From Standing Rock to Marrakech

If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, she gives stability to the land… But if she sits in her home and says to herself, ‘What have the affairs of society to do with me?…. Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!’—if she does this, she overthrows the world. -from Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2

climate-justice-nowI wish there was no need to protest, that there was no tar sands oil pipeline threatening to encroach upon sacred burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux or to imperil the safety of water for whole communities. But the strength, dignity, and purpose displayed by Native water defenders under intense pressure—including violence from highly militarized authorities—inspires my respect. The excited shouts from defenders as they see buffalo approaching on the horizon brings me tears of joy. Watching white religious leaders from across the country answer the call to stand in solidarity with Native leaders—knowing this nation’s history of systematic abuse, oppression, and extermination of Native peoples perpetrated by Whites—moves me deeply and gives me hope for something new.  Continue reading

Stop with the Blame Game Already: Stop Finger Pointing, Start Fixing

finger-pointingIn the aftermath of the brutal attacks in Paris last week, not to mention the horrific slaughter in Nigeria, we’re hearing the same sound bytes from the same sources. Conservatives questioning where Muslim condemnation of violent, extreme Islam can be found. The answer is here, here, here and lots of other places. Moderate Muslims in anguish, using the hashtag #NotInMyName to distance themselves from and denounce the terror. Jews, afraid. Again.

On my Facebook wall, every time I post something that promotes peaceful understanding or bridge-building between Jews and Muslims, some members of my community rush to remind me that it is the Muslim world today that produces the worst oppression of women, the most violent terrorist attacks, and the most abject hatred of Jews.

I don’t know. Maybe they’re right. The news coming from some Muslim corners of the globe right now is bleak, to say the least.

When it comes to ranking social ills, though, I get a little tripped up. How exactly should we compare Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers with the fact that US demand for cheap produce results in child labor and squalor for some of the people who grow our food?

Is there a simple chart that can help me rank global oppression and systemic evil?  Continue reading

Love Sustains: How My Everyday Practices Make My Everyday Activism Possible

“We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning.” —Sandra Cisneros

heartWe do this — the work of tikkun olam

Because the world we live in is a house on fire: Racism. Hunger. Economic Justice. Climate. Education. Domestic Violence. Poverty. More.

And the people we love are: Oppressed. Attacked. Desperately poor. Sick. Afraid. Hungry. Vulnerable. Suffering.

Burning. The people we love and the world we live in are burning.

Sometimes, this is how it feels — like the world is on fire — and in the face of systemic racism, climate change, or the widening gap between rich and poor, it’s difficult to see what difference my individual actions could possibly make. Continue reading

A People-First Approach to Climate Justice: Thinking Jewishly about Change

battery-park-tunnel-floodedIf you are among the despairing would-be climate activists of the world — overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, frustrated by lack of political will, horrified by the ever-more-dire predictions of climate scientists, and simultaneously consumed with both the urgency and the hopelessness of the situation — you are not alone.

As understanding grows that climate change is happening in the here and now — good-bye, Antarctic ice sheet — and that it poses a military threat and endangers corporate bottom lines, even people in corporate boardrooms and executive offices are beginning to pay attention. Our planet’s climate is changing because of things we humans have done, and I stand — and sometimes hide under my covers — right there with you, terrified.  Continue reading

Finding Jesus at the Texas-Mexico Border

undocumented-christIt was cold and windy on the last morning of our trip to the Rio Grande Valley. We sat at a wooden table toward the back of the restaurant, warming ourselves with coffee and eating breakfast tacos. Cindy took notes as our companions, the pastor of an Eagle Pass church and two of his parishioners, spoke about their community and some of its most pressing challenges. For two hours, they spoke of crushing poverty, immigration issues, violence across the border, disparities in local schools, and the lack of effective community leadership.

For those two hours, I understood nothing, nada.

Well, maybe I understood un poquito—a little bit. I took Spanish in college, but that was… ahem… a while ago now.  Continue reading

Sticking the Poor with Climate Change: People, Power, and Privilege

disaster-responseAs I write this, I am sitting at my kitchen table while my ten-year old, home from school today with a fever, watches a movie upstairs. It is a bright, beautiful fall day in Austin, Texas—and part of me wants to turn off my computer and my cell phone, make a pot of soup, and sit on the couch under the covers with my son. Maybe I’ll do those things later.

Now, though, I’m watching my news feed for more stories about last week’s floods in Southeast Austin, receiving texts from a friend who is speaking today at the EPA Listening Session in Dallas about carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, and thinking about the role of faith communities in climate preparedness. It’s been a busy couple of travel-filled months for me, and some of the stories I’ve heard from people are swirling about in my head.  Continue reading