Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Faithful Advocacy - Part 3

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...”  (The Gospel of John 14:16-17a, NRSV)

The pursuit of justice is one of Judaism’s central themes. From the prophets who cry out, demanding that we care for those who are on the margins of society; to the many mitzvot (commandments), obligating us to share with those in need, welcome the stranger, and regularly forgive debts; to the well-known instruction, “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” (Deut. 16:20), Jewish tradition insists that we construct societies that are fair and just for all people. It recognizes, too, that although not everyone is a decision-maker, each person is obligated to do what she can. According to one rabbinic saying, “If [a person] sits in his home and says to himself, ‘What have the affairs of society to do with me? Let my soul dwell in peace!’—If he does this, he overthrows the world.” (Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2)

For too many years, I sat at home and left justice work to others. Now I am actively involved, but I still sometimes feel afraid and under-qualified. Here, I draw inspiration from the story of Moses, the quintessential “reluctant prophet.” When God called Moses to lead, Moses was afraid and doubted himself. But God promised to be with him and guide him. Moreover, God sent someone—Moses’ brother, Aaron—to help him. In my own life, every time I have left my comfort zone, I have found unexpected friends and helpers along the way. My tradition demands that I do what I can to bend the world toward justice—but it doesn’t want or expect me to do it alone.

This is the third post about Faithful Advocacy from Guest Writers LeeAnne, Amanda & Yaira. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.  Please join their conversation by leaving your comment below.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Faithful Advocacy

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...”  (The Gospel of John 14:16-17a, NRSV)

In the Christian tradition, the title of “Advocate” is a designation for the Holy Spirit. To engage in advocacy means to give a voice to truth, to speak on behalf of another who has less power, one with less privilege or status. We look to Jesus’ many examples of advocacy to see that our call as Christians includes speaking up for the powerless and working for justice. Yet taking action can be frightening. We tell ourselves that we don’t know enough about the issue, that someone else can speak better than we can, or that our voice doesn’t matter. The little voices in our head say, “How can I? Not me!”

The truth is that people just like you and me—with jobs, families, church obligations, and evening soccer practices—can make a big difference simply by sharing our values and personal stories with decision-makers. People of faith in particular can articulate the moral voice for the health of God’s creation and our neighbors, which encourages legislators to vote for the common good. All we are asked to do in striving for justice is to leave our comfort zones—to leave behind our reluctance to speak up, to take action. As we open our hearts and accept Jesus’ invitation to join him in advocating for a better world, we hear his comforting words: “Do not be afraid.”

This is the first of three posts by Guest Writers LeeAnne, Amanda & Yaira. Please join their conversation by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Figs and Olives

“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, by the fig and the olive and by Mount Sinai and by this trustworthy land, truly We have created the human being of the fairest symmetry.” (al-Tin, 95:1-4)

This passage in the Quran jumped off the page at me, first and foremost because it mentions two of the seven species of the Land of Israel that are also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Figs and olives are known to be especially nutritious foods for humans, and are regarded by some as having healing properties. In these verses, the fruits seem to represent witnesses to an oath about humanity’s connection to the land and to God.  I was also struck by the juxtaposition of Mount Sinai—where God bestowed the Torah (law) upon Moses—with the land which God promised the people they would inhabit.  Since the remainder of the sura discusses morality and divine justice, it seems to me that the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him] is reminding us that human beings must be attuned to the natural world in order to be attuned to the supernatural Presence.

Tziporah, several Surats in the Quran contain oaths. Since the Quran is the word of God revealed to the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him], there is an emphasis on the oaths, which are considered to be of great importance. Humans—including all prophets—may not swear by any creation; only God can do that. Scholars agree that here God is swearing by the olive and fig trees due to their benefits to humans and some add that these trees are mentioned as a symbol of the Bayt al Maqdis where Jesus [Peace and Blessings be upon him] received his message from God. The first three segments of the oath are correctly translated, but the fourth should read “and by this secure city,” not “trustworthy land.”  This refers to Mecca where the Quran was first revealed. Consequently, I view the meaning of this text from a different perspective. The Surat is a humble reminder of the greatness of God’s wisdom and justice in creating humans and holding them accountable for their actions.

The poetic imagery of this beautiful quotation conjures for me an Eden, where God the Creator proclaimed all of creation good. Of course, the Creation story embraced by my faith tradition shows also that sin came into the world and that Adam, archetype of all humanity, hid his shame with a fig leaf! I think our spiritual journeys are about rediscovering Eden as we learn to view creation—including ourselves and other humans—with eyes trained to see through what we may otherwise be tempted to call deformed, grotesque, dirty or spoiled. Beauty must reside too in the “eye of the beholder” to recognize beauty in all. God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the supreme Beholder, sees human beings, even with all our flaws, as an extension of all that is good.  Our challenge is to go to the Mount, descend to the valley and, as the Psalmist recommends, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


“A person walks in life on a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
On the fall harvest festival of Sukkot—once the most central holiday of the Jewish calendar cycle—we observe the custom of inviting Ushpizin (guests) into our sacred space.  Each year, we ask friends and family to bring a photograph of someone with whom they would like to share a meal. Their honored guest can be alive or dead, or a biblical, fictional or historical figure…anyone at all.  As Thanksgiving approaches and we celebrate the fall harvest as a nation, I am reminded of our Sukkot celebration earlier this season, when I hosted Grace and Yasmina—and their Ushpizin—at my home.  Their choice of guests reflects their deep understanding of the subtext of our interfaith work: We are striving to connect with each other, with our ancestors, with our community and with God.  We are holding hands as we walk together across the very narrow bridge, so that we will not be afraid.  This Thanksgiving, as I offer thanks for the abundance of my harvest, I am also grateful for their wisdom and friendship.

I invited writer Flannery O’Connor to accompany me into Tziporah’s sukkah. This writer of some of America’s greatest short stories certainly understood, in her personal life, the meaning of a makeshift hut intended to remind the Jewish people of God’s providence throughout the Exodus journey.  In her early twenties, O’Connor was stricken with a crippling disease that compelled her to move from what must have seemed a most promising life among the literati of NYC to her mother’s dairy cattle farm in rural Georgia.  Yet, in the red clay—and even in the manure of a hen house—O’Connor found a Land of Promise.  As I celebrated Sukkot with women whose friendship has been manna for me, I was reminded that God’s daily provisions are sufficient for whatever “wilderness experience” we are called to face and for each narrow bridge we are asked to cross. Abundant reason for thanksgiving!

I wanted to invite a person who could revive some much-needed values in our present day; someone who saw beauty in all humanity, understood our common roots, and stood for the rights of justice and equality.[1] I picked an individual whom I thought best exemplified these virtues. He defied preconceptions and laid the foundation for a wider perspective while crossing a very narrow bridge. He contributed in freeing minds and souls in his time, and is still helping people forge their way across new bridges today; our own interfaith group is a testament to that.  Al-hamdu lillah: all praise, all thanks are due to God, and Muslims utter these words not only in prayer, but also in answer to the greeting “How are you?” This is because we recognize the human spirit as one of God’s countless and endless bounties. Tziporah welcomed that spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and me, into our Sukkot celebration.

[1]  The Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him] taught in his farewell sermon: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve.  An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor a black has any superiority over white, except by piety and good action.”