On the Lived Theology Reading List: Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther

Bonhoeffer's Reception of LutherOn Bonhoeffer’s Two-Kingdoms Thinking

In Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, author Michael P. DeJonge presents Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran theology of justification focused on the interpersonal presence of Christ in word, sacrament, and church.  DeJonge argues that the widespread failure to connect Bonhoeffer with the Lutheran two-kingdoms tradition has presented a serious obstacle in interpretation, and shows how this tradition informs Bonhoeffer’s reflections on war and peace, as well as his understanding of resistance to political authority. In all of this, DeJonge also argues that an appreciation of Luther’s ubiquity in Bonhoeffer’s corpus sheds light on his thinking, lends it coherence, and makes sense of otherwise difficult interpretive problems.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther is an excellent work, worthy of close reading and engagement. It promises to open up new vistas for better and more responsible understandings of Bonhoeffer s life, work, and ongoing significance. DeJonge shows convincingly how deeply Bonhoeffer was steeped in and in critical dialogue with Luther s thought and legacy, and likewise how recognition of this reality presents great opportunity for improved engagement with Bonhoeffer himself.”—Reading Religion

“This work will be essential for anyone interested in the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology. Michael DeJonge writes with remarkable clarity about some of the more complex and contested aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought, offering provocative new insights into Bonhoeffer’s approach to the two kingdoms, Christian pacifism, and the challenges of resistance. Without ignoring the other theological influences on Bonhoeffer’s thought, this book makes a convincing case that to understand Bonhoeffer we must examine his reading and interpretation of Luther.”—Victoria J. Barnett, General Editor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition

“In this new work, rising star Michael DeJonge executes a lucid, patient and in the end devastating critique of North American readings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological legacy. That alone is worth the price of admission. Even better is the extraordinary retrieval he makes of Bonhoeffer’s core Lutheranism. DeJonge understands Luther better than many a Lutheran and Bonhoeffer better than any other North American interpreter. Tolle lege.”—Paul R. Hinlicky, Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies, Univerzita Komenskeho, Slovakia

For more information on the publication, click here.

Michael P. DeJonge is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, and teaches in the areas of the history of Christian thought, theories and methods in religious studies, and modern religious thought. His research has focused on the twentieth-century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he sits on the board of the International Bonhoeffer Society and is a co-editor of the journal, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Yearbook.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Living in Community: Perkins House Established in Charlottesville

UVA Students Bridge the Gap Between Academia and Area Residents

The Perkins House residentsCurrent events in American social spaces, including the recent white supremacy rallies of August 11 and 12, have made loving your neighbor a difficult undertaking. Named in honor of civil rights activist John M. Perkins, The Perkins House has been established in Charlottesville’s 10th and Page neighborhood to commit to this endeavor. Its mission is to give undergraduate students the opportunity to live in a mixed-income, multi-ethnic, and inter-generational neighborhood to prepare them for a lifetime of incarnational ministry and community partnership.

This year’s residents, pictured above, include third-year students Ameenah Elam, Sarah Bland, Sade Akinbayo, Isabella Hall and Dominique DeBose. Throughout the year, they will work to build relationships with their neighbors in big and small ways, whether by opening up their home for dinners or simply helping carry groceries. Some will also partner with different nonprofit organizations working in the community.

The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation is supporting the new initiative, which director Garrett Trent said exemplifies the civil rights leader’s Christian faith and commitment to community development, racial reconciliation and nonviolent activism. These ideals are core to The Perkins House and its goal to mobilize the next generation in Christian Community Development practices in alignment with John and Vera Mae Perkins and CCDA.

John M. Perkins racial reconciliation, Discussion on the Lived Theology of John M Perkins, American Evangelicalism and the Practices of Peace, life of john m perkins, Let Justice Roll Down“This house will be a group of young people trying to live out an authentic faith, following the great commandment of loving God and loving each other,” Perkins said. “In this world today, there is so much division and violence, and it has been my life’s effort – and that of my wife and many others – to live a life of love.”

Visit The Perkins House’s website here. To read the feature story in UVA Today, click here.

