Friday, June 19, 2009

Father's Day

I wish I had the kind of Dad whom I could just flat-out celebrate on Father's Day. It was a rough relationship.

Enough said about that. Dad passed away a few years ago, and he is beyond change on this plane.

I don't want to go through the rest of my life grounded in the hard stuff. There were also good times, times when we were fishing or gardening together, playing badminton, walking in the park, times when I was really young. I'm thankful for those times, and choose to hold them up to the light, fractured vessel though they may be in.

I can choose where I focus. Lingering with the unkindness only prolongs it. I know what it is, and have addressed it over the years in many ways. Now it is time to lay down those sorrows, to put down the burden of that suffering and to move on.

Dad, for what you could do, and did do that was healthy and loving -- I thank you. Happy Father's Day from the corner of how we got it right. There is room enough to stand here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


It feels like the world has been morally burning these past few weeks. From the elation of Inauguration Day, we've all had to climb down from our hopes of some immediate transformation of the populace. We've instead found that those of us who felt joy are even more vulnerable to feeling the pain of recent acts of hatred. It is not my intent to catalog the acts -- we know what they are. From Dr. Tiller's killing in his church, to having a GOP activist suggest that an escaped gorilla could be one of Michelle Obama's ancestors or the fact that some conservative Christian groups oppose expanding the existing Hate Crimes Bill to include crimes against members of the LGBT community, to the killing of the security guard at the Holocaust Museum.

Death, legislative stonewalling or insult, it's all ugly. And it all comes from hatred.
The Southern Poverty Law Center,especially with their interactive map of hate groups probably keeps the best track of the development of hate groups. Click here for info about your state.

But after we read and learn and identify -- then what? What do we do about this national cancer? How do we face it spiritually without it contaminating our own souls by making us hate the hater? How do we lift ourselves from the sadness that this hate brings with it? How do we keep on keeping on...where do we point our souls?

It's a lot to take in, all this hatred...which is why we must not just take it in and let it roost inside our rib cages, breeding fear and rage. We must not let it be the evil gathering of evil ravens, brooding, making low guttural noises in our chests.

Hatred corrupts.

Vigilance and voice are both required. We must identify hatred where we see it, and we need to speak out about it when we do.

I remember attending a gay pride parade in my neighborhood when I lived in Queens.On one corner of a block was a group of haters - men and women of all ages who had been cordoned off by the police, presumably to protect them. They all carried vile signs, wishing death on the parade marchers. They all were screaming, their mouths and faces contorted with grimaces of hatred. They were screaming about how God didn't love gay people. They actually thought it was fine to be doing that -- to be wishing death, to be shouting lies about God. The parade was about to reach them. I wondered what the parade people would do.

The parade stopped. The marchers all got silent. They turned to face the haters, stood very still and said quietly, but as a large group "Shame, shame, shame on you." They them turned to face front and marched on. Every once in a while the parade would stop and do this. It was moving, affirming, and clean. They didn't let themselves take in the hatred, and they called it by its name.

I've had to turn to the words of peace makers whose hearts and souls inspire me. Here is what Desmond Tutu has said -- "There is no situation that is not transfigurable..there is no situation that is devoid of hope..." He speaks of forgiveness and says "It is abandoning my right to pay-back...When I forgive, I jettison that right of retribution and I open the door of opportunity to you to make a new beginning. That is what I do when I forgive you...I am not going to let you victimize me and hold me in the position where I have an anger against you, a resentment, and I'm looking for the opportunity to pay back."

I struggle for that ideal. I usually fall short. Yet I know in my heart it is the right direction. Looking for the compassionate choice makes more and more sense to me.

We do need to protect ourselves from acts of terror. We do need to protect ourselves from terrorists. But we need to not become them as well. When we take on torture as a form of pay-back,for example, we have crossed a big line.

The parents of brothers, one who is gentle and the other who is violent, may well treat them differently, but they love each no less. Both are still their children. And even if the violent one hits his brother, they are still brothers. Could a member of the military waterboard his/her own brother?

But that is what they did.

Every one on this earth is our brother or our sister. We do not get to choose which ones are and are not. I want to -- I want only the good ones, the nice and shiny ones. But my faith tells me that is not a choice I have.

I have to take the messy ones too...and the ones who think I am messy.

In the past week I have asked people somewhat randomly what is needed to change things, to reduce hatred on a personal level. The most common answer I had was "respect". A need to respect others, to not necessarily love them, but to respect that they have gotten where they are by a path that makes sense to them. And that in knowing that, there can be the beginning of dialog.

That probably isn't going to work with those on the extreme edge, but it may keep someone from getting to that edge.

The days are full of references that are veiled or outright racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc. How often in my day do I let something pass in conversation? It's time to step up the number of times I find a way to correct someone. Yes, for example, I do need to send all those emails back saying that Obama is not American,for example, with an appropriate factual comment. I do need to at least help someone understand that not everyone in their life shares their view. It is time to stop ignoring a foolish remark simply because it is foolish. It is also dangerous. It is also no service to my sister who sent it to let her go unchallenged.

And I need to hang on to hope. There is progress being made. Look around. The ever-present media in 2009 deluges us with information and negative images with such frequency that it can be easy to skip over the fact that we have made progress.

And that would be even more dangerous.

