I took exception to Robert Kozek’s description of his October 2012 cover photo as showing humankind’s “need to own and control the natural world rather than embracing and accepting it.” When I look at the photo, I see humankind living in its environment, as it has always done — as all creatures do. Humans have a glorious capacity to organize, to structure, to design, and to create human harmony. It may be that we have lost some of our ability to work together with nature, but just as our particular qualities have helped us prosper upon this earth, they can also help us live harmoniously with the earth and each other.

While I appreciate Kozek’s concern for our planet, I don’t think it’s necessary to demonize humanity in favor of the rest of nature. We are also nature’s creatures. We are also worthy of saving.

Jessica Osorio Ortiz
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Robert Kozek responds:

My intent is not to demonize humanity for its lack of respect for nature. Instead I question the lives we lead, the societies we have built, and whether we have done so strictly for our benefit or in the interests of all: nature, wildlife, natural resources, and fellow people. The cover image is part of a photo essay titled “The Middle Grounds.” Taken from a bird’s-eye view, it enables us to contemplate our lives and our world macroscopically, in the hope of gaining a broader perspective.

I believe humans are capable of creating harmony within ourselves and within our environment. We are also capable of creating disharmony by destroying our environment and the resources nature provides us. Ultimately it’s a conscious choice we must make.

Rob Meyer’s poignant photo essay on Randy Livingston’s solitary life as a sheepherder [“At Home on the Range,” October 2012] was notable for the story it told as well as for the fine black-and-white photography. That Livingston could find peace and contentment in what many would call a lonely existence is remarkable. A man, a horse, two dogs, and the mountains of Utah — one could do much worse.

John Fish
Guilford, Vermont

I found Janna Malamud Smith’s essay “An Absorbing Errand” [September 2012] to be an encouraging, brilliant proclamation of devotion and dedication to a writing practice. She beautifully describes the process of inspiration and the importance of showing up.

Moments don’t last unless we make the effort to remember them artfully. They don’t even reveal themselves unless we are present to witness them.

Alvina Quatrano
Naples, Florida

The whole September issue was one of my favorites. The closing lines of Janna Malamud Smith’s “An Absorbing Errand” made me cry.

Mark Leviton’s interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner [“Loving the Stranger”] was fantastic. Lerner’s absolutely right that Israel should address its terrorist problems by first ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a part of a comprehensive peace treaty.

Brigit DuBois
Seattle, Washington

The interview with Michael Lerner contains a gross mistake. He lists Iran among the various countries created out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. In fact, Iran — known as Persia in the West for most of its existence — has had sovereignty for thousands of years.

Hamid Moham
Moorpark, California

I am dismayed that the otherwise insightful Rabbi Michael Lerner believes that, as a candidate, Barack Obama was something he was not. President Obama was actually quite clear in 2008 that he opposed the Iraq War but felt the war in Afghanistan was necessary. In fact, he pledged to ramp up the war in Afghanistan.

I voted for President Obama because I believed he was significantly better than the alternative, and I continue to see him as the most progressive president we’ve had. But to expect him to be, in Lerner’s words, “a peace-oriented president” is to engage in wishful thinking.

Ivan Boothe
Portland, Oregon

After ten pages of Rabbi Michael Lerner promoting love and compassion between Palestinians and Israelis, I was surprised to hear him bragging about his son joining the Israeli military as a paratrooper.

I wonder: who is this man, who appears to be playing to both sides of the room, and what does he really believe?

Lois Pearlman
Guerneville, California

Rabbi Michael Lerner refers to “the biblical God who is revealed as compassionate and merciful and who delivers chesed (lovingkindness) to the thousands.”

Compassionate? Merciful? The biblical God is more often a vengeful, angry, cruel, unforgiving deity.

Lerner has an attractive philosophy, and I can respect it as a secular one, but surely it’s not based on the Bible. For too long religious leaders have been allowed to pick and choose whatever they want from that book.

Joseph L. Nathan
West Orange, New Jersey

Rabbi Michael Lerner responds:

I’m proud of the courage my son showed in volunteering for the Israeli army in 1994. Israel has real enemies who wish to destroy it, including some part of the leadership of Iran (and in 1995, when my son was in the Israeli paratroopers, some part of the leaderships of Iraq and Syria as well). I would not be proud if he had served in the West Bank, enforcing an immoral occupation that actually weakens Israel’s ability to defend itself. My critique is that Israel’s reliance on power rather than generosity is an unethical and, in the long run, self-destructive path to “homeland security” both for Israel and the U.S. As the murder of Israeli prime minister Rabin by a Jewish religious nationalist demonstrated — and as Joseph L. Nathan reminds us — there is a way of reading our holy texts that sees God as supporting violence and that is now being used by religious nationalists to obscure the far stronger part of Judaism that values God’s compassion, love, and generosity.

It should also be acknowledged that seeing God as a source of power, even through violence (as in the sinking of Pharaoh’s army in the sea), helped give Jews a sense that ultimately the ethical forces of the universe would triumph. Still, what is empowering in the hands of the poor and the oppressed now functions for some Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and American nationalists as a reason to think God sanctions violence by the powerful. We at the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives are committed to an emancipatory spirituality that reclaims the parts of all our spiritual and religious traditions which emphasize the call for a world based on generosity, peace, environmental sanity, and social justice.

The struggle goes on inside every human between the internalized voice of pain and cruelty that leads us to believe that our security comes only from achieving dominion over others through violence and militarism (or the liberal “soft power” version using diplomacy, economic sanctions, media penetration of consciousness, and other ways of being “number one”) and the spiritual voice that tells us to trust in generosity, love, and genuine caring for others. At the Network of Spiritual Progressives we are working to enhance that latter voice, both through our Global Marshall Plan and through our proposed Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S Constitution, which would, among other things, ban all private money from elections. People of any or even no faith are invited to join us at www.spiritualprogressives.org.

I have been moved to tears many times by something I have read in The Sun. Not only did Halina Larman’s essay “Reunion” [September 2012] do this, it also moved me to immediately reread it, and then to write and thank her.

Natalie Willett
Montreal, Quebec
Canada

Eric Anderson’s essay “Ten Days in November” [September 2012] was such an enjoyable read, I wanted 355 more days.

Carol. R. Wich
Bradley Beach, New Jersey

In your September 2012 Correspondence Kelley Blewster expresses appreciation for the works of writers, artists, and musicians from centuries past who explored painful emotions, yet she says she would not deny them modern psychotherapeutic tools that might have relieved their pain. I have a different view. I fear that “early detection” and the pathologizing of anything outside of what corporate medicine deems “normal” in our modern society could be robbing us of great future works. Perhaps some souls were meant to be tortured, mine included.

Jim Imholte
Glendale, Arizona

Thank you for printing Heather King’s essay “Of All the Mothers in the World” [August 2012]. I read it on my front porch on a glorious fall morning and wept: For the author’s fear that screaming for help would bring no one. For her deep love of her flawed mother. For the difficulty she had justifying a small indulgence.

Dana Brinson
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

I left my most recent copy of The Sun out in the rain. I had read only the Readers Write, because I always start with that. Then I move on to Sunbeams and to Sy Safransky’s Notebook, if he has one. Next comes the interview, and finally, because I save the best for last, the stories and essays.

This morning I hung The Sun up on the line to dry. By noon it was like brittle cardboard. Very carefully I am pulling each of the pages apart so as not to miss a word. I’ve been at this for over an hour. I have saved eight pages so far. It’s worth it.

Suzanne Unger
Palmyra, Pennsylvania