"Delight in creation and take your dreams into our politics and institutions. We live in the midst of a suicidal economy, motivated by love of money. We have reached a dead end. What we need to turn it around are hearts in love with life. How do we do it? FIRST we..."
TIKKUN is also a Magazine and an international community of people of many faiths calling for social justice and political freedom in the context of new structures of work, caring communities, and democratic social and economic arrangements. They seek to influence public discourse in order to inspire compassion, generosity, non-violence and recognition of the spiritual dimensions of life.
I met David Rovics at the first TIKKUN Conference for Spiritual Progressives and what follows is my reflection of some of my experiences there in July 2005, which I attended 3 weeks after my first trip to Israel Palestine.
Everything that follows actually happened-but as I was writing fiction in 2005-I wrote it all down in this chapter through the fictional character Jack Hunt in KEEP HOPE ALIVE
Chapter 12: THE REVOLUTION HAS BEGUN...
"The Revolution starts now, when you rise above your fear and tear the walls round you down." -Steve Earle
On Wednesday, 20 July 2005, in Berkeley, California, Jack intuitively sensed opportunity blowing in the wind as he rounded the corner from Durant and Telegraph on his way to UC Berkeley's MLK student union building for TIKKUN's first annual conference on spiritual activism. As he crossed Bancroft Way, a young, beatifically-smiling latte-skinned youth handed him an electric green slip of paper announcing:
"Compassionate Caregivers: Medical Cannabis. Two locations, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week."
Jack mused, "Now that my third anti-inflammatory has been pulled, I can't do narcotics in moderation, and I am not ready for joint replacement; I wonder if maybe this is an invitation from You to move out here?"
Jack soon forgot all about the aches in his joints--in particular, his knees, which had been crushed in an auto accident when he was twenty-three and then again at twenty-six. The MLK student union building was jammed with people from all faiths, and those who were spiritual, but not religious, who were imagining a new bottom line for America and her true place in the global village. Jack glided up the stairs to the second floor and deeply inhaled the energy emanating from over thirteen hundred American citizens who had gathered in the Pauley Ballroom in support of a new bottom line based on love, compassion, caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and behavior; and motivated by generosity, kindness, cooperation, nonviolence, and peace.
Jack imagined a society that honored all human beings as embodiments of the sacred, a society that enhanced one's capacities to respond to the earth and the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement. He imagined the Kingdom of God, where men would turn their swords into plowshares and not make war anymore.
The invocation was offered by Father Louis Vitale, a Franciscan who reminded Jack of one of the least of the seven dwarves, until he spoke and revealed himself to be a man of profound wisdom, enrobed in well-worn burlap:
"The Holy One has called on us. In all of earth's sixty-five-million-year history, we are living in the most dangerous of times. The fact that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and two hundred thousand lives were vaporized within twenty minutes has not prevented man from dreaming up more ways to fill space with weapons of mass destruction. We were not created for militarism, but to turn our swords into plowshares. We have arrived here today by no accident. We have been summoned by the universe to claim the highest common ground. As the Dali Lama said, the radicalism of our age is to be compassionate human beings. We have been called to bring love and compassion back into the equation and assist others to connect with the deepest parts of themselves. Now is the time to realize, as never before, that when any of us suffer, we all suffer. All life is interconnected, interdependent, and greatly loved by the creator, the sustainer of the universe. We are called by love, for love, and to love."
Professor Nagler, M.C. and scholar, stoked the fire of hope within Jack. "We are not facing a spiritual crisis, but a spiritual opportunity. We offer the power of moral ideas to a country with a lot of religion yet which suffers from a great lack of spirituality and imagination. As William Blake said, "Imagination is evidence of The Divine.' And spirituality is how we grow in sensitivity to ourselves, the other, and to God. Einstein wrote, "Human beings are limited in time and space. We experience ourselves in an optical delusion. We see ourselves as separate from others. Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison of self. Only through compassion can we begin to embrace all of Creation.' The bumper sticker got it right; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
George Lakoff, the author of Don't Think of an Elephant , affirmed what Jack already knew, that a nurturing parent raises a child as best they can to be responsible to self and others. A nurturing parent is not permissive or overindulgent, but models cooperation and honesty, and understands that everything is grace, an unconditional gift from God that one is free to accept or reject. Lakoff spoke about God as father, mother, all-knowing, all-good, all--powerful, and the source of the free gift of grace that will open one up to God in the world. Jack thought of Father Matthew Fox's recent publication, A New Reformation.
