the planet’s rising temperature and the growing anger and divisiveness within the human communities. We are, after all, part of this planet, even if we’ve forgotten that; so we are (in a way) mirroring the fever of our Mother Earth, enflamed by the constant vibrational anxiety of cultural and familial discord.

The folks who study trauma, have explained that we are all so saturated with multiple traumas – from 9/11 to the pandemic to renewed fears of Russian nuclear weapons, not to mention the current hurricanes and climate-affected natural disasters around the world – one crisis after another has bombarded us to the point where none of us can think rationally.  Thinking, and compassion, require that we calm our trauma triggers which live in our bodies and specifically our lizard-brain amygdala.  When we are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn we literally cannot think – that function is part of our pre-frontal cortex, as is our sense of safety in community, our compassion, and our hope.  Ol’ lizard brain is always looking for the next disaster, for the next shoe to fall, for the next Other to be revealed as Enemy.

So who have we cast out this year? Because we were too activated to welcome the stranger; because we were too afraid of difference to hear what we may have in common, because we were too scared for our own security to reach out a helping hand? As we journey through these Days of Awe, how might we settle our trauma and our self-righteousness to consider what has caused hurt and fear in those we deem Other.  What is the teshuvah that will allow us to return to a sense of beloved community, not just with fellow humans but with our miraculous world?

For trauma to be transmuted and transformed, requires action.  Just like the gazelle running from the tiger, we have to get out of our frozen fear by moving.  When Hagar was cast out, she almost succumbed to fear and hopelessness, but she realized that to save her child she needed to act – to find the spring of water which would not only allow her and Ishmael to survive but which became a source of spiritual healing for Muslims to this day.

Hagar’s spring, and our Sandy River, touch us in primal ways.  Water holds memory. It represents our emotions – when blocked the waters of our heart burst their dam in destructive ways, but when encouraged to flow compassionately can bring healing; just as salmon are returning to our rivers freed of their dams.  Water purifies and renews, which is why mikveh and tashlich have such a visceral place in our lives. The tears of release, the tears of regret, and the tears of joy each has a different chemical composition, yet all provide healing.

So we come to the river, to acknowledge that fear has led us to make choices which caused harm to ourselves or others.  We come to mourn and witness the ways we have gone along with the status quo or bought the illusions marketed to us as convenience. We come to cast off that which no longer serves us, so that like Hagar, we might find the wellsprings of hope, so that we can be enactors of healing change rather than frozen spectators in our own lives.

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Unitive Commonwealth of The Divine

Earlier today I had the pleasure of giving the guest sermon at a local congregation. This week’s readings are not of the warm and fuzzy variety!  It was one of those lections that (while not full-on fire & brimstone) can still make us a bit squirmy when we hear about divisiveness and judgment. As a feminist, Jewish and bisexual woman, the supersessionism and patriarchy in some passages can rankle my sensibilities. But when I hear the words attributed to Jesus in today’s Gospel, that call for the division of families, it pushes a tender button.  Many queer folk, myself included, have experienced what it means to be divided from our families because of who and how we love. Part of the disconnect (spiritually speaking), ultimately is because of the perceived tensions of being in relationship with a Loving Gd as opposed to a Judging Gd. Each of today’s readings have been used to control and subjugate others based in those dualistic ways of understanding the Divine and Scripture.

While I am an interfaith minister, my experience as a Jew by Choice, has provided me with a very different relationship with scripture than did the Catholicism of my youth.  I’ve learned to wrestle with the inspired words of Scripture, and (like Abraham, Lot or Rebecca), to question Gd and Gd’s spokespersons.

Let’s start with Isaiah 5:1-7. The imagery of Isaiah’s words was intended to be a wake-up call as the nation of Israel neared annihilation from the Assyrians; which (when it came to pass) resulted in the end of the northern kingdom and the disappearance of 10 of the tribes, leaving only the tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah, in and around Jerusalem. The reading begins with a “song” about the Divine as owner of a vineyard.  This is a lovesong turned sour; after planting, cultivating, and building protections in anticipations of a rich harvest, what is brought forth is rotten or wild fruit. In other words, that the corrupt and unruly tribes had devolved into a rotten society. Gd, despairing at what could have been done differently, takes away the hedge which served to protect the vineyard (Israel) determining to give the land over to wild animals (the Assyrians) – the land ravaged and the nation utterly destroyed. The story of Noah and the ark is not the only time Gd threatens to abandon or destroy the people.  The Holy One, repeatedly calls the people (in their covenantal relationship with Gd) to be righteous and justice, not only for the sake of the powerful, but for the marginalized, the widow & the orphan. Failure to care for those who suffer, is why Gd threatens to abandon Israel and allow them to be destroyed. We’re given two opposing images in our readings – when in Gd’s good graces, we are Joshua miraculously destroying Jericho; conversely when disobeying, we face our own annihilation, at the hands of our enemies. 

And yet, in a part of Psalm 80, it is the people who cry out in fear and despair, remembering that they were the choice vine which The Divine took out of Egypt and planted in the Holy Land; it is they who ask why Gd has abandoned them.  They call out for Gd’s compassion and love; to be remembered and protected by their loving Gd instead of punished by the judging face of Gd. The image of the judging Gd in stark relief against that of a loving Gd.

