Sunday, February 8, 2009

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 15 (p 110-119)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 15 (p 110-119)
A Jewish View of Embryonic Stem Cell Research -- Elliot Dorff

(1) "In the Jewish tradition, our bodies belong to God; we have them on loan during our lease on life. God, as owner of our bodies, can and does impose conditions on how we use them. Among these conditions is the requirement that we seek to preserve human life and health (pikuakh nefesh). As a corollary to this, we have a duty to seek to develop new cures for human diseases" (p 110).

What do you think about the view that our bodies are not ultimately our own, that we are responsible to God for them? What ramifications does this have on how we live regardless of the stem cell debate?

(2) "All human beings, regardless of their levels of ability and disability, are created in the image of God" (p 111).

In what ways are humans "created in the image of God?" What human characteristics or capacities are in God's image? How does this inform the stem cell research discussion?

(3) Three sources of embryonic stem cells are outlined on page 114--aborted fetuses, frozen embryos destined to be discarded, and stem cell "farms" (p 114).

Does the source of the stem cells affect your opinion of stem cell research? Why is this important to you?

(4) "When used in research to cure diseases, embryonic stem cell research is definitely permitted" (p 119).

Do you agree with this? Why or why not? What other uses for embryonic stem cell research may be more problematic?

(5) "In some ways, giving the homeless food, clothing, and shelter and providing basic health care for everyone in the world are more important goals to pursue. But to the extent that we devote money to medical research... both adult and embryonic stem cell research should be high on our list of priorities" (p 119).

What are your highest priorities for dollars spent on preserving and promoting life? What factors influences your values regarding priorities?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 14 (p 102-109)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 14 (p 102-109)
The Global AIDS Crisis -- Jacob Feinspan and Julia Greenberg

(1) "In 2005, 4.3 million people were newly infected with the HIV virus, bringing the total number of people living with HIV close to 40 million. In the same year, nearly 3 million died from the virus, bringing to 2.5 million the number of people who have died since the AIDS crisis began" (p 103).

These are staggering numbers. It's hard to understand what these numbers mean. As Stalin is credited with saying, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." To put these numbers in perspective, the authors reveal, "there are three time as many HIV-positive people in the world as there are Jews" (p 108-109).

This enormity, couple with the knowledge that "the leading causes of death in most poor countries are still common diseases such as diarrhea and pulmonary failure" (p 103), and we begin to see the great need for improved health care in the world. And the best health care is prevention, arguably in the form of education and jobs.

Do these numbers motivate or paralyze you? For those motivated to act, what can your first steps be? For those overwhelmed, the question remains the same: What small step can you take today? Also, this group should read the rest of the chapter carefully as it shows that collective action does produce measurable results.

(2) "We believe that supporting people who are claiming the tools and resources that are rightfully theirs to care for one another represents the ultimate Jewish response to this pandemic" (p 103).

Why is supporting the work of others seen as the ultimate response? How is empowerment crucial for sustainable solutions? Can you think of an example of this in your own life?

(3) "TAC's leader, Zackie Achmat, an HIV-positive man with access to treatment, refused to begin therapy until the South African government made it available to all those who needed it" (p 105). " After a page of success stories, we read, "Zackie Achmat began taking his drugs and continues to lead TAC today" (p 106).

This reminds me of Gandhi's refusal to eat until conflicting factions stopped fighting. This is powerful, high-stakes leadership. In your situation, how can you increase your effectiveness as a leader in rallying people to the cause? Who can you partner with for increased leverage?

(4) "There is still plenty to do at home" (p 107).

This is quite true. There is great need both in the U.S. and abroad. Who and what is in your circle of influence today? By effectively reaching this circle today, how could you reach other further tomorrow?

(5) "...we are equally guilty of transgression if we fail to act to save a life, no matter the circumstances. And we can act to fight AIDS...." (p 108).

The authors list 4 ways to get involved: (1) advocate that orphanages are not the solution; (2) advocate for aid based on science not ideology; (3) stand with GLBT individuals and groups; and (4) advocate for increased professional care in the 2/3 world rather than poaching their providers.

What other ways can individuals get involved locally and internationally? How are you currently involved? How could you increase this work one notch? What local groups can you join in order to increase your effectiveness receive support for the journey?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Obviously, I haven't been posting over the holiday season. Things are settling down, so new chapters should be coming Sunday evening after we return from the Mars Hill Shed.

Grace and peace,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 13 (p 94-101)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 13 (p 94-101)
The Blood of Our Neighbors: American Health Care Reform -- Fox & Seltman

Last night a group of us born in eight different countries discussed health care in the U.S. Two of the participants were graduate students from Ghana. They are appalled (this is not an overstatement) that basic health care is so expensive here.

