S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A citizen looks for answers

Needing to remember - A few weeks ago I saw a man on television whose words and ideas have stayed with me. First I have to confess that the program was in the middle of the night, and I did not take any notes because I knew I would remember it all. Well, at my age that was a mistake.
But I did remember that his name was Michael L......, and he is a California psychologist and a rabbi upon whom the Clintons relied.

Becoming hopeful - I also remembered that his book engendered the first hope for our nation's recovery that I have felt in a long time. That was big stuff upon which I needed to follow up.
Searching - I began at Yahoo! with this search phrase: "middle class crisis of faith Clinton Michael author." No luck. Then I did a "Michael" search on C-SPAN. Again no luck. I added to my search words, this time with success: "crisis of faith Michael Rabbi Clinton administration philosophy psychology" What channel was he on? It had to be PBS.Finding a good thing - I was in! It felt like twirling the dial of a safe listening for a faint click.
My next searches began with the phrase, "The Left Hand of God: Taking back our country from the religious right" by Michael Lerner," They yielded an amazing 34, 423,779 hits with a Yahoo! search and 1,110 citations in Google. My introduction is a very long way of saying that the purpose of today's post is to pass along a great resource. On Wednesdays I usually try to blog about citizen activism. Dr. Lerner has given me more hope that we can change things during these very discouraging political times.
Sharing answers - Rabbi Lerner introduced me to a word with which I was unfamiliar, perhaps because I am Episcopalian. It is Tikkun: which means "to heal repair and transform the world." There it is -- what so many of us are looking for at this point in time. This is the magazine's website, from which I quote,
The Left Hand of God: Responding to the Religious Right, Reb. Michael Lerner, rabbi, writer, editor
Internationally renowned theologian Rabbi Michael Lerner examines the new roles that religion and faith play in American political life in his new book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. While the Right presents a self-serving and distorted vision of traditional religious values, the Left continues to ignore the spiritual needs of the American people. Lerner presents a vision that incorporates and goes beyond the ideas of contemporary liberal politics as he articulates an eight-point spiritual covenant with America.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is internationally known as the editor of Tikkun Magazine: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society. He earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley and in clinical psychology from the Wright Institute. He is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue, which meets in San Francisco and Berkeley.

The mission statement for my blog, South by Southwest, reads,
"I'll credit favorite writers and public opinion makers, comment on Congress, the judiciary and the Bush presidency. My interests are in the U.S. domestic and foreign policy issues of peace, security and justice. My views are grounded in the existential questions of finding meaning in suffering, maintaining purpose in life, and defending sanity in an occasionally insane world."
Maintaining purpose - So I have had a hunger to make sense of all this upset and chaos. I share this need with a lot of other people. We read and listen to inspiring folks for for their wisdom, trying to feel less anxious and angry. The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren is currently 7th on the NYT best seller list. Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, is still popular at Amazon. Already, The Left Hand of God is 39th in popularity on the religious list at Amazon. Monsters & Critics presents this review of it, from which I quote,
Humans yearn for what he calls 'a spiritual politics,' a purpose-driven life guided by values beyond self-interest.
This desire has been co-opted by the religious and political right, but their agenda is driven by fear rather than aspiration for the greater good. The universe is a scary place, the right tells Americans, needful of an avenger to dominate and control. While this mentality is ascendant, Lerner asserts that it is not carved in stone. If we had political figures with the gumption to advance notions of eliminating poverty, encouraging sustainability and rebuilding the nation`s infrastructure, voters might respond. If we had a foreign policy that promised support for education and health, we might be on a better path to confront terrorists. Unfortunately, Lerner notes,
the political left is clueless about the spiritual needs of the country`s constituents. Lerner fashions a set of national and international precepts to guide American political policy that are hard to pooh-pooh, putting forth a covenant of peace, social justice and ethically and ecologically responsible behavior revolving around kindness, generosity, opportunity, creativity and diminishing the schism between rich and poor. 'The new bottom line,' as he sees it, 'emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and the common good.'

Religion in politics - Liberals like me have been baffled by the emergence and convergence of religion and politics since the turn of the century. It did not seem to make sense to so many of us. Michael Lerner's book helped me to understand for the first time what happened. The following review elaborates on the question. Amy Sullivan's very positive review of "The Left Hand of God" for The Washington Post on 2.26.06. postulates,
Two years ago, Thomas Frank's blockbuster What's the Matter with Kansas? posed a question: Why do so many blue- collar conservatives vote for Republicans at the expense of their own economic interests? Liberals everywhere immediately responded with vigorous head-nodding. Although Frank made a few stabs at answering his question -- Democrats haven't taken seriously parental concerns about our garish popular culture, and some conservatives favor cultural issues over economic well-being -- his frequent references to these Americans as "deranged" (eight times in the first chapter alone) implied that the real solution was to cure their irrational behavior.
Fortunately, Michael Lerner has weighed in with another take on the question in The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right (HarperSanFrancisco, $24.95). A social thinker with impeccable liberal credentials -- he's a Berkeley-based rabbi, sometime Hillary Rodham Clinton guru and the editor of Tikkun magazine -- Lerner has studied this question for three decades while conducting psychotherapy research. He's concluded that America is in the midst of a " real spiritual crisis," one that has been recognized and exploited -- but not solved -- by the Republican Party. . . .
From economic to family to national security issues, Lerner outlines a politics of meaning that connects traditional liberal values to what have been inaccurately defined as conservative concerns. The Left Hand of God is ambitious, sprawling and sometimes rambling, but it serves the vital purpose of articulating a progressive religious alternative to the conservative flavor of religion that has dominated American politics and society for the past 30 years.
-- Amy Sullivan
RaisingKane is a website that has some very thoughtful ideas and comments inspired by the Washington Post's review of the book. It speaks to many of the ideas and questions, thoughts and feelings that have bubbled around in my own head for the past few years.
I mentioned that I am Episcopalian. At the site Episcopal Peace Fellowship I found this LA Times review:
LA Times Book Review by Ed Bacon
The Rev. Ed Bacon is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.
BOOK REVIEW: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right By Michael Lerner. Harper SanFrancisco: 408 pp., $24.95
February 19, 2006
RABBI Michael Lerner's The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right is his latest contribution to a long list of inspiring and practical writings. Here, Lerner contends that "the America we love" is threatened with destruction. His critique stems from the moral values, spiritual practices and political actions of the ancient speak-truth-to-power prophetic tradition.
Lerner's career of balancing social and political action with religious practice began in the Jewish Theological Seminary, where his professor Abraham Joshua Heschel held that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in his preaching and his politics, was in effect the 20th century incarnation of the Hebrew prophets. In this book, Lerner — rabbi of San Francisco's progressive Beyt Tikkun synagogue and editor of Tikkun, a journal striving to "mend, repair, and transform the world" — updates this tradition for the beginning of the 21st century.
Lerner believes America is in the grip of a spiritual crisis.
I agree. Following are other writers' takes on the book that help to explain why Lerner mad such an impression on my. I was unable to shake it off. I hope you will feel the same way.
More reviews -
  1. Organizing the Religious Left--In These Times by Bob Burnett, a critique of this new book.
  2. Carol Voights gives a very positive review of the book at
Michael Lerner writes regularly at AlterNet; the stories are indexed here.
My "creative post" today at Southwest Blogger is a poem about windmills.

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