If The Worst Should Happen! (by Rev. Dr. Eric Smith)

(My feelings overwhelm and my thoughts run amok, but the words are not flowing as of yet … thankfully, the words of my friend and colleague, Dr. Eric Smith, feel right to share with you.- R.Mo )

The cover of Time Magazine for the week of November 14 has a photo shopped picture of candidates Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton holding a sign that reads, “THE END IS NEAR”. Of course the Time Magazine cover was alluding to the fact that the most contentious and negative Presidential Election in recent memory was coming to an end. However for some Hillary Clinton supporters the cover turned into an ominous prophesy I am sure many Clinton supporters went to bed on Election night in shock and thinking “Oh No The End Is Near.” No doubt an equal number of Trump supporters would have felt the same way had Clinton prevailed.

To my broken hearted sisters and brothers who went to bed thinking the election of Donald Trump is the worst thing that can happen, I say take a proper perspective about the election.
If you woke up this morning without a diagnosis of Cancer, HIV/AIDS or any number of other health issues, then the worst did not happen.
If you woke up this morning and found your children home and safe, then the worst did not happen.
If you woke up in a country (which you did) that did not have the military seize power overnight and declare marshal law and the elections invalid, then the worst did not happen.

In other words, stop acting like the world has slipped beyond God’s control. Remember on November the 8th 2016 the country elected a president not a God. So if, by chance or happenstance, the worst should happen remember what God told Moses to tell the children of Israel who were caught with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. “Go Forward!”

We are not called to sit down and whine. We are called to “Go Forward” with an agenda that includes a voice for unity not divisiveness. We are called to “Go Forward” with the agenda to lift up girls and women not treat them as sexual conquest for men with power or star power. We are called to to “Go Forward” with the agenda to remove ridicule and stigma from those with handicaps. We are called to “Go Forward” with the agenda to fight for full inclusion in the church for all people in the LGBTQ community. We are called to “Go Forward” with our agenda to promote “Interfaith Dialogue.” As Hillary Clinton put it, “we believe that the American dream is big enough for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and people with disabilities.” Therefore, God and the American Dream calls us to “Go Forward!”

We are called to “Go Forward” because “The End Is Not Near” and it is not here. We are called to “Go Forward because God is still in control. So if by chance or happenstance the worst should happen, remember these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Admitting the weighty problems and staggering disappointments, Christianity affirms that God is able to give us the power to meet them. God is able to give us the inner equilibrium to stand tall amid the trials and burdens of life. God is able to provide inner peace amid outer storms. This inner stability of faith is Christ’s chief legacy to his disciples. He offers neither material resources nor a magical formula that exempts us from suffering and persecution, but He brings an imperishable gift: “Peace I leave you.” This is the peace which surpasses all human understanding.”

The worst has not happened, but if by chance or happenstance the worst should happen, I say in the words of an old Negro Spiritual, “I must go on. I will go on to see what the end might be.” The end God has in mind is the best thing not the worse thing that could happen. So “Go Forward!”

All Means All – Yom Kippur Morning 5777

Dad, how come all dark-skinned people live in neighborhoods like this one?

My son, Dakota, innocently posed this question to me a few months ago.  Cody had a friend over after school.  As the time came for his friend to leave,  Cody and jumped in the car to take his friend home.  His neighborhood was not even a mile or so away, so it would be a short trip.  Distance wise, it is a short trip.  Just within the few blocks between our homes, the neighborhoods changed dramatically.  We left our idyllic, well-manicured confines of Stapleton to enter into the older, more desolate looking and feeling neighborhood of northeast Aurora.  Cody clearly noticed this stark difference between his friend’s neighborhood and his own.  And yes, Cody’s friend is African American.

As we drove away, Cody posed his question: Dad, how come all dark-skinned people live in neighborhoods like this one?

There was a lot to answer for in that short drive home.  I did my best to address the complexity of the question.  I tried to speak to the societal inequalities and injustices his question revealed.  I hoped to express the sympathy that was in my heart and the willingness I felt in that moment to make change.  (I am sure he stopped listening long before I was done speaking!)  And then we arrived at home, and soccer practice or homework or dinner called our attention and focus.  The reality Cody addressed had not changed and nor – do I believe – did my sincere thoughts and feelings about it.  But, I was back in my own community and facing its needs, demands and challenges.  There is only so much that I can do, so much that is my responsibility …

Even as I say those words, I do not fully believe them.

