I have cancer … and yes, you can help me deal with it.
In late January the results of a biopsy showed that I have a relatively rare form of lung cancer (I’ve never smoked). The doctors believe that this cancer may be “stage one” and hence could be treated through surgery, and I might be able to avoid chemotherapy or radiation treatment. So even though it is cancer, it is not necessarily a death sentence! We’ll know more after the operation to remove part of my lung takes place, and then they get the results of the next biopsy.
I’ll post updated information in the “Rabbi Lerner” section of www.tikkun.org, so you can go there if you want to know how I’m doing. Easiest is to just paste the following u.r.l. into your web brower: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/525/t/8751/blog/index.jsp?blog_KEY=570
You can also post a personal message for me there (for business messages, please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org; during my recovery period I will probably check the website but not my personal email). Surgery is scheduled for Thursday, February 12, and I’ll be in University of California MedicalCenter till Monday the 16th, and then recovering at home for at least a month or so.
People have started to ask if they can help me in some way. Well, yes, there IS something you can do that would be very helpful.
The first thing you can do is to pray for me, or if prayer is not your thing, you can use meditation, song, poetry, words, or actions to communicates to the universe your desire to support my recovery!
The next thing you can do is to support me in my efforts to make this health challenge an opportunity for deep inner growth, opening up higher levels of understanding not only through my head but also through my heart, so that I can be more fully aligned with the struggles and suffering on this planet, and more fully able to contribute at the deepest levels to the healing that is so badly needed everywhere, including in myself. Let me explain how you could give me that support.
My doctors believe that the stress levels in my life are too high, in part because of being over-stretched as rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue, editor of Tikkun magazine, and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. So, I think I need to ask your help in reducing the amount of work and worry I have in keeping the network alive.
The solution is to get much more help in running the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Those tasks have fallen largely on my shoulders, particularly after the growing financial crisis and consequent reduction in funds from memberships forced us to reduce the NSP’s staff size to one (me). I can’t do this without much more help from you.
I’d be delighted if you decided to help me renew and rebuild the NSP with your ideas and energy.
I’m particularly excited about anything you’d be willing to do to exert leadership in your own sphere (e.g. in your professional community, church, synagogue, mosque, or ashram) that doesn’t require time and involvement from the tiny staff at Tikkun/NSP or from me. Too often I get letters saying, “Rabbi Lerner, why don’t you do x, y, or z?” The ideas are often terrific, but my capacities are limited. But anything YOU can do-please do it! Make it happen-you hereby have my permission (the only restriction: that you do it in a kind, gentle, generous, loving, and compassionate way).
In case you’d like some specific ideas, I’m presenting loads of specifics here. But let me also be clear that you are already doing enough if you are a paid-up member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, because that, in and of itself, makes a huge difference. It’s also appreciated if you are making donations at the highest level you possibly can afford. (If you forgot to renew, or if you would like to donate, you can do so now at www.spiritualprogressives.org.) And, yes, it would be even more terrific if you decided to donate even more (all tax deductible, of course) or if you consciously committed to one of more of the specific tasks below.
1. Help me spread the basic ideas of the NSP everywhere-to your friends, to your church, synagogue, mosque, or ashram, and to your coworkers or professional colleagues. Perhaps you are already doing that and could figure out a more systematic way to do this every day, or three days a week, or once a week. Or perhaps you could write me and tell me how you are already doing this, so that I know what you are doing and hence can build up my own certainty that we have a nascent movement growing. But what do I mean by our basic ideas? Skip the rest of point one and go to point two if you already feel you know this so well you could put it to music and sing it while you are sleeping! :-) : )
A. We need a New Bottom Line such that institutions, corporations, social practices, our educational system, our legal system, and even our personal behaviors are judged efficient, rational, and productive, not only to the extent that they maximize material well-being, but also to the extent that they maximize love and generosity, kindness and caring for others, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and to the extent that they enhance our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation.
B. The war on terrorism is not going to work. War and domination as instruments of homeland security are the wrong strategies. It is through caring for and generosity toward others that we can most successfully provide security for our families, our country, and ourselves. People in most countries may not yet be ready to give up their militaries, but we may be able to convince them that each nation’s military should stay inside the borders of its own country, and that every dollar spent on the military should be matched by another dollar to fund our alternative for homeland security: the Strategy of Generosity. We seek to achieve homeland security through overt caring about the well-being of everyone else on the planet. Our plan for a Domestic and Global Marshall Plan is a specific way to achieve this goal.
