The Minyan of Creation by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

By stained-glass Judaic artist and scholar Revital Somekh-Goldreich (http://www.lettherebelightjudaicart.com)

“The Torah portion this coming Shabbat is called “Va’yera” after its first word, which means “was seen” or “became visible.”  The opening sentence (Genesis 18:1) reads like this:

“Now YHWH [the Interbreathing Spirit of the World] was seen by him [by Avraham} in the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day.”

 First let me say, “in the oaks of Mamre” is an unconventional but utterly reasonable translation of “b’elonai.”  Most translators say “by the oaks” because they want to point to three men who are about to appear as messengers of God, making God visible, and they are uncomfortable with the notion that God may be visible in the trees themselves.  But most of the time in the Bible,” b’” means “in.”

How could God be visible in that forest? If “YHWH” is the Breath of Life, the Wind of change, the Spirit of the world, then the rustling of leaves in that forest, blown by the Wind, would make visible the Wind that is about to change the life of Abraham and Sarah and the world.

 Secondly, in our own generation the scientists at last have taught us– – and perhaps long ago wise human beings knew the deep truth – that trees use chemicals to communicate with each other, that they help each other when some of them are in danger, that they breathe out the oxygen we need to breathe in and they breathe in the CO2 we breathe out.

When in Deuteronomy 20:19 Torah asks, “Are the trees of the field human?” we thought the question was tongue-in-cheek and that the answer was obviously No. But perhaps if being “human” means communicating wisdom across generations the answer is obviously “Yes!” (Consult Richard Powers’ insightful novel The Overstory.)

I have several times led prayer circles where I have invited people as part of the service to seek out a tree and listen to it breathe, then hear the tree’s own prayer, then come back to the community and share the tree’s prayer. When a dozen people do this, each prayer is unique, the prayers are as different as you can imagine — and profoundly “spiritual.”

Finally, how many of us have seen God become visible in a forest, a river, a bird, a cloud of fireflies? Time for us to welcome these bearers of life into the minyan, the quorum that makes prayer possible. Indeed, there could be no minyan without them.”–Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Podcast: Voting as Our Sacred Duty with Rose and Vasu

So a Bahai and a Catholic walk into the voting booth … both consider social justice as foundational to their faith. What happens next?

InterfaithISH with Jack Gordon hosted Vasu Mohan, an international elections expert who is also Bahai and me, a Sojourners magazine editor and Catholic for this 60-minute podcast. Give yourself a treat and enjoy a generous and engaging conversation.

As the election approaches, we reflect on the spiritual responsibility to exercise our civil right, navigating the challenges of partisanship, and who we are remembering this All Souls Day. Featuring Vasu Mohan, an international elections expert and member of the DC Baha’i community, and Rose Berger, senior editor at Sojourners magazine and a member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

InterfaithISH (10/28/20)

Learn more about:
Vasu Mohan wilmetteinstitute.org/faculty/vasu-mohan/
Rose Berger sojo.net/biography/rose-marie-berger
Catholic Non Violence Initiative nonviolencejustpeace.net/
How to Win the Baha’i Vote in South Carolina sojo.net/articles/how-win-bah-vote-south-carolina

Why Persist in Our Countercultural Habit?

The story in Exodus 34 narrates Moses on the mountain again, getting a second set of stone tablets from God, having busted the first set in sheer frustration of his people’s preoccupation with the idols of Egypt. This portrait offers the starkest possible contrast to the spectacle we witnessed last week. We’re speaking of course of Donald Trump clearing the streets with teargas so he could walk to an Episcopal Church that didn’t want him there, in order to brandish a Bible he didn’t open. These two images of a man carrying Holy Writ could not be more different. On Sinai we see Moses, a prophet of liberation, ascending yet again to the Source, trying again to bring instruction to a hard hearted people, on whose behalf he begs mercy. Moses is reminded that this Creator is indeed “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness.” This is a story of loving solidarity between God, prophet and community.


In DC, on the other hand, we see Trump descending from the White House, posing for a gratuitous photo opportunity in yet another attempt to weaponize the scriptures—of which he is ignorant, and from which he has never taken instruction—in order to legitimate his war on the citizenry. This is a story of unbridled cynicism. Friends, this is why we persist in our countercultural habit of turning to these ancient texts: because they offer a different narrative with which to counter the fabulations and manipulations of empire. This wisdom born from mountain peaks is how we do battle with the deadly hubris born from ziggurats and Trump Towers. “Our sacred stories,” as the great Indigenous writer Leslie Marmon Silko put it in her acclaimed novel Ceremony, “are all we have to fight illness and death.”