There is something happening in our country that is eating away at our societal core.  Even though our plates are full … even though it seems that the roots and impact of what is happening feel well beyond our realms of responsibility … Well, we, too, were strangers in the land of Egypt.  There are communities of people, who live houses, blocks, neighborhoods away from us, who do not have the same chance to live in the same kind of house, get the same kind of education, receive the same treatment by the law as you or me.  All because of the color of their skin.

What Cody saw that afternoon is a reality:

  • In the United States, according to Federal Reserve’s 2013 survey of Consumer finances, White families hold 90% of the national wealth, Latino families hold 2.3%, and black families hold 2.6%.
  • The median wealth for a single white woman in the US is $41,000, the median wealth for a black woman is $100. And for single Latinas it’s $120.
  • According to the Pew Research Center, for the past 60 years, black unemployment has been twice as much a white unemployment.  
  • In May of 2014 Atlantic magazine detailed a study that showed that blacks with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as all other graduates.  
  • The US Department of Education reported in 2014 that when all age groups are examined, black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students, even when their infractions are similar.
  • And once black children are in the criminal justice system, they are 18 times more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults.
  • While blacks constitute 13% of the population of the United States, they make up 40% of the prison population.  

The opportunities, the possibilities the very realities that are available to us in this room this morning are not open to everyone who is part of our country, our state, our city … our very neighborhoods.  All because of the color of their skin.  

While our outrage may be genuine and our concern may be sincere, at the end of the day we still go back to our own communities and live our own lives … not seeing, any more, what outraged us or gave us cause for concern.

This morning’s Torah portion mirror this experience of ‘not seeing’ of ours.  We read the account of the people entering into a great social contract — offering opportunity and prosperity.  “You stand this day, ALL of you … your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer ….  it is the whole community, of Israel.”  It seemed like everybody was there, accounted for … part of this great covenantal contract.   However, it is not EVERYBODY.  It is just all of the Jews and a few others mixed in who also left Egypt.  However, In the setting of Deuteronomy there are numerous peoples living in that same land … Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites … Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  They were there, but they were not seen by the authors of Torah, by the Israelites, by God.

They were not seen.  They did not count.  This menagerie of ‘ites’ did not get to be part of the promise of that covenantal contract.  Even though the Torah says ‘all of you’, it really did not mean ‘all of you.’   All did not mean all.

Torah mirrors our society today.  We feel as if we are part of a great societal covenant, that ‘all of us’ are in … but, there are Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites … Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims … who we do not see, who we do not include.  Are we comfortable living with the fact that ‘all’ does not mean ‘all.’  We have to begin to take responsibility for our place in this exclusion.  All must mean all.  

Responsibility?  Yes, responsibility.  Well, we, too, were strangers in the land of Egypt.  Wait, we have not intentionally voted for any politicians, supported any laws that would promote racism.   Most of us work hard to act kindly, fairly and respectfully when we have the chance to engage people of color. However, even though we do not act with intentional malice, it does not mean that we do not do damage.

There is a helpful, if not obscure, Talmudic concept of one’s responsibility for communal damage.  The Talmud categorizes this damage through the perspective of an owner of an oxen to the community:

  • The keren or horn represents damage done with intent to harm.  (Think of an ox that attacks with its horns.)  
  • The regel or leg represents damage done in the course of how the animal regularly behaves.  (Think of an animal that steps on a piece of pottery and broke it.)  
  • The shain or tooth represents damage done while seeking pleasure.  (Think of an animal that ate someone else crops because of hunger or damaged a fence trying to scratch an itch.)

Let’s say that we can agree that in regard to damage done with an intent to harm – keren/horn – by us to the Black community, we can determine that we are not guilty.  What about the other categories?  Might there be things we do  – in the normal course of doing what we do – that beyond our awareness we never know how we impact an already difficult status quo of the Black community?

