We had the feast of St. Francis, and I took the time to do the blessings of the animals at the Episcopal Church.
Then the high holidays where for the first time the Rabbi acknowledged being tired of struggling with the Akedah, and therefore giving a different discussion. We collected supplies for flood victims in Louisiana and I drove them down – arriving in the middle of the night.
It may not look like much in the picture, but since it was a 1800 mile trip where I camped out along the way, and I took the supplies with me, the list was well-thought out – 12-in-1 scissors, flashlights, dry socks, blankets, wire connectors, reading glasses, camera cell phones, chargers, battery rechargers, sewing kits, gift cards, knitting supplies, tools, tape measures, ratchet tie downs, gloves, buckets, USB drives, paper and pencils, pencil sharpeners, some cut up old jeans for rags.

Camping was beautiful.  We drove through the Pisgah National Forest, then camped out at Lake Keowee, and the Magnolia Branch National Wildlife Reserve managed by the Poarch Band Creek Indians.  Perfect weather and a full moon.

Arriving in Texas, I saw Peaches which was a big blessing!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conservative and/or Reform – What to do with the Old and New Testaments?

As a woman, I think I’m sitting out the Torah portion this week.  That said, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.  First, the “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” rule, that was considered and improved upon by the New Testament.  I “went reform” on that one, and was pleased to attend a very well-attended bat-mitzvah where the young woman emphasized the word “WE” in “Justice, justice, WE shall pursue.” I think that, for me, justice is an abstraction of individual hurt to include the hurt and action of the other.  In its simplest abstraction, it is between 2 people, an agreement or remediation, where the individual says: “It is not just my needs that matter…your needs matter, too.  Let’s talk and agree on how both needs can be met.” By  emphasizing the “we”, the young woman got it right.  It isn’t about justice with a big J, it is justice between one another.

This week’s one – I didn’t see a woman as being there at all, so I didn’t attend.

Some more thoughts (a little later):

It is interesting that the word for justice “Tzedek” in Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof is the same root as the word for charity Tzedakah – technically, righteousness – one of the middot that one works one during the month of elul.  The common root may indicate that in the pursuit of justice for a wrong, one must be prepared to give a little from one’s own point of view to consider the needs of the other to see something from another point of view.

The times when these words were written were a time when women had little if any say in whom they would be married to.  Just as they had no choice in their father in life, so to they would have no choice in a husband.  Their role was to have children for their husbands.    Violating a woman – having her before marriage – would have likely meant that she would become unmarriable to someone else in those times.   This passage then really means that the violated woman should be supported for the rest of her life by the man who violated her.  In today’s world, women thankfully can not only support themselves, but also, can define themselves in terms of more than just childbearing.  This doesn’t mean that they are not owed restitution for the trauma of violation, but it doesn’t have to define who they are.  They can move on, have families, support themselves,  and choose when and if they want to be intimate with others, and when and if they want to have children.

The Rabbi today (one week later) emphasized that when G_d created the world, it was good.  G_d does not create “abominations” (with a whole discussion on the fact that the word abomination has no other words with the same root, and only occurs in the context of religious disrespect).  Because there is the image of G_d in each of us, we are to treat one another respectfully regardless of sexual orientation (which he does not consider to be ordained by G_d), and as long as loving nonincestuous relationships occur in the context of respect for G_d, they are not abominations. Within the context of these words, and the month of elul, that is a month when one tries to repair relationships, one then looks to forgive as much as possible the injuries that some of these words (and actions) have caused over the centuries.  No one should be made to feel shamed because of who they are, or who they love, or what has happened to them.  As women, we can acknowledge the injury, and forgive, and try to improve upon the conditions that would propagate further injury to others.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembering Mother Teresa

Holy people are holy people – regardless of their faith. I set aside a little time yesterday to go to a Catholic mass. A little late in the organizational effort, I nevertheless made the 6 pm acoustic guitar mass which was admittedly supposed to be for teenagers, but there were also adults in the group with their kids, no doubt making everyone feel awkward at that age.   The church was surprisingly full for a Sunday evening mass (maybe 350 or so people), especially for a Labor day weekend.   I am sure that many were there for the same reason I was  – to remember Mother Teresa who was honored as a saint today.

So, what makes her special? Under excruciatingly difficult circumstances, she served the poor and the sick, wholeheartedly, without misgivings (not a tear, as she put it). It’s as simple as that – she came to be an angel to those who have nothing.

