During the past two weeks, we have lived through five major events in American government and culture -- events that have a major impact on democracy itself and on our planet:
1. On one of them: The Shalom Center applauds President Obama's vigorous speech and commitment to vigorous action on the climate crisis. We especially welcome his intention to act to stringently limit CO2 emissions from coal-power plants, both old and new.
We remain concerned that he seems uncertain about such extreme fossil-fuel extraction methods as fracking and the Tar Gas Pipeline, both of which pose deep threats both to the purity of air and water in local communities, and to the restoration of a sustainable climate for the planet as a whole.
2. Edward Snowden revealed the penetration of practically all private communications that use phone or email, by government agencies steeped in their own secrecy. When he did, the government decided to charge him with violations of the Espionage Act. But for the first time, there began a vigorous debate about the enormous post-9/11 shift toward "secret government/ exposed public."
3. The Supreme Court gutted a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has protected the emergence of a limited degree of African-American political power in a society still suffused with racism.
4. The Supreme Court annulled some provisions of the Federal "Defense of Marriage Act" that denied equal dignity and equal access to Federal benefits, to married same-sex couples. (Other wrongful provisions of the act still stand.)
5. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a far-reaching bill to make it much more difficult for women to choose to have abortions. The bill will go nowhere in the Senate, but its passage by the House is itself an event that deserves much more attention than it has received.
What are we to make of these five events?
The Shalom Center has defined our main focus for the next several years as working to reduce the danger of global scorching and preventing the climate crisis from becoming a world-wide climate catastrophe.
But that does not mean we can or will ignore these other events -- because they are tremors in the same earthquake as the climate crisis.
They are tremors in a Great Turning in human and planetary reality, in which varied and seemingly separate issues become revealed as aspects of a single process -- the sharing of spiritual dignity, political empowerment, economic livelihood, and conscious knowledge to come from the bottom up and out, not from the top down.
In this new version of our lives together, God is not King but YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreathing of all life -- shared. Religious communities listen to and learn from each other openly, rather than treating each other as false. Racial, ethnic, and sexual "minorities" in every country are affirmed, celebrated, and empowered. Governments are open and transparent, while members of the public preserve large elements of privacy. Ecosystems are treasured as communal interplays at the biological and geological levels, rather than destroyed for the sake of top-down corporate profit.
All of these events of the last weeks -- those that advance democracy and planetary community, and those that deny it -- are tremors in God's Earthquake. There have been three responses to the earthquake that is transforming every dimension of our lives -- ecological, economic, political, spiritual, familial, informational, scientific, sexual:
• Denial, walking in the earthquake as if nothing unusual were happening, and being struck by the falling, failing structures of the past;
• Reversal -- trying hard to grasp at something "immovable" vaguely remembered from the past, when women, gays, Black and Brown folk, and Nature herself stayed "in their place," subordinate and subjugated -- and trying to make a stable platform in the midst of earthquake by coercing others to hang on to these versions of the past;
• Dancing in the earthquake -- perhaps the hardest to do but the only life-giving response, learning to enter into the changing world with joy. By "dancing" I mean transforming the old top-down stories of our religious, political, and economic lives by drawing on what is life-giving and life-sharing within them and abandoning what is deadly. I mean entering into the changes as efforts toward a new equilibrium in which all the elements of society and of the planetary eco-system are honored and empowered, not subjugated.
Snowden's revelation of the truth about an overbearing government was also a dance-step toward the sharing of democratic empowerment. So was the reversal of part (not yet all) of the Denial of Marriage Act.
But the Supreme Court's evisceration of the Voting Rights Act is an effort to hang on to a past of racial subjugation -- a past in which white men ran America from the top down. We should especially note that the iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching together at Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was precisely about voting rights, and that march led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Many in the Jewish community have made that photograph a symbol of Jewish commitment to racial justice. To acquiesce in the Supreme Court decision is to dishonor that photograph and the claim it makes for justice.
Efforts to restrict access to birth control and to make abortion practically impossible, along with "personal" violence against women (rape in the military, for example) are also efforts to hang on to an "immovable" past of male control.
The Shalom Center will continue to focus especially on the climate crisis, and on a campaign to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP). Later I will explore the benefits and the confusions of the president's climate speech. But for now I want to point to what all these events have in common.
And most important, to what they call on us to do. For The Shalom Center, that begins with seeing our earthquake as God's Earthquake -- as the effort for the Divine that suffuses and interbreathes our world to make Itself known among us, not upon us.
And then to act upon that truth.