While the Letter to the Hebrews is considered one of the most anti-Jewish sermons in the canon, one scholar has suggested that Hebrews was actually a synagogue homily delivered on the ninth of Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, which (yet again) was perceived as Gd withholding love and punishing the people for not living up to the covenant. Hebrews then lifts up the righteous from earlier ages, but says that they did not merit their reward; implying that it is only through Jesus and not through their own Jewish experience of the Divine that rewards can be bestowed, thus negating the ongoing relationship with the Divine that non-Christian Jews continue to have with Gd. The first faithful ancestor that Hebrews lifts in today’s reading is the image of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who hid Joshua’s spies in Jericho.  Several commentaries consider hers a powerful conversion story; that she heard of the Gd of the Hebrews and knew this to be the one true Gd.  Indeed, some traditions relate that Rahab married Joshua and that the two began a line of descendants that included kings, prophets, and priests.  Rahab is included in the genealogy of Jesus.  While many juxtapose her prostitution with her conversion, what the commentaries fail to note, is that as a Canaanite prostitute, she would herself have been part of the Canaanite religious cult – a type of priestess. Therefore, her recognition of the Divine would have been more akin to a natural progression in her spiritual journey rather than being viewed as a repentant sinner. She, like Abraham and Sarah welcomes the strangers (spies), and like Lot protects the visitors in spite of the power construct which would hunt them down. Rahab, whose people are soon to be colonized or killed, embodies the spirit of hospitality and devotion which are the central expressions of Abrahamic Judaism; the face of the loving Gd in juxtaposition to Joshua’s reflection of the judging Gd.

Jesus, in Luke, warns of division within each family, as the fate of the disciples and all who would follow his teachings. Telling them that he does not come to bring peace but fire.  Both Isaiah and Luke speak of impending doom and ask why the people do not see the signs of the times. Hal Taussig’s The New New Testament points out that, while many scholars used to place Luke as having been written in the mid 80s CE, experts in the last twenty years have determined it more likely that it was written around 120 CE, late enough that the early followers of Jesus would have experienced not only the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, but the subsequent revolts and further dispersion of the People of Israel.  Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine points out that at this time in history for Jews (and all Christians in this period were technically Jews either by birth or conversion), for Jews to tell pagan family members that they needed to stop worshipping their gds would put the whole local Jewish community in danger; to deny the local gds and turn to the Gd of Israel (or his proclaimed son) would be seen as traitorous to family, to city, to the very empire. Jesus is here voicing the reality of the paradigm in which his followers were living.

Where Hebrews historically is pointed to as the most supersessionist scripture in the cannon, Luke has the reputation as being the most inclusive and supportive of women and the poor.  But, the Women’s Bible Commentary points out that in actuality, Luke may give a voice to more of the women in Jesus’ community, but he does so to show them as subordinate to the male leadership, (which was more in keeping with the Hellenized and Roman gentile churches of 120 CE than with the egalitarianism of the original Jesus community. Luke’s Jesus is suggesting the altering of the relationships of duty and obligation which can leave broken families, but he also invites space for another kind of order to emerge; a new church family made possible when obligations associated only with dutiful action are cast aside.  Amy-Jill Levine counters that to regard Jesus, appropriately, as caring for women, children, the sick and the poor, embeds him within Judaism rather than separates him from it. By triumphally separating Jesus from his lived context, it created an us/them dichotomy on top of the erroneous trope of Loving Gd (as Christian) vs Judging Gd (as Jewish).

Perspective is everything. When we look with a fresh perspective at these readings, and invite new questions, what can they teach us about cultivating compassion and love?  How do we reconcile our understanding of a loving Gd and a judging Gd in ways which help us heal our vineyard and cultivate healthy and beloved community?

The journal, Science noted a few years ago that there is a direct correlation between the rising temperatures of our planet and the rise in anger, violence and divisiveness in our world.  The fevers of our society are a part of the fevered reality of our planet because we are not separate but part of Creation. To put this in terms of trauma informed practices, when we are caught up in our anxiety, fear, and tribalism (be it MAGA or Liberal Snowflake), we are not thinking with our compassionate hearts (not even capable of doing so), but instead reacting from our primitive lizard brains. We get stuck in dualistic thinking of us/them, right/wrong, good/bad, Loving Gd/Judging Gd… and forget that Jesus was trying to teach us a different way of relating to Gd and each other.

The theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault, points out that the Greek word metanoia, (what we translate as repent), literally means to go beyond mind, or into a bigger mind, much like eastern philosophy understands consciousness.  She reminds us of yet another vineyard story; the parable Jesus taught about the vineyard owner who hires some laborers early in the morning and agrees to a specific wage for the day.  Then throughout the day, the owner hires more and more laborers.  At the end of the day, those who worked the full day are angry that the owner has paid those who only worked for an hour the same daily wage as those who worked a long day. Bourgeault points out that the reason the laborers (and we) have such a problem with this is because the dualistic, or binary mind operates from scarcity, so needs to keep track of the score.  But when we look at this parable (and today’s readings) from unitive or heart mind, we see that Jesus was teaching us to let go of competition, hierarchical obligations and self-focused interests and instead enter into a participatory relationship for the good of the whole.