One has to have monthly blood work, and he can't afford this expense that his basic school insurance does not cover. Back at home, in what he describes as a developing nation, he is able to get this done with minimal cost. The other, a PhD candidate in education, shared his wife's experience studying in England. She had to have 2 surgeries while living there, and the costs were covered for her.

We understood their frustration, as we are dealing with our second major medical bill without insurance (previous experiences described here). Two other friends of ours are having a midwife deliver their baby at home because they don't have adequate insurance. They are just praying the birth goes smoothly.

All this is to say that I don't approach this subject with an unbiased attitude. I understand the experiences of both uninsured and under-insured. For those who want to learn more about the US debacle, you can begin with these older articles:

(1) "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16).

"The Rabbis explain that the elders need not proclaim that they are innocent of murder, but rather that they are innocent of ignoring a person at risk and in need" (p 95).

"...unless we intervene, we are guilty" (p 95).

"If the community, or the body politic, has the power to prevent life-threatening illness, or to treat that illness, and does not, it stands liable" (p 98).

How can I intervene? What can I do about health care? What is my part?

(2) "Patients are not to be seen as sources of profit, but as God's children, all equally deserving of good medical care" (p 97).

This makes sense to me from since I come from a Judeo-Christian background. But how can we effectively argue this in the context of capitalism and free markets and supply-and-demand and no-free-lunch? What is a wise approach?

(3) "The solution is a single-payer universal health care" (p 98).

What are the pros and cons of this solution? How can the obstacles listed by the author (i.e., stakeholders in the current system) be overcome? Are there any other solutions on the table for consideration?

(4) "What can individuals do?" (p 99).

We are directed to Healthcare--NOW!. What level of involvement can you sustain on this issue? How high of a priority is it for you?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 12 (p 87-93)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 12 (p 85-93)
Redemption for Radicals: Jewish Congregation-Based Community Organizing -- Rabbi Jonah Pesner

(1) While the two primary examples in this chapter relate to health care (general access/coverage and nursing home care), the two over-lapping themes of community organizing and story-telling can be applied to any social justice issue.

The first example of community and stories was especially powerful for me because my wife and I personally struggle with health care access and cost. If there is a time for organizing on this issue, it is now as Daschle begins tackling this issue anew. What is your health care story?

(2) "Though the story of the recent Massachusetts health reform is powerful, it is not unique. It is but one example of Jewish participation in the emerging movement called Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO)" (p 88).

The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation website lists three CBCO characteristics:

  1. Congregants engage in one-to-one conversations within their synagogue, and often with other congregations, about their social justice passions.
  2. Leaders engage in extensive clergy and lay leadership training and development.
  3. Synagogue leaders work side-by-side with dozens of faith institutions and progressive organizations in their community, across lines of race, class, and faith.
Would your local congregation be open to telling their stories? What social justice passions would you want to discuss? What would it take to get the spiritual leaders of your faith community to engage in this conversation? How open is your community to working with people of other faiths? How open are you?

[More resources at/by Interfaith Funders, Unitarians, DART and YouTube.]

(3) "For people of faith, the first step toward justice is when we cry out" (p 89). The examples given of people who listened to the cry are Pharaoh's daughter, Moses and God.

I once prayed that God would open my ears to the cry of the oppressed. It wasn't long before I was overwhelmed. Cries from every direction were disorienting. Where to start? What to do? What was the first priority? "Okay, God. There is too much. Your kingdom come; your will be done. And how can I be a part of that right here, right now?"

What was the first cry for justice that you remember hearing? When have you cried out? Did anyone listen and respond?

(4) Since this blog is for "ordinary radicals," let's look at the definition of radical given on page 90.

"The radical is that unique person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value.... The radical is so completely identified with mankind that he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all his fellow men" (p 90; quoted from Reveille for Radicals by Saul Alinksy).

How radical am I? In what ways do I share in the pain, injustice and suffering of others? How does this lead to their redemption? And to my own? If the common good is not my greatest personal value, what is?

(5) "First and foremost, [the Exodus story] teaches that in every time and place, redemption is possible. It begins with a cry... It continues with rage at the injustice, and a willingness to act. It requires leadership and relationships.... The people must begin to articulate their story..." (p 91).

Crying, rage, willingness to act, leadership, relationships and story-telling. Where am I at on these themes? Am I crying or hearing some else's cries (or both)? Do I have rage? At what? Am I willing to act? Am I acting? Am I offering leadership? Am I follow others who are more experienced than I? What condition and quality are my relationships? Are there key relationships I need to focus on to bolster community change? I am telling my story, listening intently on other's stories, providing an environment what words can be shared and heard?

