What I learned reading an essay by Andre Henry

Andre Henry is program manager for the Racial Justice Institute at Christians for Social Action.

Stumbled upon this column by Andre Henry on Religion News Service, and I learned a lot: From the Capitol to critical race theory, white Christians grieve declining hegemony. I just am using this space to jot down a couple things I want to remember going forward.

First, I learned an important use of the term “common sense” and about the term “pillars of support” as it is used in non-violence studies. Here’s the paragraph that lit these terms up for me:

“…it’s helpful to understand an essential concept of nonviolent struggle known as “the pillars of support.”

Basically, the idea is that the structure of any social injustice can be imagined as something like an ancient Greek temple, with large columns supporting its roof. The roof represents the injustice — in this case, white supremacy — and the columns represent the social institutions that uphold it. Organized religion, media and the educational system are useful institutions to legitimate a regime by shaping the public’s common sense. White Christianity, more specifically, has always been an essential pillar of support to American white supremacy.”

Henry also writes about racial caste in American society in this essay, and offers a 1967 quote from MLK that absolutely speaks to this moment 53 years later:

“The enterprise of racial caste has in this sense always been at war with democracy. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this when he wrote in 1967 that some white Americans seem to have ‘declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality. The segregationist goal is the total reversal of all reforms, with the reestablishment of naked oppression and if need be a native form of fascism.'”

In the aftermath of the Jan 6 2021 attempted insurrection, I am appreciating Henry’s clarity, and appreciating the chance to learn concepts and language that I wish I had learned years ago.

The real crisis about the Jewish future

The real crisis about the Jewish future is not how many Jews there will be.

It’s whether or not Judaism does more good than harm in the world. It’s what kinds of people this religion helps raise up.

This is the same moral test that all religions have to face, all the time.

But the rise of nationalist, messianic, Arab-hating, democracy-disdaining Judaism in parts of Israel and, to a lesser extent, in the Diaspora, really has me wondering if we’re failing this basic litmus test.

I’m a rabbi. A rabbi committed to a progressive, non-dogmatic, non-literalist, anti-fundamentalist, humanistically informed approach to Judaism. I believe that progressive, pluralistic, humble, open-minded, open-hearted, risk-taking religious communities of all faiths do more good than harm, by and large. But what I can’t tell anymore is whether my religion writ large – Judaism – as it lives in various forms and ideological configurations in 2019 – is a net plus for humankind. And that makes me feel both sad and motivated to get off my ass and make my best effort to make a difference.

Exploring Connections btw Midrash & New Testament

I just had the pleasure of presenting a two-part series on connections between Midrash and New Testament writings to an interfaith audience in Corvallis, Oregon. We met at the Church of the Good Samaritan (Episcopal), and a local synagogue, Congregation Beit Am, co-sponsored the course. (Shout outs to Rev. Simon Justice and Rabbi Benjamin Barnett of the respective congregations!) Members of at least 3 other Christian churches in the area attended as well.

I used PowerPoint slideshows and I think they were really effective.

I’m using my blog to share links to them on Slideshare.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can find them here:

 

I’m interested in getting feedback, or in coming to your community to teach. It works great with a Jewish, Christian, or interfaith group.
thanks!

What I Can Do For You!

As you may already have heard, I’m in the job market. I just want to share, widely, what I think I’m good at, and what kinds of work I’d be excited to do. Happy to talk with folks who may have leads, advice, or opportunities.
I would describe my top skills, experiences, and interests as follows:
  • interfaith collaboration
  • writing, especially for advocacy
  • essays / non-fiction writing / research-based journalistic pieces
  • teaching, especially making complex or often inaccessible cultural or religious ideas understandable to a general audience
  • organizing information and presentations
  • interpersonal communication, including strong people skills and cultural sensitivity skills
  • Hebrew (reading, writing, speaking)
  • French (pretty good but not as good as my Hebrew)
  • public speaking and presentations
  • social entrepreneur capabilities
  • Microsoft office suite, with strong Power Point / multi-media authorship skills
  • Biblical studies, rabbinic studies, and the ability to speak or write drawing on sacred texts
My passions include:
  • Israel/Palestine peacebuilding
  • collaborative business projects that build positive bonds between Palestinians and Israelis
  • Jewish / Muslim coalition building and mutual advocacy
  • LGBT equality
    Israel-Palestine-flags
  • progressive approaches to religion (promoting non-fundamentalist, non-exclusivist,”first-do-no-harm” approaches to all religion)
  • Democratic party politics in the US
  • income inequality / poverty
  • interfaith efforts on issues like undocumented immigrants in the US, environmental advocacy, human rights, etc.
  • supporting and researching interfaith families within the Jewish community (my last job was focused on this work)
I think I’d be a good candidate for jobs like:
  • lead writer / media content developer for an NGO or advocacy organization
  • Executive Director of an organization that would benefit from my strengths, and that would have the staff needed to take the lead in the areas in which I’m inexperiencedcropped-rfk-2.jpg
  • speech writer for political candidates or issue campaigns
  • university chaplain with some teaching duties in religious/Judaic studies
  • Judaic studies prof at a Christian small college (problem: I have no PhD and I need a full-time position)College_row_at_wesleyan
  • being hired to do a big research/writing project (like a book about a neglected historical figure or set of events, or a new curriculum, etc.), especially if it required some travel and use of my language skills.

Hymns to an Unknown God

About a decade ago I found Sam Keen’s book, Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening the Spirit in Everyday Life at a thrift store, and read it with great appreciation. It probably gets pigeon-holed under “New Age” and therefore, for some people, not taken too seriously. But whatever categories it does or doesn’t belong in, I love the book and have found it really, really helpful. More to come on this soon.

keen sam

Okay, I’m finally getting to writing about Keen’s book a bit.

I’m just going to share some of my favorite quotes from the book.

“I don’t pray to some super-power to make things better. But I open myself to the power that infuses and informs all life and pray to be relieved of the bondage to myself.” (p. xviii)

“[Paul] Tillich was lecturing to us about the importance of understanding that all religious statements were symbolic. They are linguistic lace, allowing only a hint of the fabric of the mystery of being. No religion possesses any literal truth, he said, and warned us against the idolatry of religion. He advised us to look for the presence of the sacred in the everyday secular world.” (p. 2) Continue reading “Hymns to an Unknown God”