John M. Perkins is a leader and major figure of the civil rights movement of the 1960s who founded Voice of Calvary Ministries, a Christian community development ministry, with his wife, Vera Mae. In 1983, the Perkinses established the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation, Justice and Christian Community Development.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more resources from our Fellow Travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Year of Small Things

The Year of Small Things:Radical Faith for the rest of UsRadical Faith for the Rest of Us

In The Year of Small Things, authors Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger recount the story of Arthur’s time in a new church located in the suburbs, and the unique challenge they faced: how to translate the practices of “radical” faith into their new context. Together with their friends and fellow church members Erin and Dave Wasinger, the Arthurs embarked on a yearlong experiment to implement twelve small practices of radical faith into their life. The Year of Small Things is told with humor, theological reflection, and practical insight, and explores such practices as simplicity, hospitality, accountability, sustainability, and social justice–but, most of all, discernment.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“This is the most provocative and profound book I’ve read in a long time. I plan to buy a box and give it to my friends so they can laugh, cry, repent, and soul-search as much as I did. Deeply moving–and necessary–for the faith community.”—Joel Salatin, renegade farmer (featured on Food, Inc.) and author of The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation 

The Year of Small Things is the best kind of spiritual formation book: serious and funny, smart and vulnerable—and, most useful of all—practical. If you want to live the way of Jesus and struggle to know how in the midst of family busyness, financial struggle, even depression, Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger can be trusted to help you and your community re-imagine and engage practices of spiritual wholeness and social justice. Honestly, this is one of my favorite books this year.”—Jen Pollock Michel, author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place (2017)

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Reports from the Field: Lived Theology Summer Interns to Give Final Presentations

SeedlingsThe 2017 Summer Interns in Lived Theology will give their final presentations on Tuesday, September 26 at the Bonhoeffer House, located at 1841 University Circle in Charlottesville. A reception will begin at 7 p.m., and the presentations will begin by 7:30. The public is invited, and admission is free.

Megan HelblingMegan Helbling

Megan (Col ’18) is majoring in English and religious studies. As a summer intern, Megan worked at The Haven, a multi-service day shelter for people experiencing homelessness in downtown Charlottesville. Megan is interested in studying the practical ethics of interactions with those on the margins of society, a biblical and moral approach to poverty, and the influences and failures of the Christian social gospel in American cities.

Sarah Katherine DoyleSarah Katherine Doyle

Sarah (Col ’18) is majoring in English and religious studies. This summer, SK served women who are survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution at Magdalene, a residential program connected with Thistle Farms Social Enterprises in Nashville, Tennessee.


Joseph KreiterJoseph Kreiter

Joseph (Col ’17) was a double major in East Asian studies and English–program in literary prose. For his PLT summer internship, Joe worked with Urban Adamah, a Jewish community farm in downtown Berkeley, California, which seeks to integrate Judaism, organic farming, mindfulness, and social action to foster love, justice, and sustainability. While working toward these goals with Urban Adamah, Joe also explored the relationship between individual spirituality and broader religious tradition.

The Summer Internship in Lived Theology is an immersion program designed to complement the numerous existing urban and rural service immersion programs flourishing nationally and globally by offering a unique opportunity to think and write theologically about service. For more information on this initiative, please click here.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

“Walk Together”: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Addresses Charlottesville

Bishop Michael Curry at St. Paul's Memorial Church, CharlottesvilleEncouraging Believers in the Wake of White Supremacy Rally

On Thursday, September 7, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, preached at a special service of Holy Eucharist at St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville. The service was held on a day when Bishop Curry made a pastoral visit to Episcopal clergy in the Charlottesville area and met with the governance bodies of the Diocese, representing the prayerful concern of the whole Church in his role as chief priest and pastor following the traumatic weekend of August 11 and 12.

In spite of the suffering past events has brought to our town and nation as a whole, Bishop Curry encouraged believers to remain steadfast and embrace the way of love:

“Imagine if love was the cardinal principle by which we lived and by which our legislatures vote. Imagine Congress. Imagine the White House. Imagine the United Nations. Imagine our churches. Imagine our communities, our homes. This way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross, which is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love is the way that changes lives and can change the world.

