Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Prayer for a New Reality and Marriage Equality - August 27, 2013

Eternal One,
Creator and Sustainer of us all,
God of Compassion, 
God who created us in Your image,
as I sat in the Dona Ana County Commission meeting today
I heard people talking about 
rule of law
and sin
and I heard people speaking in terms of
and love.
I heard someone claim those those denied rights were bullies
and those who define rights in a narrow way were bullied.
I have heard that before...
And it is a claim which is made
by one who bullies in order to act the bully even more. 
As I drove to the meeting this morning,
I thought about what I might say if I had the chance,
and while time didn't allow me to speak, my words still stand tonight following a decision made that was in consonance with my own sentiment and belief: 
"No one who doesn't want to (perform or endorse same gender marriage) has to....
But everyone who wants to (seek a same gender marriage with a marriage license) should be able to (have that opportunity)."
One person spoke about holiness, as if holiness is not present among all human beings brought together through love. 
No one viewpoint or faith has a monopoly on k'dushah, holiness.
The reality of loving relationships coming into being 
affirms that there is holiness present.  
God, Who calls on us be just and fair,
Guide us with Your wisdom 
as we tread these new paths 
and develop clearer and deeper understanding
within Your amazing and wonderful world. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A vision of change, light and hope - reflections on PICO NationalLeadership Training - August 3, 2013

      On Tuesday, July 30, we concluded the PICO (People Improving Communities Through Organizing) Network National Leadership Training held at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, California.  The final "official" ending of 6 days together for 130 leaders from around the country was the singing of "This Little Light of Mine."  I had just written in my Temple newsletter article about the braided Havdalah candle (for the ritual to end our observance of Shabbat) representing the intertwining of the collective wisdom and spirit of a community.  Little did I know how much that image would characterize my experience at PICO "NLT."
Leading the Saturday morning
Faith Reflection
    During our time together, we looked deep into ourselves to find our stories that inspire us to work for change in our communities.   I rediscovered some of my own narratives which I had nearly forgotten. On July 14, Rhonda and I had stopped by Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, established to honor the service of American soldiers in World War I.  That was the site of a memorial service for Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sunday, April 7, 1968, a gathering of 1000 people (at least) at which my rabbi, William B. Silverman, spoke along with other community leaders.   I shared that experience as I delivered my "Leader stand" on the last morning of the training, which articulated my own plan to engage more community members in the work of our local affiliate, CAFe (Communities in Action and Faith) of Southern New Mexico.   As I led the Jewish faith reflection on the morning of July 27, I spoke about a certain group of picketers who targeted many people and  institutions in Topeka (including me and Temple Beth Sholom) and I explained how their theology places all people outside their church in exile from God.  That related to the Haftarah/Prophets portion for the week from the book of Jeremiah, in which Zion lamented its separation from the people who had lived there until they were exiled in Babylonia.   That passage opened up an opportunity for sharing among participants about the times in their work when they feel as they are in exile, and when they believe they have glimpsed the "promised land" of incremental progress or a feeling that their work has made a difference. 
      Over the course of these several days, we listened to each other's stories of pain, prejudice, discrimination, challenge, hope and triumph.   Gang violence, heart-rending testimony of difficulties caused by our current immigration laws, homes lost to foreclosure, poverty, profiling, incarceration without rehabilitation, and unresponsive political leadership were at the heart of these discussions among us.  We were building bridges with one another at every turn.  Our conversations transcended any differences in culture, race, faith, orientation and background to the point where the strength of our diversity enriched us and led us to empathy.   Biblical teachings such as "love your neighbor as yourself" and "we are all created in the divine image" came alive every day, every hour, every minute.    We identified where society might have us "reside" in a hierarchy of socioeconomic status, but we broke that down to the point of realizing that we need to listen to our hearts and minds - and the best of our religious teachings - telling us of our intrinsic equality.
Ryan Coogler, director of "Fruitvale Station,"
speaks about his poignant film
      On Friday, July 26, we went as a group to view the new film "Fruitvale Station," in which director Ryan Coogler (who spoke to us on Monday evening ) attempted to put a human face on Oscar Grant III, the victim of a shooting by police at a San Francisco transit station on January 1, 2009.   My initial reaction to the film was that it was real...too real, but it was a story that had to be told.   Coogler's retelling of this tragedy confirmed that we need to change our lens, the way we look at each other, and alter the workings of a society that seems to be more comfortable keeping people "in their place" rather than truly encouraging them to reach the highest potential of their personal growth.    We had a discussion on the film that night, and it was the next morning when I led my faith reflection.  I could have described and taught about aspects of Judaism, but I chose to have my fellow Jewish participants join me in sharing poignant readings from our Reform prayerbook, MISHKAN T'FILAH, while I sang songs that presented a vision of holding on to our dreams, working for peace, and turning to God - and to each other - when we need comfort and uplift.   I know that we, as leaders in our communities, will work not only to bring change but also to offer support and a sense of hope that can still inspire our political leaders to truly hear and respond to people in need with policies that will enable them to create a better life for themselves. 
A spontaneous "partial" group photo on Tuesday, July 30
        On our flight home, I was reading the new book SAYING NO AND LETTING GO, by Rabbi Edwin Goldberg (a fellow rabbi originally from Kansas CIty).   He cited a rabbinic explanation of why God chose Abraham as a covenantal partner.   The rabbis said that Abraham was like a traveler who came to a town and saw a building on fire.  The traveler asked, "Does anyone a care that this building is in flames?"  The owner looked down from an upper floor of the building and said that he needed help extinguishing the fire.  The rabbis suggested that Abraham was like the traveler, wondering  if anyone cared that the world is always burning in injustice.   They said that God (the owner) did care, but that it was human help that would ultimately put out the flames.   It was the traveler, from the street, who was able to be the firefighter that the owner needed to save the building.  
       What I haven't said are the words "faith-based community organizing," which is the foundation of the work of PICO leaders.   Like the traveler in the story, we try to extinguish the fires of injustice that we see in our communities. We join together to help people tell their stories of a need for change, and then work with those officials and legislators who can develop and implement new policies that will improve the lives of people in our communities.  Even more than that, we try to infuse the values of our spiritual heritage into our communities in a way that can extend a helping hand to everyone,  At a recent local meeting in Las Cruces, I referred to our leaders as a "community of prophets."  I would apply that to my fellow participants in PICO National Leadership Training, and to many others who would apply their particular faith teachings for the benefit of an entire community or the family of humanity.   
     "How good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together in unity" - so we read in Psalm 133.  I have faith that lessons I learned in Los Altos will enable me and my colleagues to engender a unity of purpose even across disagreements or differences.   
      One of the readings from MISHKAN T'FILAH that we shared on Sabbath morning epitomizes our human condition and the work of community organizing.
   "We oughtn't pray for what we've never known, and humanity has never known:
   unbroken peace, unmixed blessing.   
   Better to pray for pity, for indignation, discontent,
    The will to see and touch,
    The power to do good and make new."   
  I ask others to learn from this, and to realize that, even if we don't reach human perfection, we can still seek common cause to create a better world.   That is the task that lies before us, one that we may not complete, but one we cannot neglect.