Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last Blog of 2006

I had thought that the blog I posted last night was my final posting of the year, but I’m sitting by the door of Hardback Cafe in Hastings, Murfreesboro’s bookstore, checking email, and a balding fifty-something guy has just walked in wearing a blue t-shirt with a giant yellow price tag printed on it that reads, “Jesus, the possibilities are endless. Get yours.” I don’t understand this shirt.

First of all, why the price tag? Is Jesus for sale? How much does Jesus cost? Can I get him on lay-a-way? And if I do get Jesus, can I return him if I’m not satisfied? What if he breaks: can I get a refund or do I have to buy an extended warranty? And how long would that extension be? Eternity?

Second of all, why is Jesus linked with infinite possibility, and how am I to choose among them in order to get mine? It can take me over an hour to choose which among two-dozen or so brands of toothpaste to buy. Can you imagine how long it would take to choose which Jesus among an infinite number of Jesuses (Jesi? What is the plural of Jesus?) is the right Jesus for me?

When confronted with so many consumer choices, I usually head for Consumer Reports. I figure they know best, and I usually buy their Best Buy. It would be very helpful if Consumer Reports did an issue on religion.

They could list religions according to what they claim to accomplish: salvation, enlightenment, tikkun ha-olam (world repair), liberation, submission to God, etc. Then Consumer Reports could rate religions against these categories. There would be several faiths or variations of one faith under any given heading. Consumer Reports would rate them according to the demands they make on you, their reported reliability, cost, and other factors. Then they would pick their Best Buy.

I have to interrupt what I am certain was going to be a very funny Consumer Reports gag, to bring you this breaking news: Another guy about the same age just walked in wearing another Jesus t-shirt. On the front of his white t-shirt is a blue circle containing six well-known religious symbols, also in blue: Star of David, Om, Buddha, Yin/Yang, Crescent of Islam, and a Cross. Underneath the circle the text reads, “Five Out Of Six Religions Lead To Dead Ends.” On the back it says, “Back the winner; Choose the Living Christ.”

The Infinite Jesus guy is standing about fifteen feet from me looking at Kiplinger’s Magazine. Not six feet to his left, looking at a copy Newsweek, is the Living Christ guy. So far they have not noticed one another. But what if they do? What of they compare shirts? How can the Choose Christ guy deal with the Infinite Jesus message of the other guy? How can he choose wisely if his choices are infinite? Why choose at all if the possibilities are infinite? And, if the possibilities are infinite maybe there are no dead end religions. Maybe Jesus is hanging out in all of them. This fellow will be paralyzed by the sheer enormity of his Christ options, and his t-shirt will fail him. This could lead to a violent class of Christian cultures. Maybe I should do something… Ahh, no need; Infinite Jesus’ cell phone just rang and he has walked away to take the call. Whew! That was close. Oh, by the way, Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Year End Close Out

Like so many who live an examined life (even if not a well-examined one), the closing of a year is a time for self-reflection. This, however, is not something of which I am particularly proud.

First of all, since the self is a construct, a story created for the sole purpose of maintaining the illusion of self in the first place, self-reflection is simply a meta-story, a story about a story that simply reifies the illusion.

Second, since the self is a work in progress, it is impossible to reflect it as it is but only as it was. What I am actually doing is recreating the self to fit whatever craving haunts me at the moment. So it is more self-refraction than self-reflection.

And third, there is the problem of who is doing the refracting. If there is no self to begin with, who is creating it? If I say “me” the answer begs the question. If I say “God,” the answer not only begs the question but adds a dimension of abstraction that does nothing but further distract. Better not to ask the question: the real point of my comments is not to explore who is doing the commenting, but to take note of what I notice when I do the commenting. So on with comments:

This has been a good year in so far as my university teaching goes. Solid classes, great students; I love teaching religion and planting seditious seeds of spiritual anarchism. It has also been a good year for workshops: to my surprise I continue to be invited to speak in communities around the world. But neither teaching nor lecturing sets me on fire. On my tombstone I would not feel moved to carve either Teacher or Lecturer.

What does set me ablaze me is writing, and it has been a good year for that as well. Two books came out this year (The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness and The Ethics of the Sages); I have a contract for a book on angels in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; I now write a regular spiritual advice column for Spirituality and Health Magazine; Toto seems to be well received; and the First Annual Path and Pen Writers’ Conference that my son, Aaron, and I hosted in Nashville this past fall was a great success.

More than anything else I do, it is writing that excites and fulfills me. What I write about matters, but not as much as the process of writing itself. I love the magic of words, the alchemy of meaning (hmm, nice title for a book). I love watching as a blank screen fills with black letters that become words, sentences, and paragraphs reflecting back to me the thoughts that skitter across my mind.

So as I examine my life this year I am grateful for the gift of writing, and want to thank all of you for reading my books, column, and blog. And if I die this year, please have “Author” carved on my tombstone along with all the titles of my books and a functional “Click Here to Order” button that is linked to

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Person of the Year

Person of the Year. I am still in shock, but from the moment I picked up Time Magazine with my face on the Mylar cover announcing that I had been chosen as 2006’s Person of the Year I knew they had made the right choice.

I mean I can’t be the only one who thinks about me all day long, others must be aware of how important I am. Yes, people publish and purchase my books. Yes, Spirituality and Health Magazine has hired me to do a regular column called Roadside Assistance for Your Spiritual Journey. Yes I recently did a segment of Hallmark Channel’s New Morning show, but these pale next to the honor of being chosen Person of the Year. Can a Nobel be far behind? Seriously, can it?

While some may call this narcissistic, I find it perfectly normal and take my inspiration from Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself who will be for me? The implied answer is, “no one.” So, to bring Hillel into the 21st century: If I don’t put myself on the cover of Time Magazine, who will?

Of course Hillel seeks to balance his song of the self with, “If I am only for myself what am I?” I think the real answer to this is, “focused.” Who has time to be for self and others? Honestly, being for myself is a full time job. Look at any marketing book on building a successful brand and you realize that brand YOU is all-important and totally time consuming.

The thing that surprises me, however, is that Time didn’t notify me in advance of my being chosen. Then again, neither did God when He picked me for His Chosen People award. If Time had let me know I would have feigned surprise, humbly accepted, and then recited a speech I had written years ago entitled, “When Chosen as Time’s Person of the Year:”

“I want to thank the board of Time Magazine for this incredible honor. While I knew that this would happen one day, I am shocked and humbled that it is today. I realize that your choice identifies the one person who for better or worse has most impacted the world during the previous twelve months. Having reviewed my behavior over this past year I am still wondering about which category into which I fall. For every kindness I may have done, I can think of one or two times where I have been the source of someone’s pain. And then there is the nagging awareness that I really haven’t done anything on my own. Everything I have, think, and feel is really the product of forces outside my control. While I am responsible for what I do, I never act in isolation. So there is no real person here at all, no one independent will that should be credited with anything. There is just an infinite complex of events that I reduce to a manageable story that I call myself. So maybe the choice shouldn’t have been me but us, not I but the entire system of I’ing that is the universe. And while I do mean this, I want to make it clear that if there is a check involved in this award, placing my name alone on the recipient line is just fine. Thank you.”

The speech went undelivered, and no check has arrived in the mail, but being Time’s Person of the Year is reward enough. If you haven’t already done so, pick a copy of the magazine and see me on the cover. I promise it will be worth it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bigotry Lives

First Dennis Prager and now Republican Representative Virgil Goode (R-VA): there is something offensive to many Americans about a Muslim congressman (Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN) being unofficially sworn in as a Congressman using a Koran rather than a Bible.

Mr. Prager isn’t bothered by the fact that Congressman Ellison is a Muslim, but he is troubled by the fact that he will use a Koran rather than a Christian Bible in his unofficial swearing-in ceremony. The implication seems to be that if you cannot be sworn in on a Christian Bible you have no right to be a member of the American government. He believes that America is morally founded on this document and that it rather than a Jewish Bible, Koran, or any other text should be used. As Prager said to Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, “My belief that the Bible should be present at any oath (or affirmation) of office has nothing whatsoever to do with the religion of the office holder…”

In other words it doesn’t matter if the person swearing on the Bible believes in the Bible as long as he or she goes through the motions. Does that make sense to you? The whole point of swearing on a Bible is to make the oath all the more sacred. If the book upon which you are swearing is not sacred to you swearing on it is an empty act.

Where Prager is worried about the Bible, Representative Virgil Goode is worried about Muslims, warning America that if we don’t do something about immigration it will only be a few years before America is ruled by the Taliban (the Muslim Taliban not the Republican Christian Taliban that rules Texas [read the Platform of the Republican Party of Texas]).

It doesn’t matter that Representative Ellison traces his American roots back to the 18th century; it doesn’t matter that having to use a Christian Bible seems like a blatant violation of the Constitutional position against having a religious test for the holding of public office; it doesn’t matter that using a book in which you do not believe is promoting hypocrisy not virtue— what matters is that these people are spouting frighteningly anti-American bullshit. (It isn’t the BS that bothers me but the anti-American aspect of it.)

If I wanted my government officials to swear on an ethical text that is not compromised by violence and God-sanctioned immorality as are both the Bible and Koran, I might suggest the Tao te Ching I or the Dhammapada.. If I wanted something less religious I might suggest Goodnight Moon, but if I really want to be outrageous let me suggest that they hold a copy of the Constitution of the United States.

I don’t care if Rep. Ellison upholds the Koran. I do care that he and everyone else in government upholds the Constitution.

The Real War On Christmas

I know, I know, just a couple of weeks ago I declared the end to the war on Christmas. Wal-Mart is greeting shoppers with “Merry Christmas,” the Seattle rabbi who threatened to sue unless the Seattle-Tacoma Airport put up a Hanukkah menorah next to its biggest Christmas Tree has backed down and (though I cannot confirm this) gone into rehab to find out why he is so enraged by tinsel-strewn trees. It seemed to me that America had finally come to accept the fact that it is a Christian Nation devoted enough to God to spend itself into debt hell singing “On the fourth day of Christmas my banker gave to me: four credit cards, three fixed loans, two dunning calls, and no chance to live debt free.”