During Pentecost week, in 2005, Father Fox traveled to Wittenburg and nailed a new ninety-five theses to the church door, where Luther had nailed his five hundred years before. Father Fox wrote Jack's heart about an interfaith collaboration and community that intuits God as mother-father God of divine wisdom, and understands that the earth itself is to be tended; its health is just as much a moral imperative for us all as our human relationships. Jack had long ago rejected the concept of a punitive father God and understood that nature is God's primary temple, and war the greatest abomination.
Jack's mind wandered to the leper kisser, Francis of Assisi, and Jack thought, Frankie, you sang of sister moon and brother sun, and stood up to the dry rot and rigid religious sclerosis of the church in the twelfth century. I feel your presence here today in my bones, as much as in my soul. Jack went deeper into the silence and in his mind, saw himself at nine with Father Tony, the diminutive ancient Spanish priest, who had held his hand all during his mother's funeral and chanted softly without ceasing, "Jesus called God Abba, and that means both daddy and mommy. So, God is both mommy and daddy, and now your mommy is a part of God. God is mommy and daddy: daddy and mommy divine."
Jack mused, "That and the daily readings are the best things I ever heard from the Roman Church." The heat from thirteen hundred bodies and the noonday sun made Jack fidgety, and even though his knees were aching most ferociously, he still craved a run, but as usual, was grateful for a fast walk. In seconds, he had escaped the crowd in Sproul Plaza and wandered around the rolling tree-canopied campus as endorphins flooded his blood; he no longer was aware of the crushing of bone on bone in his knees. He escaped in his mind to the good times before that Tuesday in September nearly four years ago, when his wife, Julianne, had been vaporized in a stairwell in the Twin Towers.
At the first thought of that day when life all changed, Jack immediately roused himself back to reality, sat down, and again became aware of the aching in his knees. He pulled out the itinerary for the conference and thought, I need to figure out where I want to be these next few hours. I'd like to catch some of all these workshops and groups, but there are just too many choices. I'll start with "Environmental Policy," and then check out "Sacred Stewardship of the Earth," and maybe move onto "Theory and Practice of Nonviolence"--no, better yet, "Science and Spirit."
Jack absorbed what he could from each class, but could not sit still until 8 p.m. when Rev. Jim Wallis commanded his attention back in the Pauley Ballroom. "Religion's job is to pull out our best stuff; to help us be our best selves. Religion in America has been used and abused to control and manipulate millions of Christians.
"The good news is that there are millions more who are not represented by the Falwells and the Dobsons, and they are raising their voices and doing something about confronting the hijacking of the Bible to further political gain. All faith traditions battle with fundamentalism. Religion is meant to be a bridge, not a wedge.
"The seduction of the religious right by politicians is being challenged by our rapidly spreading grassroots sojourners community that stands up with a firm moral center and echoes Lincoln's refrain: what is needed today is reflection, penitence, humility, accountability, and that we should all seek to be on God's side.
"There are over three thousand verses in the Bible referring to the poor; this is the moral issue of our time. There are also the moral issues of poverty, ecology, and war; it is the church's job to address these moral issues, too. Separation of church and state does not mean the segregation of religion from the human dialogue?
"Our deepest choices are between hope and compassion. Hope is not a feeling or a state of mind, but an abiding choice you make because you have faith. Faith is supposed to change things that look impossible to be changed. Cynicism sees the world as it is and gives up trying to change it. Cynicism is a buffer against commitment.
"History testifies to the fact that all great changes came about by social justice movements that were based on faith and religious values. America has a proud history of progressive spiritual activism. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We can change the nation when we change the wind, and people of faith are called to be wind changers."
Wallis took a deep breath before continuing. "Let me explain exactly what an evangelical Christian is to be about. My evangelical roots are connected to the path laid down by evangelicals from the 19th century. They were the first to speak out against slavery and were the first supporters of female suffrage. In fact, the original altar call was the call to stand up against slavery.
"In this century, we are faced with nuclear weapons and the fact that the arms race put the world in grave danger. The world went to sleep, and now we have escalating proliferation, nations, and groups of angry people with nuclear warheads. The real security threat is coming from the gathering terrorists who are acquiring unsecured materials." Jim Wallis took another deep breath and ended with "Activists must be contemplatives, and contemplatives must act. The time has come for the Christian Right to meet the right Christians."
