05 February 2021

‘We stand before you … seeking
only to understand your will
and do it with a whole heart’

Shabbat Shalom … Alex Levin

Patrick Comerford

Rabbi Rachel S Mikva is the Herman Schaalman Professor in Jewish Studies and Senior Faculty Fellow of the InterReligious Institute at Chicago Theological Seminary.

She speaks regularly about ‘dangerous religious ideas.’ Indeed, her most recent book is Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Penguin, 2020).

She says the pursuit of justice is essential, but the equally compelling call to mercy sometimes (gently) pushes justice aside. Freedom is a God-given right, but freedom without commitment and purpose leaves us rootless. Peace is our perpetual desire, even as we sometimes decide we must fight. We also live with the breath-taking and terrifying knowledge that religious passion is a catalyst for great good, but all too often is wielded as a weapon.

In a recent Opinion column for USA Today, she argues that ‘Religion is a dangerous business.’ In the wake of the Capitol insurrection in Washington last month, and the persistent, continuing refusal of Trump and his supporters to accept the results of democracy, she looks at the people in the Christian right who promote the false belief that the presidential election was stolen.

Rabbi Mikva tries to go beyond the revulsion all of us must feel when white Christian nationalism turns violent, and draws attention to the ‘substantial number of Christians who plan to take the country for Jesus another way.’

She looks at ‘dominion theology,’ the ‘Christian Reconstructionist movement,’ Project Blitz, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and allied systems of beliefs that include ‘assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious.

The Christian right is ‘distorting the very meaning of religious freedom,’ she writes. She believes there are Christian nationalists embedded throughout the governing institutions in the US – courts, military, legislatures, agencies and the police: ‘Distracted by those ready to bring on the apocalypse, we have not adequately exposed this more resilient threat to religious pluralism in the United States.’

She argues cogently for the need for ‘consciousness of the vital self-critical dimensions of faith,’ and says: ‘Whatever one’s spiritual life stance, we are choosing in every moment whether its power will be wielded for harm or for blessing.’

For my prayer this Friday evening, I turn to the prayer Rabbi Rachel S Mikva offered when she was the guest chaplain in the House of Representatives in 1995:

‘For the sake of Heaven.’

The rabbis taught:
‘Any argument conducted for the sake of Heaven will bear fruit.
If not for the sake of Heaven, it yields nothing.’

Source of knowledge and insight,
what does it mean: ‘For the sake of Heaven?’

That each of us has the courage to face and to speak the truth?
And still, and still however, passionately we may cling to our vision of truth,
we must never fail to recognise Your image, God,
reflected in the face of the other.

‘For the sake of Heaven.’

That we are always mindful before whom we stand?
Committed to serve constituents,
the Nation,
the people of the world,
ultimately, we stand before You,
naked of power or possessions,
seeking only to understand Your will
and do it with a whole heart.

‘For the sake of Heaven.’

we pray that our words and our deeds
may be for Your sake,
bringing healing to our world
and wholeness to all those whose lives we touch.

Amen. אָמֵן׃

Shabbat Shalom

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