So you can imagine my surprise that just when I thought it was safe to celebrate the birth of Christ by buying a plasma screen TV I discover that the true enemy of Christmas is not the Jews, humanists, and Muslims, but the nation’s founding Christians.

The Puritans fled England because (all right, partly because) they couldn’t stand Christmas. Christmas in merry old England was a cross between (pun intended, clever, no?) Deep Throat and Friday the 13th, Part Whatever with Brits cavorting in ways that would make Jack the Ripper cringe. And besides, the Puritans knew what every good Druid knows: Jesus wasn’t born in December, and Christmas is just a pagan holiday hiding behind a thin veneer of Christianity.

According to the myth as I remember it, Jesus was supposedly born shortly after the Great Pumpkin visited Linus and Snoopy which happens each year in October (usually on a Wednesday around 8pm ET, 7pm CT). The Bible, however, says that the birth of Jesus was announced by a star seen by shepherds. That would mean Jesus was born in springtime when shepherds are shepherding, not in December when most shepherds tend to take part-time jobs indoors at the local grog and gruel hall.

Celebrating Christmas was a crime in early America punishable by a fine. In fact the US Congress stayed in session over Christmas. While there is much evidence to prove this, the belief that they took the Fourth of October off as Deism Day, celebrating the day God finished winding the clockwork of the universe and moved into an assisted living facility in Miami, is much harder to prove.

The only reason America’s Christian leaders couldn’t crush Christmas was because the people just had an itch to party. Borrowing trees, Saint Nick (who was a Byzantine Christian saint and thus not really Christian at all), and eggnog from Europe America’s sinful masses turned their backs on their Christianity and made merry.

It wasn’t long before some enterprising capitalists realized that horny drunks are apt to buy things they don’t need at prices they cannot afford, and thus the true American Christmas was born. So what do we do? If we’re true to our founding faith we should do away with Christmas once again. If we want our Christmas we have to jettison our Christianity, or at least reinvent it to suit ourselves. Hey, let’s do that! It wouldn’t be the first time.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Please Fence Me In

I am in San Jose, California at the moment, and have recently heard about a controversy happening at the other end of the state in Venice, CA. The controversy is over an eruv, a temporary fence of sorts that surrounds a Jewish community on the Sabbath.

The need for an eruv comes from the challenge posed by Sabbath observance in the Torah. The Torah prohibits working on the Sabbath and considers carrying something between a public domain and a private domain on the Sabbath to be work. Torah does allow you to carrying things within an enclosed "private" area. So you can carry a pizza from the kitchen to the dining room in your house, but not from your house to a neighbors house. Since half the fun of the Sabbath is to visit and share food with friends this law needs to massaged a bit. The solution is an eruv.

The rabbis of the Talmud developed a means to render a public area a private domain by surrounding it with an eruv, Hebrew for joining together. An eruv integrates a number of private and public properties into one larger private domain so that people within an eruv district can move objects from one area to another.

So are so good. In Venice, however, proposals to erect an eruv puts the Orthodox community at odds with ordinances that restrict blocking the view of the ocean and protect the flight paths of birds. The eruv, opponents of the measure argue, does both.

The proposed eruv would use 200 pound fishing net, and I can see how this would restrict my view of the ocean (though to be honest with all the nearly naked people walking around Venice I hardly notice the ocean at all), and pose a danger to birds. But there has to be a way of freeing the Sabbath observant from their homes without inconveniencing beach-goers and birds.

Here is my suggestion: I propose that some enterprising rabbinic scholar team up with an enterprising fish net maker and create personal eruvim (plural of eruv). People could wear them like giant mosquito nets covering their bodies. Wherever you went you would be within your own eruv, and thus able to carry things freely from place to place. This way the only person whose view of the sea would be inhibited would be the Jew wearing the eruv. Since we are basically a desert people anyway, what do we care about seeing the ocean? And as for the birds, unless they intend to attack they will not have any problem flying over eruv-wearing Jews.

Of course there may be some reason why portable personal eruvim aren’t kosher. I am not a halachic (Jewish legal) scholar. If there is no legal objection, however, I am offering this idea free to anyone wishing to make and market it.

PS: After knocking the idea around a bit more, someone here in San Jose suggested that I might create a eruv shooter that would shoot web string from place to place ala Spiderman thus creating an eruv as you go. This might be a big hit with Orthodox kids, but firing the eruv shooter might violate the Sabbath law against work, so we would need a ruling on this first.

Another helpful soul said I could market hula-hoops as eruvim. People could walk with their hips swiveling the hoop getting both a halachic and an aerobic workout at the same time. This too sounds a bit like work, and we would have to check that out, but I appreciate the seriousness with which people are taking this idea.

I am sure that with a little imaginative effort we can create Sabbath law that is good both for the Jews and the birds.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Still Embarrassed

Yesterday I wrote how ashamed I was over the Seattle rabbi who, by threatening to sue unless the Seattle-Tacoma Airport put up a Hanukkah Menorah next to its biggest Christmas Tree, triggered the removal of all the Christmas Trees in the airport. Today CNN reported that the trees are being, ah, resurrected, and are fully operational once again. Coincidence? I think not.

You might imagine that this success would turn my shame to jubilation, but alas this is not the case. I am even more ashamed today. The source of my shame is the participation of Satmar Hasidic rabbis in the Iranian sponsored conference on the Holocaust. This gathering of anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, and madmen bent on nuclear Armageddon is a stain on humanity, and to have Satmar participate is just insanity.

Of course the Satmar do not deny the Holocaust. They attended the conference to lend support to the anti-Zionist fascists who, like the Satmar, would like to see the end of the State of Israel. The Satmar are anti-Zionist because they believe that only the Messiah can bring about the legitimate return of Israel. Until then the Satmar are willing to side with those who await the Mahdi to destroy the Israel we have. This is madness. And this must the season of madness.

Whatever happened to “Peace on earth and goodwill to wo/men?” Oh, I forgot, the peace symbol is now said to be a broken cross and anti-Christian. Religion has gone mad.

Monday, December 11, 2006


ITEM ONE: Some days I am embarrassed to be a Jew. Today is one of those days.

I am watching the morning news and discover that some CHaBaD rabbi in Seattle threatened the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with a lawsuit unless they permitted him to erect an eight-foot Hanukkah menorah next to the tallest of their eight Christmas Trees. Rather than risk the expense of a court case, the airport dismantled all eight trees. A blow for religious freedom! A blow for religious tolerance! Hooray for the Jews of Seattle, they have made their city safe for religious idiocy!

What was this guy thinking? “Hey, if I threaten to sue, I bet the airport will honor Jews with a menorah.” No, that doesn’t make sense. Maybe this is what went through his head, “We killed their god, now we take their trees—damn you goyyim!” No, that probably isn’t it either. How about this, “I bet the Christians of Seattle-Tacoma will respect their Jewish neighbors all the more if we fuck with their holy day.” No, again. Honestly, I can’t imagine what was going through this guy’s head. All I know is he probably set back Jewish-Christian relations in Seattle twenty years.

You want a menorah in the airport? Ask the airport management in January, don’t threaten them in December. But we seem to be beyond asking anymore. You want what you want and you will sue in order to get it. I don’t think there is a war on Christmas, but I do think there is a war on sanity.

If I were a rabbi in Seattle I would be appalled by my colleague’s actions. I would put a Christmas Tree on the front lawn of my synagogue with a bit sign saying, “Merry Christmas from the Jews of Seattle.” Seriously. If you know any rabbis in Seattle pass this on. It is a good idea.

ITEM TWO: Some days I am embarrassed to be a Muslim. Today is one of those days.

True, I am not technically a Muslim, but I do believe that Mohammed is a prophet of God and that the Koran does contain the same universal Truths as the Torah and New Testament, so I am a proto-Muslim.

What embarrasses me is the protest of tens of thousands of Muslims in Pakistan over the changes to rape laws instituted by the Women Protection Bill passed last month.

Under the new law a rape victim no longer has to produce four male Muslim witnesses to back up her claim. Further, if a woman fails to prove her case she is no longer convicted of adultery and sentenced to life imprisonment or death by stoning.

What embarrasses me (beside the obvious need for this law in the first place) is the idea that women could actually produce four male Muslim witnesses to prove she was raped. These men must have witnessed the crime, so why didn’t they stop it from happening?

What has religion done to our basic humanity? Some days I am embarrassed to be religious. Today is one of those days. Merry— oh, forget it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

God Abuse

[I am sitting in a local WiFi hotspot typing as quickly as I can in order to capture what the guy at the table next to mine is saying. I offer this without comment.]

Didja hear O’Reilly on that atheist little girl? Man, that’s child abuse, teachin’ yer kid ta hate God that way. O’Reilly said there ain’t nothin’ ta be done about it, since it’s a parent’s right ta teach their kid what they want, but, man, it seems like child abuse ta me. In fact it is child abuse an’ I’ll tell you why.

When that child dies and goes to Judgment God is going to send her ta Hell ‘cause a what her father taught her. He’s the guilty one, and he’ll be burnin’ too, but so will she ‘cause she was taught to deny God. Now that is abuse, pure and simple.

And it ain’t only atheists doin’ this. I mean right here in Murfreesboro we got us some Hindus who teach their kids that God has the head of a elephant. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine Jesus wearin’ a elephant’s head? Nobody woulda taken him seriously. Anyway, they teach that an’ those kids are going to Hell.

My grandson in the fifth grade tol’ me there’s a kid in his class who prays to Kirshner or some such god, an’ he has pictures of this god an’ the god is blue. Blue! Man, that is just too much. An’ my grandson tol’ me that the teacher asked the kids if they believed Jesus was God an’ this kid says no an’ when the teacher asked him why he didn’t believe Jesus is God the kid says that he can’t be God ‘cause God is blue an’ Jesus is white! That sounds like racism to me, but the teacher just let it go which is wrong since everyone with an ounce of brains knows God is white cause His Son is white.