Rabbi Avi Killip, director of an educational organization called Project Zug, further elaborates on these categories of damage and this question of racial injustice:

… much of the damage caused by racism in America is not motivated by any hatred or anger; it just comes about through the way the system itself is set up. I may cause damage just by nature of how I walk in the world … When I go to the store to buy a shirt, I likely fail to notice that the salesperson immediately caters to my every need while the black woman next to me is ignored or maybe even followed around suspiciously. I am not trying to hurt anyone. I am just living my life, walking my walk … Most of the damage we do as white Americans is not out of malice to minorities, but in pursuit of bettering our own lives … These categories remind us that there are many ways to do damage. The intent doesn’t need to be malicious for the damage to be real … The Talmud categorizes harm in order to address fundamental questions: Who is responsible? Who is liable? And most importantly, how will we make it right?  It’s not enough to avoid intentional harm. We have to see ourselves as responsible, as liable, for our involvement in upholding, even benefiting from, a rigged and racist system. How will we make it right?”

What does making it right, look like?  I believe that making it right starts with us … trying to see beyond what we already think we see and know.  Even when doing so makes us uncomfortable, uncomfortable as thinking of Hittites or Jebusites or Amorites as Israelities.

Black Lives Matter recently made it uncomfortable — by aligning themselves with the Palestinian cause.  That alignment and the language they used to describe that alignment provoked many Jews.  But, even when that story or those who tell it provokes us we cannot stop listening, we cannot stop trying to see beyond ourselves.

Making it right begins with us beginning to see those whom we do not normally see … the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites … Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims.  Making it right starts with realizing that we truly want All to mean All.

It is in the spirit of trying to see beyond ourselves and glimpse at this truth, I have invited our community to read and then take some time to reflect and discuss, Ta He-nasi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me.  The book is a series of essays written by Mr. Coates as a letter to his son.  He confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives.  Mr Coates beautiful writing that pulls no punches feels to me like a compelling way for us to begin.  As to the ways he might provoke or challenge us, I think his owns words to his son offer us good counsel:

I drew great joy from the study, from the struggle toward which I now urge you … the struggle and rupture has made me several times over  … The changes have awarded me a rapture that comes only when you can no longer be lied to … the changes have taught me how best exploit that singular gift of study, to question what I see, then to question what I see after that, because the questions matter as much, perhaps more than, the answers.

I urge you – whether you come to reflect and discuss communally or not – to begin this process of seeing beyond what we already think we see, to study, to question and to keep on questioning.

Dad, how come all dark-skinned people live in neighborhoods like this one?

I want there to come a day when there is no need for sons or daughters to ask mothers or fathers such questions.  And why it may not be my grandchildren whose world has no need ask questions, perhaps my great-grandchildren … but only if we begin the work today.  The work of frankly confronting the inequalities and injustices in our world.  The work of seeing everybody in our community – not just those who look like us.  The work of understanding, intending and living that when we All Stand Together that when we say ‘All’,  ‘All means All’ … and even when we might say or sing ‘We’, We will mean We’


? We shall overcome,

We shall overcome,

We shall overcome, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,

I do believe

We shall overcome, some day. ?


Blame It On The Muslims – Rosh Hashanah 5777

I am going to blame it in the Muslims.  It is the all the Muslims fault.

I had every intention of not taking this sacred time of mine – that you entrust to me – to talk about the political season, the election.  Knowing when the New Year would fall this year, knowing that the election season would be approaching a crescendo … I knew that I had a choice to make.  I don’t make it a practice regularly speak to you on politics.  I do so when I believe that addressing a spiritual aspect of whatever is happening is needed.  I do so when I believe that I feel I need to add something to the societal conversation. I do so when I believe that there is a concern, a fear or a loss or anxiety that we as a community need acknowledged.  After serious consideration, I did not think I had anything to add to this conversation – a lot of thoughtful, intelligent people have been contributing plenty already.  I did not think that our community needed any help finding clarity or perspective on the nature of this political season.

And then, along came the Muslims …

One week ago yesterday, on Sunday morning, I found myself at Masjid Taqwa – the Northeast Denver Islamic Center here in North Park Hill.  I was there at the invitation of my colleague Imam Abdur Rahim Ali.  Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to congress, was in town to meet with some Denver Muslim community leaders.  Imam Ali invited me and a handful of other non-Muslim colleagues to sit in on the meeting.  I listened a lot.  Congressman Ellison spoke about the importance of getting out the vote.  He did not endorse or push the Democratic candidate, but simply appealed to Muslim values and the need to respond to the prejudice, anger and hatred directed at his community during the election.  Those leaders in attendance listened, too … and then talked about their challenges and hopes in leading their communities to stand up and participate at this crucial moment in our country’s history.