Our brother Charles Marsh at the University of Virginia, said this: ‘Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history, a movement built on the unconditional love of God and for the sake of the world, and a mandate to a community of people who lived that love, and in so doing, it changed the world.’

Don’t be ashamed to treat people with love. And don’t be ashamed to bear witness to the way of love. And don’t be ashamed to share the word of love, in word and deed, because this way of crucified love has changed lives and the world before and it can change it again. So Charlottesville, Virginia, lift up your head, straighten your back, walk together. Walk together, children! Black, white, red, yellow, and brown: walk together, children! Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, atheists: walk together, people of good will! Walk together, and work together! And live the way of love until the love of God transforms this world.”

To watch the entire service, click here. Bishop Curry’s biography can be found here.

The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015.  He was elected and confirmed at the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, UT, on June 27, 2015. He is the Chief Pastor and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and chair of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more resources from our Fellow Travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Next week: Michael P. DeJonge Delivers Guest Lecture at UVA

Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, Michael DeJongeOn Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther

On Wednesday, September 20, Michael P. DeJonge will deliver a guest lecture at UVA. With a focus on his recent book, Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, the discussion will show how Bonhoeffer’s positions on a range of ethical-political issues – from race, to war and peace, to resisting state injustice – rest on a complex and balanced account of the relationship between theology and political life inherited through the Lutheran tradition. The talk will begin at 3:30 pm in Gibson Hall 142. Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

For more background information on the topic, read one of DeJonge’s papers, “Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Political Theologies,” in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia here.

Michael DeJonge is the Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. He teaches in the areas of the history of Christian thought, theories and methods in religious studies, and modern religious thought. His research has focused on the twentieth-century, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Growing Pains

Growing Pains: How Racial Struggles Changed a Church and a School, by Christopher H. MeehanHow Racial Struggles Changed a Church and School

In Growing Pains, author Christopher Meehan tells the painful story of integrating Timothy Christian School in suburban Chicago during the turbulent 1960s and the subsequent creation of Chicago West Side Christian School, a “beacon of reconciliation.”

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“If we are to ever build Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the ‘beloved community,’ people interested in reconciliation must be willing to truthfully confront past epochs of racial injustice. Growing Pains represents a compelling step in that direction.” —Mark Mulder, author of Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure

“Chris Meehan has done the dirty work of getting us into the heated church meetings, introducing unsung heroes and she-roes, and beautifully writing the Timothy-Lawndale story with grace and tact. Your crash course on urban race relations in the Christian Reformed Church begins with this book.” —Reggie Smith, director of Christian Reformed Office of Race Relations

“Issues of race always test the church’s commitment to the gospel. Often the result is marred by sin that continues to persist, with progress measured shamefully over far too many years. Meehan tells this story in a forthright, engaging manner, including the faithful efforts of parents of black children and the pastors and teachers who were their prophetic allies. The facts and the drama are real; this painful story is told with clarity, empathy, and truth.” —Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary emeritus of Reformed Church in America

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Torah of the earth


Adamah, v’shamayim, chom ha’esh, tzlil hamayim

Ani margish zot begufi, beruchi, v’nishmati

Earth, sky, heat of fire, sound of water

I can feel it in my body, in my spirit, in my soul

“Adamah v’shamayim” was a favorite song of Adam’s. Often, we’d sing it in the mornings during our Avodat Lev (“service of the heart”) meetings between more traditional prayers, English songs, meditations, and other activities. We’d sing it at other times, too, sometimes spontaneously, like when a group of us was walking from one side of the farm to the other. It’s a good one because it’s sung call and response style—somebody would shout out “Adamah!” and we’d all echo back “Adamah,” followed by “V’shamayim!” (“V’shamayim”)—up until “Ani margish zot…” which is sung all together (often, the Hebrew for that bit would escape us). It’s also a good song in that it weaves together several of Urban Adamah’s central philosophical pillars or themes—Judaism, relationship with the Earth, and even, I’d say, mindfulness, in the way that it centers an awareness of the body and spirit. The song is one that’s become very popular among organizations like Urban Adamah, including Jewish summer camps and wilderness programs. There’s a flavor of newness to “Adamah v’shamayim,” as well as to the Jewish sustainability/environmentalist movement as a whole, but as Urban Adamah and other organizations (Wilderness Torah, also based out of Berkeley, and Hazon are just two that come to mind) are quick to point out, the roots of such thinking are deep, reaching back to the very beginnings of the tradition.


