Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Prayer in the Shadow of Violence: Invocation for the CO State House 3/21/13

A Prayer in the Shadow of Violence:
Invocation for the CO State House
March 21, 2013
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Our God and God of all people,

We are weeping here in Colorado- can You hear us?

Once again, our State is reeling from a senseless act of brutality.  We mourn the loss of Tom Clements, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections – who was shot and killed this past Tuesday night at his home.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding this tragedy may come to be, we feel powerless and angry as, once again we confront the reality of a seemingly endless spiral of violence that plagues our communities: from Columbine, to Aurora and now, to Monument.

Here – in this chamber, the debates over gun control and violence prevention have  raged.  New laws have been enacted and signed replete with controversy. 

On our streets - tempers have flared.  Accusations have been bandied about.

But nothing has changed – if anything, the increasingly hostile rhetoric - within these walls, in the press and in public - has served to fan the flames of passion on all sides.

And so we pray:  Help us to channel our grief O God.

Give us the strength to feel shocked, angered, and resolute in our determination to forge partnerships and paths that might lead to hope and healing.

We know that there is no simple solution – and yet we also cannot rest while murder and bloodshed become commonplace on our streets, in our schools, our public places and our homes.

Let these legislators serve as role models - as beacons of balance as they labor to bring about a new era of tolerance and tenacity.   

Let them see the good in one another and put an end to the demonization of both person and party that leaches into the hearts and minds of our citizens.

At this sad and somber time we pray that any conflicts that arise during the course of deliberation might serve to elevate the sacred in our souls. 

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You O God – our Rock and our Redeemer[i].


[i] Psalm 19:14

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Testimony Against the Death Penalty in Colorado

This afternoon, I will be testifying before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee about my support of House Bill --  HB 1264, Repeal of the Death Penalty.  Below is the text of my remarks:
Statement on Capital Punishment
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Colorado House Judiciary Committee
March 19, 2013
As a Rabbi, as a Jew, as a person of faith, I am taught to see the holy in every human being.  I believe, with all my heart and soul that God has placed all of us here for a reason – and that reason is to make the world a better place. 

There is evil in this world.  We have seen it – many of us here today have experienced it first hand.  There are bad people in this world.  They commit horrible crimes.  For me, the central issue is surrounding the death penalty revolves not around how we see the most evil elements of society - but how we perceive ourselves. Are we going to allow our fear of crime, our desire for vengeance, our bottom line mentality to govern how we conduct ourselves?  Capital punishment is a quick fix - it may be popular with voters – it may make some people feel that “something is being done” - but ultimately, I believe that it lessens our own humanity when we take the life of another person.

Today you will hear about moral, economic, psychological and legal reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.  These are all valid and important.  But my reasons for opposing it are based on my understanding of myself and all of us as spiritual beings.

Those who have committed atrocities need to be punished.  There are some men and women who, as a result of their crimes, cannot be a part of a civilized society.  But, I firmly believe, one of the prices of being “civilized” is taking on a responsibility to act in a way that is consistent with our own internal holiness.

All religious traditions teach that one day humanity will be judged.  I believe that our judgment will not merely revolve around how we treated the best elements of our society – but how we treated the worst elements of our society.  The price we pay for living in a civilized, moral community is living with the fact that we cannot totally eliminate evil.  But we can assert that we will not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of those who wreak havoc, fear and despair in our lives.  We should not allow ourselves to become like them.

While the Bible certainly makes provisions for Capital punishment, over the centuries, the ancient and modern Rabbis of my tradition have nullified these laws and made it virtually impossible to implement the Death Penalty. 
The only time that the Israeli court system ever instituted the death penalty was in 1962 – when Adolph Eichman  – the architect of the Nazi Final solution – was put to death - and even his execution was highly controversial and is being debated to this day.

In the book of Genesis we learn that we are all created in the Image of God.  There is a spark of holiness inside every human being. All life is holy - even that of the most damaged and evil members of our society. When we take a life - whether that life has committed murder or not - we are diminishing the image of God.  Yes, the murderer has done the same - but the fact that we claim to be a moral society calls us to rise above our desire for vengeance and understand that one act of murder does not make up for another.

Killing human beings can never be justified as a just punishment for who are we to act in God’s stead?

Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Opening Prayer for the CO State House - 3/14/13

Opening Prayer for the State House of Colorado
March 14, 2013
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel - Denver
Our God and God of all people:

We come to you this morning from many different traditions and cultures. You reveal many truths – it is our task to hear and heed them.

Merciful Creator, guide these Legislators as they go about their sacred work. May any conflicts that arise in the course of deliberation be seen as a reflection of diversity and not a cause for demonization.

Holy One of Blessing – help our leaders to see the good in one other – and let that goodness triumph over partisanship.

Help them to give faces to the faceless and hope to the hopeless.

May this day bring out the best in these men and women who have been sent here to bring about change.

Our God – though your presence is often illusive, we can see you in the longings of our hearts.  Some of us seek prosperity – others simply want a place to lay their heads in warmth and safety.

Some can find you in the hope for a better tomorrow.
Others – in the ability to feed their family today.

We have heard you in moments of wonder – when men, women and children have rejoiced in newfound freedom and acceptance.

We have sought your presence in the midst of debate and in the messy process of legislation.

On this day of deliberation, let us pray that our leaders and officials might find You within themselves. 

·         May they find You in their ability to hear one other – to respect one other – to do the sacred work of governing our State of Colorado.

·         May they find You in satisfaction that comes from hard work and due deliberation.

·         May they come to know You as they come to know each other – and respect the skills that each brings to the floor of debate.

·         May their discussions give way to a higher sense of purpose and understanding – and along the way, may it elucidate and elevate the decisions that are to be made.

We thank you for these men and women who serve our great state of Colorado.  Guide their deliberations with purpose and an awareness of the sacred.

And let us say,