I was one of only a handful of non-Muslims in the room.  I was only one of two white skinned people in the room. I was the only Jew in the room.  And yet, I felt very much at home.   I was moved by the congressman’s eloquence and passion.  I was humbled by the array of leaders in the room.  Here were people – perhaps with different titles or different ways to name the organizations they led – seeking the exact same things that we would seek and fight for, too.

The Muslims at Masjid Taqwa inspired me.  I was inspired by the simple clarity of the Congressman’s ‘get out and be heard’ message of empowerment.  I was inspired by the palpable sense in the room that these individuals seemed buoyed and energized by being reminded of their tradition’s highest vision for themselves.  I was inspired by the way this collection of souls that morning so contradicted the images and narratives that it seems our world is presenting … about muslims, about our country and about ourselves.

Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning.  It was the Muslims.  They did not scare, threaten or intimidate me.  They inspired me.  Why do we gather together on this day in this way?  Perhaps one reason is that we can be a forgetful bunch.  I believe we come together to remind us of our best selves and our greatest visions.  There are many external and internal voices that get in the way of our knowing and remembering these highest aspirations.  So, we get together to remember … to be inspired and to be empowered.  Historically, we are in a moment that we all need to be awake, aware and as alive as possible.  We gather together to say the words, sing the songs, hear the ideas and listen for the sounds that wake us up.  

And for my part, in my role in the life of our community, our Muslims friends have inspired me to remind us of our truths this morning.  

We are a community of souls who are not bullies and we stand up to bullies. It does not matter if this bully operates on the playground or on the campaign trail, we stand up to those who manipulate with fear upon our insecurities.  I am not speaking about someone or others with whom we have a severe ideological difference.  (After all, aren’t we the people who boast that it is cool when 2 people have 3 opinions?)  I am speaking about the blatant and violent disregard for the other — whether the other is defined by gender, ethnicity, nationality or socio-economic status.

It may not be any more simply put than in the story of creation – on our minds today, the birthday of the world.  When the human being is created, Torah teaches us that human beings are all created B’tselem Elohim – in the divine image.  We need no reframing or rationalizing, each and every soul on this planet possess that divine spark.  Period.  No discussion.  Confronting those who seem to at best ignore and at worst extinguish the spark is our continual work in this world. No one, but no one is without it.  When we witness those who might forget this … and belittle, diminish or seek to minimize the other – we have no choice.  

We are taught in Torah: Remember the stranger, for you, too were strangers in the land of Egypt.   We are taught by our Sages: In a place where (it seems like) no one is acting like a human being, be a human being, be a mentsch!  Or to echo the words of our First Lady, “When they go low, we go high.”  Even when it seems the deniers of the divine spark are many and we are few – we must remember:  We are a community of souls who are not bullies and we stand up to bullies.

Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning

We are a community of souls who have power … and the privilege and responsibility that comes along with it.   In the landscape of this political season this power is most easily recognized by opportunity to vote.  Voting is but one of the ways we can participate in the political process.  To not vote or to abdicate our rights to lobby or organize or simply hound our elected representatives is a gross negligence of the power we have.   It is understandable to feel overcome and overwhelmed by feelings of impotence and insignificance as we look at the way money, big business, lobbyists or extreme voices seem to manipulate our societal destiny.  It is also inaccurate and untrue.  

Back to that same birthday of the world, creation story.  When the mystics read the account of the creation of the human being, they see more than a bedtime story about the birth of the first man or woman.  They teach that it was not a human being of flesh and blood, but a primordial template or software, if you will, for the whole universe.  They called it called Adam Kadmon – the Original Person.  This Adam Kadmon serves as a kind of cosmic infrastructure that weaves in and out and connects each and every human being.  A part of that Adam Kadmon lives within each and every one of us.  So much so, that each of our actions — negative or positive – impacts that cosmic infrastructure. According to this mystic wisdom, we are all ‘wirelessly’ connected into the same system — a system that transcends time and space.  Every act — even the ones we see as little, small or insignificant — changes the cosmic wiring of the universe.  There are no actions without influence, there are no people without power.  Possessing power does not immune us from feelings of fatigue or frustration.  At the end of the day, we neglect or negate this reality at our own peril.  