Ched Myers, “For God So Loved The World … A Tribute to Liz McAlister” (delivered on June 7, 2020)

The End of Predatory Policing

Photo by Jessica Griffin

The movement to end predatory policing is part of a national turn toward nonviolent civilian control of public safety. The rise of militarized police is a problem faced around the world. Militarization of police not only brings about more violence and abuse of authority, but it is based on a presumption of the citizen as a threat. This is antithetical to liberal democracies.

“A presumption of threat,” write Eliav Lieblich and Adam Shinar, “assumes that citizens, usually from marginalized communities, pose a threat of such caliber that might require the use of extreme violence. This presumption, communicated symbolically through the deployment of militarized police, marks the policed community as an enemy, and thereby excludes it from the body politic. Crucially, the pervasiveness of police militarization has led to its normalization, thus exacerbating its exclusionary effect. Indeed, whereas the domestic deployment of militaries has always been reserved for exceptional times, the process of police militarization has normalized what was once exceptional.”

“The police need to understand that this is a new day. The consent of the governed for predatory policing and mass incarceration racial injustice is hereby revoked. They need to understand they either change how they police or we will dismantle police departments as they exist today and create wrap-around safety strategies and institutions. They’ve got a choice now: They can either do it on their terms or it will be done to them by people who don’t understand as much about what they know.”–Connie Rice, civil rights lawyer, co-founder of the Advancement Project on As It Happens (8 June 2020)

“The only way we’re going to stop these endless cycles of police violence is by creating alternatives to policing. … More training or diversity among police officers won’t end police brutality, nor will firing and charging individual officers. … The focus on training, diversity and technology like body cameras shifts focus away from the root cause of police violence and instead gives the police more power and resources. The problem is that the entire criminal justice system gives police officers the power and opportunity to systematically harass and kill with impunity. … The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs, as protesters in Minneapolis have called for. City, state and federal grants can also fund these programs.”– Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris, No More Money for Police (New York Times, 30 may 2020)

‘The Debt to Black America in this Democracy Continues’

Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde at frontlines in D.C. on Wednesday, 3 June 2020 (Photo credit: Jim Simpson)

“So let’s be clear about one of the events of this past week. The president of the united states threatened to use military force against American citizens. And then proceeded to use federal officers to disperse peaceful protesters outside of the White house. The African American mayor of this city stood her ground. She stood the ground for all of us. The debt to Black America in this democracy continues.”—Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, sermon from the Washington National Cathedral (June 7, 2020)

Prayer Vigil at Military Cordon, Washington, DC

Dozens of Christian clergy and others held a prayer service near St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 3 in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to police brutality and to show solidarity with demonstrators who took to the streets after George Floyd’s death. Rose Berger from the Christian organization Sojourners prays in front of national guard. (Photo credit: James Simpson)

Christ at the Military Cordon

Rev. Glenna Huber (left, Epiphany Episcopal DC) and Rose Berger (right, Sojourners) at military cordon near St. John’s Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on 3 June 2020.

Episcopal bishop Mariann Budde and Methodist bishop LaTrelle Easterling called for a prayer vigil on 3 June at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square. For several days, Episcopalians and Methodists have been providing food, shelter, and medical attention to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. On Monday night, those in the church as well as a packed street were tear gassed without warning by the police and driven from the area. As soon as the area was clear of citizens, President Trump and members of his team used the church for a photo op. Since that time, St. John’s has been captive behind military lines. Today, we hoped that Bishop Budde would be allowed to visit her church. But no such luck. So we prayed and kept vigil at the military cordon instead.–Rose Berger

#Lament 100k Pentecost Sunday

Empty chairs public witness

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”— 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: that weeping must be real because endings are real; and that weeping permits newness. Christ’s weeping with us permits the kingdom to come. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling opens us to envision a new “normal,” to envision an America true to her dreams, true to our native land to have a new birth of freedom and justice for all. Lord, open our eyes to a new and holy vision that your people may be your people in the days to come. Make us brave, O Lord, together. Hear our prayer. Amen.

On this Sunday, Christians welcome the coming of the Holy Spirit as our Advocate to embolden us with the good news and push the church into public spaces. Even if we have to do this virtually, we can still be driven out into the world with a new vision for our world.

This week our nation will cross a grim marker of 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19. Many around the country will be putting out empty chairs at 12p noon on Monday, June 1, in public places with names or numbers or photos of those who have died. Monday, June 1, will be the National day of Mourning and Lament. #Lament100k #DayofMourning