C. The goal of liberals and progressives should not only be equality of material circumstances, but the creation of a global society in which love and generosity, ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the universe permeate all human relations and determine our social priorities. It is this-not how many computers, cell phones, or other new technologies get produced-that is what we mean by progress. Saving the environment globally requires a shift to this concept of well-being and progress. This is what our schools must teach and what our corporations and legal system must embody. Only an economy organized around those principles will be practical in terms of global survival.
D. We build for these goals in ways that avoid demeaning those with whom we disagree, but instead recognize that they too are created in the image of God. But we do not let our insistence that they are created in the image of God impede us from throwing our full energy into removing them from positions of power, overturning their economic system, or putting them in prison when they have violated basic human rights. (We could start there with the enablers of torture in the Bush administration.) Respect for the other is consistent with nonviolently resisting negative policies with all our strength, thereby rejecting the kind of nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational, “who am I to judge others or call others’ policies evil?” kind of moral relativism that sometimes permeates New Age spirituality. We need a spiritual politics in which we encourage forgiveness and compassion, but not moral relativism or the inability to struggle to replace systems of domination. And simultaneously, our task is to speak to the part of every human being that really does want a new kind of world. We need to help each other overcome the fear that our desires are unrealistic or utopian, when in fact what is utopian is imagining that the planet is going to survive without a drastic and fundamental new orientation toward activities considered “efficient and productive.”
E. We recognize that even in those with whom we disagree, or in those who are deeply cynical, there is a part that yearns for a different reality, wants real loving community, and values generosity and caring. It is actually these decent and good desires that lead them to seek “communities of meaning and purpose” of any sort they can find-which often turn out to be ultra-nationalist or fundamentalist religious communities. Our task is to uncover and help reconnect people to the legitimate part of their need structure that is not fulfilled in contemporary capitalist societies, and to help them find a different and more loving way to fulfill those needs.
F. We refuse to accept global capitalism as the ultimate and only possible economic arrangement, but we also reject bureaucratic socialist solutions. Instead we insist on the possibility of building a new global economy that seeks to promote our New Bottom Line. For that reason, we also question “solutions” to the current economic crisis that assume the current economic system to be unchangeable and only seek to bolster and rebuild it. We are not advocates for repair of a system based on values that privilege materialism, selfishness, and the interests of the powerful, whether that system calls itself capitalism, socialism, democracy, or some kind of religious society. What counts for us is this simple question: when it comes down to the decisions being made on a day-to-day basis, how much do the values of the New Bottom Line determine the outcome? There is enough for everyone on this planet, and we can build an economic reality that shares what we have and also preserves the planet from needless exploitation to create unnecessary consumer goods. It’s a real tragedy that the Obama administration isn’t using this moment to do just that, rather than what it is trying–to give mouth-to-mouth resusciation to a system that is morally and economically flawed (and to do so by trying to accommodate the very forces within the Republican Party and the Clintonite “free marketeers” whose worldview brought us this mess in the first place). But of course the issues go way beyond the mistakes of the moment–to a need for a fundamental challenge to rethink the assumptions of our economic life that have encouraged the “looking out for number one” consciousness so deeply ingrained in the thinking of elites and ordinary citizens around the world, a way of thinking that paralyzes and demoralizes us as individuals and that has led to policies that are quite literally destroying the life-support systems of the planet.
I know you agree with some or all of these ideas. What I don’t know is whether you are yet willing to be a recruiter of others (in your sphere of family, friends, coworkers, professional organizaitons, religious or communal organizations) for these ideas and for joining NSP to be a dues-paying member and part of an actual movement seeking to take these ideas into the public arena. If you are, I’ll feel a lot less alone.
2. Help me build a campaign for the Domestic and Global Marshall Plan-to have all of the advanced industrial countries dedicate between 1 percent and 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to end global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care, as well as to repair the global environment. Last year we had a congressional resolution introduced to support our plan, but it never got out of committee. In these next two years, you could help by getting your local city council, your state legislature, and your congressional representatives and senators to endorse the resolution. That way we can get serious attention from the Obama administration. And you could get endorsements of the Generosity Strategy and the core idea of the Global Marshall Plan (GMP) from your local churches, synagogues, mosques, civic organizations, professional organizations, etc.-even though they are nonprofits, they are legally allowed to back the core ideas and pass a resolution saying so!