That is just abuse in my book. This little kid’ll go ta God and say you ain’t God cause you’re white and God’s blue an’ God’ll have no choice but to send him to burn in Hell for all eternity an’ it ain’t really the kid’s fault but his parent’s fault.

An’ then a’course there’s Muslims and Jews. I mean the Muslims believe in some desert demon Ayllah so they’re goin’ ta Hell, and Jews just reject God so they’re goin’ ta Hell.

I don’t care if a adult wants to believe in a blue god, a Jew god, or a demon god, I mean that’s their right, but to teach that to their kids is to condemn ‘em to Hell an’ that’s abuse.

O’Reilly says there’s nothin’ to do about it. But I called child services an’ told the lady about it an’ she said it was legal. I asked her if she thought it was abuse an’ she sorta whispered ta me that I should call my pastor an’ tell him to do something.

So I told Pastor we ought to have an innervension like with drug addicts, but he said you can’t do that. So I asked him if he thought it was abuse ‘cause God was gonna burn these kids forever in Hell ‘cause of what their parents teach ‘em, and he said God visits the sins of the fathers on the children for generations so it ain’t really abuse, but God’s plan. So that’s that, I guess. God’s plan. Damn it sounds like abuse ta me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hope and Fear

[This is a condensed version of a talk I gave on Thursday, November 30th regarding my recent trip to Israel.]

Having recently returned from a weeklong visit to Israel with a group of rabbis and evangelical ministers, I am filled with both hope and fear regarding not only the Middle East, but also the future of our own nation and the planet as a whole. Let me share one example of each.

The hope: My Orthodox rabbinic colleague (we have been asked not to use the names of our fellow travelers) introduced me to a friend of his, Jacob, who ran a kosher pizzeria in Meah Sha’arim, the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood just outside the walls of the Old City. An elderly Hasid in his seventies, Jacob was one of the founders of Zaka, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer organization that collects human remains, from body parts to spatters of blood in the wake of terrorist bombings in Israel in order to bury victims with as much dignity as possible.

Jacob told us of a lecture he gave to on liberal and largely anti-Israel college campus in the United States. He related the story of Zaka and took questions. One Palestinian woman demanded to know what Jacob did with the body parts of the suicide bomber. “All humans are created in the image and likeness of God,” Jacob said. “We gather the bomber’s body up with the same respect and compassion we offer his victims.”

The woman was moved. “Keep up the good work,” she said. A local imam then rose to offer Jacob financial assistance and support from his Muslim community.

The fear: Even as many evangelical Christians are making room for the Jews in their theology of salvation, arguing that God’s covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people is eternal and distinct from the covenant He offers the gentile world through the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son, they are hardening their hearts against Islam, insisting that Allah is a false god and Islam an intrinsically evil and violent faith. Islam is clearly the enemy of God and those who love Him. This can only lead to more violence and destruction.

A Tennessean article published on the fourth day of our trip fed on this notion opening with the Arabic proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The writer’s message was clear: Jews and Christians have a common bond because they share a common enemy. Friendship contingent upon shared fear, anger, and violence is not the foundation upon which to pin much hope. While it may be expedient to make the enemy of my enemy my friend, when that enemy is defeated, my so-called friend will quickly become my newfound enemy.

Not surprisingly, Nashville’s Muslim community found nothing to praise in our journey. I don’t blame them. Being labeled as the enemy in a community where you are a small minority must be frightening. As much as some of us may fear Muslims, Muslims have a right to fear us as well. America has a very checkered past when it comes to those it fears, and to read that Nashville’s Jews and Christians are linking arms against Islam, can only be cause for anxiety and anger.

Yet the notion of a shared enemy had nothing to do with our visit to Israel. We went to learn from one another, to try and tap into each other’s love of the Land, and to build a friendship based on that shared love and not on a shared enemy. But love and forgiveness sell fewer papers than hate and fear, so the real meaning and message of our mission was lost.

Hope is fueled by compassion rooted in the recognition that human life, regardless of the labels one chooses or has foisted upon one, is sacred. Fear is fueled by ignorance rooted in the false notion that God’s love and saving grace is contingent upon having the right enemy. The fear lies with those who live by abstractions: theologies, creeds, dogmas that are human artifacts often designed to exploit human weakness. The hope lies with those who live by the simple fact that we are all God’s children, created in the image and likeness of the One who is all.

So, if hope rather than fear is to win out; if the prospect of a century-long conflict with Islam is to be avoided, what can we do? I could offer a list of obvious suggestions: dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims; joint programming around our respective cultures focusing on art, music, and food; and much of this may already be happening in Nashville. But instead of this, let me focus on one somewhat radical suggestion.

I would like to see local Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy and lay leaders come together to study their respective scriptures in order to identify and reject those passages that advocate and condone violence. The Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and the Qur’an all suffer from passages that have God calling for violence and even genocide. These passages cannot come from a God of justice and compassion, and need to be rejected as false teaching. We must break free from the notion that scripture is infallible, and recognize that alongside timeless truth there sits much time-bound bias masquerading as truth. Unless and until we free ourselves from the delusion that God condones and even commands the murder of human beings, religion will always be a catalyst for evil even as it claims to be the ultimate repository of the good.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Gods We Trust

A new study by Baylor University and Gallop reveals that Americans believe in one of four types of God: Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical, or Distant.

The Authoritarian God worshipped by 31.4% of Americans and 43.3% of my fellow Southerners is pissed at everyone and everything that fails to meet his standards. He is anti-gay, anti-stem cell research, anti-choice, and pretty sure that the Blue States could benefit from another flood.

The Benevolent God worshipped by 23% of Americans is just as Red as his Authoritarian rival, but tends to forgive those who lean a pit toward purple. Love is his stock and trade, and while he would really like it if America were a Christian nation, he seems willing to forgive us for voting otherwise.

The Critical God worshipped by 16% of Americans is as pissed off as the Authoritarian God but contents himself with a cosmic cluck of the tongue rather than banging heads in Hell. If we want to screw up our lives, he won’t bless us, but he won’t stop us either.

The Distant God worshipped by 24.4% Americans is the God of the American Founders. This Divine Watchmaker made the world, wound it up, and then stepped back to watch the whole thing wind down unto death. This God basically doesn’t give a damn.

I find it interesting that believers in the Benevolent and Distant Gods basically cancel each other out, leaving us with God the Pissed If Not Yet Totally Postal as the dominant deity of America.

As I read about these four gods of America I had to figure out which god is my god. The problem is I don’t fit in anywhere. I am not alone: 5.2% of Americans don’t fit in either. Now some of these people are atheists for whom the very word “god” conjures up visions of the Salem Witch Trials and sends them running for cover. But I hope that some of these people are, like me, obsessed with God and still uncomfortable with the four choices offered.

I disagree with all four categories in that for me God includes and transcends the universe but is not separate from it. I agree that God sets laws for us: gravity, evolution, karma, and washing your hands before packing spinach for shipping being four of them. I believe that human reason and genius can uncover the natural and ethical laws of the universe, though knowing the good and doing the good are not one and the same. I don’t believe God has political opinions, nor does God care who marries whom, as long as you don’t invite him to the wedding simply to get a really cool gift. I think God laughs at us rather than criticizes us. I think hell is the fantasy of the impotent, and heaven the hope of those too frightened to live the “kingdom” here and now.

Of course it doesn’t matter what I think since I never get surveyed, which I suspect is a conspiracy all its own. Anyway, if you too don’t find yourself worshipping one of the four Gods of America, keep your chin up… and your head down.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Muslims and Jews-- Agreement at Last!

At last— common ground! Jewish and Muslim leaders in Jerusalem have finally found something they can agree upon, something upon which they can perhaps forge a lasting alliance.

What is this breakthrough commonality? Could it be that they recognize that each worships the same God? Or that both recognize humans as God’s children worthy of love and respect regardless of religion?

No. What these wise sages have in common is a shared hatred of homosexuals. Israel’s chief rabbinate, itself an institution marked by division, issued a statement endorsed by both Chief Rabbis, that labeled Israel’s homosexuals “the lowest of people.” This in a land known for homicide bombers!

The statement said that “Everyone from toddlers to the elderly” would take to the streets to protest the “abomination that is desecrating Israel’s name throughout the nations.”

What sparked this outpouring of religious wisdom is Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade. This parade is, in the words of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, is a criminal act and “not an ordinary crime, but a very severe outburst.”

For me the severe outburst is the two weeks of Ultra-Orthodox rioting against the parade. For me the crime is injuring dozens of police officers trying to quell the riots. But then I don’t believe in the homophobic God of these great men.

I am sick and tired of the idolatry that passes for religion. Where are the true prophets who speak for God, justice, and compassion? Where are the voices of authentic Judaism that call the people to love their neighbor even if they disagree with the way their neighbor loves?

Calling gays and lesbians “the lowest of people” disrespects God and God’s creation. Homophobia may be the “canary in the mine” warning others that holders of such views are not holy people.

I am embarrassed by my Chief Rabbis and appalled by their Judaism. I hope I am not alone.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Last Thoughts While Flying Home

[This is an extra blog from Israel where I was traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

I am flying back from Israel at the moment, exhausted and exhilarated. This has been a fabulous trip. I have deepened my knowledge of Israel, deepened my friendship with my fellow travelers, and deepened by love of God. And yet I am troubled.

What troubles me is me.

I am in awe of my rabbinic colleagues’ love of Jews and Judaism, and not a little envious of their finding fulfillment in God, Torah, and Israel. I am thrilled by the passion for God and His Word shared by my evangelical colleagues, and not a little envious of their certainty and faith.

And while I am a Jew and would wish to be nothing else, Judaism is not enough for me. And while I am devoted to the Book it is for me story, myth, and metaphor and not law, history, or revelation.

I do consider myself a person of faith, but my faith isn’t in anything. Rather it is a simply truth in the One Thing, God. I have no certainty, only unknowing; no conviction other than I don’t know; and neither do you.