Our Torah teaches us:  You are holy, because the Source of Your Being, is Holy. Our Sages teaches us: When you save one soul, you save an entire world, when you destroy one soul, you destroy an entire world.  American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, taught it in a different way: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Even if the world seems to tell us that we are feel powerless and insignificant, we must remember … We are a community of souls who have power … and the privilege and responsibility that comes along with it.

Our Muslims friends have inspired me to speak our truths this morning

We are a community of souls who look at the world and see its capability, not its inability.  We do not have to look far to find the messengers that will tell us that not only that the sky is falling, but it is falling fast and furiously.   Some of this message comes to us from external voices – like the ones from the political campaign.  These voices chide us for not experiencing the same amount of the power, status and success that we once enjoyed.   This message warns us of the countries, groups and individuals who are out to get us. Some of this message comes from interval voices.  When we hear the preponderance of those external voices, the internal ones warn us to fear the consequences for us as Jews and minority.  In the shadow of our Jewish narrative, we fret and worry, wondering about our safety and security.  In this cacophony of noise, we have little bandwidth left to anticipate anything but the worst.   

The wisdom of our tradition – even at our darkest moments – pushes us in this direction of seeing more.  When we stand at the grave of a loved one … we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.  You may have heard me say it once or a hundred times, there is no mention of death in this prayer.  It speaks of the Source of life … and the blessings of life: the experience of the holy, of joy and of peace.  At a moment of profound darkness, pain, anger, loneliness and emptiness … the Jewish tradition says: Hey! pay attention to life!  In this moment when what we have lost and lack seems so monumental, this wisdom guides us: Remember, embrace and cultivate life!  Perhaps it is our human or even our animal nature for threats and fears to gather all of our attention.  It is our divine nature that compels us to see the full picture.  

Our Torah teaches us: I have placed before you blessing and curse, life and death – Choose life.  Our Sages teach us: There is no thing that does not have its place, no person who has not their moment.  Anne Frank put it this way: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” At this darkening historical moment, when it seems that the worst of our human nature dominates the stage … we must remember that we are a people who see our gifts and our opportunities, we are a people who see possibility and life, We are a community of souls who look at the world and see its capability, not its inability.

Yes it is our Muslims friends who have inspired me to speak our truths this morning … but it is for us and all of our friends that we must remember and act upon them.  We all need to be awake, aware and alive as possible. Whatever words, songs or sounds get our attention … let us speak, sing and proclaim them. The last sound we will hear this morning — will the sound that spiritually summons them all — the sound of the Shofar.  

As we hear its piercing, startling sounds …

May the shofar wake us up, heighten our awareness and aliveness.  May the shofar startle us to pay attention to the possibility and urgency of this moment of our lives, of this moment in history.  May the shofar urge us on to deeply embody our truths and take this opportunity to stand up to bullies, to wisely exercise our power; and to maturely look out at the world and see not what frightens us, but what inspires us, not our curses, but our blessings, not death, but life.    


תקיעה ….

Wonder! Why? – My Elul Exercise 5776

If you stop reading this because you are not a baseball fan, you might miss something special.

All-star pitcher tragically killed in a boating accident.

That same pitcher is not just loved as a baseball player, but as a Cuban refugee who risked life and limb to come to America.

This same pitcher was beloved by his teammates and his community for his joyful approach to all.

After canceling the game the day after he died, his teammates suited up the next day to begin the tumultuous task of playing a game in the shadow of such a loss.  

They all dressed in their uniforms, but with his name and his number on the backs of their jerseys.

His friend and teammate – who had not hit a home run all season – led off the game for his team.  He started the at-bat by imitating his dead friend’s batting stance.  He completed the at bat by hitting his first home run of the season … weeping as he rounded the bases.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, it was quite a moment.

Sometimes it seems that there are moments that come together in magical, mysterious and quite meaningful ways.  Chance?  Synchronicity?  Serendipity? Proof of … Something?

Who knows!?  Sometimes, the moments don’t need to be dissected or debunked.  Sometimes, the moment we start thinking, categorizing or explaining the moment — is the moment — we lose the moment.  Sometimes, we need to shut that part of ourselves off and let ourselves wonder.

