Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Passover Reflection-My Haggadah of grief and freedom.




"Remember this day when you went out Egypt,from the house of bondage,for with a mighty hand God took you out of there"-Exodus 13:3b

"The Seder is not really about the reexperiencing of the slavery and redemption of the Hebrews.As we see below,We all have our own Egypt to leave and we do leave "Egypt" It is not a reexperience,which cannot really be,but an experience,it is not theater but life"-Edward Greenstein

This Passover I'm reminded time and time again through the Haggadah to "Respect the Stranger" and not to "Oppress the stranger".I find during this time of Passover I am stranger to myself through my grief.The person that I was before tended to be much more outgoing now I find myself not so much so,some of the things that I enjoy like a walk outside I don't so much enjoy anymore.I find myself experiencing this as my own Haggadah the grief being my own Egypt,my narrow place I'm trying to journey out of and I want to share part of this Haggadah with you all that is my mourner's path.At times this Haggadah may be sad at times it times it may be joyful but we all have a journey to liberation this is mine at the moment.Journey with me.

Something I find in this Haggadah of grief is a lot of questions.The four that stand out mostly to me are where do I go from here?Why not me?Why couldn't I have been more present in my sister's life?and How can I make the most out of the life given to me.My grief counselor has assured me these questions are all normal.Yet in some ways I want answers to them now.I don't think I will though.My grief counselor has assured me that feelings of guilt are nrmal but I should not let them hold sway.Still though I rest in the questions right now.

Another thing is instead of saying dayenu-it would have been enough.I find myself my life is not enough right now without my sister.I am mad at times,I do get sad never depressed.Some days I'm low and some days I have only what I could call Shalom a complete.I love the days of Shalom dread the low days.I have to accept kicking and screaming that a void will always be there that doesn't exactly mean I like the void.I have no other reality to accept but that void is there.In the exile of this void I realize though I am finding more of who I am.I can say sincerely and at times bluntly where I feel on things.I embrace this yet at times my bluntless has hurt others which I feel really bad about at times.This  though is life right now.

This Haggadah is not all dismal  for the Haggadah is a journey of freedom.Even though I find myself in the maggid portion of this Haggadah I find myself approaching that great banquet to follow.I see within me something new being birthed not only in becoming a Jew but a new person itself is being birthed.I returned to my Egypt of old in going back to Florida.Than in coming back to Chicago realized my life has went full circle.That this event itself was a part of my own journey to Sinai as I await for those waters to part,that celebration of myself joining in that covenant I already feel much a part of . I find myself celebrating in within my prayers.My Halleyu is louder,my Elohai N'shema reverberating and the Mourner's Kaddish said with a faith in that trancendent oneness that I thought I never could have.I am free within even though at times it may not feel like I am.I affirm I experience a freedom.My bread of affliction has became my suestance and I can't await until this mourning turns into dancing.Amen.

Some Questions to Ponder:

What Haggadah are you writing this Passover?

What in the Seder service of your life is enabling you to journey towards a greater liberation?

If you have experienced a tragic event around this Passover season or before it what freedom are you finding in your grief?

An Affirmation:

This song by Shlomo Carlebach has become kind of my mantra as I go into that Israel that is my soul as I struggle with myself and God to understand this event within me.I return to that which matters most.Who I am becoming and who I am meant to be.Who that person will be I have no idea but await joyfully for his arrival when I least notice it.










Thursday, April 21, 2016

D'var Torah-Ahare Mot:A Covenant Relationship



"I am God your God"-Leviticus 18:30b

"We affirm that the Jewish people is bound by an eternal covenant as reflected in in our varied understandings of creation,revelation and redemption'-From A Statement of principles of Reform Judaism,Central Conference of American Rabbis,1999

Torah Portion:Leviticus 16:1-18:30
                        
Haftarah Reading:Amos 9:7-15

Throughout this portion up until the end this beautiful affirmation is found throughout "I am God,your God".This affirmation denotes an exclusive relationship with that transcendent oneness that the people Israel has.A Covenant relationship..What exactly is this covenant though?What does being a part of it entail?and most importantly what does this covenant relationship mean to me?