As long as we have hope,
we have direction,
the energy to move,
and the map to move by.
We have a hundred alternatives,
a thousand paths and infinity of dreams.
Hopeful, we are halfway to where we want to go;
Hopeless, we are lost forever.
--Lao Tzu

Monday, June 08, 2009

1st African American woman rabbi ever!

According to Hebrew Union College, there are almost 400,000 Jewish African Americans among the 6,000,000 Jewish people in the US. One of them, Alysa Stanton, has just been ordained as the first African American woman rabbi in the whole world. This is a very big moment.

As I wandered through the blogosphere, trying to put my finger to the pulse on the reaction to this huge event, I was surprised by how underplayed it seemed to be. Has the Obama "first" made us ho-hum when a similar first happens? The comments I did find were overwhelmingly positive, however. I am ready to break out the champagne here, just from own personal happiness.

Alysa, now 45, the divorced mother of a 14 year old daughter, grew up as a Pentacostal Christian in a Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland. She converted to Reform Judaism over 20 years ago.

Cocoa Fly writes about the difficulties that Rabbi Stanton has encountered thus far and says:

Alysa Stanton reportedly is looking forward to the new phase in her life but she describes the journey up until this point as a "lonely journey." I could only imagine what she has endured. God bless her for staying strong and not allowing anyone or any -isms stop her from fulfilling her calling. The sista is an inspiration and an example of the diversity within the black community.

Quotes from her show a grounded, bright, and determined woman.

The Cincinnati Enquirer quotes her as saying: "I don't think about it a lot," she says of her milestone. "It's daunting. I'm honored. I'm in awe. And I have a healthy dose of reverence."

The New York Times marks these quotes: “I’m just a little person trying to pay my bills and raise a daughter and help others on their spiritual path,” said Ms. Stanton, a single mother who adopted an infant girl 14 years ago. --- and --- As she prepared for her ordination, Ms. Stanton said she did not want to be reminded of the ceremony’s historic importance. “I feel awe and a healthy dose of fear about being the first,” she said. “I try to keep it simple. I am a Jew, and I will die a Jew."

In August she will move to Greenville, NC to serve Bayt Shalom, one of the few congregations in the US that is both Conservative and Reform.
The Irving Havurahtells us that:

The irony of a black woman presiding over a white congregation in the deep south is not lost on Stanton.

"God has a sense of humor," she said.

CNN quoted this comment about Stanton's goals at Bayt Shalom, a small congregation of 60 families: ""My goals as a rabbi are to break down barriers, build bridges and provide hope. I look forward to being the spiritual leader of an inclusive sacred community that welcomes and engages all."

The CNN article goes on to say:

Before her rabbinical training, she studied social psychology, neuropsychology and interpersonal relationships at Lancaster University in England in 1983-84; received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 1988; earned a Master of Education degree in counseling and multiculturalism in 1992 from Colorado State University; and received a professional counselor license in 1998.

Stanton worked as a student rabbi, served as a chaplain, had clinical pastoral training and promoted interfaith dialogue at Reform communities in the United States. She studied at the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem and then at Cincinnati, Ohio.

This may be a joyous time for her and for her congregation. But being the first at anything carries its share of problems as well. Stanton speaks of cold shoulders or worse from here to Israel. She describes how her daughter was ill-treated and scorned in Israel. But she just kept nurturing her daughter, coming back, persisting, living into the dream. She speaks in almost every interview of her faith keeping her strong.

Nia Online says, "Mazal Tov Rabbi Stanton! We wish you all the best!"

Merlene Davis who has spoken to Rabbi Stanton, said "The last time I talked with Alysa Stanton, she said she would have converted to Judaism and submitted to the rigors of becoming a rabbi even if she had been the 50,000th African-American woman to do so instead of the history-making first."

Jewlicious had this to say:

I think that her success stands not only as an example for all, but also as proof that in some ways, we’re really moving forward.

Dunking Rachael refers to Alysa Stanton as "A woman of Valor".

Jezebel quotes the Atlanta press:

One rabbi talked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the conversion process:

He asks every convert: "Why would you ever want to be Jewish? Don't you know how many people hate us?"...The black converts respond differently, he said. They look at him as if to say: "Welcome to my world."

Click here for a transcript of a 10 minute interview with Rabbi Stanton.

Things are changing in America. The ordination of Alysa Stanton is a massive change in the symbology of the American religious landscape. When we think "Rabbi" in America, it isn't going to be just a white man or maybe a white woman anymore. One powerful image that can come to mind now is that of Alysa Stanton.

(also published in

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ethics quiz

I just got this in email and love it !!!

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you
pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus:

1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die.

2. An old friend who once saved your life.

3. The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Which one would you choose to offer a ride to, knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car? Think before you continue reading.

This is a moral/ethical dilemma that was once actually used as partof a job
application. You could pick up the old lady, because she is going to
die, and thus you should save her first. Or you could take the old friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. However, you may never be able to find your perfect mate again.

AND THE ANSWER IS ....... ...... ...... .

The candidate who was hired (out of 200 applicants) had no trouble coming up with his answer. He simply answered:

'I would give the car keys to my old friend and let him take the lady to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams.'

Sometimes, we gain more if we are able to give up our stubborn thought limitations.
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