What happens to our assumptions when, instead of perceiving a judging Gd laying waste to the vineyard, we recognize that to be able to plant a healthy vine (or a beloved community), the soil of our reality needs to be reworked and healed; our systems of oppression must be exposed, and new constructs developed. That by recognizing and evolving the traditional family and gender role constructs of Jesus’ time (and ours), we can create chosen and birth families which are not bound by hierarchy, misogyny, or power over, but cultivates each person’s gifts and wisdoms. What can beloved community look like, when we examine our translations and traditions for triumphalism, racism and supersessionism to make space for other cultures’ experiences and expressions of spirit; to welcome what they can teach us about the fractal beauty of a Source of Life that is known by many names and no name. 

Maybe Jesus was saying that the fire he was bringing was a transformation of how we viewed Gd, self and others. Instead of a limited binary view of gender, power, race, and even Gd’s self, when we open to a unitive understanding of the One Gd, (not as triumphal and Truer than someone else’s god), but instead come to recognize we are part of that Oneness with Gd, with our whole human family and with Creation herself, then together, we become the Living Unitive Commonwealth of the Divine’s multidimensional self.

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Put Your Troubles in the Dirt

“Put your troubles in the dirt, where all good bullshit belongs.”  My daddy knew instinctively what science has only in recent years affirmed; that the microbes in soil light up the serotonin receptors in our brains.  But he also knew, as a farmer, that while manure might be unpleasant, it was a necessary ingredient for growth of healthy soil and subsequently food. It is what you do with it, that makes all the difference.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my hands in the dirt this past week.  Buffalo, Uvalde, Ukraine, not to mention subjugation of womens’ bodily autonomy, the banning of books, the denigration of trans and queer people through “Don’t Say Gay” in one state and punishing of parents and medical folk (who would honor and support trans youth) in another.  You add to that the ongoing trauma of white supremacy, climate change, growing homelessness resulting from corporate greed.  Then when anything in our own personal lives gets added into the mix….. I’ve heard from others (and felt myself) the exhaustion of hopelessness.  I return to the garden to try to rebuild those serotonin levels which are so depleted right now.

About twenty years ago, when the ice shelves started collapsing and I got involved in Jewish environmental work, I looked anew at the Hebrew scripture’s words, flowing with images of nature and our relationship to it, and realized for the first time that those were not just poetics. It was the lived truth of an agrarian society which understood what we have forgotten.  Caring for the planet, honoring all life, welcoming the stranger, caring for the destitute were essential to a peaceful and flourishing community.

As our lives have become more and more insular, locked into the screens which have siloed our realities and normalized AR-15’s, we have become not only divorced from our own backyards, but from our families, neighbors, communities.  We have devolved into tribalism, and many bemoan the lack of civility let alone compassion.  And even where we have shared interests, (be that liberal or conservative), there is discord when attempts to find common ground are derailed by grasping for power and the “right” degree of partisanship.  Even within well-meaning organizations, the white supremacist capitalist culture we all are subject to convinces us that the world is one of scarcity, so we must overwork and “get ahead” of the other ‘guy’ or risk falling behind, beneath, or into oblivion.

We look at the heartbroken families whose children will never again laugh and play, and our hearts break with theirs knowing that the powers that be will only offer “thoughts and prayers” but will not stand up to the NRA or the other corporate interests. The white nationalist and conservative elements scream that no one can make them wear a mask or give up their guns, but they are equally adamant that neither a pregnant person nor a trans youth can have that same bodily autonomy. Ironically, we applaud the people of Ukraine in their fight for democracy against a fascist oligarchy, while we let our own democracy decay and oligarchy grow here at home.

STOP!!! I know I’m not alone when I beseech all that is holy to deliver us from this insanity. Like the prophets of old, our sages of this day are calling us to “Wake Up!” and change our ways. 

So I keep returning to the earth, the dirt, our Mother, the humus to our humanity.  The sages of old, for all their “flowery” poetics were speaking quite plainly. The wisdom of Mother Earth and the creative forces we call Divinity are continuing to teach us, if only we will listen.  While fires destroy the monocultures of our forestry industry, an old-growth, biodiverse forest not only withstands fire but needs a certain amount of it for some seeds to be able to propagate.  While our modern agricultural system is killing soil microbes and polluting our waters with toxins, regenerative and biodiverse food forests rebuild the soil and bear much more nutrient-rich foods and bioswales purify our water and withstand hurricanes. While we clear cut forests and strip mine the earth, the root systems and mycelial networks are funneling information and supporting the health of many species as a collective living community. While the corporatocracy and White Nationalism would convince us that the world is hierarchical and only the strong & powerful should survive, nature is reflecting what we all actually know (when our brains are not hijacked by the trauma responses of fight/flight/freeze or fawn); that a healthy diverse society cares for the widow and orphan, welcomes the stranger, shares its bounty for the betterment of the collective, and treasures above all else the children who are our futures. 