Where did I go wrong? Why doesn’t one religion fill me? Why do I find myself at home in a mosque as well as a synagogue, in the Empty Tomb as well as the Western Wall? Why am I skeptical of religion even as I deepen my faith? What happened to me that I see the wisdom in all faiths and the Truth in none? Why do I find the cacophony of Jews davvening, the Muslim Call to Prayer, and the peel of Church bells satisfying rather than disconcerting? Why does chanting the names of God along the Sea of Galilee bring to an ecstatic moment of Divine Embrace when praying in most churches and synagogues leaves me cold? Why driving into the dessert empties my mind of theological bullshit that I might at least wait upon the Still Small Voice of God? Why I wish we had had the chance to walk the Temple Mount, the Bahai Gardens, and sit in the Karo synagogue of Sefat? Why I wish we had met with our Muslim peers and learned a bit about Islam?

I could tell you a story, I suppose, something self-serving even as it sounds self-deprecating, but the truth is I have no idea why I am the way I am.

So as I fly home, this is what accompanies me:

I love Israel, but the holy land for me is the earth herself.

I live Judaism, but God is too big to be squeezed into any one religion.

I seek theological clarity, but prefer babble to concord, and silence to both.

I treasure the past, but value myth over fact, and imagine that story trumps history when seeking Truth.

I love God in this moment, and simply surrender to whatever it is She offers in the next.

Messianic Jews

[This is the fifth of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

Are Messianic Jews really Jews? This is one question that has come up that I find especially curious. While Jewish interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism is so commonplace as to have given rise to terms like Bu-Jus, Hin-Jews, and Jufis), a Jew who finds herself attracted to Jesus (who was after all a Jew) is somehow beyond the pale.

The issue isn’t theological. Buddhism and its absence of God, Hinduism and its plethora of Gods, and Islam and its final Book and Prophet, are each antithetical to Judaism. If we can have Jewish Buddhists, why can’t we have Jewish Christians?

Nor is the issue sociological: a Jew who becomes a Christian (or a Hindu for that matter) and then decides to return to Judaism, doesn’t have to convert back, he or she simply has to come home; making a strong case that a Jew is a Jew no matter what.

Nor is it historical: the first Christians were all Jews. Christianity was a Jewish movement. The New Testament is predominately a Jewish book. And Jesus was nothing if not Jewish. So if was good enough for Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul, why not today’s Jews?

The problem is psychological and has everything to do with the way we Jews have been treated by Christians over the past two thousand years. If we had been persecuted by Buddhists; had Hindus come out of their temples screaming for the death of the Jews; then Bu-Jus and Hin-Jews would also be anathema. So Jews are leery of anything Christian. We imagine they want to destroy us, convert us, set us up to die as the final proof that Jesus is Lord.

Of course most Christians today want nothing of the sort, but, perception trumps reality every time. So we Jews see Messianic Jews as an oxymoron, and do our best to prune them from the family tree, and write them out of Father’s will. They have given up their inheritance and gone after false gods. Good riddance.

Personally, I am happy when someone finds God (or the Absolute) as long as what they find makes them just, kind, and humble. A Jew who finds Jesus is just that: a Jew. If he is obnoxious about finding Jesus, my guess is that he was just as obnoxious before finding Jesus. Jesus won’t make you obnoxious, but he won’t stop you either.

Given all of this, the question for me then becomes, Who is a Jew? I offer this definition: A Jewish is a person who calls herself a Jew, makes rabbinic Judaism her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, and who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends her fellow Jews world-wide.

My definition is behavioral rather than genetic, and is stricter than blood, if not thicker. I am saying it is my final thought on the matter. I try not to have final thoughts. But it is what I am thinking today. So, does this definition include or exclude Messianic Jews? Honestly, I am not sure. I will have to give it more thought.

The Chosen People

[This is the fourth of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

On one thing we all agree: the Jews are God’s Chosen People. All that is but me. While I certainly grew up with this self-understanding I have not taken it seriously for decades. To me, the idea of chosenness is sociologically common and theologically absurd.

Every people, from the Hopi Indians to the Japanese, calls itself God’s chosen. The reason that we Jews are taken more seriously than the others is that the book that declares this to be true is in fact accepted as true by billions of people. Of course the fact that we wrote this book doesn’t seem to faze people. After all, what else would Jews write of themselves: we are God’s despised? Leave that to Martin Luther.

Being Chosen we are told doesn’t mean we are better than other people; only that God has selected us for a special mission. Somehow this is supposed to make it OK to go around admitting that we are chosen, but to me this is somewhat disingenuous. Despite all the suffering and tragedy that is Jewish history, it is still better to be God’s Chosen than God’s not chosen. God, the Creator of Everything, has made an eternal covenant with only one people in all the earth across all eternity, and we Jews are it. Come in, isn’t that more cool than, say, everything?

Of course it is! It is a gigantic “nah, nah, n’nah nah” to the whole world. It is like getting picked first by the coolest kid at school to be on his team during phys-ed. It is like being allowed to lick the spoon after the icing has been swirled on the cake. It is like… you get the idea. I am not a big fan of chosenness.

Beside the jingoistic silliness of the idea, the theology that is needed to support it makes not sense to me either. God doesn’t choose. This is what people do, and while most theology is simply the projection of ego on an Imax-like screen of self-serving spirituality, I just can’t buy it. I could be wrong of course, but I don’t really think so.

Yes, the Bible speaks of God as having the same characteristics of people. He gets mad, sad, happy, jealous, vicious, pissy, self-righteous and the rest. But this the vision of biblical authors not a literal portrait of God Almighty. Maimonides, the greatest of Jewish medieval philosophers, said we cannot say anything about God. In this Lao Tzu concurs: the Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao.

While I do not follow their advice and speak of God all the time, still I know that what I say is not really what God is. Yet, I allow myself the conceit that I am at least on the right track. And that track reveals a God who is not self-conscious or willful, not rewarding or punishing, not chosen and condemning, but simply providing for all the opportunity to discover wisdom and walk the way of justice, mercy, and humility.

To me the issue is not who has God chosen, but who has chosen God. And in this the world’s religions agree: those who choose God are those who an open hand to a closed fist, and an open heart over a closed mind.

Who Do You Say I Am?

[This is the third of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

Today’s visit to Kfar Nahum (Village of Nahum), Jesus’ “headquarters” raised one of the most challenging koans posed by Jesus in the Bible: “Who do you say I am?” While Jews normally do not feel called upon to respond to Jesus’ question, I believe that living in an overwhelmingly Christian civilization forces the question upon us.

For most Jews the question is answered indirectly. That is to say, Jesus is irrelevant to our lives as Jews. This need not be articulated openly, and can be implied by simply ignoring the challenge Christianity poses.

There is nothing wrong with this answer as far as it goes. For me, however, it does not go far enough. To avoid the question of Jesus is not enough, and leaves me dangling somewhat precariously in a world haunted by the question. I want to answer it, and in so doing end my dangling.

For me Jesus is a fully realized embodiment of Chochma/Sofia, Wisdom, God’s Daughter, through whom all creation is ordered (see Proverbs Chapter 8). Chochma is the nature of nature, the way, the truth, and the life of all things. To know her is to know creation from the quark to the quasar, from the nonpersonal to the personal to the interpersonal to the transpersonal. She is the Tao, the Dharma, the Torah, and the Truth as it plays itself out in the world that I encounter.

She is a Tree of Life to those who embrace her, and through Wisdom the One is known. I believe that the study of Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Pirke Avot, and the Gospel of Thomas to same just a few of the books in this tradition) is a legitimate Jewish yoga with the potential to awaken the student to God in, with, and as all things.

Jesus was a Wisdom sage who taught, as all such sages do, through aphorism, metaphor, and parable— the pedagogy of Wisdom. He was not the first such sage, nor is he the last. Not everything ascribed to Jesus is wise, and no one can know what he actually said or meant, but I believe that much of his message, his insights into the kingdom of God, and his parables are among the greatest of Wisdom teachings.

Jesus is not my savior, but he is my teacher. He is not my Christ but he is my rebbe. I am a hasid of Jesus as I am of Hillel, Isaiah, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Rumi, Ramana, Krishnamurti, and others. I am a devotee of Chochma, and whoever speaks her message is my teacher.

Does this make me a Christian? No, for Jesus is not my Lord and Savior. Does this put me outside of Judaism? No, for Wisdom is a legitimate strand of Judaism, and Jesus is one of her masters.

So when Jesus asks me, “Who do you say I am?” I respond, “You are my teacher, a realized sage of Wisdom.” To which he then says, “Good, now let’s learn.”

Last Days or Next Days?

[This is the second of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

Are we in the last days? Is Israel reborn the herald of Armageddon and Christ’s return? This is the question challenging us during our visit to Meggido, the site of the final battle between good and evil as many Christians imagine it.

I am too much the historian to speak of last days. Every “last day” has proven only to be another yesterday as we move inexorably to yet another day. Yet I am too much the mystic not to feel the stirrings of something deep, profound, transformative, and terribly violent in these days in which we currently live. I do not see the ending of time, but I do sense the turning of the spiral of consciousness, a terrible turning (as all such turnings have been) that will leave us bloodied and yet also a bit more wise.

I believe we are living in a time when the earth is at last seen for what it is: a single living system floating in the vastness of space.

I believe we are living in a time when race, tribe, and religion are at last seen for what they are: veneers of difference obscuring our common humanity.

I believe we are living in a time when science is about to free religion from superstition that it might return to its prophetic task of calling people to justice, compassion, and humility.

I believe we are living in a time when religion is about to free science from its reductionist idolatry that it might again learn to wonder at the workings of God.

I believe we are living in a time when Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality—the table fellowship common to Jews, Christians, and Muslims— becomes paradigmatic on a global scale inviting all people to sit together and break bread; to enter into deep conversation and even deeper silence; to share their wisdom and their greater unknowing; and in this to find God not as a traveller finds a coin, but as a river flows into the sea.

But achieving this comes at a wicked price. Those who prefer yesterday to tomorrow will fight this turning to the death. The war against terror is a sideshow. The war against tomorrow is the main event. In this the Taliban of science, religion, and nationalism kick up idols to distract us from the One who is all, and to trick us into destroying that which is most precious and promising—each other and the earth.