One need look no further than scripture to identify the deep-seated relationship between Judaism and the natural world. While in the modern imagination the Jewish people are typically represented as bookish city folk, our heritage is truly in the land. It was in the wilderness, after all, that many of our prophets and forbearers were tested and came to experience divine revelations. Wild spaces provide much of the backdrop of the stories found in the Bible and in some ways take on a character of their own. In many ways, it is through their relationship towards and struggle with natural places that the Israelites of the Bible are defined—their journey through the desert and dependence on the water of Miriam’s well, their waiting for Moses as the foot of Mount Sinai. God and Their qualities are often represented as or through natural phenomena: as a clap of thunder, the source of a great flood, or, among other examples, a burning bush.

The burning bush is one of the most iconic images from all of the Five Books of Moses. It’s captivating for a number of reasons, among them its paradoxical quality. It’s a bush that constantly burns and yet is never consumed by flames. It’s also a bush that apparently speaks, or at least has a voice emanating from it. While found in nature—in the deep wilderness, in fact—and consisting of natural elements, the bush has also been touched by the divine, is itself an element of Moses’ personal encounter with divinity. To me, this represents a certain acknowledgement of the intersection between nature and divinity, a wink to the idea that nature is itself divine, or at least can be. It also seems important to me that, in order to have this experience, Moses himself had to trek out far into nature, leaving far behind the human settlement that was his home. Of course, the timing could have just been happenstance—it could be that God was planning to deliver this message to Moses at that certain time no matter where in the world he was. But in the Torah, we’ve been taught to think, nothing happens without a reason. Everything is a symbol with some deep wisdom to be extrapolated.

So why the wilderness? Why is it featured so prominently, and why does it seem to be so important in the biblical psyche? One potential answer is that maybe the authors of the Bible felt what so many people today feel—that out in nature, we are more connected to something greater and deeper than that which we have access to in crowded urban centers. Another answer—which doesn’t necessarily exclude the first possibility—is that, when you consider the lifestyle of people living in millennia past, they were forced to confront and work with nature on a daily basis in ways that many of us no longer do. One’s local topography and the cycles of the natural world were a part of common consciousness in a way that, for many, they simply no longer are. This is reflected in many places in Jewish tradition, from the way we tell time to the blessings we say and even to our holidays.

As I wrote about in my last post, the moon governs Jewish time. Our calendar is lunar, with every month beginning with the new moon and following it through its cycle. This indicates an acute awareness of at least one aspect of the natural universe, one which was thought of as being important enough to sanctify with its own holiday, Rosh Chodesh. But nature-consciousness can be found in other aspects of Jewish practice, as well. For instance, the Shema Yisrael prayer, the daily recitation of which is considered among the most important elements of Jewish practice, is, in part, a prayer for rain, when you look at the full text of it, including Deuteronomy 11:14. Then, of course, there are all of the holidays we celebrate, many of which have deep agricultural roots. Sukkot is the most obvious to trace—as a late Fall holiday, it served on one hand as the major harvest festival for the Jewish people while also, on the other, serving to commemorate God’s protection of the Israelites during their forty-year trek through the desert. Many of the other major holidays have agricultural significance to them, as well. Passover, for instance, while commonly celebrated as a commemoration of the Jews’ flight from Egypt, is also a spring festival acknowledging “the lambing of the flocks and the harvesting of barley,” which was the first cereal crop to return in spring (Waskow 137).

This is all to say that the Jews of ancient times were attuned to the natural world, partially because of their dependence on it and partially due to the awe and wonder that it inspired in them. The growth of a Jewish sustainability movement and of “nature-based” Judaism in modern times can be seen as a revitalization of that. Such revitalization seems necessary to me in a world that by the day inches closer towards total environmental collapse and for a Judaism that continues to question its role in that world and how best to assert its own unique identity in it.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Rosh Chodesh


Moonlight slanting

through the bamboo grove;

a cuckoo crying.

