I’ve been reading about the U.S. immigrant situation and the separation of children from their parents for the last two weeks. My response, from the safety of my own study, has been to sign petitions, send money to the ACLU, write testy letters to my own representatives which, in a purplish-blue state, involves preaching to […]

via The Borders of Decency — The Green Study

The Straw

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According to folk wisdom, it only takes one straw to break a camel’s back.  While I am not the most prolific of bloggers by any means, over the past year I have managed a few posts commenting on the state of this nation and the insanity that continues to build in the hollowed (formerly hallowed) halls of government in Washington.

But then the straw fell that almost broke my voice.  My country, the land of the free and home of the brave, where Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome the tired, the poor, the homeless and tempest-tossed, apparently now considers that God is okay with tearing children from their mother’s or father’s arms and tossing them into jail.

It is still a great struggle for me to write anything in response to this outrageous policy, so I am going to re-blog in a separate post The Borders of Decency that appeared today on The Green Study.  Michelle is an excellent writer, and she provides pertinent suggestions on ways to keep up the good fight.

Like the young people of Chicago and Parkland, and countless others who are determined to turn their personal tragedies into a dynamic force for decency and change, we must continue to speak truth to power.

 

 

Picture from article by Jessica McBride on Heavy.com, 6/18/18

© Martha Hurwitz, 6/18/18

 

 

Is There a Limit to Compassion?

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A recent post by Rabbi John Rosove encourages compassion as a response to the heartless statements and decisions being made by President Trump. I ache to agree completely and without hesitation.  Instead I find myself struggling with the very question that the Rabbi answered by recommending compassion–a struggle that has consumed me since last November.

One of the first public conversations I had following the election of Donald Trump was in a setting where I expected compassion.  If not compassion, at least a verbal exchange that did not mimic the vicious campaign that had just ended. Instead, I heard this:

“He’s a piece of s***!”

In no way am I advising or trying to influence anyone who has been or may be directly hurt or abused by the blatantly racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic negative rhetoric or actions that have occurred and are occurring still.  I am not completely immune or safe from some of the rhetoric and actions.  But I am lucky enough to benefit from insulating factors that at least to date have kept me an arms length from harm.  I do not assume that I have any moral high ground.

Abuse can occur through public actions, statements and decisions, or privately at the hands of someone who is supposed to love you.  People who are forced to struggle through the after-effects of abuse, whether it was public or private, must have to wrestle with the question of compassion; struggle with what their emotional response is going to be. Compassion is not a concept limited to a small group of people.

Christians speak of turning the other cheek.

The Dalai Lama said:  “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

The Prophet Micah told the Jewish people they must do justice and be merciful.

I recall a Torah study session in which I participated some years ago, when the portion of the week contained the story of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34).  A woman who was a therapist working with sex offenders made this statement:  “I doubt that anyone wakes up one morning when he is 5 years old and says, ‘I think I’d like to be a sex offender when I grow up.'”  I doubt Donald Trump woke up one morning when he was 5 years old and decided he wanted to be what he has become, either.

Still …..  What does it mean to be compassionate–in general and in this specific instance? Why should I struggle to be compassionate toward someone who demonstrates so little compassion for anyone else?

A common argument is that compassion, like forgiveness, may be less for the benefit of the offender than the one who was offended. Perhaps, to paraphrase A.J. Muste,

“There is no way to compassion, compassion is the way.”

Perhaps …  But I’m still struggling.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/7/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt: finite

 

Excuses & Rationalizations

 

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Today’s writing started out lighthearted, continuing in the line of my recent post on things my loved ones do that drive me a little crazy.  I’ll finish that post, maybe tomorrow or the next day.  I heard the decision of the Administration to end the DACA program and this prompted a need in me to write something much more serious.

I am willing to accept that there are almost always two sides to every coin, that most everyone can make at least a valid point or two in every disagreement. But the way that human societies grow and thrive is to recognize this and engage in respectful dialogue and decision making. Sadly, this does not seem at all possible in the current political climate that is running rampant and bulldozing the American Dream into rubble.

There are many more educated, experienced and eloquent people analyzing and commenting on the current state of our society. And thank goodness there are. I do not consider myself a savvy journalist, or any kind of intellectual wizard able to debate and educate or have any persuasive effect on anyone who doesn’t already agree with me.