After a standing ovation for Wallis, the radiant Rabbi Lerner approached the lectern and beamed like a lighthouse turned on, and between his smile, said, "This is a historic event. Over thirteen hundred of you are here now, and we had to turn people away because we ran out of room. There is a hunger in America for deep spiritual truth, and the wisdom of the ages is again being spoken and heard. The time has come for the new bottom line. The new bottom line in society challenges the dominant ethos of materialism and selfishness and replaces it with institutions based not just on productivity, but also on cooperation, mutuality, love, caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation. We spiritual progressives challenge the misuse of God and religion by the Religious Right, just as we challenge those liberals and progressives who have been unsympathetic, even hostile, to spiritual and religious people.
"We of many faiths, and the spiritual but not religious, are calling for social justice and political freedom in the context of new structures of work, in caring communities and democratic social and economic arrangements. We of many faiths and those who are spiritual but not religious are inspired by compassion, generosity, nonviolence, and recognition of the spiritual dimension of life. We agree we desire a society that promotes love and generosity, recognizes the unity of all being, and understands our interdependence with all other people on the planet. We honor, with awe, wonder, and care, all of creation. We are extending the invitation to every church, synagogue, mosque, and ashram to affirm the prophetic vision of God as the champion of love, generosity, peace, social justice, and ecological sanity. We understand we are to give our highest attention to alleviating the suffering of the poor and powerless. We challenge the policies of governments and political parties that do not promote these values. The new bottom line replaces the old one based upon materialism and selfishness. The time has come; the time is now."
Jack reflected, "One reason the religious right is the only voice the mainstream media presents is that they have been the most vocal. The other problem is that the liberal and progressive media have only heard religion according to the right, so no wonder they tune religion out. I wonder how to get around it; how does a new voice rise out of the wilderness?"
The following day, Jack woke up still thinking about all he had experienced the day before. That Thursday morning, he heard Rick Uff ord-Chase for the first time, and was blown away by how such a young man had accomplished so much. Rick was a founder of the Samaritans, co-moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, a reservist for Christian Peacemakers Teams, and moderator of the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
Rick began with Isaiah 58: ""Shout it out, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people 'loosen the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, clothe them and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday sun.'"
Then Rick offered 1 John 4: " "Love comes from God and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God, because God is love. There is no fear in love. For perfect love drives out fear, and those who love God love all their brothers and sisters.'"
Rick then spoke of his experiences on the Mexican border and the sanctity of all life. "We become holy in community; we must study and do Torah, and we build the Church by building community. God is within everyone, and the direct experience of working with, for, and among the poor and oppressed is the quickest way one can experience the presence of God."
After a few more speakers, Jack was overfilled and restless to move about. He wandered the campus while listening to a CD by Dave Rovics, one of the musicians at the conference. For the rest of the day, Jack couldn't get "They're Building a Wall" out of his head:
They're Building a Wall by David Rovics
They're building a wall, A wall between friends, A wall that justifies any means to their ends. Many feet thick and twenty feet high. They're building the wall between water and land, So we can eat fruit and they can eat sand. A wall to keep quiet that which you fear most. They're building the wall to remove reality from your facts on the ground, A wall to keep distant the terrible sound of the houses that crumble and the children that die, A wall to keep separate the truth from the lie. A wall made of brick but bricks can be broken When the people of Zion have finally awoken And said no more walls, no more refugees, No more keeping people upon their knees. And before apartheid was ended they were building a wall.
That evening, Bishop John Shelby Spong began by asking, "What has happened to Christianity? I have been a student of the Bible my entire life. I am a committed Christian and open to anyone's opinion, but not to their own facts. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, segregation, to deny woman equality, and to promote war. A lot of evil happens when the Bible is misunderstood and misused. In the name of God, men have become murderers. We live in a world where people in power get to define those without power. The prophets spoke the word of God in concrete circumstances and throughout history. Hosea spoke of God as love. Amos understood that worship and justice go together. Micah confronted Israel with their behavior, and God again told the people what is required: "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your Lord.'"
On Friday morning, in Newman Hall, in the sanctuary known as Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Betsy Rose led the crowd in singing:
There's a new world coming,
There's a new world coming,
There's a new world coming,
I can hear her breathing.
Jack marveled at all the smiling faces around him and about the fact that he had not been in a Catholic church since his youngest sister was wed twenty-four years ago by their brother, Father Mike.
Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, leader of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation and pastor at Northminster Baptist Church in L.A, brought the crowd to their feet from the start. "We are people hungry to get on with the business we are about. American politics have already been transformed by religion and spirit, just not the one we believe and desire. We are a deeply divided nation, and the substance of what passes for religion looks like the stuff of politics. There is no such thing as the American religion, for we are a country of over seventy-five faith traditions. The proper role of religion is to link core values, to cooperate, to respect all people, to promote peace, justice, and compassion, and to protect the weak, poor, and the environment. Today, politics have become a form of religion. We need freedom for and from that kind of religion. Religion should command, inspire hope, and build bridges between other faiths and to those with no faith at all. We will be restless until we speak the truth to power. We will be restless until we comfort the afflicted and disturb the comfortable. We will be restless until we become a nation that cares for its entire people and lives with respect towards all others in the global village. May we all be restless, and then speak and act in peace and goodwill, in the spirit of cooperation."
Jack's mind wandered back to what he had read in Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise, as soon as he noted the author Robert Inchausti was on the morning's program. Inchausti had written, "To change the world we must become receptacles of God's love, understanding and goodwill. We must have faith, not merely of the mind, but of the heart that surrenders the whole man to the divine inflow; moral action links personal salvation directly to social responsibility. Victory is not the goal, doing God's will is."
Jack reflected everyday on what God wanted from him, and spent most of the time in the dark. He left his ruminating behind when Robert Inchausti stood at the podium and proclaimed, "This country was built by spiritual progressives. Spiritual progressives are the center and we are not a mushy middle. The new bottom line is not new at all; it was already articulated by the Puritans. The Puritans were about charity, not power, and that is the true American tradition. We radical spiritual activists are the heart of the American tradition. Of course we know there will always be the poor among us, but our call always has been to respond."
At the break, Jack was the first one out of Newman Hall, and he strode directly to UC Botanical Garden to be with over three thousand California-native plants and sublime silence. On his way back for the afternoon session, he met a rabbi from Australia and a pastor from England, who had traveled to America specifically to attend the conference. Jack marveled at the possibilities of what might happen on the other side of the world when these men shared what they had experienced.
Jack parted ways with them and headed back to Newman Hall to hear Father Fox speak about the New Reformation. And Jack thought, Everyday, I am crossing paths with so many incredible people. Last month I sat in Reverend Ateek's Sabeel office in Jerusalem, and the other night I sat next to Abla, his sister-in-law, at a meeting of MEPAC. There, I met a community of tireless workers in the political realm keeping the issue of peace and justice in Israel and Palestine on the front burner. The next day, I was in the office of this riot of a woman who founded MECA--funny, crusty, and salty, with a most compassionate heart. For seventeen years, MECA has been bearing witness to the West Bank and Gaza. Then there's Doug, the guy from that last work group; I have never known anyone like him. Talk about connecting with one's feminine side! It has got to be holy wisdom, the feminine divinity that led him to photograph the neighborhood gardens in his town and display them on Main Street, to bring the folks around and build community. Then he takes up dancing and singing--his wife must be wondering who she is now sleeping with.
It was apparent to Jack when he returned to Newman Hall that the fire department's maximum allowed crowd size was being ignored. In the center of the sanctuary of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Father Fox proclaimed,
"Forget original sin; remember original blessing. There are two Christianities in our midst. One worships a punitive father and seeks obedience at all costs. It is patriarchal, demonizes woman, the earth, science, gays, lesbians, and deep thought. It builds on fear and it supports empire-builders. Its theology includes a punitive father in the sky and teaches original sin.
"The other Christianity recognizes the original blessing that all beings derive from. We recognize awe, not sin, not guilt, as the starting point of true religion. We recognize a divinity who is source of all things and is as much mother as father, as much female as male. We honor creation and diversity. When God created everything, He pronounced it all good. We are here to make love to life. Yes, we are here to make love to life.
"Delight in creation and take your dreams into our politics and institutions. We live in the midst of a suicidal economy, motivated by love of money. We have reached a dead end. What we need to turn it around are hearts in love with life. How do we do it?
"We first must move from domination to partnership, and we begin by educating our young in awe and wonder, not how to take tests. Awe leads to reverence, which leads to gratitude, which will reinvent our species. This is the task of our generation: to regain awe. The three R's need to be balanced by the ten C's: contemplation, creativity, chaos, compassion, courage, critical consciousness, community, celebration, ceremony, and character.
"In community, people remain united, despite everything that divides them. In capitalist society, people are isolated, separated, despite everything that should hold them together. We are in the midst of an epic struggle between community and capitalistic society. We need a new narrative. It is the economy of materialism; it is the virus of affluenza that has weakened family life."
Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory" and "BEYOND NUCLEAR: Mordechai Vanunu's FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker: 2005-2010"