This war is not about Jesus coming back, but about you and me coming forward. It is not about end times, but about new times. It is not about proving ancient myth, but about recovering timeless truth: seeing a vision of God and Gaia that honors all creatures as necessary players in the symphony of life.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fishing For Whom

[I am currently in Israel traveling with some of Nashville’s leading rabbis and evangelical ministers. The purpose of our journey is to explore our own and each other’s spirituality in the context of Israel. I will post periodic blogs highlighting the trip.]

The surety of faith, the capacity to read an ancient book as timeless truth, is a power that never fails to intrigue and confound me.

Sometime around midnight, delayed in the Atlanta airport by engine failure, I am approached by one of my evangelical companions about the end times.

When Joseph blesses his grandsons he tells them to be as fecund fish, birthing multitudes. Centuries later these fish split into two nations, Israel and Judah. Israel sets up her own high places of workshop and after repeated prophetic warnings is conquered by Assyria and scatted to the far corners of the empire. Hosea warned them of the danger and yet offered them hope: God would one day call the home.

Leap ahead centuries to Jesus and his fishers of men. What men did Jesus come to call home? The lost sheep of Israel, the Jews of the Assyrian exile. And who would be drawn to the teachings of a Judean rabbi thought to have died and returned commissioned by his Father to bring in the lost of Israel as a herald to the last days? The Jews of the first exile, long stripped of their tribal memory, yet stirred to the core by the wonders and wisdom of Jesus. These who call themselves Christians and know one another by the sign of the fish are in fact the northern tribes of Israel. For who else would be moved by the blood of the Lamb except those blood too was Jewish?

Is this true? Are Christians who feel called to Israel, to Zionism, to a deeper bonding with Jews and Judaism the lost tribes coming home? I don’t know, but I will give it the respect that all great midrash (interpretive investigation into the Torah) is due. And I will marvel that this form of study, more worship than intellectual pursuit, is so alive in the evangelical world.

But what really thrills me is the naïve assumption that the Bible is true. By naïve I mean no disrespect, but only to honor the evangelical willingness to believe the Bible is what it says it is, the Word of God.

Where I read the Bible for wisdom, others read it as fact. Where I read it with a sharp eye ready to cut out the primitive, patriarchal, and misogynistic, others read it with a soft eye, the eye, I suspect, Jesus means when he says, those with eyes let them see.

I have no idea if Christian Zionists are the Jewish fish for whom Jesus fishes. It is fine with me either way. What I am blessed with is knowing the love of these seekers for whom Jesus is not a wayward son, but the Way-ward Son who leads us back to the Father.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cut So You Won't Run

I have been agonizing over circumcision every since my son was born almost thirty years ago. To cut or not to cut, that was the question. I decided to cut, not wanting my son to be the first Jewish boy in our family to not bear the sign of the Covenant. Yet there was and is no doubt in my mind that circumcision is a primitive and barbaric act. I do not believe God actually requires the removal of a baby boy’s foreskin; this is about tribe, pure and simple.

As a congregational rabbi I was often called upon to defend circumcision to mothers who just could not get over the brutality of the act. Since neither my congregants nor myself were orthodox believers, I could not hide behind the belief that God commands all Jewish boys to be circumcised. I could not defend circumcision, but neither could I abandon it. So I’d say something inane like, “It’s like getting your hand stamped at a concert. It gets you in the door.” The analogy was weak. And who would want to hear a band that required you to cut off the foreskin of your penis to get into the concert? And the fact that girls get in free, also seemed unfair, and weakened the analogy unless of course the concert was at a gay bar and now girls were allowed.

Today things are different. A new and exhaustive study of circumcised New Zealanders who were snipped at birth and monitored for 25 years to see how things went, proves that boys who are circumcised are less likely to get and transmit HIV and other STDs. Yeah, YHVH! You go, God!

The reason for this is simple: circumcised guys have less sex. No! My mistake. The study showed that the uncircumcised penis is a festering cauldron of infectious disease, while the circumcised penis is a beacon of cleanliness (yes, pun intended). I may be overstating the case a bit, and I have no hands on knowledge (yes, another pun) of how foul the uncircumcised penis may be, but now all us rabbis who are called upon to defend this tribal practice can point to cutting edge (yes, I know, I can’t help myself) science to back them up.

Now what shall we do with all of you still clinging to your foreskin? You could have it surgically removed. Remember Abraham was circumcised in his nineties, so it is never too late. Or you could learn to keep it cleaner. I have no idea is there is such a thing, but someone could make a lot of money marketing a special brush for the uncircumcised penis. I’d suggest calling it Head-On, but that is already taken.

Of course if the New Zealand study proved that circumcision was bad for you, Jews would still do it. After all, God is God, and if he demands a foreskin you’d better give him a foreskin. But it is good to know that membership (stop me!) in God’s club is not just good for the Jews.

(I will be in Israel for the next week or so, and may be unable to post from there. I’ll blog again as soon as I am able.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

December is for Christians

The war is over. It was angry, nasty, and blessedly brief. I am talking of course about the War Against Christmas.

Last year Christmas was besieged by the oh so generic Happy Holiday Warriors for a Politically Correct Winter Debt Fest. These radicals demanded a December that was made all Americans feel welcome. Bowing to these bandits of the bland, Wal-Mart and other retailers instructed their employees to eschew “Merry Christmas” for “Happy Holidays” or the even more universal “Have a Delightful December”. Rising up to defend their heritage, Christian soldiers demanded that Christmas be restored to its proper place as America’s foremost December celebration. They brought Wal-Mart to its knees (figuratively if not literally).

This week Wal-Mart announced that it will celebrate Christmas once again. Linda Blakley, Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman said, “We’re not afraid to use the term ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’ll use it early, and we’ll use it often.” Hoo-rah!

While some of you may not be happy with the Christian focus of Wal-Mart’s November/December marketing, I find it most helpful. According to Ms. Blakley, Wal-Mart will be labeling 60% more merchandise as “Christmas” rather than “Holiday” merchandise. This makes shopping much less stressful for me, as I worry that as a Jew I might inadvertently buy a Christmas items masked by the generic “Holiday” label. Now, like cigarettes marked with the Surgeon General’s Warning, I will know which things are “Christmas” and therefore dangerous to my Jewish health.

Macy’s, too, is jumping on the Christmas sleigh. Promising to fill all its store windows with Christmas themes, Macy’s is making it clear that December belongs to Jesus. Of course how that jibes with the company’s express desire to “make every customer feel welcomed and appreciated, whether they celebrate Christmas or other holidays” is still a mystery to me, but I am sure they will come up with something.

Another victory of the Christmas crowd is the customer greeting. Last year employees were urged to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” in hopes of not offending the nonChristian. This year both Macy’s and Wal-Mart employees are being instructed to tailor their season’s greeting to the person being greeted: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Feliz Navidad being four possible choices.

I worry, however, that employees will have trouble figuring out which greeting to use, and will resort to some variation of racial or ethnic profiling. To avoid both profiling and greeting gaffs, I urge shoppers to wear buttons clearly identifying their holiday preference. Jews, for example, might where a blue and white button that reads, “Kiss Me, I’m Chosen.” Or African Americans might wear a black, red, and green button that reads, “Habari Gani?” And Hispanic people might where the colors of their native land with the words “Spock is an Alien; I live here” printed on it. I’m sure you can come up with your own slogan, and whatever you choose please be gracious to these poor salespeople who are simply trying to get by on an unlivable wage.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Feeling Haggard

This is an open letter to Rev. Ted Haggard, the leader of the 30 million strong National Association of Evangelicals, who has admitted to homosexuality and drug abuse.

Dear Rev. Haggard,

First of all let me assure you that this letter is written with all humility and concern. Pundits are calling you a hypocrite for your anti-homosexual preaching and politics, and you have called yourself a liar and deceiver. Such labeling gets us nowhere, and I won’t indulge in it.

Lots of us who preach do not practice, and if we are sincere and honest with ourselves the mismatch between what we say and what we do causes us great pain. I suspect your use of meth was your way of masking that pain.

Secondly, let me assure you that being gay is no sin, and God will not punish you for it. The sin is hiding your true self, and the punishment is having to live a lie every day of your life. But God has given you an opportunity to redeem yourself, not through self-recrimination, but through self-revelation.

Reverend, you can make a huge difference in people’s lives. You can tell your fellow evangelicals the truth: you didn’t choose to be gay; you were born that way. God made you that way, just as God has done for 10% of humanity.

You can tell your church that you are gay and that God loves you. You can tell your church that you are the way God made you and wants you to be, and that you are entitled to God’s love, and the love of your fellow Christians, and the love of a good man if that is what you choose.

Yes, you owe your wife and children a terrible apology, and they may never forgive you, but the greater tragedy is that you did not have the courage to tell the truth and live out the life God offered you as a loving gay man of God.

This is the gift God is offering you now. Speak to your church and your fellow evangelicals. Tell them that God loves you, and that the only mistake you made was living a lie, a lie demanded by your church’s homophobia, and not by God. It is the lie not the homosexuality that God condemns. Tell them it is time to end the lying. Invite homosexuals to let God love them as God made them. Challenge your church to love them as well.

If you take refuge in self-condemnation you are failing God, your church, and yourself. Ask forgiveness from your family, your church, and your God not only for the mistakes you made, the mistakes so many would make in the same situation, but for not having the courage to be who you are. Be who you are, Reverend. Be who God made you to be.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

All We Have To Fear Is...

We live in scary times. At least I thought we did. But the November issue of ODE magazine features a wonderful article by Marco Visscher that debunks five of our fears. Here is what he has to say.

FEAR ONE: There are more wars in the world today than ever before. Not so. The number of conflicts fell at least 40 percent over the past 15 years, and the number of genocides and political assassinations since 1988 has fallen 80 percent. Not only is the number of wars decreasing, but the amount of death they cause is also falling. In 1950 the average war claimed 38,000 lives. Today that number is down 98 percent to 600. I don’t what Mr. Visscher does with the numbers out of Iraq. Take that CNN.