It is time to remember that, while there will always be seemingly insurmountable issues to contend with, it is what we do with those issues that makes the difference. A seedling grown in outer space cannot become a tree without the resistance provided by gravity and wind. But staying stuck in the trauma and the muck keeps us in a perpetual loop of disfunction; we can’t grow and thrive either in our beings or spirits. It is when we can ground into resilience and reach out to one another in compassion that we are able to re-engage our creative minds to find solutions. We will either stay in tribal-trauma mentality or engage our communal, compassionate and wise pre-frontal cortex to find solutions to the challenges and heartaches we face. We must, as all the holy sages teach, let go of the constant fear to be able to live into love’s potential. It is time to awaken from the illusions which cause suffering, greed, fear and anger. It is time again to beat swords (or AR-15’s) into plowshares. It is time to release all the bullshit into the earth and watch Eden grow once again.

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Spiritual EcoSystems on Earth Day

On this Earth Day, I am thinking about what nature can teach us about spiritual community.  This month is full of days sacred not only to the Abrahamic traditions (Easter, Passover & Ramadan) but to other world wisdom traditions as well.  Since the start of so-called civilization, dominant cultures have tended to take a triumphalist perspective which is akin to agri-business.  Plant one thing (idea) only and consider everything else a weed or pest which has to be killed, while nourishing that one thing with artificial fertilizers (human invented religious dogmas) until the earth itself can no longer sustain it; devolving into desertification (or religious wounding). 

We live in a time when it seems we have lost our sense of common good and shared humanity.  We don’t even share common beliefs within our own families, let alone feel a connection to the religions of our youth. Trauma and divisiveness are having the same effects on humanity as climate change and pollution has on our planet – neither ecosystem is sustainable in such toxicity.

Where do we see healthy eco-systems?  In old growth forests and new permaculture food forests, where many different species grow together, feeding each other in symbiotic relationships through the mycelial network, in vibrant living soil.  Both climate science and earth science are learning that when we make space for relational growth, everyone in that ecosystem thrives. 

Earlier this month, (for the first time in 3 years) I had the delight of sharing spiritual space with my clergy colleagues in retreat.  The Chaplaincy Institute, where I was trained and where I now serve as a member of the faculty, is an interfaith seminary, so when we come together, we come as seekers from different traditions and no tradition; religious and spiritual but not religious.  We come together in our spiritual diversity, much like a healthy eco-system.

That experience affirmed for me, a vision which has been coming into clarity for a while now. What could a localized spiritual ecosystem look like, based on shared spiritual practices rather than shared religious dogmas?  When we engage in spiritual practices which bring our breath and hearts into harmony, we stop being “Other” and create space for compassion.  After over 2 years of isolation, pandemic, economic and political upheaval, social awakening and social entrenchment, we are all living with trauma.  Like many a pesticide, trauma stunts us; it locks us into our primitive amygdala brain where we can only fight, flee, freeze or fawn for survival.  In that space we cannot access our loving, compassionate and wise prefrontal cortex.

I envision spiritual community based in an exploration of embodied spiritual practices, celebrations about the common wisdom and unique beauty found in each of the traditions while stepping into brave space to examine where we have judged and dismissed others; leaving space for discovering what new growth is trying to happen when we come into relationships that value diversity in unity.  A spiritual space where I (as a Jewish and interfaith cis white bi female minister) can learn from/with others who are of different origins, theologies, genders, orientations and beliefs, sharing the stories which are sacred to each of us including the stories of our own lived experience. I envision honoring our common humanity and our common home, Mother Earth, as being integral and holy. I envision a spiritual and diverse ecosystem which fosters compassion, healing, and hope.

And I’d take the vision even further, to imagine that many such spiritual communities could form, like nodes of nourishment in the mycelial network of seekers, envisioning together a healed planet, healed society, healed families and healed individuals in all of our rich diversity with all of Creation.

If you would like to explore what this might look like, let’s talk.  If you want to see some of the offerings Shelter for the Spirit has coming up, check out the upcoming events page at www.shelterforthespirit.com.  If your vision wants to grow with mine, let this Earth Day be the beginning of a new paradigm for honoring Spirit and Earth.

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The Madness of Tyrants

Today, on the Hebrew calendar, the holiday of Purim is celebrated. Purim falls in the month of Adar, (or as in this year, the leap month of Adar II) when we are reminded to increase our sense of joy.  It is a rather ironic invitation, as it commemorates the near destruction of the Jewish community in Babylon at the hands of a madman named Haman.  Haman, was like a prime minister, second only to the king.  He filled the king’s ear and fired up the citizenry with hate speech announcing that all the Jews were to be killed on this day.  However, one person stood up, unveil herself as a Jew and claimed her power as Queen, to unmask the fake news and propaganda, to stop the impending bloodshed.  The king, could not undo the edict of Haman, but he allowed the Jews to protect themselves and fight for their homes and families’ survival. 

Our hearts are heavy this year, and it can feel impossible to find joy, when another tyrant is killing innocents on our nightly news.  But as much as our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people there are would be tyrants laying the groundwork right here in America, by banning books, by preventing women from receiving care for their reproductive health, by trying to criminalize parents and doctors who would honor the innate being of their trans kids, by trying to make LGBTQ students and families disappear all together by making it unacceptable to talk about what it means to be gay. 

Just as a Jewish President has stood up to claim the dignity and right to survive for his Ukrainian people, we are each called to stand up to the insidiousness of the would-be tyrants in our own backyard. While over 62 percent of Americans believe in the rights of LGBTQ folk, and 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal, a conservative minority has stealth-fully moved their agenda from the national scene to the local and state bodies and begun to turn back the protections of women, people of color and queer folk.