“Moonlight slanting,” Matsuo Busho

Rosh Chodesh is a monthly holiday acknowledging the arrival of the New Moon and marking the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar (“Rosh” means “head” and is the same as in “Rosh Hashanah,” the new—or “head of the”—year). It serves as one among many signals of Judaism’s ancient relationship with the natural rhythms of the world and is one of the rare traditional Jewish observances that is thought of as being particularly linked to women and femininity due to the common association between women and the moon. For many observant Jews throughout history, Rosh Chodesh has been recognized as something like a bonus Sabbath for women—a time when they are to rest and do no work. In contemporary times, Jewish feminists have revitalized the observance of Rosh Chodesh, creating new traditions centered around the roles and experiences of women within Jewish communities (Waskow 229). On our last Tuesday together in Berkeley, a group of other Fellows and I decided to put on our own Rosh Chodesh service, pulling from a model created by one such Jewish feminist organization, the Women of the Wall. Already in this contemporary moment of Judaism, one can observe the transition of newly-minted ritual turning into intergenerational tradition. In observing Rosh Chodesh together and doing so of our own volition, without the facilitation of Urban Adamah or anyone outside of the group, it felt like we were engaging in something special and important, like we—as young Jews and as young Jewish feminists—were in some small way doing our part to seal together the future and the past of our tradition and to mark it with our own imprint. And for me, it was very special to do it in a context that observed and honored the moon.

What’s the deal with the moon, anyway? Why, of all symbols, is that the one that comes to the fore on Rosh Chodesh? The most obvious answer is, of course, that Jews, like many ancient societies, mark time in accordance with the moon, following a lunar calendar as opposed to a solar calendar such as the Gregorian system. Since each month begins with a new moon, and the Jews saw it fit to acknowledge the beginning of the months with a holiday, it’s only natural that the moon became involved with that ritual observation. But, of course, the rabbis saw fit to come up with a better story than that.

According to Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s appendix on the moon in his book, Seasons of Our Joy, which provides an overview of the major Jewish holidays, there is a story within Jewish folklore that maintains that when God created the Sun and the Moon, They made a mistake in “diminishing” the light of the moon to the benefit of the sun. In acknowledging this mistake, God gave the Moon Rosh Chodesh as a form of compensation, and a promise that Her light would one day be restored. Many have interpreted—somewhat paternalistically, I’d say—this fable as having to do with the role of women within traditional Jewish societies, the idea being that the sleight dealt to the Moon represents the “diminished” position of women in society, with God’s promise representing the promise of a perfect, future world in which misogyny and patriarchy have been eliminated, and women have been “restored” to their proper place as equals among men (Waskow 229). To me, this interpretation of the myth seems problematic, not because women and femmes haven’t experienced injustice throughout the course of history, including Jewish history, but because of the insinuation that this has resulted in them being “diminished” such that they can only be restored through some outside force, through the hand of God, who in much of the common imagination is represented as a man.

What I do find useful and interesting about the story is probably its most controversial facet: this idea that God—a supposedly perfect, divine “being”—could have somehow made a mistake. Given God’s supposed omnipotence and righteousness, divine mishaps should theoretically not be possible. But when interpreted through a kabbalistic lens, the whole thing makes more sense. One key aspect of kabbalah is the belief that the state of the material world and human society mirrors the state of the Divine. This understanding of the relationship between the Divine and the mundane elevates the role of ritual; in kabbalah, ritual serves the purpose of trying to bring together the Divine and material realms in harmony, to try to balance and “repair” both of them. All of this relates back to the idea of tikkun olam—this concept that the world is in a state of brokenness that requires repair, and that the repair of the world serves some Divine significance. This is because, just as there are fractures in the accessible, tangible world around us, kabbalah understands Divinity to be in a certain state of being fractured, as well. Kabbalah refers to an idea of “catastrophe” within the Divine, a splitting-apart and alienation of the various aspects of Divinity from each other and from humanity. While the ultimate nature of God in kabbalah is understood to be divine perfection, there is also an understanding that, insofar as Divinity relates to humankind and approaches materiality, there is brokenness in it as well. In some respects, the goal of kabbalah is then to try and restore Divinity to its proper, united state, and in the process to bring the material world into that same state of perfection, as well. Rosh Chodesh in some ways reflects this line of thinking.

