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Posts Tagged ‘stopping’

What astonishes me, in the midst of our generalized global economic meltdown, is how shortsighted we still seem to be. Even as the spiraling fates of American industry flash us time-lapsed glimpses of our own future, we still don’t seem to get it.

Among this week’s calls to restructure the American auto industry, I haven’t seen anyone climbing atop the spire of the Chrysler building to shout, “Enough!” Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but I don’t see a lot of evidence that we’re connecting the dots.

This planet is in shock, and we are the cause. Our behavior is compromising the integrity of the organism on which we live and upon which we depend, literally, for absolutely everything; we’re jeopardizing its ability to grow food, create oxygen and produce water. We need these things to survive. This behavior is, at best, nuts.

When it comes to cars, we act as if the only problematic thing about them is the gas that goes into their tanks, and the subsequent carbon they release from their rear ends. But that’s just the tip of the melting iceberg. Every time we buy a new car, we’ve got to extract all that metal from the earth, not to mention the plastics and chemicals involved. We can’t keep doing this forever.

Our desires are limitless, literally without end, and often run contrary to our self-interest in their effect. Organizing our societies around the pursuit of these inexhaustible desires, which is how things currently work, what capitalism is, is to design for certain catastrophe. It’s the antithesis of every true spiritual teaching passed down to us through the ages.

Rather than a car industry, what we need is a far industry (couldn’t resist); that is, a transportation industry that looks deep into the future. Currently, industry thrives on incrementalism. Changing things bit by bit allows the corporate world to sell us more, but it doesn’t make sense when we look at the size of the planet and the number of people we’ve got. Every material good we have comes from the earth, and it needs a rest. So what I propose is that we bypass hybrids altogether—at best a transitional technology, think peak oil—and go straight to electric. But rather than go out to build and buy fancy new electric cars, we simply convert all the cars already on the road as they come of age.

Converting a combustion car to electric is a rather simple procedure that can be done within a day or two. If we were to dedicate the remains of the auto industry to this pursuit, including all the labor already familiar with how our cars are built, we could probably make the turn around even quicker, and certainly cheaper. Electric motors, once in place, run for years without need of repair; some say they can pass the million-mile mark without need of replacement. They do need their batteries swapped every so often, but as we move in this direction battery technology should catch up pretty quickly, especially if we make it a priority. Any way you cut it, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a whole new car. For most people, the 150 – 200 miles that an electric car can run on a single charge is more than enough. We can fill in the gaps for the remaining 5 percent of us with plug-in hybrids or some other technology.

Rather than give the auto industry a facelift, we should be giving it a heart transplant. Same body, different motor. In order to get our money, Chrysler, along with any other manufacturers who may follow suit, should be required to reorganize at least some of their plants to get up to speed with a massive fleet conversion. There are roughly 150 million cars on the road in the US. Think of how much we would diminish our impact on the earth if we simply re-use them.

Taking this route would be far more responsible. We fetishize the new, but how much hipper would it be to know that our great-grandchildren will look back and think of us as a generation that finally woke up to our duty? Let’s choose the future with our eyes open, not our wallets. We have the opportunity to leap forward; the more we lag behind, the longer we have to smell our own gas.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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I’ve been thinking about free will lately. I just came back from an event called Pesach in the Desert. A wonderful time spent with about sixty like-minded people in the spare, hot wilderness far to the east of here.

I offered a class on one of my favorite stories from the Talmud, about Eliezer be Dordia:

Eliezer ben Dordia’s claim to fame was that he had slept with every prostitute on earth. One day, he heard of one more prostitute. She lived in a distant land at the edge of the sea, a perilous journey, and charged several hundred gold dinars for her hire. But this was his life, his reason for being, this was who he was, so he somehow collected the money and set out to meet her.

He traveled across seven rivers to the edge of the sea. He gave her the money, and they went into her chambers. Just as they were about to do it, to consummate, she let out a loud fart. She looked him directly in the eye. “That,” she said, indicating her release, “has as much chance of going back to its source as Eliezer ben Dordia does of going back to his.”

He ran from her room and into the hills. He sat between two mountains. “Mountains and valleys,” he cried, please intercede for me in the heavenly court and beg for my forgiveness!” “Sorry,” they replied. “We cannot bear true witness for you. We too are unworthy. We cannot do it.”

“Heaven and earth,” Eliezer ben Dordia pleaded, “intercede in the heavenly court on my behalf and beg for my forgiveness!” But they too claimed to be unworthy and unable. He next turned to the Sun and Moon, then to the stars and galaxies, with the same result.