To begin with what exactly is this covenant relationship?The answer to that is not exactly easy to answer I think some might say it started at Sinai when all present responded with:

"All the words God has spoken we will do"-Exodus 24:3

Yet some might some might say it began with Abraham in his affirmation of monotheism.In a time there were many gods he himself chose to affirm an ethical monotheism which in turn Judaism promoted to the world this was definitely affirmed by the early Reform Jews as expressed in this statement from the Pittsburgh Platform of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

"We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the infinite,and in every mode,source or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of of the indwelling of God in humanity.We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea as taught in our holy scriptures presents and developed and spirtualized by the Jewish teachers in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages.We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended amid continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation this God-idea as the central religious truth for the human race"-From The Pittsburgh Platform,1885

I affirm both of these and I think of this covenant to as something very intimate not just something made up of a laws or a philosophical belief.The Covenant is a relationship God says "I am God,Your God" my own best response to what this covenant relationship is I find within the Emet or Ge'lu'lah affirmation held within the siddur which in itself seems like a response to God's "I am God,Your God":

"True is this eternal teaching to us-beloved and precious,awesome,beautiful,and good.The God of the universe is truly our sovereign,the Rock of Jacob,Our protecting Shield,O God,You endure through all generations;Your name persists;Your throne is firm;Your sovereignty and faithfulness last forever.Your words live and endure,faithful and precious for all eternity.
  From Egypt You redeemed us,freeing us from bondage.For that,Your beloved sang praise,exalting you.Your dear ones offered hymns,songs,praise,blessing,and thanksgiving to you as Sovereign,the living and enduring God.High and exalted,Great and awesome,God ever humbles the proud,raises the lowly,frees the imprisoned,redeems the afflicted,helps the oppressed,answering our people when we cry out.Praise to God Most High;Blessed is God and deserving of blessing ! In great joy Moses,Miriam and Israel responded with song to you"

In responding to that covenant is found within the Emet Affirmation I also find within it a guide to what this covenant entails

True is this eternal teaching to us......The God of the universe is our sovereign"

This verse reminds me that this covenant entails affirming one God amidst all those materialisms of life that become gods themselves.A worship of parts of that transcendent oneness not that great totality that is,was and will be.

Your words live and endure,faithful and precious for eternity

Torah means simply instruction or teaching.That transcendent oneness teaches me daily through the Torah that comes from life.How I deal with the harsh word of another or the beauty that is held in a single blade of grass.Of these things God teaches me through they are Eternal.Part of this covenant to me means paying attention to these daily words from God.

From Egypt you redeemed us,freeing us from bondage.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew Mizrayim also means narrow place.I can say from those narrow places in life. Those hard times that God was there redeeming me from such which I stand eternally grateful for.I think recognizing that even my own narrow places those exiles of life God was there and saved me is a prerogative in being a member of this covenant.

Your dear ones offered hymns,songs,praise,blessing,and thanksgiving to you as Sovereign

In knowing I have freedom and that freedom came from God.I must in turn be thankful for it and show my thanks as one of the dear ones of that Transcendent One.How do I that?Well prayer is a good way another way is studying the written and oral Torah seeing how the Jewish people have responded to God in every age.

God ever humbles the proud,raises the lowly,frees the imprisoned,redeems the afflicted, answering our people when we cry out.

I believe as God does so must we as humanity do.If you notice that the first part of the sentence in this verse is very all-encompassing not just speaking of one person or group but all.It is incumbent upon every human being I think to remind the prideful they will soon crash in their egos,to raise those up experiencing lowliness to the same privilege we possess,freeing those unjustly imprisoned and helping those needing redemption from the abuses that affect their life.Within the end of it denotes a special calling to Jews in this or those like me who are making the choice to be jewish. God answers our call when we cry out.Crying out does not always mean the physical tears it also means the inner tears I might have for the other recognizing the pain of another's state and making it your won I think is a order within this covenant.Not only crying out through words of praying or Torah study but making those things a part of my very movements.Affirming those affirmations through actions.

Moses,Miriam and Israel responded with song to you !

In knowing what this covenant relationship entails I can celebrate it.How do I celebrate it?Just by living it out.That simple.

Last but certainly not least as one approaching closely conversion and as we all approach Passover.I have to say this covenant relationship means a lot to me .My life through time has affirmed it.I as a person believe that not only does that Transcendent Oneness say to me "I am God,Your God" but I also respond "You are God,My God the one who has freed me,delivered me and encouraged me in my own freedom and redemption you have brought to exemplify that freedom to others.You intimately work in my life and allow me to celebrate that intimacy I have with others through praying and recognizing how daily you are teaching me through that Torah of daily life".

Questions to Ponder:

What exactly do you think the Covenant is?

What does the Covenant entail to you?

What does the Covenant mean to you?

An Affirmation:

God sees us all through the eyes of heaven in having this Covenant can we see others through Heaven's Eyes?









Thursday, March 31, 2016

D'var Torah-Shimini:Your Tzaddik Potential



"Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering,atoning for yourself and for the people"-Leviticus 9:7

"It is written the tzaddik is the foundation of the world"-The Tanya,Chapter 1

In humanity certain people have stood out as exemplary through their own sense of what is right they have encouraged us all.We all know their names whether they be social reformers such as Jane Addams or those we don't know so much about but still that profoundly make a difference like your first grade teacher who taught you how to read.Judaism has a term for these individuals it is Tzaddik. Loosely translated Tzaddik means righteous one or saint.Sometimes we think these saints of human existence seem far from who we are but I don't believe so I think each of us as individuals has the potential to become these very people which we cleave to as examples within our society and the answer on how we do that is held within Moses advice about the communal sin offering to Aaron that being to approach,perform,and atone.


Approach

First of all if we want to be a tzaddik we must approach that altar that is humanity seeing the sacrifice that humanity has made over a sin.A transgression that has so bothered society that it must finally come to our higher place to be recognized.We like Aaron must recognize the plaguing issue whether it just be someone's struggle with prayer or the fact that a law clearly segregates an innocent branch of the tree that is our shared life.

Perform

After recognizing the sin offering we must do something about as Aaron offered it up we too must realize that we must light the fire and bring attention to that which may be destroying the society the Reverend Martin Luther King,Jr summed it up well in this quote:

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe,nor politic,nor popular,but they must do it because conscience tells them it is right"

There is a time for talking that was the altar than there is a time to act.A time to do.We must let the fire that is born from the spark of our being attest bringing attention to that issue that has brought all affected so down.We must as Aaron choose to act for our people.

Atone

There is a beauty I find within the tzaddikim not only does the end of an issue become a fad for them it becomes their whole life.In some way both the dissolution of the issue and the very life of the tzaddik become mixed together.I witness this in the life of Rebbe Nachmann the founder of the Breslov Chasidic movement.Rebbe Nachmann taught that joy should infuse every aspect of one's Judaism.He taught if one is mourning they should seek to recognize but find joy in the fact that God is consoling them.In his life though he experienced much disease suffering from tuberculosis,losing both two sons and daughters in infancy.Rebbe Nachmann had every reason to be miserable in life yet he chose to say such misery does not define his relationship with the Eternal but he would choose something happier joy.in experiencing such suffering he in away atoned for all those things that may cause people not to have joy.I see this in my vision for the homeless union that those of us who have experienced homelessness or who are can witness to a hope in what people may see in a dark time.

We all have the potential to be tzaddikim it's simple I think.We should not shirk the great responsibilities to change the world nor deny them.We must do first than believe the power of their outcome.Let us claim the sanctify of our being and stand with Aaronn,Ghandhi and others and be Tzaddikim !!!

Questions to ponder:

What issue do you see plaguing society that might be worth recognizing?can you do something about it?Even if it is 1/100 chance it would work?

Why do you think you distance yourself from those in our society that have made a substantial difference when they were really just common people that saw something needed and done it?

An Affirmation:

Let us dance knowing that oour potential to become like those we admire is really not far from us






Friday, February 26, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Tisa:Breaking the higher idea of self and realizing the true self



"Moses' anger was kindled and he flung the tablets from his hands,shattering them at the foot of the mountain"-Exodus 32:19

"Hew for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones.And I will inscribe upon them tablets the words that were on the first tablets,which you broke"-Exodus 34:1

Torah Portion- Exodus 30:11-34:35

Haftarah Portion- First Kings 18:20-39

In this week's Torah portion we read of God creating tablets for Moses to bring down to the people but as he comes down he notices the people are worshiping the golden calf and what does he do?he breaks those tablet in his anger.These first set of tablets stand out to me in this portion.They were made by the hands of God yet they were broken.They were in many ways God's gift to humanity.These tablets make me think of how we all get sometimes we at times think we are God's gift to humanity.We take a delusional view of yourself thinking we are something higher than we actually are.Sometimes we like these tablets need to be broken and what does it take to be broken a Moses in the form of those around us.Last year I had an idea of who I was.I got prideful and had to be broken.I didn't want the truth.After I realized right my life changed.I was liberated but it took those others.i think an answer lies in the recreation of tablets it took both Moses it was that which was higher working alongside that which was human yet was written with the figure of the Eternal.We have the writing of the Eternal in us we need not think of ourselves just as something we already are something.We just have to rest in our being.We are transcendent.We are like the second set carved out in our humanity and stamped by something greater than ourselves.Let's embrace that and not see ourselves as teh Eternal Source but part of it.

Question to ponder:

Do you think of yourself greater than you actually are?

An Affirmation:






Wednesday, February 17, 2016

D'var Torah-Tetzavh: All are Consecrated,all are good




"And consecrate them to serve me"-Exodus 28:41

"And the Eternal saw all created,and found it very good"-Genesis 1:31

  Torah Reading: 27:20-30:10
   
  Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 43:10-27

In contemplating my sister's death and having a conversation with a friend of how in the past I  have looked at sexuality led me to the realization that all that exists,has existed or will exist is in fact like Aaron and his sons consecrated to a good and noble end.Does this mean that I don't believe evil exists at all within the world?Obviously I do a lot of evil things have happened in my life but I do believe at the ground of all existence all things are essentially virtuous.Let me share with you how I was brought to this conclusion.

First of all my sister's death allowed me to think more of what are human purpose is which I spoke of in my last d'var Torah that being striving for holiness by connection with all.I realized in contemplating the human condition we seem as a species to always seek good in all and each other .I saw this in my family despite our struggles we could had at that moment Shalom Bayit a house of peace.Good was the goal.Why do we seek out this good?Why did my family seek out the good?It was not just because of a funeral I believe in Genesis it says the Eternal found creation good that affirmation was never recanted.The Torah speak speaks of humanity choosing to grow in wickedness but it just doesn't seem to me it is in our condition to be wicked but to be good we always seem to want to seek out the best for another w may have a bad idea of what it that is but good seems to animate the character of our lives.I saw that shining sun of benevolence in my family in going to Florida and I feel this good is our first nature.

Second growing up I was taught that my body itself was sinful because Adam ate the fruit in the garden we all were destined to sin and I was also taught to hate my sexuality.As time has went by things have happened to me that have drew me away from such thoughts.I became a part of a Naturist group in seeing myself as well as others in the skin that made up who they were it allowed me to see my own image flaws as something divine.Each and every human being has a difference it taught me.In witnessing this I realized that my body was not a sinful thing but something I should respect it was good,consecrated.The other thing my sexuality in coming out I have realized how much happier I am.I have the freedom to be myself resting simply in my being which in itself is good.

With these experiences I cannot help but say we are all something holy as the priests.We are holy so let us choose the goodness we are called because all was created good and it is still good.

Some Questions to ponder:

Do you recognize that we have within our beings the impulse first to do good?

In knowing our human consecration how can we better witness to the good we are?

What things do you find good about your existence?

An Affirmation:

Let us walk in the light of the Oneness that enraptures our existence






Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reflection-The Conversations that matter

Image result for Gay rightsImage result for race rights



"There should be no discrimination against languages people speak,skin color or religion"-Malala Yousafzai,Survivor of a shot to her by Al-Qaeda for wanting equity in education for girls

Recently I have noticed a forgetting of the things that matter and in noticing this I have noticed I have realized some conversations that matter seem to be dodged a lot within society.Why is this?I am going to tell you my reasoning on that at the end of this blog but in forgetting those conversations that I feel matter a lot to our society.I want to bring them to our existence so that we as human species can remember and observe these issues are still very fresh in our discussion as well as admit they should not end.What are these conversations.They are those uncomforatble ones we are unwilling but our humanity calls them to us at the moment.I recount them now:

Racial Prejudice

If we are all made in the image of the Eternal Source why do we not see all the colors of human existence as equitable?why do we choose to oppress a person because of their skin?Why are those of a race holding more privilege not sharing their privilege?Racial Prejudice still exists let us all not rest in denial anymore of this.