As adults our ‘wonder’ muscles are often underused, atrophied and even forgotten.  The experience of wonder can be an important soul ‘fertilizer’.  This soul fertilizer expands and broadens our capacity to consider and reach.  This soul fertilizer extends our awareness of the universe to what may be beyond the limits of what we think we see, hear, feel and know.  

The upcoming days of Teshuvah provide us an opportunity to revitalize these wonder muscles.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way:  “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.


Carry Your Stick! – My Elul Exercise 5776

I love having a dog once again.  Rocky entered our life 4 months ago after a 7-year non-dog hiatus.  Aside from the puppy-kind of land mines one might expect, our lives have been filled with the kind of love that one experiences from having a dog in the household.

I took Rocky earlier this week for one of his first hikes in the mountains.  He is new to hiking and he loved it – especially, the veritable cornucopia of scents to smell, bugs to chase and sticks to carry.  It made the hike go at a different pace than I had anticipated — especially the sticks to carry.  There were so many sticks to pick up, transport and nibble.  And when he finally chose one for the next part of the journey, I was more than ready to get moving again.  I queried him (as you do): What are you going to with that stick? You know that we are not stopping again so that you can chew it … you cannot take it in the car … this one is too big … that one has too many twigs.  And all the while there was Rocky blissfully marching along with his new stick.  I swear, I noticed a little extra bounce in his step when he had one of those damned sticks in his mouth.  He was not worried about its size, its mass or even what he was going to do with it.  Rocky was just content to be carrying the stick that happened to be in his mouth.

And then there came moment that instead of my consternation of the how’s, what’s and why’s of the stick … I became acutely aware of his abundant joy.  That dog became my ‘rebbe’ for a moment and embodied a classic chasidic teaching: “Joy breaks all boundaries.”  Accepting the joy of performing each task before us – no matter how mundane; no matter of the toil involved; no matter the complications and complexity that may follow – is a powerful tool.

We are engaged this time of year in the work of evaluating the kinds of boundaries that inhibit or limit our growth.  If this premise rings true – no matter if the boundaries are ones the world puts upon or those we put upon ourselves –  then mastering this joy holds an important key to our success.  With such boundaries broken, we liberate ourselves to feel, experience and encounter more.  More truth.  More love.  More meaning.  More life.  It is in the best interests of our Teshuvah to get our heads and hearts around this formula of joy.

Or from Reb Rocky’s perspective: Be happy carrying your stick!

My Elul Exercise – 5776 – An Imam, A Pastor, (Lesbian) Bishop and A Rabbi Walk Into A Sacred Space

An imam, a pastor a (lesbian) bishop and a rabbi walked into a sacred space … 


It sounds like the beginning of joke, doesn’t it?  It isn’t a joke … but it makes me smile to think about it.  This past Sunday I was invited to be a part of Park Hill United Methodist Church’s 106th Anniversary service.  Not only were we celebrating that occasion, but preaching at the service was the Bishop Karen Oliveto.  Bishop Oliveto was recently elected as the first openly lesbian United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Western Jurisdictional Conference.  Oh, and by the way, the Methodist denomination officially bans  “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.  And, it was the 15th anniversary of September 11th … Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali, Pastor Eric Smith and I led a prayer commemorating that anniversary.

The voices of intolerance and prejudice seem to dominate the world around us.  The actions of those who would speak these messages make us feel afraid, angry and insecure.  And yet, through the cacophony of that noise and in the shadow of those actions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space.  Our standing together did not quiet those voices (yet), nor did it (completely) prevent the possibility that the makers of such noise from perpetuating more violence.  And yet, in a country still fearful of muslims 15 years later … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space.  And yet, still facing one of the many prejudices still buried deep within our American institutions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a Lesbian Bishop walked into a sacred space.

Rabbi Tarfon taught us in the 2nd century: You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. (Avot 2:21)  The work of the world can seem overwhelming, as if we could never complete it.  Perhaps, it is supposed to feel that way … And yet, we just have to keep working.  

At this time year in which we are given to asses the work of change and growth we all have to do, we need to honest about the nature of the job AND not give up the work we need to do.  That job may be about how we treat ourselves, our loved ones … or people who just look, think and act so differently that we do.  No matter the job and how big it may feel … we still gotta do the work. 