Finally he proclaimed, “I understand, it’s all up to me.” He put his head between his knees and he wept. At the end of an hour, his soul left his body and a voice came from the heavens, “Rabbi Eliezer ben Dordia has been accepted into the World to Come.”

Hearing this, the great Judah Hanassi remarked, “Some of us, it takes an entire lifetime to gain the merit to enter the World to Come. Eliezer ben Dordia did it in one hour of weeping, and he gets called Rabbi.”

*

Certainly a perplexing tale to find in a code of sacred law, the story of Eliezer ben Dordia bears interpretation on many levels. But I’d like to focus on just one for now.

The last words we hear from ben Dordia are, “I understand, it’s all up to me.” This is, in a way, his final lesson.

We tend to think of free will in the abstract. It seems to me that way at least. In my tradition, Judaism, and I imagine in others, free will is a fundamental, bedrock principle. Yet rarely do we seem to confront what that truly means; we bump around life, going from place to place, activity to activity, work, eating, sleeping, mostly in a kind of fog. But what free will actually means is that at every given moment, this moment, any future is possible. We literally have the freedom, always, to choose whatever world we wish to create. This is true for us as individuals, and as a species. From this point on, we can build whatever is deepest in our hearts. All we really need to do is, like Eliezer ben Dordia, wake up to the true depths of our freedom.

At this time of year, as we move from the energy of slavery and make our way towards the promise of freedom, I pray that we find the strength to see the full scope of our free will, and ultimately that we come to exercise it in the service of building a world of peace, justice and freedom for all people, all creatures and the earth.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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Welcome UrbanMan-ites. I just posted this site about a month ago. Being somewhat reclusive, and just a bit gun-shy, I’ve yet to do much publicizing. The Urban Man’s radio essay describing me as a bearded Jeremiah figure has certainly boosted traffic.

So what are you getting yourself into? Jeremiah? Maybe. The point is, yes, as the Urban Man reported we’ve got to slow down as a species. Our current lifestyles are unsustainable. Physically and spiritually. We can print more money and pump it into the system to boost the economy, but that’s not going to make the earth a bigger place. It’s not going to create more wood, steel, land and water. Our monetary fiction will just become increasingly dissociated from the world as it truly is.

Ultimately though, this outer disconnect is a reflection of something deeper, something we all carry around with us. We’re not truly living to our potential as a species. And that potential, that gap between where we are now and where we could be, can best be described as a spiritual, rather than a technical gap. We have everything we need to create the world that deep down most of us truly yearn for—a world without hunger, violence and ecological destruction. We have all the information and know-how. What we need is the desire, the will, the vision.

I am not, as the Urban Man suggested, aiming to have everyone keep the Sabbath as it has traditionally been kept, with a day off every week from driving, money, work…But I am hoping that we can begin to live by some of its deeper principles, principles that encourage us to slow down, stop and reflect. And, once we’ve taken a deep breath and had a clearer look around, to share the gifts of this planet more fairly, to recognize that we all came into this world naked and crying and that ultimately, this gift is here for all of us.

This, this sense that the earth is here for all of us to enjoy, and that to truly enjoy it we’ve got to slow our consumption and cultivate a little contentment with what we’ve already got, is the essence of the Sabbath. This site, globalsabbath, is dedicated to exploring how we might integrate these principles into our lives and world. We’ve got some big plans for globalsabbath. I hope that you urbanites will find some resonance here, maybe subscribe, and come along for the ride.

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The Sabbath is a powerful metaphor for how we can heal this planet and build a better future for ourselves as a species. The chronicler of the book of Genesis, far from simply reducing the origins of this world to a manageable sequence of events, was tapping into a truth that resides deep within the human subconscious. Part of the reason the biblical creation story is so memorable is not just thousands of years of effective marketing, but because it speaks to a core dimension of who we are and what we’re doing here on earth.

This is why the Sabbath is at once breathtakingly simple, so straightforward even a child can understand, yet at the same time vastly multi-dimensional, so much so it can take a lifetime to fully comprehend its depths and meaning.

This forum, this space on the web, is devoted to bringing to light some of those deeper dimensions. Regrettably, most of us seem to have settled with the six-year-old version of the Sabbath and dismissed it as mythological fantasy. This is deeply unfortunate. Perhaps the clearest way to see why is to step back and take wide-angle view of our world, to look at ourselves not as nations and economic unions, but as a species. In doing so, we can begin to see that the solution to all of the great challenges we face as a species—climate change and environmental destruction, war and other forms of violence, poverty and hunger—can best be understood not by what we need to do, but by what we need to stop doing.

