Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am feeling a bit pressured to offer a blog on the things for which I am thankful this year. There are, of course, the usual suspects: the kids who invented "Hit a Jew Day", the fundamentalists who refuse to admit that the rocks they throw at liberals are older than creation as they understand it from the Bible, the Jews who support the kosher industry assuming that God is more worried about our allegiance to Bronze Age technologies of animal slaughter than modern age concerns with justice and the health and safety of slaughterhouse workers. Where would I be without these people to write about?

I am also thankful for Henry (Hank) Paulson who is destroying any hope of my surviving old age with financial dignity. I used to worry about my financial future, but now I no longer have to. I have none. Whatever money I had hoped to have has now gone to bailout people making millions of dollars in bonuses every year. I pity them having to worry about where to vacation this year, and how to invest their taxpayer trillions. Only people with money to lose have to worry about the stock market. Having lost all mine, I can relax and enjoy my poverty in peace.

And then there is Exxon who bought the patent for GM's original and incredibly wonderful electric car battery that powered the EV-1 electric car which Exxon refuses to allow into production making it all the more certain that GM will collapse just a little sooner than the polar ice caps. I am really thankful to them for that.

And I am thankful for all those Mormons who scared Californians straight, making it unconstitutional for gays and lesbians to marry. I know in the short run this hurts lots of people, but since 50% of all marriages end in divorce anyway, half the couples the Mormons hurt will be spared the horrors of divorce, and that is something to be thankful for.

Of course there are my family and friends. I am very thankful for them. But, for the most part (but not all parts) they are too much like me to be all that interesting. If I want to be impressed by people like me I would do better to be impressed by me. Why settle for a good imitation?

And I am thankful for you Toto readers. All twenty-one of you, at last count. All twenty-one of you; twenty-one among the countless millions who surf the web everyday reading all kinds of things but not my blog. Yes it is humbling to know that my readership is no larger than a large order of donuts, and being humble is good. So I am thankful for you, the twenty-one of you, not one of whom actually pays to read this blog, but even if you did given that there are only twenty-one of you it would still not be worth my while to write it, so thanks for letting me do something purely altruistic with my life. Here's a personal thank you to each of you: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Wow, twenty-one thank yous, and I have only been writing this blog for four years. Just think there may be forty-two of you by the time Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012.

Which reminds me to be thankful to the ancient Mayans who have given me something beside my fame to worry about. Their calendar runs out in 2012 and that may spell the end of life as we know it. Too bad the Mayans didn't live long enough to see themselves destroyed. No, wait, they did. I guess this is Mayan revenge.

But most of all I am thankful for the unnamed fellow in Barnes and Nobel bookstore who is most certainly coming down with bronchitis. First I am thankful to him for sharing his germs with me as we stood in the Bible section of the store. I imagine he thought that if I breathe in just a bit of his illness my body will build up an immunity to the full blown disaster that is boiling inside his lungs. But mostly I am thankful that his coughing was perfectly timed to match and mask a small gas leak from which I myself was suffering. Though, now that I think about it, this may not have been a coincidence at all. Perhaps he didn't have bronchitis, but was coughing in respond to my enthusiastic bursts of methane. Honestly, I didn't think of this until just now. I owe him an apology rather than a vote of thanks. Well, that isn't going to happen, so let me just say that I am all the more grateful to him for not saying anything to me directly.

So much to be thankful for this year. How about you?


The Christian Heretic said...

thank you

And thank you for continuing to write for us. :)

Patricia said...

Wish I'd been #22 'cause my B-day is the 22nd of March!!

Would luv to send my pic to add to your groupies...being one of lonnng standing!!

Looking forward to the new book and the film....XOXOX and luv to thee... patricia ree...worth,that is...


Patti said...

Mostly, a very thankful and positive person, the last few years beat the crap out of my attitude. Mostly, my life is great. Who could complain? But my spiritual life was in turmoil. I had started asking questions that I did not want to even think about. When it became obvious, through a letter, that we were no longer wanted at the church we started 6 years earlier, my world pretty much came to a stop.

Then my sons, both being Army officers, began their preparations for deployment. They would serve, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan for up to and perhaps over 15 months each. I had been a practicing Christian for my whole life. I thought the real deal. I studied, read, taught, acted – tried to live the life that seemed right at the time. My older son had already served in Iraq, it was brutal and devastating, but we made it through, I thought on faith.

