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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

September 20, 2020 | Message from Rev. Dr. Blake

You will reveal the path to life   To the full joy of your presence To the bliss of being close to you forever. 

Psalm 16:11 Moffatt translation modified

The Shofar, The Ram’s Horn, sounds signaling the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, that will end with Yom Kippur ten days later. A sound that awakens goes forth calling the devotees to attention. It commemorates the beginning of the world, the creation of the universe. It pierces the consciousness and lays waste slumber. Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote: The Shofar: Awake! Sob! Breathe! Transform. What an arresting combination of emotions and actions are embodied in that powerful juxtaposition. Rabbi Waskow continues: We blow our breath into the small end of the Shofar, and out of the other, larger end emerges a blast of uncanny, eerie, untuned sound – or a music we train ourselves to shape. This is a metaphor for every human being. The Breath of Life, the Interbreathing of the world, blows into us – and out comes breath, words, actions, lives that may be untuned, discordant – or a music of loving care. The music of a loving future, calling from our children to ourselves. Jewish are not, these High Holy Days provide a time and forum for reflection, celebration, and action. They call us to check on how we have lived our ideals, how we have represented essential virtues for the continuing enterprise of creative, sustainable, ever-precious creation. They afford the opportunity and command that we take our lives seriously, not merely for our own sakes, but also for the soul of the world, the cosmic grandeur, the universal endowment. Waskow invites us to: Face our mistakes, our misdeeds, the ways in which we have aimed the arrows of our actions toward lives of justice, peace, and healing but have missed the mark – and turn ourselves in a new direction that, deep within us, is the “old” direction – love. That goes for us as individuals and also as members of a society. When a whole society turns in an unloving direction, we call it a systemic failure – systemic racism, systemic militarism, systemic materialism…. When we recite our misdeeds on these holy days, we deliberately say “We.” “We have slandered, we have cheated, we have stolen, we have murdered.” I, myself, have not done all these things, but as a member of society, I have been complicit in them all. This year, as the new year begins, we are hearing the Shofar-note of “Awake!” more deeply than for generations. We can hear the grinding, clashing sounds of a chasm in American society, one that has been widening and sharpening for years but has been made far more visible and audible…. And it is not only Americans who face that chasm, but all human communities and all the life-forms on our planet.   There is a gnawing urgency today to personally spend my life against the tide of this systemic failure. It is a failure that is evil, stands against God, and eventually will fail. The comprehensive and devastating assault on the poor, immigrants, racial/ethnic communities and gender groups must be halted. The work over the years that has caused the nation to come closer to implementing policies and developing structures that promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of fullness to future generations as well as the present one must be strengthened. Economist Richard Wolff says that the sickness that we currently experience is the system itself. For him the concept of returning to “normal” is a failed concept and “the normal” is greatly responsible for the ills we currently embody. Yes, it is so easy to walk with routine behavior as though that is the best we can do, to flow with the comfortable as if that is our purpose in living. Hundreds of years ago Pelagius dissented from such a notion: We contradict the Lord to his face when we say: It is hard, it is difficult; we cannot, we are men; we are encompassed with fragile flesh. O blind madness! O unholy audacity! We charge the God of all knowledge with a twofold ignorance, that he does not seem to know what he has made nor what he has commanded, as though, forgetting the human weakness of which he is himself the author, he imposed laws upon man which he cannot endure. Still, too often we accept standard narratives as inviolable, best practices as standard, refusing to recognize diversity as the salvation of humanity and the earth. It is the most awe-inspiring gift of the Creator that is seen throughout creation.