(6) "In the globalized twenty-first century, justice transcends categories of race, class, and faith. Today, standing together for redemption means discovering our shared suffering and being challenged by each other's divergent traditions" (p 91).

What groups do I still not listen to? Why? What barriers am I allowing to stop their story? What stories am I telling myself about these groups? What suffering might I share in common with them? Am I open to hearing anything from this group's faith tradition?

(7) "The power for systemic change emanates from the Divine, but it comes only from authentic relationships both inside the Jewish family and beyond, with other communities who share a vision of a world redeemed. We can harness the power of our relationships and engage together in bold, public action, across lines of faith, class, and race, and address the structural sources of economic and social injustice" (p 93).

"Redemption isn't just for radicals. Redemption is for everyone" (p 93).

May we build relationships across barriers of faith, socio-economic class, age, ethnicity, political party, and every other characteristic we use to describe "them" and "us." And in these relationships, may we find divine power to build a more just world.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 11 (p 79-84)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 11 (p 79-84)
Judaism, Oil, and Renewable Energy -- Shana Starobin

(1) "Unfortunately, many of us live as if the miracle of Hanukkah is an ongoing reality. We act as though oil--a non-renewable resource--will continue to power our economy long after the time scientists tell us it will surely be used up" (p 79).

To learn about Peak Oil, consider these films and books: A Crude Awakening, The Power of Community, and Plan C. Whether there is enough oil to fuel our world for 20 years or 100 years, we still need to be using present reserves to power the development of renewable methods. We cannot just pretend that once we're 5 years away from depletion that we will be able to pull things together and make a smooth switch to new ways of living.

Does your local electricity provider offer renewable energy sources? In what ways can you personally conserve electricity, coal, oil and natural gas?

(2) "According to [Deuteronomy 10:19], fruit trees are innocent bystanders in a human conflict. In comparing fruit trees to humans, the Torah implies that trees (like human beings) have inherent value and are deserving of honor and respect" (p 82).

"As Sefer Hachinuch so beautifully teaches, our ability to conserve natural resources is connected to our ability to recognize our blessings..." (p 82).

So we are taught to minimize the damage to the earth from human activity. We are taught to consider the perpetuity of life--both human life and plant life (elsewhere, animals as well). We are taught that sustainability requires an understanding of today's actions on tomorrow's reality. What I cut-down won't feed me next season; what I use up this year can't fuel my lifestyle in the next decade.

To you what is the strongest motivator to invest in renewable energy sources--climate change, Peak Oil, ecological conservation, or human impact (such as on the U'wa or Nigerians)? Other motivations? What renewable source of power do you believe is most promising? What possible negative impact might it have?

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 10 (p 76-78)

Righteous Indignation, Ch. 10 (p 76-84)
Toxic Waste and the Talmud -- Jeremy Benstein, PhD

(1) "Legislation and policy are often disassociated from Jewish tradition for reasons including relegation of religion to the private sphere, fear of coercion, stigmatization of religious law as backward, and the claim that 'secular' policy is a realm for politicians and experts, not rabbis" (p 76).

The role of religion in/on government, especially as played out here in the United States, is a tricky one. While most religions don't want the government interfering with their worship and way of life, they do have something to say about how the government operates and spends its budget. But how far to go? Where is the limit as religious leaders and lay persons use the ballot to enforce their views on abortion, gay rights, corporate freedom, school vouchers, smoking in public areas and public funds for faith-based social initiatives? In the past, the list would have also included slavery, civil rights and women's suffrage.

What principles should guide the religious community in deciding what actions are appropriate and which over-reach the boundaries between church and state?

(2) "The Mishnah enumerates different classes of damages (avot nezikin), but the underlying principle is the same: the liability rests on the individual" (p 77).

Who should pay for the Superfund clean up, tax payers or the corporations who caused the damage?

(3) Liberal philosophy, which underlies so much of our culture, sees the individual and his property as inviolable--a concept that has been extended to corporations with disastrous effect" (p 77).

For more evidence of this claim, watch the documentary, The Corporation. What are some of the negative effects of corporate power? Do I know who and what I'm supporting when I hit the mall, when I invest in retirement funds?

(4) Without a strong ethic of the public good, and legal responsibility for the effects on that which is all of ours, privatization and economic globalization are pure plunder" (p 78).

What can I do about this? How can I advocate for responsibility? How can I live more responsibly?