In late spring, we got a call from a battlefield in Afghanistan. At the other end of the line was the tiniest voice, “Mom, I am surrounded by the Taliban. I don’t think I am going to make it. If you don’t hear from me again, I love you and am thankful for all you have done for me over the years.” Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. My first reaction was “Don’t talk like that!” He got mad and yelled back, “I have to, and you have to take it.”

Over the next 5 days, the waiting was unbearable. Another cell phone call, another tiny voice, “I am still here. I have to leave my men to go back to the FOB for supplies and reinforcements and I have to go over land, we can’t wait any longer for air support. I will call you when I get there.” Well…he completed his mission, did not lose any of his men and made it back to his base safely. I on the other hand, did not recover with my faith intact.

I was broken, afraid, unable to come to terms with life and death, overwhelmed with disappointment and the old standby answers offered little comfort. I needed something simpler that offered a peace that was available to all. That offered a way to love people as God has intended. To offer the promised peace that eluded me. I had read your column in Spirituality and Health and loved it so much. In a “what the hell” moment I emailed you. Your response was gentle, kind and well thought out. You did not talk down to me or placate. Your response was extremely helpful.

Since then I have read most of your books, I read your blogs, and I wonder at the world in a whole new head space. I am at peace. My kids are still at war. I was still kicked out of the church that I poured my life into. But I am fine.
I pray differently – mediation has helped me clear my head rather than fill it with more flurry.
I eat differently – I became a vegetarian immediately upon reading that chapter in Minyan.
I interact differently – I can love others the way I always wanted to, but could not figure out how. (I suppose this is a life’s work to be a consistent lover. But I can see it!)
I attend church differently – We don’t believe the same things at the church that I now attend, but we work together to make our part of the world a true community. They have never asked me what I believe and still allow me to work side by side with them in the inner city.
I think about spirituality differently – I have put down my need to defend, understand or even believe in the resurrection of Christ. The watershed moment came when I came to terms with the fact that my belief was based solely on staying out of hell. I was a fraud. I remember the night I put it all down, right next to my bed, just in case I needed to find it again! It was the most freeing thing I have ever experienced. I felt like I was walking in the truth. Not that I am willing to demean all Christianity’s main premise, but to come clean about my disbelief, was the most amazing moment. All the fear, uncertainty and confusion left. I know one thing now for sure now, I know very little. And I am sooo good with that. That moment was made possible through your blogs’ fearless approach to difficult issues and the response of your readers.

Rami, you wear your heart on your sleeve. You wonder out loud if you make a difference, if anyone is out there, if you matter? I wrote this long story to let you know that yes, you do matter. You have impacted my life and subsequently the lives of 100’s of people that I come in contact with. This year, and I suspect many more ahead, I will be most thankful to you and for you.

AND I could actually write more.

Karen said...

Between the time you wrote this blog and I read it, you've acquired 13 more "followers"... And these don't count the ones who are following and don't want you to know! I hope you aren't too discouraged. The 34 of us look forward to this blog!

Rabbi Rami said...

I want to thank you all for writing. I was moved to tears by Patti's story of her sons. I was a chaplain in the Air Force but never during wartime. I tried to reactivate my commission during the first Gulf War, but I was told I was too old. I have some sense of the soldier's heart, and wanted to be of service to those who put their lives on the line even if I often disagree with the policies that put them there.

I also understand how brutal communities can be, even (especially?) to those who help found them. And I too live with and through crises of faith periodically.

At the heart of Judaism is questioning and doubt. We are encouraged to challenge our beliefs, and they often come up wanting. But in a religion of doubt beliefs are always fluid; fixed beliefs would break against the challenging and questioning, but a fluid faith grows because of these. So I continue to find new ways to understand the Bible and new ways to live my faith.

My only "advice" for Patti and those who share her journey is to place your faith in your capacity to question and grow and not in the fixed ideas of others or even your own. Faith should be a life of discovery. When we imagine we have found the answer we have only abandoned the challenge to question.

I am honored to share this journey with you.

Shalomrav said...

Reb Rami: You make a distinction between the mystical and intellectual that I am not certain really exists. We have feelings and we have thoughts and both are under two different but interdependent domains within our bodies. I sense the same holds true on the mystical/rational gradient. One informs the other. Without one, or the other, we are lacking something. The world needs both mystics and intellectuals more than ever – direct experience and comparative learning. Kol tuv!