The image of the four of us — the Imam, the Pastor, the Bishop and I — standing together and praying together in that sacred space makes me smile.  It prods me to remember that the most powerful thing we all can do when confronted with the scope and enormity of the tasks before us … are the small, simple acts of love, kindness and peace.

May this time you spend paying attention to your tasks of growth and change and the work required to realize them be rich and renewing.

My Elul Exercise – 5776 – Back At It, Again

Four years ago, in preparation for the New Year I engaged in what I called ‘My Elul Exercise.’   Elul is the last month of the Hebrew year.  It’s 29 days are a prelude, a walk-up, a pregame, a prologue (well, you get the idea) to the New Year and the Ten Days of Teshuvah that begin our year.  As part of my own ‘work’ – both personal and professional – I attempted to write something every day during Elul that focused upon the themes presented to us at this time of year.  And while I do not know if I have it in me to write something everyday this year, I find myself motivated to take the time and effort to reflect, write and share with you as we get ready for 5777.

So, what am I going to do and why?  Well, First let’s address the ‘Why?’ …

Elul (which began this past week ) is not some holiday-deprived month of the Hebrew calendar, but oh, so much more … It is an important time of preparation for the spiritual work we have the opportunity to do during the first ten days of the New Year.  The Marahal of Prague (the same sage of Golem fame) summed up Elul’s role well: “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.”

Now the ‘What?’ …

During these days of Elul it is my intention to write something about this sacred process of reflection and renewal.  With great humility, I offer these writings to you in forms of blog posts.  For me, the process of writing regularly serves as a way of helping me to stay true a regular exerciss of reflection.  For you, I hope these musings on various ‘Elulian’ themes, may be of use as you endeavor to walk your own path of reflection and renewal this New Year.

I will post my thoughts through Twitter (@rabbimo or @micahdenver), Facebook and this blog.  As you come across these posts I hope that in some fashion my Elul Exercise will be a help to your own.

And, whatever that ‘exercise’ may look like for you, may you have a great workout this New Year.

From Peter Beinart: An American Jewish Trump Emergency

Time to form an American Jewish Emergency Committee Against Donald Trump … A mobilization would counter the shameful acquiescence to Trump in some corners of the American Jewish establishment.   By Peter Beinart | Jun. 22, 2016

In dangerous times, American Jews have a tradition of forming “Emergency Committees.” In 1939, fearing that World War II would imperil the activities of the London and Jerusalem-based World Zionist Organization, representatives of America’s major Zionist groups formed the Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs. Later renamed the American Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs and then the American Zionist Emergency Council, it operated until the establishment of the State of Israel. Meanwhile, in 1943, Ben Hecht and Peter Bergson created the Emergency Committee to Save the Jews in Europe to pressure Franklin Roosevelt’s government to do more to rescue Jews engulfed by the Holocaust. In 2010, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and some like-minded conservatives created the Emergency Committee for Israel to support Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish agenda.

But more than a year since Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy, and several months since he became the presumptive Republican nominee, there is still no American Jewish Emergency Committee against Fascism (or bigotry, or whatever name you choose to describe Donald Trump’s attacks on American Muslims, Mexican immigrants, an independent judiciary and a free press).

I hadn’t thought about this absence until last Shabbat, when an idealistic young Orthodox rabbi named Joshua Frankel came up to me during Kiddush and proposed creating one. His vision is to create a network of rabbis and lay leaders across the country so that wherever Trump speaks, there is always someone to protest, in Judaism’s name.

Of course, some American Jewish groups have already criticized Trump. The Forward’s Nathan Guttman reports that between last December and this May, the Anti-Defamation League condemned Trump’s statements at least five times. The American Jewish Committee called his proposed registry of American Muslims a “horror movie that we Jews are quite familiar with.” The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism organized a walkout of Trump’s speech at AIPAC. The Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc led anti-Trump protests just this week. And earlier this month, four prominent rabbis—one Orthodox, one Conservative, one Reform and one Reconstructionist—jointly declared that “Men and women of faith should indeed form a coalition to denounce the racism and bigotry that Trump spews forth and inspires.”