According to Waskow, the mystics of Safed—a major center of kabbalistic thought and study in 16th century Ottoman Palestine—saw “the waning of the moon as a symbol of the exile of the Shechinah (God’s presence in the world) and of the alienated and shattered state of human and cosmic existence. Rosh Chodesh for them was a symbol of renewal and hope” (Waskow 228). In other words, the arrival of the New Moon and the beginning of the waxing process was read by the mystics as a sign of a hope that both the Divine and earthly realms of existence could and would be restored, that repair was as natural as the process of calamity that is so familiar in all of our lives. Thinking of the state of things in our world today, this idea brings me hope, as well. It seemed like impeccable timing, that the last Rosh Chodesh of our fellowship cycle should fall right in the midst of our last week together. As one chapter ends, another begins, and while it is sad to be torn away from what is familiar and nurturing, such change is necessary if we are to go on to brighter things, to realize our potential for creating a better and more harmonious world for ourselves and for others. I’ve always felt an affinity for the moon, a pull towards its dimmer light, an admiration for its patterned fluctuations—it serves and will continue to serve as a reminder for me of the constancy of change, and of moments past and moments to come.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Engaging with the world

“And God said to Abram, ‘Go forth (lech l’cha)

From your land, from your birthplace, from your

Parents’ house

To the land that I will show you.’”

(Genesis 12:1)

It’s been a week since the Nazis waved their torches on the Rotunda steps in Charlottesville. A week since friends of mine, faces I have known and cherished, bodies I have stood by in the streets, put their physical safety at risk to face off against them. The day that followed was only worse, with a larger contingent of the alt-right marching through downtown, armed and aggressive, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans such as “Blood and soil!” and “You will not replace us! Jew will not replace us!” as they gave Nazi salutes and waved Confederate flags. It’s been a week since Heather Heyer died and other heroes were injured in the brawls. The Nazis, KKK members, neo-Confederates and other white supremacist alt-righters are, for the most part, unscathed and emboldened. Meanwhile, we have a complicit president and local institutions that refuse to do nearly enough to protect their constituents from white nationalist terror. As fires burned in the shadow of the Rotunda and blood was spilled on the streets of Charlottesville, a home to me for four of the most impactful years of my life, I was across the country on the so-called “Left” coast in Berkeley, hands tied and stomach in knots.

It was interesting, one of the first things a staff member said to me after everything happened. We were talking about my plans post-Urban Adamah, and I said that for the time being I was thinking about going back home to Virginia, to reassess my plans and figure out what comes next. He knew I was from Virginia, but I guess the conversation reminded him, and so he asked me, “Do you know Charlottesville?”

“That’s where I went to school until a few months ago.”

“Wow. Did you know people in the protests?”

“Yes.” Given who my friends are, it seems to me that any of a number of them could just as easily have been Heather Heyer.

“If you were there, would you have gone?”


He smiled at me and said, “Well maybe that’s why you’re here now.” Otherwise, perhaps I’d be dead.

I guess what he said was meant to be encouraging. Out here, we like to buy into the idea that “the place you’re in right now is the exact place that you’re supposed to be.” Usually I find it helpful to think that way. And yes, I think there’s some lesson for me in experiencing all of this while so far removed from the physical space of Charlottesville. But the fact that my being here means that my body is safe from the harm that some far-right demonstrator might have wanted to inflict on it (and mine less so than others; I’m queer and Jewish and a leftist, but these are things that are harder to spot than the whiteness that so often protects me) does little to absolve the guilt I hold over the fact that I feel like I should have been there and that, yes, my body should have been on the line. Charlottesville, for all of its dark history and problematic institutions, is a home to me, and it’s where a lot of my friends are—friends who are people of color, who are women, who are queer, who are susceptible and who are targets and who are tired, physically and emotionally and spiritually, from living in a place that rejects us and being among people who want to see us dead. In all times, but especially in times like these, we need each other, and while I’m glad to be out here, I know now that for reasons that are totally outside of myself, I need to be there.