I listened to the priest with his familiar passages on not serving 2 masters, relinquishing everything including family, and realized how much they give up to serve G_d. So, although I have my theological misgivings about who Jesus was, I yet understand that these are holy men, and that Mother Teresa was a very holy person. And my teenage godson is Catholic.  I took a pledge to help to raise him that way. And I stick to it. It is the faith of his parents, and although I don’t understand parts of it, I believe the family connection to be more important to him than any theological reservations he might have.

The parashat Saturday (Re’eh) had some strong themes in it. It is no accident that it occurs at the beginning of elul. The foundations of a socialist ethic can be interpreted in the portion – we are not to let anyone in our community fall too far behind. Although slavery is allowed within the community (indeed both Moses and Jacob worked as slaves to earn their wives), after 7 years, the slave is to be offered freedom and, if he or she chooses to leave, is to leave with resources.

I set aside the slavery question for a moment to consider, what for me, is the more problematic section of this parashat – the question of religious intolerance. Moses enjoins those about to enter the promised land that they are not to explore other religions, not to tolerate them in their midst, nor tolerate anyone among their family who does worship in other ways. In spite of the fact that this is the month of elul, I cannot simply gloss over this issue in the interest of peace. I understand that Jews have been subjected to a formidable proselytizing force for centuries – that this is and has been often disrespectful, many among the other side believing that Jewish lives are at stake over this belief. So, my intention was clear in this action. On this issue, as much as I would like to revise these intolerant family-rupturing hurtful words out of the Torah, I leave it alone for historical sake. To remember. The Torah is a living document for me, and we strive to find its relevance in today’s world, beyond merely history. The words certainly don’t mean for me, purge the community of everyone who enters another house of worship to understand the commonality of the worship experience among faiths. To me, they mean “Be Jewish in the other house of worship in spite of the beliefs of those around you. Be strong in your faith.”

So, on this text, I am reform. Tolerant of other faiths. I hesitated to go to a conservative synagogue this week. These words hurt too much. But then I did, and I was very impressioned by the fact that the Rabbi said that a book and words (even holy ones) cannot be held to a higher importance than lives. So, as I prepare for the elul workshop on repairing relations and the world at the conservative synagogue, anticipating some exhortation against interfaith efforts, I’m ok with where I stand on that issue. Peace matters, not just within the Jewish community, but also among those of other faiths. And I understand a little, how some Blacks must feel about purging history of idols that advocated for racial supremacy. We want to be able to respect our history. In the end, someone like Mother Teresa, who claimed to have experienced the utter absence of G_d in her life in her late years, who nevertheless maintained her purpose in life considering this absence as the abandonment that Jesus felt on the cross, teaches us to be humble even about faith. Would that Jesus had never had to be killed “for our sins.” We owe our fellow human beings the dignity of respect for life – and for that, I am grateful that my godson is Catholic. May he always be trusted to respect and defend the life that wants to live. May that be his community identification of value.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on the Question of Sacrifice

We begin the month of elul, a time of repairing relations and life for the Jewish people. At this time, it is customary to look toward the Torah, and look to a more conservative interpretation to see if we are really living the way that G_d intended for us. In one month, the high holidays will be here with a New Year, and a day of atonement, where we must forgive all injuries from the past.

Some of the Torah passages are admittedly difficult – especially those that ask for animal sacrifice to atone for sin. The problem becomes even worse in the Christian faith, where a human being, said to be G_d’s own son, is sacrificed for the sins of everyone. Before everyone rejects both faiths on this account, a new understanding of animal sacrifice is proposed.

The original pack-forming activity for animals who eat meat is the hunt. Who eats together, is bonded, and the pack order is enforced during the eating. A little later, humans learned to domesticate animals. For homeless migrating tribes, this became a way of sustaining communities – life was so hard that, not only did the food have to constantly move with them, but the food had to be able to walk as well. The original sacrifice I believe, was a covenant between people (way before we were capable of experiencing G_d as an abstrct concept). Two people came to an agreement, and to signify and celebrate this, they took a member from their herd, to have a good meal together and celebrate. As we became more verbally evolved, we began to understand a higher order in life, and experience more physical laws that we were able to understand, the consequences of which, we learned to predict. From whence did this order derive?

We began to establish laws to govern our social interactions, and attributed the order and driving force of life to G_d. We learned to communicate verbally with G_d. We then took the covenants that we made among people, and began making them with G_d, defining ourselves and our communities by these covenants with G_d. Someone so defined could then be trusted to behave in certain ways. We could have a higher purpose than merely survival.

So, then this translation of an original meaning of sacrifice into a religious domain happened, and became transmitted as a law to be followed, orally, and then eventually in a written document.