In the Purim story, even though it is part of the Hebrew Scriptures, God is not mentioned at all.  It is understood that the Divine works to inspire the good people of Shushan to stand up to tyrants.  It is understood that we have a responsibility to one another.  We are the hands and hearts of the Divine, called to put an end to war and to put an end to hate.

Before Esther unveiled herself, and took the risk of confronting Haman, she fasted and prayed for the fortitude to do what was needed to protect all those in danger.  She could have kept quiet and continued to enjoy life in the palace, safe from direct harm.  But she, and we, can only be safe when all – the women, the transkids, the black young men, the LGBTQ families and all the many refugees – share in that safety. 

Last week, Shelter For The Spirit pre-empted our usual new moon celebration to hold two nights of prayer services; for the people of Ukraine, BIPOC folk, and LGBTQ folk.  Our prayers continue that through sanctions, isolation of the tyrants, and communal courage we may manifest a world free from hate and war.  If you would like to add your prayers to ours, you are welcome to watch the recorded service and infuse it with your own prayers as well. May we all find the fortitude to stand up against tyrants.  https://youtu.be/2RL3-3APtlY

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You Are Worthy

One of the saddest changes out of the last 5 years of divisiveness is the rampant increase in hate; hate for anyone who is Other than white, cisgender, Christian (of only the conservative variety), and to a large extend male or patriarchy identified.  We have seen a resurgence of not only hate speech and hate crimes, but a devolution into a false narrative that anyone who isn’t a white Christian nationalist is therefore wrong, evil, or going to hell.  We’ve seen conservativism pushing back against LGBTQ+ folks’ rights to medical care, employment, parental rights and their place within Beloved Community.

While some states have succeeded in banning conversion therapy for minors, many more still pressure youth and adult LGBTQ+ folk to change their innate nature and subvert it into one acceptable to heteronormativity.  Today there are over 4.2 million youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness; 40% of those youth identify as queer, trans &/or nonbinary.  The vast majority are on the streets because the people who were supposed to love and protect them instead condemned them, as not being worthy of the love of the Divine.

You. Are. Worthy.  Every person is worthy of love and respect, but far too often religion has been used as a club to beat a person into conformity.  More and more families are recognizing that their child, or friend or relative is divinely made just as they are.  But the conservative element would have submission rather than wholeness, and so propagate the myth that if you pray hard enough you can change your very nature.  Those who have tried to live that lie have done great damage to their souls and their psyches. And even those who have not gone through conversion therapy have suffered deep religious wounding from the families and churches that cling to scriptural words which are devoid of context, linguistic accuracy, or compassion. 

These fear-based religionists claim to believe in a loving and Living G-d but do not allow that G-d to evolve and grow – along with Their creations – in understanding, compassion, and hope. They deny science, mental health, and modern research into the development of the fetal brain and body which, in truth, only expands the wondrousness of how we are made.

Because of religious wounding, many LGBTQ+ folk have thrown G-d out with the Holy Water and reject all forms of religion and spirituality, as a result.  Cutting off their own innate sense of spirit and creativity, rather than be hurt again by a Judging G-d. But one can heal religious wounding, reconnect with a sense of Spirit beyond traditional or conservative understandings; moving from fear to love of self and Other and reclaiming their sense of worth.

Please join Shelter For the Spirit and our co-hosts MCC Portland, for “Pray Away: A Conversation about Healing from Conversation Therapy,” either in person (if you are local) or via Zoom, this Sunday, Nov. 7th.  For full details go to https://shelterforthespirit.com/upcoming-events/ to learn more, or email me at rivka@shelterforthespirit.com.

Whether you attend or not, if religious wounding has impacted your life, consider joining our next support group for religious wounding, starting back up again in January.

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Who is my Beloved?

Today begins the Hebrew month of Elul; a month of introspection before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. At this time of year Jews engage in an accounting of their year to examine where they have lived up to their values, hopes and intentions, and where they have not.  In the dominant culture, we make a nod to how we want to be “better” through our new year’s resolutions, but we aren’t encouraged to examine our impact on another.

What would change, if instead of saying “This year I want to start a diet,” we instead reflected and recognized “I really wasn’t very good at self-care and rest, and want to appreciate my body in more healthful ways.”  Moving from guilt to compassion for self.  What then, if you extended that circle, to bring compassion to how you treated a family member or friend? The waiter that served your meal?  That relative who’s posts make you cringe?  That homeless veteran? That person of color?  What if you honored your child by using the pronouns they identify as? What do you think would change if we stopped treating the planet as a commodity but as a life force of which we are a part?  Dare we look at how we treat our soil? Trees? Oceans? Air? Climate?

The name of the month, Elul, is considered an acronym for “Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”  What if we treated ourselves, our partner, our child, our neighbor, our planet as Beloved?

Are we treating our Black neighbor as beloved when we don’t hold our police accountable for acting as judge, jury & executioner?  Are we treating our police officers as beloved when we deny how they were attacked during the January 6th insurrection? Are we treating our kids as beloved when we continue to not deal with gun violence and school shootings? Are we treating homeless as beloved when we send squads in to destroy their meager possessions in a “sweep”?  Are we treating as beloved our parents when we refuse to wear a mask? Are we treating as beloved the animals, trees, homes, businesses, people perishing in unprecedented wildfires? And is it any wonder, then, that we are not treating as beloved the essential and healthcare workers who are on the front lines of the COVID pandemic? 