I don’t expect you to do this all by yourself. You could get a group of people to work with you. How to create such a group? Get a time and place, and then contact every media agency and every religious, political, civic, and charitable organization in your town and invite them to come to this first meeting. If you set it up, we can a) give you names and addresses of people in your area who might be happy to receive a postcard from you telling them that you are organizing this process, b) send you a short video to introduce the topic to your gathering, and c) send you our brochures on the GMP.
3. National leadership. If you are someone with talent and experience as a leader or major organizer for a national organization or social change movement, or a dynamite fund-raiser, or a person with fantastic contacts in the media or with oodles of access to political leaders, and you feel fully on board with Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ approach, write a letter to email@example.com introducing yourself, describing what you would like to bring to the Tikkun Community, and what kind of a leadership role you’d like to play. If you have the talent, but haven’t used it yet in a way that has demonstrated past “wins,” do that first on the local level where you live by organizing something for us, and then after that has happened, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a clergy person currently serving a church, synagogue, mosque, or ashram, please join our Clergy Advisory Board.
4. Special Talents. If you know how to use the web effectively, use it to get NSP and Tikkun better known, especially to younger people. If you are a filmmaker or videographer, make a film or video about NSP/Tikkun or the Global Marshall Plan. Or help us make a “training film” for people who want to become activists but need some help. If you are a writer, approach media to pitch a story about Tikkun, about the campaign for a Global Marshall Plan, about the campaign to support Obama to be the Obama we voted for, or about our unique approach to Middle East peace. If you are a grant-writer with lots of creativity, write a grant to help us get funded (read our websites thoroughly and come up with your own funding ideas and how you’d present them, then write for approval to email@example.com)-either to a foundation or to a corporation that does corporate giving. If you are a songwriter, write a Tikkun- or NSP- or Global Marshall Plan-related song. If you are an artist, develop art for use on our website or in Tikkun. If you fluently speak and write a language other than English, translate our Global Marshall Plan and other key documents from the Tikkun and NSP websites into your language. Then we can create a website in that language so that more people can learn about the Tikkun and NSP perspectives. It would be terrific to have websites in Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, or any other language.
5. Come to our national conference April 29-May 2 in Washington, D.C. It’s about Supporting Obama to BE the Obama we Voted For (not the Obama who is seeking to double our forces in Afghanistan, has an economic recovery program that does little for the homeowners who have lost their homes or will soon do so and which gives hundreds of billions to the banks and financial institutions, and who has surrounded himself with the same kind of Center-Right advisors that seem more inclined to follow the ideological leadership of the neo-cons than to respond to the peace, environmental and social-justice-inclined movements that made Obama’s candidacy a reality). It will be an important event, if you are there to help us make it so. If the operation goes well, I should be able to be there, even though in a greatly reduced role. I want to meet face-to-face with people who could help take over the NSP and reduce my load within it. There will be four foci of the conference:
A. Supporting Obama to be the Obama for whom we (and tens of millions of others) thought we were voting.
B. The campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.
D. The building of a true network of spiritual progressives.
We are holding the conference in the middle of the week partly so that you can go to Congress, partly to coordinate with Christian Witness for Peace,which will hold its prayer session on the evening of April 29, and the Sojourners’ conference, and partly to make it possible for people who have to be in their synagogue or church on the weekend to be there with us during the week. Don’t let money hold you back: while we can’t subsidize your travel or accommodations, we can reduce the registration fees for anyone who needs that reduction, so please don’t let the money be the obstacle, because I want and need you there. I would much prefer to lower or even waive the registration fee if that is the only way you can afford to come. But we can’t do that at the door-you need to contact us by the end of March with such a request. Help us spread the word to everyone in your religious community and in your professional or civic or social change organization, as well as to your neighbors, friends, and everyone on your email lists. Also tell anyone you know in college or graduate/professional schools, including young people who are the children of your friends. Would you like to lead a small group discussion about how to strengthen our NSP Global Marshall Plan campaign at the conference, or a group discussing how to do local organizing around our ideas? Let Will know what skills or experience you have in doing something like that-send to Will@Tikkun.org
6. Join or start a chapter. Join and activate an existing NSP chapter if there’s one you like. Is there no local chapter in your area? Or did the chapter that got formed turn you off? Create a new one if there isn’t one in your community or if the one that does exist feels like it’s not going to be able to give you what you need. If you went to one and found that the people were not really energized to do something that excited you, this might be a time to help us recreate the chapter in your area or create a second one that would explicitly focus on the activities YOU choose to make happen. To help in this, please read my article about some of the problems we’ve faced in building the NSP. The article will be on our website under Current Thinking at NSP www.spiritualprogressives.org.