On Wednesday we went back to the Jewish Studio Project for another session with Rabbi Adina Allen, this time called “Journeying into the Unknown.” We spent a lot of time contemplating the command given from God to Abram (later known as Abraham), “Lech l’cha,” which according to the biblical commentator Rashi is both the direction to “go forth!” and to “go to you,” meant to indicate how Abram’s journey from citizen of Ur to father of a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2) would be both external and internal, at once physical and spiritual. The point here is that journeys happen on multiple levels—that transitions often bring with them transformation, as well. Coming close to the end of my time in California at Urban Adamah, I know this to be true—that the trip out here and the process of moving through the fellowship has been both a laborious physical journey and a transformative internal experience as well. It makes me wonder about the next part of my life. About what it will mean to have landed back across the country, in a place that will feel like a home and, after the events of this summer, also like someplace new and strange, and about what inner transformations await me there.

In the Genesis quote, God commands Abram to “go forth” specifically “from your land, from your birthplace, from your parents’ house.” As Rabbi Allen points out, each of these three places—“your land,” “your birthplace,” “your parents’ house”—is essentially synonymous for “home.” So then why does God basically repeat Themself? Wouldn’t “your home” or just one of these other options suffice? One possibility is that the repetition was for the sake of emphasis, to acknowledge the severity of what it was They were asking of Abram and to point out the difficulty and discomfort that comes with leaving your land, your birthplace, and your parents’ house. What the passage is getting at here is that “journeys” of the type being discussed—the kind that engender transformative experiences—are difficult, will cause discomfort, and will involve a degree of personal sacrifice. Thinking about what comes next for me and my journey, this has some resonance as well.

I’m at a point now where I don’t know exactly what comes next. Where will I be, what will I be doing a month, two months, more down the line? At this point, I think I’m okay with not knowing. “Not knowing” is something that Urban Adamah has helped me to become a lot more comfortable with than I was before. But at the same time, it helps to focus on the few things that I do know. Among them, the fact that, whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to be a positive presence in the environment around me. I want to make a difference. This can be difficult and uncomfortable, as Jewish tradition promises that our lives’ journeys will be. And of course, Judaism has something to say about being a force for positive change, as well.

The concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) isn’t new to Judaism, but it has adopted new meaning in recent decades. The original meaning, as pointed out to me by my theological mentor, Rabbi Vanessa Ochs, and corroborated by the essay “Tikkun Olam in Contemporary Jewish Thought” on the website myjewishlearning.com (excerpted from the chapter “Tikkun: A Lurianic Motif in Contemporary Jewish Thought” by Dr. Lawrence Fine) had to do with the displacement of idol-worship in favor of the One God of Israel, a particularly militant and proselytizing notion. In much of the contemporary Jewish world, however, as Dr. Fine points out, “’tikkun olam’ (‘repairing the world’) has come to connote social action and social justice work” (“Tikkun”).

In the body of his essay, Dr. Fine tracks the development of tikkun olam from a concept originating in Lurianic kabbalah (a particularly potent and prolific branch of Jewish mysticism) having to do with the “repair of divinity” to the modern interpretation of it as having to do with a “mending of the world.” He points out the stark contrast in these goals by indicating the difference in the way that their “achievement” is framed. For the first, the goal is “dissolution” in the sense of a “dissolution of the material world in favor of a purely spiritual existence, similar to that which existed before intra-divine catastrophe and human sin.” This is meant to be achieved through the elimination of idol-worship. In the second framing, the goal is to “[repair] the condition of the world” through “social, moral, or political activism.” In both instances, however, Dr. Fine points out two similarities: first, that there is some “rupture” involved in the state of things that is meant to be mended, and second, that there is a large degree to which human beings are responsible for that mending process (“Tikkun”). Given the events in Charlottesville a week ago and the recurring tragedies that are becoming more and more a part of daily existence in the contemporary world, I think it is easy to see that there are social, physical, emotional, and spiritual ruptures in our times. For me, figuring out how to be a part of mending those wounds is what takes me forward, is my own “Lech l’cha.” May it be a journey of peace, if not of ease.


For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.