This post will probably just serve as a venting process for me, and a confirmation for like-minded friends and readers. Perhaps this is also important. We all know the various ways we can try to improve our public life, and it is not my intent to say what is the best way for each of us. But I hope that somehow what I write serves as a bit of encouragement and support.

Recently I commented to someone near and dear to me that one of the problems I have with our current President is that he lies constantly, or misrepresents, or doesn’t know or understand critical issues, all of which are highly concerning. I am willing to engage in respectful discussion of politics, religion, educational philosophies, or any other area in which there are valid disagreements. But the response was this:  “Well, what do you think SHE would have been doing?” (I assume everyone knows who SHE refers to.)

Has this become the standard by which we judge the character and effectiveness of our leaders? It’s okay to lie, because somebody else would have done it too? It’s okay to be hateful, divisive, speak in a way that incites others to engage in violence, because, hey, other people do it? Are we going to come to a place in our communal lives when we just don’t expect our elected leaders to stand up, be counted and do what’s right? When we settle for mediocrity, ineffectiveness, blathering and nonsense?

A people can thrive through honest and thoughtful disagreement about policies and procedures, can endure many hardships, and make the necessary sacrifices that a democratic, national life demands. But when the person entrusted to be our common voice, the personal manifestation of our national hopes and dreams, speaks only to the worst of human nature, we may still survive, but we most certainly do not flourish.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/5/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt:  elevate

Amber Waves

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I so much want that image of America to be true:  spacious skies, majestic mountains, fruitful plains.  I so very much want sister/brotherhood to be crowned by grace and goodness.  I do not want this as a cover-up for the wrongs that have been or are still being done to native peoples, to slaves, the poor, the desperate refugee and to the land itself. I want it because I cannot give up on the dream of liberty and justice for all, of a country in which differences can be celebrated and where everyone’s potential can be realized.

This American Dream.  Those of us who have been fortunate enough to benefit from it, whether by chance of birth, gender, financial status, majority race or religion, need to acknowledge that for many others it has been a nightmare.  We need to understand that our privilege has ridden on the backs of others.  But this acknowledgement cannot be an excuse to wallow in guilt or throw up our hands in defeat.  Rather, it should guide the way to reconciliation, and to a renewed commitment to the ideals that, if made into a reality for all, really do make this country great.

We are struggling so much during this time of division and hostility in our national life to hang on to this dream trying to figure out how to balance and acknowledge so many critical needs.  It is very hard not to become so distraught at the daily antics of inept leaders who do not have the courage to stand up for the good of the country that we forget that it is us, we the people, for whom this nation exists.

We can all do something, and even if it seems too little, or too insignificant, do it anyway. We can make phone calls or send e-mails on a regular basis to our elected officials so they don’t forget they are accountable to us.  We can gather the courage to speak to friends, relatives or co-workers if they express opinions that are prejudiced or make hurtful and damaging comments to others.  We can tell the Pakistani clerk at our local convenience store that she is welcome in the community.  We can listen with an open mind to African-Americans, immigrants, Appalachian coal miners, and struggling single parents when they tell their stories.

Even though it may seem so, we are not on the Titanic after striking the iceberg.  But still we have to choose the role we will play. Will we be the privileged ones pushing others out of the way to jump into the lifeboats? Or the musicians trying to provide comfort even in the face of certain death? In an attempt to save ourselves, will we run past the gate holding back those labeled less important and undeserving, or will we stop and work together to break it down?

 

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 8/16/17
Inspired by Daily Word Prompt:  grainy

If I am Right, Do You Have to Be Wrong?

A recent post by Dwight Welch on religious pluralism, in which he described his experience at a symposium on that subject, initiated a period of intense thinking for me. Initially I planned to “like” the post and make a comment on the site, but I am someone who likes to cogitate, ruminate, and argue with herself for days on end before writing about anything important.  When his post and the comments he received combined with the spiritual intensity of Passover, my thinking on this subject grew into its own post!

The defense of religious truth has certainly caused immense human suffering.  With perhaps a few exceptions, most religious groups have been both the victims and the perpetrators of spiritual and physical violence and destruction during different periods of human history.  It has always been unfathomable to me how inflicting suffering and death on “others” can be justified in the name of providing them with the benefits of the truth as perceived by the perpetrators, especially when that “truth” is expressed in concepts of justice, compassion and righteousness.