The spoken word is the work of the people, liturgy. It reattaches us to the work we can and must do. This summer has been a breakthrough in far reaching ways. Many previously silenced voices call for daybreak in the life of this nation, daybreak out of the darkness that hides Machiavellian deeds and systems, daybreak for the glad symphonies awaiting the light of morning. The protests against injustice have grown, spreading to people, organizations and communities that not long ago were no trespassing zones for social protests. They now openly assert that Black Lives Matter. Yet, I am saddened by the fact that so often we forget those who quietly have given their lives to stop murdering forces. We know the name Jake Blake, the man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot in the back multiple times by police that led to protests. We know the name of the 17-year-old charged with the homicide of two people and attempted homicide of another as Kyle Rittenhouse. But do we know the names of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, the two activists killed by Rittenhouse as they tried to disarm him to prevent other murders. Were they not saviors of people? Could we at least take a moment or two to remember them, to say their names, to breathe deeply, perhaps even to sob? … May their deeds and lives awaken us to the work of transformation that is inscribed in our genesis, our birth, that we remember during these special days. Could we add to our remembrance and mourning Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May we applaud her life and work, a life and work clearly underscoring the moral arc of justice. I watched again the documentary film Dakota 38 as an assignment for my class at PSR, Organizational Leadership in Church and Community. As a journey of healing and reconciliation, it epitomizes the Shofar’s call to Awake! Sob! Breathe! Transform. Jim Miller, Native spiritual leader had a dream. Before he awoke, he arrived at a riverbank in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged. At the time, Jim knew nothing of this largest federal mass execution in United States history ordered by Abraham Lincoln on December 26, 1862. When you have dreams, you know when they come from the creator… As any recovered alcoholic, I made believe that I didn’t get it. I tried to put it out of my mind, yet it’s one of those dreams that bothers you night and day. The dream was about riding on horseback 330 miles to Mankato, Minnesota, to the site of the hangings. Miller was aware of the 38 men that he had killed during his time in Vietnam. The dream kept emerging, refusing to let Miller abandon it. As he delved into it, he realized that it was a dream of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. He stated upfront that they had to be the first to forgive. We can’t blame the wasichus anymore. We’re doing it to ourselves. We’re selling drugs. We’re killing our own people. That’s what this ride is about, is healing. It is interesting to me that the hangings occurred less than one week before Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in rebelling states only. Miller shared his dream. Four years later, acting on the message of the dream, Miller and a group of riders retraced the 330-mile route of his dream on horseback from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota to arrive at the hanging site on the anniversary of the execution. The journey was sacred and led by the horses embodying the six directions that ensure sacredness:  the front legs representing the West and North, the hind legs representing the East and South, the head and ears pointing upward to the  sky, the tail pointing downward to the ground. And, while sitting on the horse, the sacred inward journey (seventh direction) reigns, providing time to pray and think. We experience here the confluence of the human and nature, what Rabbi Waskow calls the Interbreathing of the world inspiring being.

The film, Dakota 38, chronicles their journey- the blizzards they endure, the Native and Non-Native communities that provided hospitality to them along the way – offering and receiving trust. Miller spoke often of his love for the riders and those they encountered along the way. He stated that when love is in your heart, people can feel it.

Dr. Howard Thurman states: "Our dreams must be saddled with the hard facts of our world and our experiencing before we ride them off to fulfillment among the stars. Thus, a dream becomes for us the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope. Even as it romps among the constellations, it comes back to its place in our lives and in its fulfillment reflects the radiance of the far heights, the lofty regions, and gives to our day the lift and magic of the stars!”… The dream is the quiet persistence in the heart that enables a person to ride out the storms of his churning experiences. It is the exciting whisper moving through the aisles of his spirit answering the monotony of limitless days of dull routing. It is the ever-recurring melody in the midst of the broken harmony and harsh discords of human conflict. It is the touch of significance which highlights the ordinary experience, the common event. The dream is no outward thing. It does not take its rise from the environment in which one moves or functions. It lives in the inward parts, it is deep within, where the issues of life and death are ultimately determined.  Keep alive the dream; for a long as person has a dream in his heart, he cannot lose the significance of living. Rabbi Waskow informs us: It is a Jewish custom to wish that the Year ahead, the Transformation ahead, be “sweet and good” for a reason: Because the glimmers of Transformation we are seeing within us and around us grow into a glow. And that even some of the darkness we see on the path teaches us how to keep moving. And above all, the blessing that we ourselves, each of us, take a hand in growing that light within us and around us. This year, as the new year begins, we are hearing the Shofar-note of “Awake!” more deeply than for generations. We can hear the grinding, clashing sounds of a chasm in American society, one that has been widening and sharpening for years…. And it is not only Americans who face that chasm, but all human communities and all the life-forms on our planet. So, may we all, this Beginning – time, turn the Shofar – call of Alarm into the response of Transformation. May all of us … bless each other: May the coming year be filled with goodness and the sweet taste of loving Transformations.

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy. (Black Elk) Amen

Link to free viewing of Dakota 38:

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