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!”.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pope on the Ropes

He didn’t mean it. He had no idea it would be offensive. He has nothing but respect for… in fact some of his best friends are… Aw, face it, the Pope knew what he was doing, and thought is was wise to do it. And maybe he’s right.

Speaking at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI quoted from a book in which 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel II Paleologos said, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman….”

“Only evil and inhuman?” When challenged on this point, the Pope said he was simply quoting a text, that these were not his own words. Given the fact that he did not quote the text in order to argue against it, however, one can only surmise that he affirms it.

We should not be surprised at this. The fact is that the three Abrahamic religions as conventionally taught are mutually incompatible, and each of them rejects as false anything that is new. The only way the rabbis could claim their Judaism was true was to insist that it was old, that it was given to Moses along with what was then the Written Torah. Any so-called revelation that came after it was by definition false. So much for Christianity and Islam.

Christianity itself follows suit. There is no further revelation after Jesus so anything claiming to be revelation, i.e. the Koran, is by definition false. And Islam makes the same claim for itself: Mohammed is the seal of the prophets, the final prophet, and there is no further revelation after the Koran, and those that came before are corrupt and inoperable.
Simply put, if Torah is true, the Gospels and the Koran are false; if the Gospels are true the Torah is incomplete and the Koran is false; and if the Koran is true, the Torah and Gospels are corrupt and only the Koran is the true revelation. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

The Pope has apologized for the reaction his words have stirred in the Muslim world. He has not apologized for the idea that Islam is evil, nor has he backed down from his challenge to Islam that it publicly and unambiguously denounce all violence in the Name of God. Good for him. I just wish he had called upon all clergy to do so. Coming from the former head of the Inquisition, the Pope’s challenge may have carried some weight.

The truth is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can be used to sanction violence, even genocide, in God’s Name. They have all engaged in evil and inhuman acts in God’s Name in the past, and continue to do so in the present. What is needed is a recognition of this fact, and a bold denunciation of ever using God to sanction violence.

Clergy must disassociate themselves from those strands of their respective religions that kill or fantasize about killing in God’s Name.

Let priests and pastors condemn the bombing of women’s health clinics and the murder of doctors who perform abortions. Let them walk away from churches that salivate at the thought of the Tribulation and Armageddon.

Let rabbis refuse to serve synagogues that support the oppression of Palestinians, and openly condemn those Jews who wish to destroy the mosque on the Temple Mount and replace it with an animal slaughterhouse.

Let imams leave mosques that preach and support hatred and violence, and proclaim those who use of the Koran to foster evil infidels.

Let these clergymen and women gather in Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca, and New York to preach peace. Let them issue a proclamation that they and their religions must outgrow their violent histories, and affirm the best that each has to offer, a best that says in one voice from one God that justice, compassion, humility, and nonviolence are the Way, and that anyone who violates this Way will be arrested along with their families to be publicly humiliated, tortured, burned in this world and the next and… oh. This may be harder than I think.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Poison Pill

“But that’s not Jewish!” I get that complaint all the time. This time it came from a rabbi who had just finished a passionate rant about the need for continuity in Jewish life.

“Continuity,” I said by way of unsolicited comment, “is the death of creativity. A culture built on continuity is one that is devoted to its own doom. Life is change. You either change with it or you die. Continuity is suicide.”

“That is not a Jewish value,” he retorted. “Judaism is about preserving the eternal truths and forms given to us by God on Sinai. Even if life does change, God does not.”

Now, I could have argued this point. For me God is change; not that God changes, but that God is change itself. “I will be what I will be” is how God names himself in Exodus suggesting to me at least that God is not the same moment to moment because is the changing moment itself. I could have argued this, but I didn’t. Instead I said:

“Continuity gives precedence to form. God is formless. Focusing on form is like decorating the eggshell without ever eating the egg. The nourishment is in the egg not the shell, and to get at it you have to break the shell.”

“Breaking the shell, as you call it,” the rabbi said, “is the end of Judaism. Aren’t you concerned about Jewish survival?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not. Jewish survival is up to God. What I am concerned about is God-realization, meeting the One in the many, and seeing Whole manifest in every part. If Judaism can do that, then it will survive. If it is simply a self-reflexive exercise it is useless to me and to God.”

“Well I totally disagree, and thinking as you do is the spell the death knell of Judaism, something I neither wish for nor wish to devote even another moment to. Let’s move on.”

And we did.

I was not happy with myself over this exchange. While I believe what I said to be true, I also believe there was no real need to say it. I wasn’t going to change the mind of the speaker and the audience was inclined to side with him so their minds, too, were set. I should have kept my mouth shut.

After the lecture a woman came over to me and asked politely, “So what criteria do you use when deciding what aspects of Judaism to follow and which to let go?”

“I do what works for me,” I said. “And what works for me are those things that help me experience and live out the ethical implications of my unity with God. If I find something in Orthodoxy that works, I use it. If it comes from Reform, I use that. And I don’t limit myself to Judaism. If I learn something from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, or Christianity that awakens by true Self to God as all then I use that as well.” Labels are meaningless to me. I do what works because it is God and not religion I care about.”

She stared at me for a long, hard moment and then spit out, “The rabbi was right, you are a poison pill for Judaism.” She spun around and walked over to ask a question of our speaker. I looked around and found myself all alone.

As I walked out to my car I grabbed a bottle of cool water to wash down the poison pill I found myself pushing. Not a bad way to go; not a bad way to go at all.