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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/10/09

I have cancer. . . and yes, you can help me deal with it

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In late January the results of a biopsy showed that I have a relatively rare form of lung cancer (I've never smoked). The doctors believe that this cancer may be "stage one" and hence could be treated through surgery, and I might be able to avoid chemotherapy or radiation treatment. So even though it is cancer, it is not necessarily a death sentence! We'll know more after the operation to remove part of my lung takes place, and then they get the results of the next biopsy.

I'll post updated information in the "Rabbi Lerner" section of, so you can go there if you want to know how I'm doing.  Easiest is to just paste the following u.r.l. into your web brower: 

You can also post a personal message for me there (for business messages, please send emails to; during my recovery period I will probably check the website but not my personal email).  Surgery is scheduled for Thursday, February 12, and I'll be in University of California MedicalCenter till Monday the 16th, and then recovering at home for at least a month or so.

People have started to ask if they can help me in some way. Well, yes, there IS something you can do that would be very helpful.

The first thing you can do is to pray for me, or if prayer is not your thing, you can use meditation, song, poetry, words, or actions to communicates to the universe your desire to support my recovery!
The next thing you can do is to support me in my efforts to make this health challenge an opportunity for deep inner growth, opening up higher levels of understanding not only through my head but also through my heart, so that I can be more fully aligned with the struggles and suffering on this planet, and more fully able to contribute at the deepest levels to the healing that is so badly needed everywhere, including in myself. Let me explain how you could give me that support.

My doctors believe that the stress levels in my life are too high, in part because of being over-stretched as rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue, editor of Tikkun magazine, and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. So, I think I need to ask your help in reducing the amount of work and worry I have in keeping the network alive.

The solution is to get much more help in running the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Those tasks have fallen largely on my shoulders, particularly after the growing financial crisis and consequent reduction in funds from memberships forced us to reduce the NSP's staff size to one (me). I can't do this without much more help from you.

I'd be delighted if you decided to help me renew and rebuild the NSP with your ideas and energy.

I'm particularly excited about anything you'd be willing to do to exert leadership in your own sphere (e.g. in your professional community, church, synagogue, mosque, or ashram) that doesn't require time and involvement from the tiny staff at Tikkun/NSP or from me. Too often I get letters saying, "Rabbi Lerner, why don't you do x, y, or z?" The ideas are often terrific, but my capacities are limited. But anything YOU can do-please do it! Make it happen-you hereby have my permission (the only restriction: that you do it in a kind, gentle, generous, loving, and compassionate way).

In case you'd like some specific ideas, I'm presenting loads of specifics here. But let me also be clear that you are already doing enough if you are a paid-up member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, because that, in and of itself, makes a huge difference. It's also appreciated if you are making donations at the highest level you possibly can afford. (If you forgot to renew, or if you would like to donate, you can do so now at And, yes, it would be even more terrific if you decided to donate even more (all tax deductible, of course) or if you consciously committed to one of more of the specific tasks below.

1. Help me spread the basic ideas of the NSP everywhere-to your friends, to your church, synagogue, mosque, or ashram, and to your coworkers or professional colleagues. Perhaps you are already doing that and could figure out a more systematic way to do this every day, or three days a week, or once a week. Or perhaps you could write me and tell me how you are already doing this, so that I know what you are doing and hence can build up my own certainty that we have a nascent movement growing. But what do I mean by our basic ideas? Skip the rest of point one and go to point two if you already feel you know this so well you could put it to music and sing it while you are sleeping!  

A.    We need a New Bottom Line such that institutions, corporations, social practices, our educational system, our legal system, and even our personal behaviors are judged efficient, rational, and productive, not only to the extent that they maximize material well-being, but also to the extent that they maximize love and generosity, kindness and caring for others, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and to the extent that they enhance our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation.

B.    The war on terrorism is not going to work. War and domination as instruments of homeland security are the wrong strategies. It is through caring for and generosity toward others that we can most successfully provide security for our families, our country, and ourselves. People in most countries may not yet be ready to give up their militaries, but we may be able to convince them that each nation's military should stay inside the borders of its own country, and that every dollar spent on the military should be matched by another dollar to fund our alternative for homeland security: the Strategy of Generosity. We seek to achieve homeland security through overt caring about the well-being of everyone else on the planet. Our plan for a Domestic and Global Marshall Plan is a specific way to achieve this goal.

C.    The goal of liberals and progressives should not only be equality of material circumstances, but the creation of a global society in which love and generosity, ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the universe permeate all human relations and determine our social priorities. It is this-not how many computers, cell phones, or other new technologies get produced-that is what we mean by progress. Saving the environment globally requires a shift to this concept of well-being and progress. This is what our schools must teach and what our corporations and legal system must embody. Only an economy organized around those principles will be practical in terms of global survival.

D.    We build for these goals in ways that avoid demeaning those with whom we disagree, but instead recognize that they too are created in the image of God. But we do not let our insistence that they are created in the image of God impede us from throwing our full energy into removing them from positions of power, overturning their economic system, or putting them in prison when they have violated basic human rights. (We could start there with the enablers of torture in the Bush administration.) Respect for the other is consistent with nonviolently resisting negative policies with all our strength, thereby rejecting the kind of nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational, "who am I to judge others or call others' policies evil?" kind of moral relativism that sometimes permeates New Age spirituality. We need a spiritual politics in which we encourage forgiveness and compassion, but not moral relativism or the inability to struggle to replace systems of domination. And simultaneously, our task is to speak to the part of every human being that really does want a new kind of world. We need to help each other overcome the fear that our desires are unrealistic or utopian, when in fact what is utopian is imagining that the planet is going to survive without a drastic and fundamental new orientation toward activities considered "efficient and productive."

E.    We recognize that even in those with whom we disagree, or in those who are deeply cynical, there is a part that yearns for a different reality, wants real loving community, and values generosity and caring. It is actually these decent and good desires that lead them to seek "communities of meaning and purpose" of any sort they can find-which often turn out to be ultra-nationalist or fundamentalist religious communities. Our task is to uncover and help reconnect people to the legitimate part of their need structure that is not fulfilled in contemporary capitalist societies, and to help them find a different and more loving way to fulfill those needs.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
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