FEAR TWO: Arms proliferation is up. Despite nukes in North Korea and (soon) Iran (and then Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt) international arms trade has fallen 33 percent between 1990 and 2000. I had a feeling it was getting harder to buy that tank I wanted for deer hunting. Thank God for the NRA.

FEAR THREE: Wars kill more civilians than soldiers. While it is true that things are worse than in WWI when only 5 percent of the casualties were civilians, today the number is only somewhere between 30 and 60 percent.

FEAR FOUR: Women and children are the real casualties of war. The fact is that since it is primarily men who wage war, it is men who die most often in them: 90 percent in most wars, and 60 percent in Kosovo and Iraq. Of course if you are a feminist as I am, you long for the day when women and men die equally in war.

FEAR FIVE: I could be the victim of a terror attack at any minute. Unless I live in Iraq this is not really so. I am much more likely to die in a car accident or from eating too many transfats than at the hands of a terrorist. Maybe we should be testing drivers for alcohol before they get behind the wheel the way we test travelers for over three ounces of Coke (not coke, nobody seems to be checking for that).

So it seems all my fears are for naught. So why is everyone trying to scare me? Do they think it will make me more compliant as I stand in long lines to be screened for mouthwash? Or do they imagine that I will vote for the candidate who can out scare the guys who are scaring me? Or maybe they figure if I am scared enough I won’t notice the fact that the middle class is fading, the poor are increasing, the debt is crushing our kids, and the Constitution is falling victim to homophobes and Christian Taliban?

Bread and circus are no longer enough. Now we have to be scared shitless as well. I’d complain if I weren’t afraid that doing so would violate the Patriot Act.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Which God

In her new book, “Christianity for the Rest of Us,” Diana Bass explores a sampling of thousands of mainline Protestant churches thriving in the United States today. Long thought to be going the way of the dodo, mainline churches that focus more on social justice in this life than how to get into the next life, are still going strong. But why? What is it that makes them work?

In this morning’s USA TODAY (Yes, I know, what would I have to talk about without USA TODAY?) Rev. Gary Erdos, a pastor of one of these churches, attributes his success to three things: “orthodox preaching, attention to detail, and hospitality.” The more important, I suspect, is the first. Preaching the Good News that the Kingdom of God is here and now if you are willing to pay the price for living it, is compelling to Christians. I envy them that.

Is there something equivalent to capture the hearts and minds of liberal Jews? Most Jews don’t attend religious services, don’t find the siddur (prayer book) moving or compelling, and don’t love, listen to, or even believe in the God of their fathers. For most Jews Judaism, the religion not the culture, is dry, lifeless, and irrelevant to the lives they lead.

So what’s a rabbi to do? Is there a Judaism for the Rest of Us?

We have tried lots of things: hand clapping, kabbalah-esque guided meditations, rock bands, more Hebrew, less Hebrew, more tradition, less tradition, more talk…. Nothing seems to work. And those synagogues that do thrive often do so for reasons having nothing to do with Judaism and God and everything to do with Jewish singles looking for mates.

The problem is God. We spend so much time reading about and praying to a God we don’t believe in that after a while most of us just don’t bother. And which God are we to follow: The creator/destroyer god of Genesis, the violent warrior god of Exodus, the barbeque-loving priestly god of Leviticus, the genocidal god of Deuteronomy? None of these speak to most Jews anymore. And yet this is what our rabbis are left with, and try as they do to make a nice guy out of an often violent, misogynist, and xenophobic deity, it just rings hollow.

I don’t claim to have THE answer, but if I were still in the synagogue business I think I would drop the standard Torah readings and focus on the Wisdom Books of the Bible— Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job— and the God who teaches us how to examine life and in so doing discover for ourselves the principles of godliness that we are to live and teach. This is worthy of our study and creative response. It may be too little, too late, but I cannot imagine Judaism with out God. What we have to do is begin to imagine a God worthy of the Jews.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Devil You Say

Halloween is antiChristian. The Devil you say! No, seriously. It is a ploy of the Devil to get kids so hyped on candy that they engage in wanton Satanic rituals that basically sell their souls to the Dark Lord. So to win them back, many churches are creating alternative Halloween celebrations for their kids. Here are few I find most intriguing.

The Church of the Holy Apostles in McHenry, Ill is holding a “trunk or treat” in the Catholic parish’s parking lot. Kids dress up and have a context for the best martyred saint. I kid you not. If I were a kid at this church I’d have my mother crucify me upside down and come as St. Peter. How could you lose?

And what is the point of trunk in the trunk and treat? Obviously a play on “trick or treat” where those who do not fork over candy are inviting pranks to be played on them or their property. But what is the play? What does trunk have to do with trick? I can only think of one thing: If you fail to give a kid some candy they get to lock you in the trunk of a car. This seems very dangerous to me, and far more risky than having toilet paper tossed on your maple tree. But maybe the Catholics in McHenry know something I don’t.

The House of Prayer in Ellettsville Church in Bloomington, Ind. is sponsoring a Hell House. People pay five dollars to see scenes of domestic violence, a teenage boy committing suicide, and other acts of sinful behavior. Works for me. I would much rather have my little kid witness a suicide than have to share the sidewalk with The Littlest Mermaid. (Mermaids are perhaps a missing link between sea dwelling humans and earthbound ones, hence proving the truth of evolution.)

Hell Houses have the added benefit of causing people to come to Christ. The Hell House at the House of Prayer caught 84 people in the Fisher of Men’s net the first night it opened. While I am troubled that the way to Jesus is through horror rather than compassion, still at 5 bucks a head, this is a good deal.

I personally have no problem with Halloween. When my son was young and had no idea what was in his candy bag, I thought nothing of robbing him of all things Reese. Today I have to go out and buy my own peanut butter cups. Kids grow up too fast.

When I was in rabbinical school, of course, Halloween was a problem. The October Dilemma we called it. You see Halloween is really a Christian holy day. Jews don’t take Satan seriously enough to have a holiday devoted to him. All things Satanic are based on Christianity. They are the inversion of Christianity. That is why Satan is so big in Christian circles, and Christianity is the great evil in Satanic pentagrams.

I doubt that dressing up as Borat is going to weaken by child’s faith in the God who murdered the first born males of Egypt, so I never worried about Halloween. My beef with the holiday is the cost. If I have my numbers right, Americans spend 5 billion dollars on Halloween. Do you know how many days of the Iraq war we could wage for that? American— where are your priorities?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two Camps

Over the past weeks I have been dealing with two very different constituencies, one conservative, the other liberal. Both call themselves “people of faith,” but the faith of the first is clear and compelling while that of the second appears muddied and confused.

The conservative camp believes their Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The liberal camp is unsure as to what the Bible is, or what to make of it. Because of their passion for the Bible, I found it easier to engage conservatives, challenging those who focus on Leviticus 18:22 and imagine God’s main concern is with homosexuality, not to ignore the 2000 plus verses dealing with the poor and to commit themselves to God’s greater concern with poverty and powerlessness.

While liberals need no encouragement to care for the poor, their call to compassion and action is not based in Scripture. Asked to cite even a single verse of Scripture that guided them, not one of dozens of liberal people of faith did so. When privately pressed many people told me that Scripture and the Bible’s anthropomorphic image of a violent male God who sanctioned genocide, misogyny, and homophobia embarrassed them.

My work with the conservatives was to focus on these violent images of God, and to challenge them to identify and decry what I called the Voice of Fear that comes not from God but from men (literally). While I cannot claim to have made much headway, I was excited about how quickly we could get to the real issue of what Scripture said and why it mattered.

My work with the liberals was to help shape a prophetic politics ala Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis rooted in the Voice of Love. Here too I made little headway, but the problem was more fundamental: there was too little knowledge of and even less trust in Scripture.

I don’t believe God writes books or speaks to people from bushes. I believe that there are rare spiritual geniuses among us who tap into the Divine Reality and are overcome by compassion for self and other. These saints return to their communities and seek to communicate in the language of their time the timeless and ultimately ineffable love they experienced. They speak in the Voice of Love. I also believe that there are many more false prophets who claim to have the same experience, but who are simply imposing their own agenda through the Voice of Fear.

I understand why liberals are reticent about God and Scripture. And I applaud those who boldly reject both and root their call for justice and compassion in other things. But I see myself as a person of faith, a person who more and more surrenders to the One Who Is All, and finds in that surrender a challenge to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and to love neighbor, stranger, enemy, and the earth. I had hoped to find other liberals with the same experience. The fact is I am more apt to find like-minded people among the conservatives. Odd. And disturbing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Humility or Hubris?

Tuesday’s USA TODAY (October 24, 2006) contained a full-page open letter by James Robison called “We Have a Choice.” A challenge to America to change course and align herself with God, my heart raced as I imagined a call to align ourselves with divine justice, compassion, and humility (Micah 6:8), to stop living by the sword lest we die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), and to care for the least among us (Matthew 25:40).

At first I thought this might be so as Mr. Robison affirmed the need to free ourselves from greed, to seek peace inwardly and outwardly, to focus on “love, relationships, family, joy, compassion, and serving others,” and to engage in dialogue with those with whom we differ without the “desire to destroy the opposition.” But this quickly devolved into a passionate invocation of the god of violence who threatens to destroy America because of abortion, Hollywood, and homosexuality.

He tells us that he has seen America broken by terrible violence with “masses of people crying out in fear and panic from destruction and death beyond comprehension.” We will call to God for relief but God will not save us. Indeed, it is God who allows this horror, whatever it is, to come upon us.

Mr. Robison’s god is not my God. Yes, this god can be found in the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Revelation, and in the Qur’an, but this god is not the true God of the Hebrew Prophets, or the Father of Jesus, or the All-Merciful Allah of Mohammed (peace be upon him). Robison’s God is not the God of the rabbis who edit Exodus 34 (6-7) to reveal a God of mercy, grace, patience, infinite compassion, truth, and forgiveness. This is the god of violence who sanctions violence on behalf of those whose evil feeds his hunger for destruction. This god is the creation of the human lust for power. This god sanctions genocide, crusades, pogroms, lesser jihad, and terrorism. This is not the God who says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,: or who challenges us love our neighbor, the stranger, and our enemies, and to not study war any more.