In the case of climate change and environmental destruction this is self-evident. We need to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, stop tearing down forests, polluting rivers and pumping harmful chemicals into our soil. Sure, we need to do some other things to offset the costs of stopping these activities, but evidence indicates that even with alternatives, such as new forms of energy, we’ll still need to reduce our activities, our human industry, to a significant degree. In other words, either way we’ve got to slow down, and in many instances eventually stop altogether.

When it comes to war and violence, the principle of stopping is similarly straightforward. We’ve got to stop killing one another. Certainly we need to address the underlying sources of conflict, but these too can best be addressed not by doing, but by undoing, as we shall explore.

In the case of poverty and hunger, it may be less clear-cut to see how not doing is any solution, but it is no less true. Roughly 80 percent of the people who suffer from chronic hunger in our world live in rural areas where agriculture is the main occupation. In other words, they live around food. The problem is, the poor have been pushed off productive land and into the margins. They have, by and large, been cast aside by wealthy landowners. People who suffer from hunger are not lazy. They are more than prepared to feed themselves. In order to end the lion’s share of hunger in our world, we need to stop preventing them from doing so. Again, we will obviously have to do something to offset some of the costs of shifting from our current inequitable system, but the underlying objective remains to stop denying the poor access to productive resources.

Okay, so there’s a lot we need to stop doing. But how can a paradigm that’s thousands of years old possibly help us to achieve this? So “God stopped”, what’s that got to do with us?

[For more, please see: The Revolution will be Spiritual—[basic overview, part two]]

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[Note: I’ve used the G-word in this post. This is simply to explore the meaning of the first Sabbath and its relevance for today. No belief in God is necessary or encouraged.]

According to tradition, the Sabbath is the culmination of creation, the destination. Like any good designer the divine began with the end in mind. In other words the Sabbath, far from being an afterthought, can be seen as the very purpose for the world’s existence. The way I like to put it is, “God wasn’t pooped.” Like any good parent, the divine was modeling behavior. Just as parents who want their children to grow up looking both ways before crossing the street will do so themselves, so too the divine was showing us that it is essential for us to stop one day, that stopping is part of the makeup of the universe.

But what does this mean? How does the Sabbath work in a deeper sense? What would it look like in practice and how is it relevant today?

These are some of the central questions that I hope to address in this forum. For now, let’s take a quick look at what “God” actually did on that first Sabbath. Not surprisingly, “Shabbat” (the Hebrew origin of Sabbath) is the word used to describe the divine’s activity or condition on that day. Shabbat has three primary connotations: to sit, to dwell, and to return. Okay, so God sat and dwelled. But returned? Where was there for God to return to after only six days of creation?

As I said in my first post on this site, the Sabbath unfolds in three primary layers—the daylong weekly Sabbath, the yearlong Sabbath, and the Jubilee—that express the underlying principles of the Sabbath to increasingly intensified degrees. There are two primary dimensions to fulfilling these ideals: The actual practice of them, and; the spiritual state necessary to do so. The Sabbaths, slowing down and eventually stopping our harmful impact on this world and one another, will ultimately entail an incredible degree of selflessness on the part of each of us. These visionary standards cannot be actualized by rote. The only way to attain them is to undertake the spiritual transformation necessary for their fulfillment.

Further, for those of you who may worry at this point that I could be steering towards some kind of proselytism, the benefits of these principles are not limited to any particular set of beliefs or customs. It is we, us humans, who are the common root to all of the crises we see in the world. To transform our world and realize our true potential as a species, we must transform ourselves, all of us. What was God “returning” to after only six days? In creating the world of form, God was creating the possibility of mistaken identity. With form came the risk of thinking that this is it, that there is no more going on in the world than meets the eye. God was returning from multiplicity to a state of transcendent oneness, returning from the dangers of the illusion of separateness. Whatever name you wish to apply to the oneness, it is the central delusion of our separateness that keeps us locked in a world where some live in wealth that surpasses that of some nations, while others have so little they die daily by the thousands from simply not having enough food to eat.

Ultimately, healing our world will require healing the spiritual misapprehensions we all share. The central message, vision and method of the Sabbath are designed to bring about this very transformation. It may be difficult to imagine our world organized around Sabbath principles that aim to slow us down enough to achieve true selflessness. As members of consumer society, it’s probably not even the world we’d choose. But it may just be the world we need.

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