Our sages (of many traditions) recognize what we seem to have forgotten.  It’s not about Me, my diet, my discomfort, my politics.  We only thrive when we move beyond me and mine and see the beloveds surrounding us.  When we act from compassion instead of self-interest.

In this moment we are witnessing 2 (among many) wildfires, each larger than the city of Los Angeles, devouring our forests and homes.  We are witnessing a “dead zone” forming in the ocean off the coast from British Columbia to California, where lack of oxygen in the water is expected to lead to significant die-off of our fish and sea life.  We are witnessing the slowing of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, the vascular system (as it were) which regulates the warming and cooling of our ocean waters and therefore climate; if it collapses so do our predictable weather systems which make agriculture even possible. Today, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change sounded a “red alert” that can no longer deny the severity of our crisis.  Meanwhile almost 100% of this fourth wave of the pandemic is being caused by people who chose not to get vaccinated or wear a mask.  Billionaires are spending millions on recreational space travel rather than giving their workers a living wage or contributing to the communal safety nets.

It can no longer be denied that the avarice of the twentieth century and now the 21st, has degraded not only the planet but our sense of community.  Instead of legislating women’s wombs or a trans youth’s bathroom, what if we brought compassion to bear, and created a health system which uplifts us all?  Instead of complaining about the refugees at the border, what if we recognized the pain and fear that would drive a parent to walk hundreds of miles rather than risk their child’s life from drug lords and despots?  What if rather than decrying “fake news” and government overreach we listened to the doctors, nurses, and grieving families begging us to inconvenience ourselves just a tiny bit by putting on a mask that will save lives?  What if, instead of being outraged about the filth and stench of a homeless camp, we recognized that the lack of mental health care, affordable housing and a restorative justice system leads people to despair? 

The hunger we feel for human touch, due to the isolation of the pandemic, is only a magnification of the self-imposed isolation of recent years.  We have shut ourselves off from our families by gazing constantly at screens like Narcissus gazing into the mirror.  We have shut ourselves off from our neighbors each time we have railed, “not in my backyard” or failed to vote on issues that didn’t affect us personally.  We bemoan the divisiveness and loss of civic discourse, but we talk more about “my right” than “my responsibility” to the common good. Focus too much on preserving the status quo instead of honoring someone else’s lived experience as true and valid. 

What made us “great” in the mid-20th century was that (despite the myriad ways we devalued anyone who wasn’t a cis white male), we recognized that the only way to overcome dictators and fascism was to band together across our differences, growing gardens and sacrificing resources to support and outfit the young people fighting for freedom.  We inconvenienced ourselves with curfews and food rations, and yes, safety precautions and new vaccines against the polio pandemic (which was rampant at the same time we were fighting a world war).  The wealthy paid their fair share so that we could not only outfit the war effort but build roads and bridges, schools and hospitals here at home.  People may have only identified their church or homogenous neighborhood as community, but they recognized that the only way to grow hope, connection and spirit was through compassion for their fellow humans.

We have yet to perfect our union, and to become Beloved Community.  We still fear the “Other” and judge & demonize anyone different from ourselves.  We prefer to ignore the systemic oppression experienced by so many in this country, if it means we might have to address the ways we denied the truth of history and must share some of our privileges (which we don’t lose just because someone else gains).  We convince ourselves that the problems are either too big or inconvenient to address, to not have to change our own unexamined way of life.  Racial & gender equity are “someone else’s problem.”  “Nothing can be done” about climate catastrophe. 

Amid so many global and personal challenges, can I shift my gaze to one of compassion? Walk in their shoes? Tread lightly on a suffering planet? Cut myself some slack while also owning my responsibility?

Who is my beloved?  Who is yours?  Can we pause from our fear long enough to recognize the face of the Divine staring back at us with pleading eyes?  There is a lot to fear in the world, but compassion, for self, for neighbor, for planet is the only way to heal the cumulative traumas and collective grief we swim in. If I can pause and breathe into compassion rather than going reactively to fear or jealousy, maybe together we might discover our similarities as well as the common cause and creative synergy that could lead to solutions to the dysfunction and oppressions which surround us.  If I take the hand of my beloved, and they take mine, miracles can happen.

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On Earth Day, Sanctity of Life calls for Compassion

The world, today, celebrates in gratitude for the planet we share while wrestling with the damage done to it by our human species.  In this week, here in the US, we continue to struggle with what it means to be members of a society which aspires to equality for all while trying to hide from the realities of racism woven into the fabric of our society.

The created world could teach us a lot about how our society could function more holistically and compassionately.  But religion, as we have lived it in the past few centuries, has taught us that the created world, nature, is antithetical to spirit.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

While religion planted itself ever more firmly (in the last 600 years) in the notion that somehow spirit and flesh, spirit and earth, were separate opposing realities, it lost track of the very first thing the Abrahamic scriptures professed; that The Creator called all of creation GOOD.  The Source of Life didn’t say humans are good and reptiles are bad.  That Source didn’t say only men are good but not women.  And that Source definitely never said this breed is better than that breed, whether talking about the colors of the human rainbow or the myriad fish in the sea.