I agree with Mr. Robison that we must transform our country by transforming ourselves. I believe we must be pro-life and put an end to violence, abuse, capital punishment, and the valuing of a few cells over the life, health, and well being of girls and women. I believe we should be pro-justice and support a living wage and universal healthcare. I believe we should be pro-family and welcome loving couples both straight and gay. I believe we should out grow the violence that passes for art and entertainment both on the large screen and the game screen. I believe we should heed Jesus and care for the least among us. I believe we should love our neighbors, the stranger, and our enemies, pledging ourselves to ending violence against both person and planet. And I am willing to pay serious taxes to achieve these goals. But I read none of that in We Have a Choice.

The essay’s subtitle is “Humility or Humiliation.” True, this is the choice before us. I doubt we will choose wisely.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crabbie Cabbies

Some Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis are fighting for the right to refuse to carry passengers who carry alcohol in or on their person. This is just the latest in the ongoing culture war in this country, and I for one love it. I would urge these cabbies to unite with Jewish cab drivers and insist on pork-free taxies as well. In fact I think some enterprising company would invent breathalyzers for both booze and bacon that would warn a cabbie that his or her potential fare is an infidel and not worth driving anywhere.

Not surprisingly, some Minneapolis citizens, especially those who drink responsibly and need taxis to carry them home after a night of binging or who worry that having a BLT for lunch may force them to walk rather than grab a cab, are up in arms. Personally, I think the cabbies are well within their rights to refuse to drive these people. If Christian pharmacists can refuse to sell the morning-after pill to a woman who was raped, I think it only fair that Muslims can refuse to pick up anyone who violates their religious sensibilities. But, more importantly, this culture clash offers the rest of us the chance to capitalize on a unique niche marketing opportunity. Just when you thought the taxi cab business was dominated by huge companies driving out the little guy, we now have an opening for mom and pop taxies to flourish in culturally diverse cities such as Minneapolis.

Here are just some of the options, complete with tag lines for advertising, that an entrepreneurial cab driver might try:

Clean and Sober Cabs (“You Drink, We Drive”) would focus on drunks, offering hot black coffee to inebriated passengers, and supplying then with breath mints when they arrive at their destinations to help them convince others they are not drunk.

Heaven’s Hacks (“Cab Outta Hell”) might focus on people in search of salvation through Jesus Christ. Christian radio would play on the stereo, cabbies would be trained evangelists, and rear seat camcorders would record backseat conversions to mark the rider’s coming to Jesus.

Kosher Kabs (“Have we got a ride for you!”) would feature rabbis who would teach Torah during the ride, and help male passengers learn how to lay tefillin. These cabs would be equipped with mikvahs (ritual baths) in the trunk for women riders who wish to participate in this ritual.

CrossTown Taxi (“Every street is a Cross street”) would be for the saved only, taking them to destinations approved by their denominations and avoiding all family planning clinics, pharmacies that provide the morning after pill, offensive movies, and stores that don’t allow employees to say “Merry Christmas” during the winter solstice.

Without belaboring the point, I would also license Crusader Cabs for Catholics (“Ride with us—God wills it!”), Hurry Krishna for Hindus (“We gita you there fast!”), Buddha Bus for Buddhists (“You’re already there!”), and a fleet of Mazda automobiles called Ahura’s for Zoroastrians (“Get there faster with Zoroaster!”).

You get the idea. As America becomes more diverse and more divisive those with real imagination can make a killing. At least until the real killing starts.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Behind the I

“We have met the enemy, and they are us.” Pogo’s insight is all the more true today they when he first “uttered” it. At its root, the civil war among the children of Abraham is a religious war. It is no longer simply over whom did Abraham love enough to try and murder (the Hebrew Bible claims it was Isaac, the Koran claims is was Ishmael), but whom does God love best?

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Koran God’s love is linked to God’s violence and punishment. You know God loves you because God kills your enemies. You know God loves you most of all because in the end God makes all others bow down to you as a surrogate for Him.

Torah tells us quite boldly that the suffering and death of thousands of Egyptians prior to and following the exodus was simply to prove God was God (Exodus 7: 1-5). While we Jews like to speak of our god as the liberating god of the enslaved and oppressed, we do so only by ignoring that this liberating god endorses slavery, misogyny, and genocide.

The New Testament is no less rooted in violence. While Jesus’ earliest teachings in Mark seem to be a rejection of violence, later gospels have him continually damning people to eternal hellfire. Further, the very theology of Jesus’ crucifixion is rooted in the idea that God is at heart a violent and destructive deity.

Ask yourself: what does it really mean to say that Jesus died for our sins? It means that God would have killed all of us (as he did in the story of Noah and the Flood), but was placated by the murder of his son. God is not a god of love and justice, but of blood and sacrifice. Read Revelation, the capstone of the New Testament, to see how Jesus is transformed from a nonviolent prophet of love to a violent wrecker of end times havoc.

The Koran simply adapts this violent god for a new age and new people. While filled with great ethical teachings the Koran almost always links these to warnings of eternal damnation for failing to live up to them. It is as if Allah cannot imagine humanity doing anything just, compassionate, or right without being scared into it by threats of violence.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are at war with one another because their respective images of god demand it. The way out is far more challenging than a military victory. We have to take on the very gods themselves, and say “no” to the violence they demand. Yet we created these gods to excuse our violence. So it is our violence that must be defeated. This is what Islam calls for when it speaks of the Greater Jihad, a war against warring.

The paradox notwithstanding, they are on to something. If western religion is to transcend its innate violence, its followers must own that violence and refuse to participate in it. How? Simply by seeing the violence within us allows us to transcend it. If I know I am angry, the “I” that knows is not angry. If I know I am violent, the “I” that knows is not violent. If I act from this “I” I need not do away with violence I simply choose not to act violently. The key is to take refuge in the true self, the “I” behind the I. How? Just look, observe, witness.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tiptoe Through The TULIP

Just when I had convinced myself that we are on the verge of a great interspiritual reformation, a second turning of the axis of human consciousness, I read in this month’s Christianity Today about the upsurge of Calvinism among the youth of America.

If you’re like me, your first thought was, “So what? Calvinism, Poloism, Levi-ism—why should I care what jeans are hot among Christian kids?” Then comes your second thought, “Calvinism! My God, can you get more depressing that that?”

Calvinism, or Reformed theology, began with John Calvin (1509–1564), and while it has taken many forms over the centuries, the acronym TULIP continues to be a valid statement of what it stands for:

Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.

Let’s go into these five points and see just what kind of madness is taking hold.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY. You suck. You suck from birth and there is nothing you can do about it. Sin has corrupted your will and leaves you incapable of working out your salvation. You are doomed. Unless…

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. … God chooses to save you. Since you are totally depraved and hence unworthy of salvation, God’s choice of whom to save and whom to damn is unconditional, that is without conditions, which means it is totally arbitrary. God saves whomever God decides to save, and God decides to do so before you are born so don’t even think about getting on God’s good side now.

LIMITED ATONEMENT. I’ll take “Died for our sins” for $300, Alex. Ah, Who is Jesus? “Oh, sorry boychick, not according to Calvinism.” Calvinism teaches that Jesus died only for the sins of the church, and the only people who are in the church are those God arbitrarily chooses to save.

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. If you are one of the saved, you cannot resist God’s call to salvation. Don’t try the excuse, “But I’m a Bodhisattva and I promised to forego salvation until all other beings are saved.” The fact is the Club of the Saved is by invitation only, and if you get called there is nothing you can do to stop it.

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. If you’ve been saved you will lack doubt, and your faith will be strong and unshakable until the end of time. And all we have to do is read the morning headlines to find our where doubt-free religious hubris leads: religious fascism.

So what are we to make of this resurgence of Calvinism? We are going to end up with a lot more arrogant, self-obsessed, and compassionless Christian kids running around.

God save us! Oh, I forgot.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My, My, Mayan

Each January I sit down and imagine where I would like to be in five years. Then I project where I will most likely be in five years. Then I agonize over the discrepancy between the two. But not this year.

As I gathered data for my annual analysis I discovered exactly where I will be in five years— dead. And I won’t be alone. You’ll be dead too.

How do I know? Because the Mayans, those master calendar makers of the ancient world, chose to end their 5,125 year date book in 2012. Why? Could it be that they just couldn’t imagine 2013, or did they know something we don’t know: there won’t be a 2013?

Of course you might think it irrational for someone like myself for whom all things Mayan are essentially irrelevant to suddenly take their calendar seriously. And I would agree if not for the corroborating astronomical evidence.

Once every 26,000 years the sun crosses the galactic equator on the winter solstice. This time around it happens in 2012. So what? So this: According to Belgian scientist Patrick Geryl, this will cause a reversal of the sun’s magnetic fields which will increase the sun’s temperature by 10 to 20 times normal which will turn you and everything else to toast. Literally.

Of course there are dissenting voices. David Carrasco, a Harvard professor of Latin American religions says that while the world collapses in 2012 it then starts over. This may be comforting to Harvard professors who imagine their tenor will survive the end of all life as we who are not yet toast know it, but it sucks if you ask me. Quetzalcoatl knows best. We are doomed.

So, what to do? First of all, no more five¬-year plans. Second, no point in buying winter clothes. Third, since global warming is like a warm fire on a cold winter evening compared to what is coming, no more worrying about greenhouse gases—buy that Hummer 3. Fourth, move to the South Pole, you just might last a few minutes longer than the rest of us. Fifth, pay attention to ads and buy lots of stuff when the retailers advertise “No payments until 2012.” Six, relax.

Relax? Yes, relax. With only five and half years to go, there is no need to worry about running out of oil, Iranians developing nuclear weapons, the solvency of Social Security, the retirement of most Baby Boomers, or an Iraqi exit strategy. We will all be dead before any of this will happen.

I am grateful to the Mayans for tipping us off like this. And I am sorry that they were all wiped out by the Spanish before they had time to either see the end, or publish a new issue of their insanely popular calendar for next 5,125 years.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Armagddon Who?

