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.