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Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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Beyond This Election: Tears to Water the Wellsprings of New Life

Posted: 11/08/10 02:05 PM ET

Adlai Stevenson said, on losing a Presidential election, "It hurts too much to laugh, but I'm too old to cry."

I am not too old to cry.

I am sad to have lost such gutsy, wise and independent-minded  Members of Congress as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

I mourn the growing numbers of Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis who are dying and being maimed in wars that no one can win and that no one in our new government will stop -- wars that are pouring down the drain not only blood, but the resources that could meet deep civilian needs in America.

I  am grief-stricken that under our new government, millions of Americans will continue to suffer without jobs or homes.

I grieve for the suffering from global scorching and from our addiction to fossil fuels -- the suffering of Gulf fisher-folk and West Virginia miners, drought-stricken Russians and Darfurians, flooded Pakistanis -- that will worsen and will spread, and no one in our new government will act to resolve the climate crisis.

I am grief-stricken that fear and frustration will drive millions of Americans into rage at scapegoats -- Muslims, Hispanics, gay people.

I am horrified that the super-rich will get still richer while the poor sink into an abyss of despair, and that the billions of secret dollars from great corporations that poisoned this election will grow still more to bury our democracy.

For all these, tears aplenty.

But tears can water the wellsprings of new life, new energy, new hope. "Hope" not as an empty slogan but as a stubborn determination to renew our country and our planet. To act.

Those who are deeply rooted in the Spirit know that from slavery in Egypt we rise to Sinai, from reading the death of Moses we turn to reading the creation of the world, from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, from Muhammad's flight out of Mecca to the transformation of all Arabia and well beyond.

In this moment of mourning, how can we plan to move toward action deeply rooted in the Spirit and in the ways we have created to celebrate the Spirit?

A Spirit-Rooted Campaign for Grassroots Reempowerment
 
According to the Biblical story of the Exodus, Sinai and the Wilderness, Pharaoh turned workers into slaves, immigrants into pariahs and tormented the earth until it rebelled in ecological disasters, the Plagues. He used his domestic police -- overseers -- to harass and punish dissidents and workers, and his horse-chariot army to subjugate an empire. 

Yet (or therefore) inspired by YHWH, the Breathing-Spirit of the World, a band of runaway slaves created a whole new form of community.

Today, what institutions are behaving like Pharaoh, and how do we create new communities that celebrate the intertwining of many different human cultures with each other and the Earth?  What could be the role of a transformed and transformative Judaism in that process,
alongside other religious and spiritual communities?

We propose a two-level action effort aimed at renewing the deep meaning of Passover (April 18-26), the Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter (April 17-24) and the Quran's retelling of the stories of Exodus and liberation.

One level, "Jobs, Not Wars": Demanding that the resources now poured into the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan wars and attacks, along with other wasteful and destructive military spending, be redirected to meeting the mounting needs for jobs and social repair in American society.

The second level, "the issue behind the issue": Naming the institutions responsible for our decline as a nation and a prosperous society. Who are the Pharaohs/Caesars of today? Naming (with evidence) as Pharaoh/Caesar such major holders of top-down, unaccountable and destructive power as the Military-Corporate Complex, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking and their governmental allies, which have imposed massive disemployment, the climate crisis and a hugely swollen military budget on our society.

Crucial to this effort will be the development of materials -- factual reports on corporate power, alternative budgets, model sermons, prayer and celebration forms, art, music, dance --  that can be used by religious and spiritual communities and congregations during the spring.  If you are interested in helping create these, please write me at Awaskow@shalomctr.org and explain what you have in mind.

Though Islam this year does not have a festival during the spring that would parallel Passover and Holy Week, the rich references to the Exodus and to the origins of Christianity in the Quran, plus the experience of Islam's own birth in resistance to the power elite of Mecca and its deep commitment to social justice,  offer a parallel path for such education.

We will also pursue the possibility of multireligious public action growing out of this educational process, to challenge corporate domination and  demand the necessary transfer of money and creative energy from military uses to meeting urgent civilian needs.

By working together, the campaign will also shape new kinds of community connecting our present forms of community,  just as ancient Israel, rabbinic Judaism, Christianity and Islam built new kinds of communities in response to the oppressive top-down powers of their day.

If, as I have said, our new government will be even more unwilling than the old one to face these challenges, what is the use of renewing the ancient meanings of our religious and spiritual traditions?

History will not end in 2012, or 2020, and history is not made by governments alone.  Now we sow seeds. Watered with our tears, they will sprout. They will bear fruit.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director ofThe Shalom Center and co-author of The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, & Muslims. Our pioneering books of eco-Judaism -- Godwrestling: Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and Torah of the Earth (2 vols, eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation) are available at discount from "Shouk Shalom," our on-line bookstore.