Perhaps at least one of the core issues here is that we humans tend to see the world as having only two possibilities:  right or wrong, day or night, light or dark, you or me. Whether this is an innate tendency or not isn’t something that I am qualified to determine.  But operating under this world view requires that in order for me to be right, you must be wrong.  This viewpoint invariably creates problems, whether at the level of individual interactions within our families and neighborhoods or on national and international levels.

The question of what is ethical or moral behavior and whether the existence of divine power is necessary to enforce that behavior is a complicated one.  Those who favor traditional forms of religious and spiritual belief and ritual argue that these forms are necessary in order to define and enforce morality.  Otherwise, what would make my definition of ethical behavior any more compelling than yours?  It’s an appealing argument.  But there are many people who do not buy into traditional forms of religious belief, yet are still kind and ethical people in their outlook and behavior in the world. That is a compelling argument for the opposite position.

Recently there has been discussion among physicists about the possibility of parallel universes–that there may actually be universes other than our own and to which we have no direct access.  If so, “reality” and “truth” in those universes could be entirely different.  Could there potentially be truths in those universes that are opposite of what we see?  It’s mind boggling and somewhat scary to think so, but even if it isn’t true or possible, it exercises our limited outlooks by thinking about it.

Not too long ago a pair of friendly and polite young men knocked on my door.  While this does not happen frequently, it isn’t the first time that people who are easily identifiable as missionaries have appeared at my home.  I used to feel annoyed and struggled to be polite to them, or on occasion reverted to the ploy of pretending no one was at home. But as I have become more secure and confident in my own particular spiritual outlook toward the world, I have realized that they are living out what they perceive as their religious duty, just as I strive to live out what I see as my religious duty–though it certainly differs from theirs.  As long as they are not going to engage in harmful acts or spiritual bullying, I now smile and thank them politely and then say “no thank you.” The fact that they feel it is their spiritual duty to promote their view of salvation, and may indeed think they are saving me from eternal damnation, does not in any way diminish the validity of my spiritual construct or deny the reality of what I believe to be true.

I do not think it is a question of deciding whose truth is right, and therefore makes all other religious formulations false.  The divine presence is ultimately vast enough to encompass all of the various ways that human beings struggle to answer the questions that come with being human and mortal. What is the meaning of life? Why do good people suffer? How do we respond to violence and hatred? Why is the distribution of wealth, health and opportunity so unequal?  And perhaps the most difficult question: How do we face the loss of loved ones and our own physical aging and death? elegant-1769669_640

In the end, this is what I believe.  If there really exists a divine entity that we call God, who created an infinite, complex universe(s?), populated by thinking, creating, complex humans (made in God’s image), who see the world in so many different ways, is it in any way reasonable to think that there is only one true way to picture that entity, and only one pathway to bring that divine presence into the world?

Extra Ordinary?

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Nine months ago, the Daily Word Prompt was “perfection.”  I posted a response that formulated my experience with that concept and an important way that my religious tradition helps me be compassionate with human nature, as we continuously fall short of our God-given potential.  There really is nothing wrong with having a vision of perfection, if (and it’s a very big IF) it is a motivator, providing ideas and concepts that are guideposts on a realistic life journey.

But as children we are confronted with so many of these images of perfection, real or imaginary, and so often given the message that our only hope is to mold ourselves into those images. Those of us who do not find it easy or even possible, no matter how hard we try, to match the cultural images of perfection and success become engaged in an exhausting spiritual, physical and emotional struggle trying to do so.  The idea of perfection can be intimidating and daunting, even as it is held forth as a worthy state to pursue.  A careful balance of expectations and abilities is critical and the adults who are role models need to demonstrate respect for the concept, showing with their behavior that they are working toward perfection.

The world has changed a great deal since I was a child, hopefully at least in some ways for the better, but I wonder if it is even harder now for young people to figure out what to strive for.  There is such an overwhelming tsunami of ideas and images that seem real, sound true, and look good, but might just as well be virtual reality.  So many of the most influential people in our public life, who should be examples of appropriate and compassionate behavior, instead cook up a daily diet of alternative facts and perceptions, spin, obfuscation, hateful and divisive messages, and outright deception.

Ordinary.  It so often seems to be perceived as an insult, an indication of a less desirable state.  Not perfect, not even really good; just ordinary, common, plain. Nothing special. But ordinary is also what is expected, usual, a daily occurrence, not special because it is common.  Decency, politeness, concern for others, speaking the truth and using our potential to help create a better world should be common, expected, normal behavior, in other words, ORDINARY.

 

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