In our compartmentalized, sanitized, narcissistic society we have put environmental concern, racial concerns, LGBTQIA concerns, and so many other concerns into neat little separate boxes.  The power constructs would have us believe that we are each struggling alone in our own little box and the resources of ingenuity, sustenance and compassion have to be allocated to this box or that.

But that is not how the Creative Force designed this world.  Everything and everyone is part of an ecosystem which only flourishes in unity.  When we strip away the top soil, or burn the rainforests the consequences ripple out.  The mycelial network between fungi and trees stops functioning; stops sharing the resources to renew life. 

The same has been true for us.  As we have commodified peoples and tore apart the connections between us, our social safety-net has disintegrated.  Granted, it only served as a safety-net for some some of the time, because the game of power has been winning for a long time, separating us.  In our own little boxes, we live in fear and lack.  We don’t know how the folks in their own little boxes are or are not functioning, but we assume they must be doing better than we are.  The fear, distrust and anger grows.  It was designed that way by those who hold the power and resources. 

Those of us with white skin didn’t know what we didn’t know, and in our blissful ignorance bought the lie that “those people” (those other little boxes) where robbing us of our birthright.  The systems of oppression we have been blind to, be they poll taxes or red-lining or mass incarceration, were consciously designed by those in power.  They told us that we had something to fear, and more specifically they told poor white folk – “see you don’t have it so bad.  At least you’re not black.”  The significance of this week’s verdict will only be made real if we stop believing the lies and living in the boxes. 

The language of fear has changed somewhat but it is still about keeping us separated from those who are also struggling to get by.  Now they also tell us – don’t believe the scientists, don’t wear the mask, don’t leave your house without a gun – be afraid.  It’s a jungle out there!

If only it were.  In a jungle or a forest, yes, there are some dangers, but there is also mutuality.  There is a wisdom in nature that knows there is enough for all. We are only now learning that even the community of trees communicates and supports one another, sending nutrients and messaging through their intertwined root system. The plants, animals, microbes and waterways are a community of mutual support, taking from each other only what they need, knowing that the survival of all depends on their interconnected web of life.

The reason we celebrate Earth Day each year is because our species has forgotten that it is part of that web of life.  More specifically our American society and other colonizer societies, has believed the lie that we are somehow separate from the web of life.  We’ve built up our little boxes, put fences and highways around them, keeping ourselves separate from the wild.

But just as we have raped the planet, tearing off topsoil and mountain tops, we have destroyed the fabric of society.  Rather than growing our sense of unity and love, we have grown fear and baseless hatred.  Just as nature is supposedly unsafe and dirty, we have made women and people of color into dirty, wild things to be tamed.  We have siphoned off clean water for fracking and bottled it for sale.  We have convinced ourselves that science and faith are both suspect if they in any way remind us that we are part of the larger world; that we share in its fate and are responsible for one another. 

We can deny pandemics and climate change all we like, but it will not prevent either.  We can turn over our civil liberties in the name of safety, but it doesn’t mean that those in power won’t put a knee on our neck if we too become perceived of as Other or Enemy.

On this Earth Day, let us remember that we are all part of a rich tapestry of creation that the Source of Life called good.  That Source is a compassionate and loving connectivity, which calls us to responsibility for one another as the hands and hearts of Love.  It is not too late for us to reawaken from the epidemic of fear and hate.  It is not too late to rejoin with our web of life to heal the damage done to planet and people.  It is not too late for everywhere to be Eden once again, if only we look with compassion on this earth and all the peoples that inhabit it as our kin. 

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To Start Anew

Tonight, Jews around the world are marking Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath before Passover begins, tomorrow night. And then on Sunday Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday.  It is also a special weekend for me, as this sabbath is the anniversary of my ordination.  The Hebrew Scriptures read on this sabbath tells of the initiation (ordination) of Aaron as high priest and instructs us to keep a fire burning in the sanctuary, at all times. 

This year as I consider how I am tending my fire, or spirit, one cannot help but reflect on all we have gone through since the last Passover and Easter seasons.  Most of us will spend a second holiday season physically distanced from our loved ones.  Many of our loved ones have died in this year.  We have watched our country be divided and traumatized, over and over, as we experienced financial and health crises, political insurrection, and now multiple mass murders in just the last couple of weeks.

While many people tend to juxtapose Passover with Easter, in reality it has a lot more in common with Palm Sunday; and both have something to say about the moment we find ourselves in.  On Palm Sunday, the rabbi Jesus road into Jerusalem with great fanfare and proceeded to overturn the marketplace inside the Temple.  On Passover, Moses and the Israelites overturned the machinations of slavery in Egypt and turned their back on all they had known to step into a new life.  In both instances the common folk stood up and spoke truth to power.  And in both instances, bold actions eventually boomeranged, as reality and fear made them second-guess the voice of hope and freedom.  The Israelites built a golden calf and waxed nostalgic for the known dysfunction of enslavement.  A week after Jesus’s triumphal entrance, even his own disciples denied knowing him, and hid in fear.