Knock knock. “Who’s there?” “Armageddon.” “Armageddon who?” “Armageddon tired of waitin' for this war.”

I’m driving to pick up my mail, and listening to G. Gordon Liddy on the AM band. His guest is an “expert” on Islam who is explaining that Islam is a false religion that worships a deity called Allah rather than the true God whose name is, of course, God.

Hearing this, I went ballistic. Allah in Arabic is the same as El in Hebrew, Deus in French, Gott in German, Hananim in Korean, and… wait for it… God in English. I grabbed my cell phone to call the show, but could not get through. I was livid. The ignorance that passes for wisdom in this country is outrageous, and worse— dangerous.

I believe the American people are being primed for a religious war with Islam; not radical Islam, not Islamo-fascists, not Islamic terrorists, but Islam itself. Listen to right wing talk radio, watch almost any news program, read any of the new books on nuclear Iran, or drop by your local Rapture Right church, and you will discover a powerful effort to prepare the American people for a 100 Year Crusade to save God and Country.

Listen to what we are being told: every Muslim is a potential terrorist; every illegal alien is a potential terrorist; every Democrat is a collaborator with terrorists. The drumbeat is incessant and unending. Iraq is only the beginning. We will be at war with Iran before the nation votes in a new president.

No, that is wrong: we are already at war with Iran in Israel and Iraq. And it will only get worse. I fully expect the government to reinstitute the draft, and offer a fast track to American citizenship to any foreigner willing to die for what would be his or her country if he or she is lucky enough to live. In fact I have no trouble imagining the government restricting citizenship only to those who join the crusade. Shades of Starship Troopers.

The keys to the government’s strategy (and here I am speaking not only of our government but all governments fomenting this war) are ignorance and fear. If we hope to thwart this effort, we have to overcome these hurdles. While I am no expert in any of this, I cannot stand idly by, so here are three things I think we can do quickly to begin quelling this madness. The first two are addressed to everyone, the third to my Jewish readers specifically.

1. We must fight ignorance by creating and disseminating free of charge a simple and compelling articulation of the fundamental Abrahamic principles at the root of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: justice, compassion, hospitality, love, and trust. This exploration must be state-of-the-art and downloadable on to computers, cell phones, and other digital devices.

2. We must fuel a revolution in religious thinking by reclaiming the power of myth and metaphoric thinking. We need storytellers not clerics, prophets not priests, shamans who can open us to the divine rather than enslave us to their vision of it.

3. As the High Holy Days come to a close and we Jews prepare for Sukkot we must reimagine our sukkah as Abraham’s tent, open on all four sides to welcome loved ones, friends, strangers, and even so-called enemies. Sukkot must become a week for breaking bread and sharing our lives with our Christian and Muslim neighbors. Welcome one another with compassionate curiosity, asking what is it like for you to be a Jew or Christian or Muslim in America today? What are your fears, your hopes, your dreams? How can we support one another in achieving justice, promoting compassion, and building a truly post-tribal global village?

This is a start. Each of these ideas needs careful attention and fleshing out. If I can find the money to make the time, I will work to create the first, design a program for the second, and write a guidebook for the third. If you would like to help, please let me know.

Whatever you can do, you must do it now. If we fail, we will begin the short slide into a long war that can only end in Armageddon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I Slam, You Slam, We All Slam Islam

“If Islam is a religion of peace, why don’t the imams challenge the murderous rhetoric of the radical Islamists who they claim are highjacking their religion?”

I hear this all the time. The implication of such talk is that if Christianity or Judaism were highjacked, priests, pastors, and rabbis would be out front attacking the radicals and their hate-filled madness. You might have wished it so, but this week has proved otherwise.

When Pope Benedict cited a 14th century Christian emperor saying that anything new taught by Mohammed (Peace be upon him) was evil and inhuman, I didn’t hear any outcry among Christians. What I heard was excuses: “The Pope didn’t say that, he was quoting the emperor.” As I mentioned the other day, this is totally disingenuous. He did not argue against what the emperor said, and by not doing so he was tacitly agreeing with it. Any silence on behalf of Christian clergy suggests that they too are in agreement.

Lest you imagine that Jews are free from such insanity and cowardice, Effi Eitam, a leader of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) aligned with the worldwide Orthodox Zionist movement called for the mass deportations of Arabs from the West Bank and the expulsion of Israeli Arabs from Israeli government.

Admittedly he may have been incensed over Arab members of the Knesset who seemed to side with Hezbollah against Israel, but this is no excuse. He said what he said. Was their widespread condemnation of Eitam? Yes, but only by the secular Jewish world. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress both condemned Eitam’s remarks, as did the political left in Israel. But where were the rabbis?

Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America, said that Eitam was not mainstream. Ouch. That is a stinging rebuke. Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, cautioned against sanctioning Eitam, saying that we should understand his frustration over Israeli Arabs who are anti-Israel. Rabbi Basil Herring of the Conservative Rabbinical Council of America said that he could not comment until he had spoken with his board of directors. Such courage. I have not read anything from the Reform or Reconstructionist movements so far, and I hope they will be at least as bold at our secular Jewish leaders, but the fact is that clergy are failing us worldwide.

Personally, I don’t care if Eitam was angry, worried, or had a bad day at the office; calling for the mass expulsion of Arabs from Israeli held territory and government is vicious racist madness that needs to be condemned from every synagogue pulpit in the world. Failure to do so denies rabbis any moral standing in their call to their Muslim counterparts to condemn the racist hatred spewed by their extremist coreligionists.

Religion should be a clarion call for universal justice and compassion, and religious leaders should be prophets of peace. But before I say this maybe I should check with my board of directors.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Running on Chutzpah

On Thursday, September 14, 2006 the Jewish people reached a new milestone in their millennia old contest with fate: three new rabbis will be ordained in Dresden, Germany, the first ordinations in Germany since the Nazi slaughter of Jews beginning 60 years ago.

By all accounts there should be no Jews left on this planet (leaving open of course the possibility of Jews on other planets: see “Wandering Stars Volumes 1 & 2”). Exiles, expulsions, genocide—any other people would have simply called it quits. But not the Jews. Instead we are ordaining new rabbis in the shadow of Hitler. What chutzpah!

In fact I think Jewish survival is based almost solely on chutzpah. We run on audacity, we survive by spitting in the eye of logic and refusing to go the way of the Hittites. And if you don’t know who the Hittites were, you are simply proving my point.

We like to think that it is our educational system that protects us from disappearing in to history, or our devotion to God, or God’s devotion to us, but I think it is sheer chutzpah. We simply refuse to die.

Now I would like to say that we refuse to die because we believe we have some purpose or destiny to fulfill, but most Jews have no idea of what Jews or Judaism is about. They just refuse to stop being Jews. And I can’t even say what “being Jews” means to most Jews since most Jews opt out of behaviors that are traditionally linked with “being Jews”— eating kosher, making Shabbos, marrying Jews, etc.

The best I can come up with is this: being Jewish is a state of mind that refuses to surrender to history.

I am sure I could go on about this, but the real purpose of this blog is to simply wish our three new rabbis— Daniel Alter, Tomas Kucera, and Malcom Matitiani— good luck. I felt a real sense of pride when I learned of their ordination.

I felt something similar in the 1980’s when I visited the Egyptian art exhibit on display at a museum in Dallas, TX. As I wandered among the artifacts I suddenly came upon a huge statue of Ramses, the Pharaoh of Moses’ time. All of a sudden it struck me: he and his people and his people’s religion were long dead (contemporary Egyptians are not the same people as those of ancient Egypt), while me, and my people, and our religion were doing quite well. I thumbed my nose at old Ramses, and gave a thumbs up to Moses.

Well today we can thumb our noses at Hitler and give a thumbs up to those Jewish men and women who just refuse to give up. I hope the Dalai Lama read the article and takes heart.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bi God!

You probably know about Pastor Fred Phelps and the members of his Westboro Baptist Church. They are the Christian extremists who protest at the funerals and memorial services of our men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, celebrating the death of Americans as God’s punishment for America’s tolerance toward gays and lesbians.

If you are gay and lesbian you may be surprised to learn that America is so tolerant, but for the Phelps’ gang merely suffering a fag to live is enough to bring down God’s vengeance upon our country.

Now there is a new wrinkle in their story. Not only are they protesting homosexuality, they are also protesting rainbows.

Robin and J.R. Knight, owners of the Lakeway Hotel in Meade, Kansas, flew a rainbow flag beneath the American flag in front of their hotel. Their 12-year old son gave it to them because he liked the bright colors. Little did he know that the rainbow was a sign of homosexuality. Not surprisingly, the hotel came under attack by homophobes and the Westboro Baptist Church.

When I read about this attack on the rainbow the first thing that popped into my mind was God’s use of the rainbow to affirm his covenant with humanity after the Flood during the time of Noah.

God, being omniscient, must have known that the rainbow sign would become a symbol of homosexuality. Hence it is not a stretch to believe that God was proclaiming his support of gays and lesbians. Otherwise why pick a symbol that would become so controversial?

Realizing this I went back to the beginning of Genesis to discover what the Bible has to say about God’s sexual preference. While it is true that he placed a man and woman in the Garden of Eden, it is also true that God created male and female in his own image. God is bi! God can be a male or a female!

How then can God hate homosexuals as many say s/he does in Leviticus? Well God would not be the first homosexual to deny his sexual preference and come out vehemently against other homosexuals. But more likely what God is attacking is not homosexuality per se, but temple prostitution. Besides what God says is that a man should not have with a man as he would with a woman. In other words, if you are a gay man do not pretend otherwise and imagine your male lover is a woman.

So God is bi and flies the fag flag of the rainbow. What should we do in response? If you claim to be on God’s side you must join in solidarity with his people (not the Jews, but the homosexual and bi-sexual community), and fly his flag. I’m serious. If you belong to a church or synagogue or mosque that flies flags, purchase God’s flag and urge your community to fly it proudly. And when Pastor Phelps comes by to protest, march boldly with signs that read: “Read Your Bible—God Is Bi!”.