These protests are laudable. But they’ve been episodic. Frankel’s idea is to create something continuous, a protest that does not end until Trump’s presidential bid does. By challenging Trump wherever he goes, rabbis could use his campaign to rouse their own communities against bigotry. After protesting a Trump rally, some might take their congregants to a solidarity event at a local mosque. Others might help immigrants register to vote. The goal would be a rolling mobilization in which thousands or tens of thousands of American Jews join the struggle to defeat the most openly bigoted and authoritarian major party nominee in modern American history.

Such a mobilization would counter the shameful acquiescence to Trump in some corners of the American Jewish establishment. It would counter AIPAC’s decision to invite Trump to speak, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ failure to issue a single press release condemning him and Sheldon Adelson’s pledge to spend as much as $100 million helping him get elected.

It would show that American Jews take seriously the Torah’s 36 injunctions to remember the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. And it would put Jews on the right side during a moral crucible that Americans will remember for decades. Mexicans and Muslims will not always be the reviled outsiders they are in America today. One day, the children and grandchildren of the people Trump is demonizing will be highly integrated and politically influential and they will remember who defended their communities when they were under siege.

In defending Mexicans and Muslims, American Jews will also be defending ourselves. Trump is a bigotry entrepreneur. He looks for racial, ethnic and religious resentments that are being underserved by the political class. Today, Jews are not a primary target of those resentments. Nonetheless, Trump’s supporters have generated more public Jew-hatred than any campaign in decades. If you loathe “hyphenated Americans” and yearn to restore the hierarchies of 1950s America, chances are Jews may bother you too.

In the mid-twentieth century, American Jews participated in the civil rights movement in astonishing ways. The American Jewish Committee funded the research into the effects of segregation by African American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark that helped sway the Supreme Court in Brown versus Board of Education. In the 1940s, notes J.J. Goldberg in his book, Jewish Power, the American Jewish Congress employed seven lawyers working to fighting segregation, more than either the Justice Department or the NAACP.

The reason was enlightened self-interest. American Jews knew that, as a conspicuous minority with a history of persecution, they would benefit immensely if America became a more equal, tolerant society. Conversely, they knew that if African Americans failed in their struggle for equal citizenship, Jews might also fail in theirs.

The same is true today. An election like this comes along once or twice a lifetime. Let the Trump campaign be an opportunity for American Jews to show our children the kind of people we still are.

The Divinity Principle – Yitro 5776

The Mediocrity Principle. I came across this scientific notion while listening to this week’s This American Life radio show podcast. Its premise is that no place in the universe is more ‘special’ than another place. All places are scientifically the same, mediocrity abounds. This philosophical construct is used to argue the position that there may be life on other planets – i.e. that earth is not unique or special and that there exist millions of other planets like earth that could produce life.

I do not think anyone (or any planet) wants to think of ourselves as mediocre. Once I finished feeling the rejection of being told that I lived on a mediocre planet … I began to acclimate to the idea, with a twist. The concept that many places could be similar in their potential for life … makes sense. It is a hopeful idea. I extrapolated the concept to the varied and diverse places here in our planet, in our country … to the varied and diverse people in our world … to the varied and diverse moments in our days. And, I liked the idea … that each was held equally the possibility for ‘life’. Every place, person and moment holds the same potential.

But, I was still stuck on ‘mediocrity.’ Potential for ‘life’ is not mediocre at all, it is anything but ‘mediocrity’. Mediocre is ‘Meh’. The potential for life is ‘Wow.’

Torah this week tells us the story of the Sinai moment and the revelation of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. (Get that Mel Brooks version of this moment out of your mind!) In the course of our story (whether one reads it literally or as myth), Sinai is a singularly special moment of encounter with the Divine. Seen through the lens of the Mediocrity Principle, it is not at all singular and limited, but varied and diverse.

The great 20th century rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, put it this way, “Sinai is an event that both happened once and for all and an event that happens all of the time. What God does happens both in time and in eternity.” Even though it may seem to us that this moment was at only one point on the storyline, such is not the true nature of Sinai or of our moments. Every moment is a potential moment for revelation, for connection to the holy … for life.

So, I humbly offer this spiritual spin on the Mediocrity Principle. For now, let’s call it the Divinity Principle. There is no place, no person and no moment that has any more divinity than the place you are in right now; the person with you whom you are interacting right now; or the moment you living right now …

So … forget the “Meh” and watch out for the ‘Wow.’