The moment we find ourselves in is not so different.  I remember shortly after we all went into lock-down, folks were noticing the blue of the sky and the clearness of the waters, when we were not actively polluting our planet.  Many of us were restful, appreciating the slower pace; spending time with our beloveds (if we shared the same home).  But before long, we became restless and fearful; it has indeed been a long year.  It has been a year in which the stark disparities between haves and have-nots were laid bare, as people of color died at an even higher rate than white folk; when elders and prisoners died in exponential numbers where they were warehoused. 

When we slowed down, we could no longer numb ourselves into distraction, so the murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor (and so many others) jolted many into finally realizing that racism is still alive and well in our culture.  Asian folk, (who for many years had it somewhat better than other people of color), are now experiencing hate on a scale not seen since WWII, as we mourn those lives taken last week.  And yet, it is a segment of white Americans who profess fear of the Other and claim to need their guns; while time after time, those guns have caused loss of life for the innocent.  Like those early Hebrews and early Christians, fear too often displaces hope.

And yet, when we weather the fear, metabolize the trauma and return to hope, that is when the love of the Divine sets us free.  Free to recognize that we are each made in the Divine Image.  Free to recognize that only together can we become the Beloved Community.  Free to start anew. 

This time, as we enter this week holy to so many, let us begin our exodus from fear and hate, and not look back.  We are told that a great multitude went out with the Hebrews, all yearning for a new way of life.  Let us not return to a toxic normal but continue to pursue our hopes and dreams in ways that do not return to numbing busy-ness, or callous disregard of others.  Let us recognize that it is in our diversity that we best reflect the image of the Divine. When we witness and experience that hope and compassion, we free each other to become the Children of God that Jesus and Moses knew us to be.

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Praying for Compassion

The Jewish mystic, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav told a story about a king who discovered that the current year’s grain supply was tainted and would make the whole country go insane.  There was only enough of the prior year’s grain to sustain himself and his vizier.  When he discussed this with this learned advisor, the vizier told the King, “but if we are the only ones sane then we will be perceived as the crazy ones so we’ll be the ones in an asylum.  Better we too eat the tainted grain.  But let us put a mark upon each other’s brow, so that at least when we see this mark, we will remember that we are insane.” 

These last four years it seems we have all lost our minds.  I will not get into debates with those who support the current administration.  We are not living in the same realities and so we will not convince each other.  But I do mourn what has been lost in this madness.  Civility, Compassion, Kindness.

How did we go from a country of we to a country of me.  Even 5 years ago, did anyone anticipate fellow citizens walking into grocery stores toting AR-15s, let alone threatening to assassinate duly elected governors?  It is not even just red vs blue anymore, but on both sides, there are some who say others on the same side have sold out, aren’t committed enough; unless you’re all in then you’re out.

Rebbe Nachman didn’t tell us what happened after the year of insanity.  How did the kingdom find its way back to a sense of whole and healing community?  There are those who fear that regardless of the outcome on Nov 3, between now and inauguration day things will only get worse.  Maybe that is true.

Or maybe, the world had to turn a bit upside down so that we could let go of old paradigms.  We are in a moment of reckoning, no matter which side of the sociopolitical spectrum we inhabit.  Collectively we are tainted with trauma. Trauma response disengages our ability to think, we can only react, out of our fear. 

The spiritual traditions, the world over, tell us that there really are only two choices – fear or love.  Fear leads to tribalism and dogma (both religious and political).  Love invites hope, curiosity, and bridge building.  And the deepest form of love is compassion.  The Golden Rule may be said slightly differently in each of the world’s religions, but they all has the same bottom line; don’t do to someone else what you would not want done to you.

Our country and our world are in desperate need of compassion right now, if we are to step away from the madness of our divisiveness.  We have forgotten that each one of us is an image of the Divine, in all of Gd’s prismatic glory.  No one of us has the full picture of our neighbor, let alone the sole truth about that Source which is known by many names and by no name.  We are each granted a piece – and through compassion, we can share our individual truths with one another.  Rather than blasting our fear (hidden in the form of anger) at one another, what if we could hold each other with compassion, so that in our vulnerability we can speak our fear and hear love in return?

There are nine days until the election.  Let them be days of prayer.  Not prayers of tribalism, but prayers of compassion – for ourselves and for one another.  And if the word prayer doesn’t work for you, consider this.  Whether prayer, sending light, energy, or affirmations, science is now proving the power of our words to change the worlds, on quantum physics levels as well as within our own psyches (which means soul.)  And from a trauma perspective, mantras, chants, prayers all help to regulate our breathing and open us to calming, fostering peace and resiliency.

Let us pray, Source Divine, that you will lift the madness, anger and fear from each of our hearts and minds, and fill us with Your Compassion.  Help us to see Your Beauty in the eyes of those we disagree with.  Shelter in compassion those many who are struggling to survive, financially, as well as with illness.  Bring compassion to all for the brown children in cages and the black children on our cities’ streets.  Bring compassion to those who fear for their safety.  And bring compassion to those who would serve as our political representatives, that we may find compassionate ways to support the well-being of every person within this divided country.

I invite you to join me in prayer, each day, opening ourselves up to both receiving and giving compassion, that we might heal our country and ourselves.  Then on election day, I invite those local to give yourself the gift of walking the labyrinth – mine or another – socially distanced of course.  With each step let us manifest compassion for our nation, for those we care about, for those with whom we only see opposition, and for ourselves. 

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