January 6th, 2010


Tikkun Olam

One of the professors I work for sent me a PDF document to print out for him and commented that I might be interested.  One of its bullet points references “Arvut Hadadit" and “Tikkun Olam” and so of course I Googled them.  One of the top-listed results for the second term was a 2007 article.  Excerpt:
Rather than reject the term altogether as meaningless, I suggest a re-imagining of tikkun olam that combines the four understandings of the term that we have seen in traditional text: 1) the Aleynu’s concept of tikkun as the destruction of any impurities that impede the full manifestation of the divine presence; 2) the literalist midrashic understanding of tikkun olam as the establishment of a sustainable world; 3) the rabbinic willingness to invoke tikkun ha’olam as a justification for changing untenable laws; and 4) the Lurianic belief that individual actions can affect the fate of the world as a whole.
  • From the Aleynu conception, our understanding of tikkun olam will include an emphasis on the elimination of evil and the restoration of the world to a perfected divine state.
  • The midrashic emphasis on the physical maintenance of creation reminds us of the need to work to preserve the world at a time when human behavior is having a negative impact on global temperatures, hurricane systems, and other natural phenomena
  • The rabbinic understanding of tikkun ha’olam as the creation of a workable social and religious system leads to a definition of tikkun olam as a mandate to correct the systems that make our own society dysfunctional.
  • Finally, the Lurianic belief that individual actions can have a permanent effect on the cosmos offers hope that our efforts toward tikkun will succeed.
These four strands, though complementary in some ways, also remain in tension with one another in some other important ways. The Aleynu prayer has the potential to direct Jews toward an inward focus on connecting with God and on spreading divinity through less tangible means, such as prayer or basic kindness, rather than through attention to more concrete human needs. The midrashic focus on the physical maintenance of the world might lead to an emphasis only on issues that affect the physical world – such as global warming, deforestation, or the extinction of animal species—and a concurrent disregard for human problems, such as poverty and health concerns. The rabbinic attention to fixing loopholes that disrupt the legal and social system may limit the definition of tikkun olam to issues that are understood to interfere with the large-scale functioning of society to the exclusion of issues that primarily affect a certain segment of the population. The Lurianic emphasis on the restoration of divine wholeness easily leads to an otherworldly focus, and a minimization of one’s sense of obligation toward the here and now.

By combining the major themes of these four strands, we come to a definition of tikkun olam as the process of fixing large societal problems, while maintaining a belief that our actions can have a positive effect on the greater human and divine world. When I think about my own tikkun olam commitments, I ask myself whether the work I am doing makes our society, as a whole function in a more positive way; whether the work allows even the most vulnerable members of society to live fully realized lives; and whether the work contributes to establishing a world in which the divine presence is more readily apparent. If we each ask these questions of ourselves, we can help to ensure that our work is worthy of being deemed tikkun olam.
If we each ask these questions of ourselves, we can help to ensure that our work is worthy of being deemed tikkun olam.


One of the articles on the sidebar was "Why I Study Sabbateanism."  In discussing Jacob Frank, the author writes: "If you see a boundary, cross it - that's the view, because it's what God did, mixing Godself with the impurity of the material world."  I was a little thrown to hear a Jewish writer saying this, because hello Christian Incarnationalism, but of course the God of Abraham has been coming down and dwelling amidst God's people since Creation.
light in the darkness

guide us to thy perfect light

[FirstChurch Mailing List] Rest and Bread, Epiphany! Three Kings Day! Manifestation of our Lord! Adoration of the Magi!

Dear Beloved,

We gather tonight to celebrate the feast of Epiphany at 6:30. Tonight we will take a moment to adore God. Won't you come? Music for meditation begins at 6:15.

Deacons will gather for food, business, and prayer at 7:30.

Laura Ruth
I sang alternate lyrics to "We Three Kings" (We three Queens and kings of Orient are ... Born a King to reign on Bethlehem's plan / Gold I bring to crown Him You again / King Christ forever, ceasing never / Over us all to rei[g]n ... Pray'r and praising, all men us raising...).

I wasn't really a fan of Laura Ruth's Reflection (though I did like the bit about the magi being astrologers, who observe the cosmos and translate that into terms we can understand, and using that idea for connecting the Creator God who is bigger than the cosmos with the infant Christ).  *grump*

We got anointed with (on our wrists) oil containing frankincense and myrrh.


I went up to Laura Ruth's office before service tonight 'cause there were no bulletins and the church office was locked.  She said she wanted to tell me something face-to-face.  Said a letter had gone out to the congregation but I probably didn't get it because I'm not on their mailing list (and so she wanted to tell me face-to-face before I started hearing it from other people).  I said, "I am on your mailing list."  (I'd gotten the letter yesterday.)  "But you can still tell me what you were gonna tell me face-to-face," I said.  "No, it's just what's in the letter," she said.

So what's in the letter is that Laura Ruth's position as Minister of Outreach and Evangelism at First Church Somerville was a two-year (part-time) position.  She started in late February 2008 (I met her in early June 2008).  She's applied to churches in Massachusetts and elsewhere [Vermont, Ohio, North Carolina, and southern Ontario], feeling called to full-time ministry.  Council has extended her contract through June 2010 if need be while she is in the job search process.  She's having Thursday night office hours at Blue Shirt Cafe in Davis starting this week.

She said to me upstairs, "I know you already have one loss" [i.e., Tiffany leaving] and I said, "Yeah, I was thinking that when I read the letter."

I hung around after service before Deacons (in part because I was hungry and so was partaking of the abundant Jesus).  At one point she asked me how I was doing.  I said, "okay."  Which was the same exchange we'd had before service.  Then I said, "I'm a little bit angry at you for leaving.  I mean, not really angry angry, but in an honest emotional assessment..."
LR: "I'm sorry."
me: "It's not your fault."
LR: "I'm still sorry."
me: "Thanks.  I appreciate that."
me: "It's not your fault that I didn't know this was a two-year position."
LR: "Ohhh."
me: "Yeah."
me: "I just assume these sorts of things are in perpetuity.  I mean, it makes sense, given this church's finances, that it would be, ''We have this grant money, let's do this thing'..."

When I left I reminded her that I would see her Sunday (because she's coming to hear me preach).  She asked how the sermon was coming and I said I'd finished it yesterday and wasn't planning to look at it again except that I'm supposedly rehearsing it over the phone with my friend Scott at some point.  She said I could just use a mini-recorder or the mic on my computer and play it back and I said, "I hate the sound of my voice recorded, so no."  She said, "You'll be a preacher, you gotta get used to that."  I said, "What is this 'will'?  All my pastors who are leaving are making sure to share with me before they leave their discernment about my path."

[Scott called me back tonight (I'd called him last night) and I learned that he had basically no Internet in Atlanta -- I had emailed him on Sunday and Tuesday and failed to receive his auto-response -- and also got the story of why he ended up with so much less free time than he had initially expected.]

Oh, and Laura Ruth explicitly invited me to be a part of First Church's pictorial congregational directory (photo shoot this weekend).