7. Or, forget about the “chapter form” and create a monthly gathering of progressive religious or spiritual leaders in your community across denominational or religious lines. How? Well, you could write a letter to every clergy person or every church, synagogue, mosque, and ashram that you find listed under “churches” or “religious organizations” in your community. Tell them about our New Bottom Line and our ideas for a Global Marshall Plan. Tell them we’re creating a safe place for spiritual progressives to get together and brainstorm, and then invite them to your apartment at a particular time and date (don’t worry, if you send out a hundred such letters, you can expect a return of at most 5 percent or five people, so your apartment will not be too small for the first meeting).
8. Run a fundraiser for the NSP, maybe as small as an evening in your home in which you ask people to pay $20 to help support the GMP. Or create a concert or some other fundraising event, or approach people with money or money connections to get them to use that money or connections to help fund NSP.
9. Challenge the media: send a daily email, or even better (because more effective, since people now understand how easy it is to just send an email) a snail-mail letter to media people. Your letters could challenge how the media agencies are handling the issues of the economy, Israel/Palestine, the GMP, etc., or they could insist that the reporters consult and quote people from the NSP. You are hereby delegated to speak in our name, once you’ve read and agreed with the Spiritual Covenant with America, the Global Marshall Plan, and our New York Times ad, and once you’ve joined the NSP as a dues-paying member. We have great lists of media people to contact at our websites. And you can also write to your elected officials, frequently! If you can’t figure out what to write, consult www.spiritualprogressives.org, and we’ll have prototypes of the kinds of letters that need to be written.
10. Invite friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. to come to your house some evening or weekend afternoon to watch some of the videos introducing people to the NSP perspective, and then get them to join (and write the check on the spot).
11. Send to your (or your friends’) children or grandchildren a letter urging them to become (unfortunately unpaid) interns at our Berkeley, California, office for one academic year (September-June). Click on “Jobs” at Tikkun.org to learn more. And meanwhile, send them a gift subscription to Tikkun magazine (order it at www.tikkun.org).
12. Use your phone for Tikkun/NSP. We need people to make phone calls to welcome new people to our community, to find out why some specific people didn’t renew their subscriptions or memberships, and to just keep in touch informally. You could be the caller from your phone if you’re willing to pay the costs of long-distance calls.
13. Join. If you haven’t joined NSP yet, or haven’t renewed your subscription to Tikkun (or never did subscribe), please do so now at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
Well, perhaps you have other ideas about what NSP needs. Again, DO IT-make it happen without depending on me or on much staff time. Not because you don’t deserve it, but because we don’t have it to give (at least at this historical moment). If you need specific advice, or to get materials from us, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com will help.
Help make this whole NSP thing happen in such a way that whether I am alive or not (though God willing, I will be), whether I am a leader or not, the whole thing is sustainable and sustained-in short, make me personally irrelevant. Take the ideas and make them YOURS. If you need my help, watch the videos of me talking about these ideas (on our NSP website www.spiritualprogressives.org) or get a group of people together to read or re-read The Left Hand of God (for American politics) and Healing Israel/Palestine (for Middle East politics). And finally, spread as much love, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, and joyful celebration of the grandeur and mystery of the universe (or as I would put it, of God) as you possibly can!
If you can do any of this, this cancer will turn out to be, like so much of life, a blessing in disguise. And if you can pick up the work in any of the above ways, I’ll be able to do the thing that is hardest for me: step back, and that in turn will enable me to spend more time writing and teaching, and more time developing my own inner spiritual resources. What a gift you’d be giving to me! Meanwhile, I thank God for all the opportunities I have been given to learn, to teach, and to serve, and ask forgiveness from you personally Michelle for the ways that I may have failed you or offended you in the past.
Love and blessings,
Rabbi Michael Lerner