Does this interpretation minimize G_d’s role in our world? Is G_d no longer the 7-day magician that dictates everything? I don’t think so. I think that, although not a literal interpretation of creation, an acceptance of evolution and relationship with animals still allows for a very powerful G_d whom we have evolved to be able to contemplate and relate to.  And this interpretation of the original meaning of sacrifice does not imply that animals do not relate to G_d.  I believe that they do, just not verbally.

In this interpretation then, someone who does not eat meat is not held to the same covenant with regard to animal sacrifice.  Indeed, reform Jewish communities reject animal sacrifice.  We have other ways of acknowledging our failings and reestablishing our covenants with G_d and others. We don’t have to take a life that wants to live to atone for our own failings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Quaker Fourth: the Great American Melting Potluck

Ok. It used to be a pot, and now I suppose it’s a lottery… We all got together and brought dishes from our various heritages for a brunch.






After brunch, the group set aside their plates for the more difficult discussion of social problems and what could be done to address them. There were representatives from Arab, Iranian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, Latino, Military, European, and Native American communities, advocates from the Black Panther community, representatives from impoverished single parents raising disabled kids, from the green party, advocates for single payer health care, tax advocates, localists, nationalists and globalists. There were those who were strong advocates for economic reform, for the homeless, for the undocumented, and for those with literacy problems, for African communities who did not yet have schools, for those in prisons and on death row. There were, present, individuals who had lost children in Afghanistan, those from government, school teachers and writers, and those who were medically challenged as well. There was even an opportunity to discuss how to interact with nonhuman species who, without the ability to speak words, do not have the same laws that humans have when problems arise. As one individual stated: “listening is not just about staying quiet, it is also about paying attention.” We were all given a chance to speak and listen, and later to sing various songs together that advocated for peace.
The group seemed largely committed to nonviolent solutions, although some also felt that “Freedom is not free.” and that military solutions were simply a different, sometimes necessary, kind of conversation. Overall though, the feeling was expressed that it was important to be in front of the military, to be proactive in diffusing conflicts before they escalated into military conversations. It should be noted that most of those present were not only verbal advocates, but many also occupied leadership positions in social movements providing services to the communities for whom they advocated. Good company.


The conversation began with the thought that had the American Revolution happened nonviolently, it might have happened later, but that slavery also might not have persisted as long as it did. It was pointed out that those states that have a history of slavery are also the states with the highest execution rates, and those that are the strongest advocates for gun rights. The association among these positions seems to support the idea that a nonviolent approach is more respectful of life and human dignity in resolving conflicts. A retrospective counterargument to this point of view is the situation in India, where the caste system – an ancient oppressive class system – persists to this day in spite of India’s nonviolent independence from England. At the end of the day, I went out for the more conventional “flag waving-fireworks” display at the local park, but the event was postponed for another 3 weeks just after I got there due to the rain. A nice green thought that postponing violent revolutions might mean more rain that the community desperately needs. And nice to participate in discussions that won’t use patriotism as an excuse to gloss over rather than address social problems.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Freddie Grey: Before the Verdict

Freddie Grey’s death was a tragedy. It never should have happened. It could have been prevented. It was about respect. It ended in someone’s death. The problem is an institutional one and needs to be addressed – not by lynching a police officer, but rather by institutional reform – pairing cops who overreact with individuals who can influence them on the job. The cops in the Freddie Grey case likely lost their jobs in this case, but are nevertheless not “bad people”. An apology would help. An apology to the community for a highly charged situation is needed.

One guy eyeballs a cop, the cop feels disrespected, runs him down, and cuffs him in an arrest that was likely not legal. The guy is in turn disrespected in the van (and loses his life over this). The problem is institutional – not exceptional, and needs to be addressed.

Prisons are not the solution to this problem. Court cases are also not a solution. The judge should make the matter a civil one, and require BROAD POLICE REFORM.

That would honor Freddie Grey’s death: acknowledgement of the problem, apology, and reform. Not a lynching or a riot.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Riddle

In one dimension, I am a line with no beginning or end – a string with both ends joined occupying the maximum amount of space possible. I turn using a constant bend without ever breaking my path. With stubborn deliberation, there is no sudden change of direction. Without coordinate, there is no contextual difference between any point on my trajectory. Traversing with coordinate, an arbitrarily appointed origin, one inevitably returns while at the same time never changing one’s prior or future state to anything different from what one actually is, except with this external arbitrary definition of origin. In two dimensions, I capture and possess space – defining a boundary between what is within and what is without. Infinitely small, I can become the most basic definition of existence with no dimension – that object which will be used to create images of every other object in our universe.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment