The High Holidays and The Broken Heart

I look forward to hearing your feedback to my editorial for the Hamilton Jewish News. It appears on page 10.

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The Recipe: A Psalm, some Kabbala, inspired by Jewish renewal

The Psalm is a foundational piece of spiritual architecture. I’ve played a little hip hop riff on the psalm here, mixing the four worlds of kabbalah with the flow of the psalm narrative. Resonate if you will. Every life is a prayer.

Assiyah-The world of action
Yetzirah the world of heart
Beriyah-The world of the mind
Atzilut-The world of the divine

Assiyah-The silence stretches into yearning

Within it I rest, awaiting you.

Small rip of tension strains against the weight

The wait, The crush of love, The weight.

Yetzirah-You run, we run together

Away from me, from you, from all That I am, That I am.

No arrival can come before you after you without you

First word. Last tear. We are midwives to your never ending birth.

Beriyah-Oh God the crack I hear, I think, I hear

Prove God, Prove love

If X is Y /and why is X /then why, why?

The mystery that rushes towards me brings the

Crushed humility of the bended knee.

Atzilut-My arms are crossed, open crossed.

The truth takes hold, takes flight.

The light-strikes my eyes-my heart

My Heart My Heart

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Sabbath Reboot

We were recently contacted by someone who had read an article by Mardi Tindal in the The United Church Observer — a United Church publication. The article was about our New Sabbath Project — the weekly practice of breaking bread and building community, one meal at a time and also the spinoffs such as this blog, our work with a Kenyan Pastor who approached us after seeing our blog and our radio show on CIUT. We appreciated hearing from this reader because it reminded us that we really must return to this beautiful weekly ritual. In truth, we have had such an overwhelmingly busy year that some of the most important things we do for both our physical, spiritual and mental health, took a back seat to other demands. The Sabbath ritual is one we hope others will adopt and adapt to strengthen their communal and family lives. Maybe the year would have been easier for us if we shared the joy and a little bit of prep and hosting duties with a deeper network of sabbatical fellow travelers. Sharing helps.

We thought we would share Mardi Tindal’s article (link is also above) with you. Enjoy and feel free to respond and share on our site and theirs.

Soul Work
The invitation: Mark Sabbath in your life

By Mardi Tindal

Thomas Merton provocatively described activism and overwork as “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.”

In the book Sabbath, author Wayne Muller quotes the 20th-century monk and then prescribes Sabbath time as a means of healing from this violence. “Sabbath,” he writes, “is more than the absence of work. . . . It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true . . . honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

Whether or not you think of your busy life as a form of violence, we all need to take time for reflection and to honour the perspective it brings.

Jewish friends have taught me much about the spiritual practice of Sabbath. Friday evening’s Shabbat meal (itself the model for the Christian eucharist, or communion) marks a day of rest, remembers God’s creation and looks forward to God’s shalom.

My own family for generations has enjoyed a tradition of Sunday dinners — not a formal liturgy, but gathering, pausing, giving thanks.

Sabbath traditions are more complicated these days. Our families aren’t all within easy reach, and many embrace differing traditions. How then to practise Sabbath?

Ralph Benmergui and Cortney Pasternak, two communication professionals raising their children with respect for his Jewish spirituality and her humanist values, decided to renew the ancient tradition within their busy lives. Their New Sabbath Project involves inviting people to share a Friday-evening meal and a blessing. It’s a practice they describe as “breaking bread and growing community.”

“We have to build spiritual bridges toward each other, between people who love each other and people who don’t know each other,” Benmergui explains in a recent conversation. “Having a meal together is creating a community one meal at a time.”

The practice is an informal reflection of the traditional Shabbat meal. It begins with lighting candles and sharing wine and bread. Then Benmergui and Pasternak invite their guests to offer blessings. “Whatever blessing you want,” says Benmergui. “Just say it. I don’t care if you’re blessing your goldfish.”

Of course, no one takes the invitation lightly. And their reactions testify to how deeply we need these opportunities.

“We saw the relief in them — that they could do something sacred, just that simply,” Benmergui observes. One guest turned to his spouse and said, “I just want to bless my wife, because we’ve been so busy lately, and I just want her to know how much I love and appreciate her.” The wife was almost in tears, and Benmergui realized, “This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t hard to do.”

Following a Sabbath practice allows for “a sacred space to be created, a container in which we can locate the love and the unity that’s actually present every moment anyway,” he says. “It’s sort of like when there’s a blackout. You kind of wish there were more of them (in warm weather, for a few hours every week), because everybody talks to their neighbour and nobody has a machine to look at, and you really feel your presence on the Earth. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s kind of beautiful. So there’s a way of doing that.”

Benmergui and Pasternak have offered a guide to creating your own Sabbath project on their website, They were delighted to hear from a Masai tribesman who’s also a Christian missionary. He came across their guide and has been holding Shabbat dinners in his Kenyan village ever since.

There is no one right way, they emphasize, to experience Sabbath. Which leads to the question: what are your Sabbath practices?

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

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Can YOU say the “G” word?

I guess you could say I’m Religious.

I was just re-reading a little book that American author and public intellectual Chris Hedges wrote a while back called I Don’t Believe in Atheists. It is a brilliant and passionate refutation of absolutism regardless of it’s ideological underpinnings. Now on the face of it that would seem obvious but when applied to the arrogant musings of folks like British Scientist Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens it provides a healthy inoculation against those that claim that their total rejection of religious faith is somehow superior to the reductivist and cartoonish image that they claim all religious pursuit represents.

Hedges is relentless in his critiques and brings an admirable lack of ‘need for affection’ and careerism to the task that holds so many of us back from articulating a much needed and clear eyed analysis of what a world without non-rational modalities looks like. Many times I have found that saying that I am ‘religious’ has placed me across the divide. If one is religious they must be an extreme anti-intellectual at worst or naïve and misled for those who see themselves as ‘understanding’ of my condition.

Hedges deals with the need for non-rational ways of seeing and the rituals and traditions that can foster the nurturing of those elements of the human condition that lack scientific definition: Love, sorrow, beauty, evil et al. It is through religion that I encounter and am humbled by my imperfection; that I place in myself in an unimaginable and breathtaking universe. It is my weekly nod to my smallness and the rituals in which I partake bring me closer to the wonder and awe that people like Creation Spirituality founder Matthew Fox speak of.

Recently I had a friend over for one of our weekly Shabbat dinners. He is a good and kind man — an atheist and scientist. We sparred good naturedly about our differing beliefs as all around the table friends, new and old, gave blessings for the meal and reveled in each other’s company. The evening, as all of our New Sabbath Project Shabbats seem to be, was warm and meaningful. He argued that all can be explained through science and that we are responsible to each other to be moral and ethical, not to some magical being. Only after he left did it occur to me that science has given us so much but science could not have given us Shabbat. It is through the ritual and practice that religion obligates us to convene to show gratitude and to connect.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Chris Hedges and I Don’t Believe in Atheists: “Religion is our finite, flawed and imperfect expression of the infinite. The experience of transcendence-the struggle to acknowledge the
infinite-needs to be attributed to an external being called God…God
is, as Thomas Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. God is a search, a way to frame the questions. God is a call to reverence… What are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? What does it all mean?”

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I Am Not a Taxpayer

I am not a taxpayer. I am a father of four, a husband and a member of several communities of common interest but I refuse to be reduced to a financial transactional unit. I’m not being taxed to death, in fact my taxes and yours thank you very much, have directly contributed to keeping me alive and well, through several deep illnesses and on a day to day basis as I walk through this life assuming that the police, fire and other emergency professionals will keep me safe.

Our taxes, and yes I’m willing to use the T word are how we share our wealth to make sure that we take care of each other. That’s what citizenship is about. It’s a commitment to the common good.

In an age where as Oscar Wilde wrote “we know the price of everything and the value of nothing” that government is not the customer service desk at Walmart, which by the way still pays poverty wages. It is the an expression of our common values and ethics.

The more we fear for our economic future the more we must guard
against cutting each other loose. In Spain where the financial paradigm
has crumbled there is a restaurant where half the clientele pay full price for their meal and half work for an hour or two to receive the same meal with dignity.

Our lives are lived in a fleeting moment in time. If we are fortunate
enough to reflect before leaving it is only what we have done to create
and cultivate loving relationships that will have mattered.

I am not a taxpayer. Not everything is about being a “customer” or a consumer. I am a citizen and nothing less will do.

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Culture and Memory: To Learn from or Repeat Mistakes

When we look back at some of the genocides and other atrocities that scar the history of the world — in the name of one thing or another — we realize that the role of “memory” is incredibly important. We can cope by choosing to forget or we can take the harder path of remembering and taking responsibility. That memory manifests in different ways for victims, survivors, perpetrators — entire societies. Historians and other scholars have written much on memory and culture and the influence of one on the other — and with good reason. If we eradicate memory, we are not able to see the gathering clouds — think of intolerance, racism,antisemitism and so on. It is only with our ability to remember collectively, that we can inoculate ourselves against them — or so we hope.

On the New Sabbath Project this week on CIUT on Sunday at 2PM artists and playwrights, authors and educators share their ideas around culture and memory through artistic and literary expression. Tom Dugan, Actor/Playwright and LA Drama Critics Circle Award-Winner talks about his one man play “Weisenthal-Nazi Hunter” and Opiyo Oloya talks about his book Child to Soldier: Stories from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Forcing Sabbatical on my Busy Busy Life

Various religious and spiritual scholars have written about the crisis of work, sabbatical of some sort and the spiritual disconnect brought about by our very busy lives. In one recent audio transcript found online people in contemporary society are compared to horses in a cavalry charge — moving forward so fast and just going through the motions, thus preventing them from thinking about the important things in life — including their enslavement to work. The idea is to make them so busy – that they can’t pause to think.

A part of this same audio file transcript reads “We become enslaved to the wrong path in life; we can’t even get our priorities straight; we can’t see the bigger picture”…and our spirits are low.

One way I think to free ourselves and reconnect to the things that matter is to literally force ourselves to stop doing what everyone else around us is doing, take a step back and think — but also to use that time to do something positive. Now I get that people stuck on that treadmill may say “Nice idea — but who’s got the time?” Getting off that treadmill takes tremendous courage and often lots of time — to say nothing of disposable income or a good savings.

Several years ago, American journalist Po Bronson wrote a book titled “What should I do with my life?” The book chronicled the experiences of a number of people who had either left a professional life they found unfulfilling or unsatisfying to pursue their passions. Think here for instance – a big city, high paid hot shot who decides that what he really wants is to become a chef and open a bakery. Or people, who due to circumstances like raising children , give up on their own professional dreams, only to pursue them later — somethings in their 60s, when their partners are ready to retire. Or others who have these powerful but rare spiritual “epiphanies” that come with forced sabbatical, silent retreat and meditation — quiet space and time to actually think.

I’m convinced these epiphanies or whatever you’re comfortable calling them are about more than just pursuing professional dreams. This is about a spiritual deficit where the individual reigns over community; where even the lowest paid — to saying nothing of the highest paid — jobs, want all of you — 110 percent — so there is nothing left for anything or anyone else. And then, hey, in case you’re tired, burnt out or stretched to your limit — the message is shut up and be grateful. There are 100 other people in line for the job.

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking My Busy Busy Life. We’ll be speaking to two fantastic people – Molly Finlay and Richard Pietro of Citizen Bridge— who left big jobs and big careers in the search for meaning. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Sexing Religion

It’s become more than a cliche to say that “sex” is everywhere in contemporary, Western society. Hyper-commercialized notions of sexuality – and usually heterosexuality — saturate our public space — from advertising to music to infotainment programming parading around as news. Forget being tall enough to reach the porn magazines — sexual suggestion is insidious — at the makeup and so-called “fashion” magazine counters at the drug store. I’m reminded here of my seven year old, who I caught giggling recently at the magazine stand as I was at the checkout. I called over to him asking what he was laughing at. He pulled out a “fashion” magazine with little more than a woman’s cleavage on the cover. Completely normalized right? He told me he was laughing because he couldn’t believe they were (his words here) “putting this on the cover to try to sell us a magazine.” I was surprised and impressed by his analysis.

It’s no surprise then, that some of the world’s oldest religions and religious institutions have something to say about sex. But their response, perhaps predictably, is inundated with deeper ethical concerns where sex is inextricably linked with morality — both personal and communal.

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking Religion and Sexuality. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice: Religion by Another Name

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation.

Years ago I read a lovely book by Tom Robbins called another Roadside Attraction. In it Jesus comes back to us. Yes it’s true…the second coming happens. Thing is no one seems to take it very seriously. You see if I remember correctly, and this was ages ago for me, the only way that anyone could treat this ‘miracle’ was to turn it in to a shallow pop culture experience, a freak show. Jesus had to be reduced to the flavor of the month and as all flavours go so goes the lord. He is humiliated and disposed of, just like David Lee Roth, Paris Hilton, and countless political middleweights.

In Joseph Epstein’s writings on ‘Celebrity Culture’, he writes that fame is something one earns while celebrity is something one cultivates. In essence Jesus didn’t have a good publicist. He goes on to say that fame is based on achievement, celebrity on broadcasting that achievement.

Why have we evolved in to a state of celebrity worship over time? Are we filling the religious void by turning our eyes away from the transcendent and instead locking them on to the supermarket trashbloids at the check out counter?Tirdad Drakhshani itemizes our obsession with celebrity through the modern day, secular ‘relic’. A lock of Justin Beiber’s hair fetched 40,668 dollars on Ebay Britney Spears chewing gum-14,000. And this is my favourite — William Shatner’s kidney stone-that went for 25,000 dollars.

From relics we move to ritual sacrifice, Richard Pryor the famed comedian literally went up in flames. Heath Ledger died alone in his hotel room at the height of his fame, for that we gave him an Oscar. From sacrifice we have one last station of the cross as it were, redemption. John Travolta is much more interesting post-Saturday Night Fever when he fell put out a few dud’s and then promptly fell off the star-map. He revived his career with Quentin Tarantino’s help in Pulp Fiction. To Hear Tarantino tell it. He ‘remembered’ Travolta and thought he would make a great dancing ‘hit man’ for the film. He called Travolta up and they took a walk in L.A. To his amazement no one recognized the one time star. That just made Tarantino want him in the movie more. The film got made Travolta was back and making twenty million per flick-all was forgiven. I interviewed him around that time.

We were given literally three minutes each on the promotional junket
for a god-awful movie called The General’s Daughter. I decided to ignore the movie and ask him purely personal questions. My last one tickled him, I asked, “What effect has having millions of dollars in that last while had on your ability to form friendships. He leaned forward and said that this had been the hardest thing for him because so many had seemed
genuine and in the end they just stabbed him in the back but the that
the good news was that having been there in back he has always had a
small group of loved ones, disciples as it were, that were there for him
regardless. From rags to riches to rags to riches.

In the end his story is about redemption, and you and I, the little people, get to stand in judgment as we wait to cash out , will he be returned to the pantheon or will we toss him on to the scrap heap of broken dreams. Today we’ll dig around in the rubble of this notion of celebrity worship and why it means so much to us.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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A Patient Side to Capitalism?

Hope you had a chance to listen in to our latest New Sabbath Project radio show on CIUT 89.5 FM. If not, tune in online.

This week’s show? Patient Capitalism. We start with this:

I have this little theory that in 2008 Capitalism had a heart attack and landed face down on Wall Street. Brokers, financial instrument designers and rating agency double dippers seemed to just pick up their box of office supplies, bolt through the glass doors and step right over the capitalist system as it lay writhing on the the street.

Next, the government folks showed up to shoo the gathering crowd of citizens along, saying “Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.” Well you know the rest — the captains of industry and finance who had spent years demanding that government get out of their way showed up on the steps of Capitol Hill, hand outstretched, and with a ‘just jokin with ya’ grin on their faces. Apparently that did the trick as they promptly received enormous dollops of our collective revenues to keep them going to the next payday.

The Occupy Movement sprung from the minds of the Adbusters group and even the middle class found themselves egging on that rag tag army of dissenters. There are outbursts of economic discontent around the globe but nothing seems to be sticking. There is no obligation to protest; no overarching moral imperative pushing us out of our living rooms and into the street. The cow is still being fattened just enough it would seem.

Five years later we are all paying down that debt. The so-called
developing world in the meantime can be viewed as collateral, fiscal damage at best and growth in must-grow economies has stalled out. It would appear we’re just a wee bit lost — kinda between economic ‘ism’s’. The unanswered question is what’s Plan B?

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just capitalism or bust. Well maybe that’s not entirely true. Microcredit has emerged over the last decade. Social innovations like crowdsourcing have emerged. Prosperity without growth is a legitimate economic school of thought and in the last little while, the notion of Patient Capitalism has emerged as a new lens on the entrepreneurial landscape.

I’ll talk to some people in this edition of the New Sabbath Project who can bring this idea of “Capitalism with a Heart” or compassionate capitalism into focus. It’s the 7th day. Time to reflect, re-new and heck why not…re-invest.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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