Sexuality Discrimination

As a gay man I notice this a lot.Like just because i'm a gay man I have to be put into some box of sensitivity and mocked for who I am attracted too.The moment a person finds this out they label me see it as some disability of my human existence.I am told to tone it down but I will not choose to tone it down.Sexuality Discrimination still exists let us observe such in our society that it is still present worthy off discussion.

Gender Bias

Just because someone is a women or a transgendered individual why are their laws that still exist that make such individuals less of who they are.Why can't a woman be p[aid just as equal as I am as a man?why does a Transgendered or Queergendered not welcome in certain bathrooms?Obviously Gender Bias still exists and is a conversation that needs to continue among humanity.

Ageism

I as a young adult am treated sometimes as if my experience does not matter at all by those older than me?Why is this?One's age dos not negate their experience whether young or old.Ageism does exist and should not be denied.

Religious Discrimination

In the faith gambit it seems as if faiths should look at themselves as people experiencing the same truth just recognizing it in different ways.Us versus them should not exist but the universal message of all should be realized.Religious discrimination exists one faith is not better than the other we should discuss those truths that unite us all.

Economic Inequality

Why are people homeless it is not because they have chosen that life but because those who have the means choose not to use them for the betterment of the life of those who are homeless.No more should a person starve each should have according to their need.Economic Inequality does exist it's not a far of thing it's in front of us everyday.

I affirmed that I would tell you the reason why I think many are dodging these uncomfortable conversations.The answer is simple we as a human race have forgotten our humanity the basic precept present across the board is the simple teaching"Love your neighbor as yourself"Why are we choosing to forget this simple common practice of our humanity?We fail ourselves if we don't have these conversations.A Zion is not built and a horrible world is created.Let's continue to remember and observe these conversations that matter.


Questions to ponder:

Why do you think some are dodging having these conversations that matter?

Why do you fear personally having the uncomfortable conversation that should be had?

Do you personally fear a better day for human society?

An Affirmation:














In Memoriam:Beth Shiver,My beloved sister



"Beth was a resident of Carrabelle, FL.
She is survived by daughters, Jessica Locklear and Heather Holton, her granddaughters, Kensleigh and Bailey Evans, and Lizzie Waller, and her ex-husband, Michael Holton. She is also survived by her mother and step-father, Aleta and Kenny Baker, sisters, Bridgett Shiver-Medina and Amanda Baker, and brothers, Jamie Shiver, Ray Shiver, and Karl Malachut, along with many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. A special thanks to Janice Ann Shiver, who was more than just a best friend to Beth, she was a sister.
Beth is preceded in death by her father Raymond “Tenderfoot” Shiver, her Granny Lizzie and grandfather Lester Shiver, grandmother Annie Catherine Miley, and grandfather Leroy Miley.
A memorial service to honor Beth’s life will be held on January 30th, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. at the Carrabelle United Methodist Church, located at 102 NE Ave. B in Carrabelle, FL. All family and friends are welcome. "-Obituary for Beth Shiver


Three weeks ago I received tragic news that  my sister had died in a car accident her name was Beth in still processing her death and just the events that have happened within the last three weeks I just felt I needed to memorialize her here.

My sister Beth was someone in my eyes that always wanted to keep our family together she was one who desired unity out of us.My sister was also adventurous something her and I hold in common I find it no small thing in reading the Torah Portion during the time of her memorial the words"be not afraid" called out to me.Beth in my experience was not really much afraid of anything.She was also a mother and grandmother she loved her children more than anything else.In all my conversations they were paramount.Her death as shocking as it was did bring about a miracle it reunited my family there was harmony amongst us maybe not all of us but some of us I think did experience it.In some way I felt her in these moments of harmony and I must say in her death I have grown sen my family grow too.Where do we go from here?I don't know sometimes i'm mad I can't have her back,guilty that I could have had more time with her,I cry because she is not here and I find that nothing in life really satisfies that want but I can live into my mourning remembering her within me.She lives on in all of us.I love my sister and miss her. Her memory though is a great blessing even in death she is singing her message of harmony.


A Prayer