Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture Reflux

Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there?

I just came back from a walk and I didn’t see a single soul. We’re you Raptured? Are you in Heaven?

It seems so empty in my neighborhood. So quiet. Even the cicadas seem to have been taken up to heaven.

SHEMA YISRAEL ADONAI…. Anyone? Anyone? There must be some Jews out there. Where are we going to eat? All the Chinese restaurants in my town are run by Chinese Christians and they went to heaven.

ALLAH HU…. Anyone? Anyone? Falafel and humus sound good just about now. There must be some Muslims around. Lucky them: all the people that hated them were raptured to heaven so now they can build their mosque. But they better build fast: in five months—fire! The whole earth burned to ash. Man when God cleans up after Himself He doesn’t fool around.

Well, I have no idea who’s left on the planet. There are lots of dogs barking, so I guess that book about dogs going to heaven was a lie. I bet the author is still around somewhere. He’s going to burn for sure.

Is there something we can do about this? I mean the good are gone and the rest of us are doomed. What if we convert? Jesus save me!...........

Nope. I’m still here. I guess he knows I can’t make myself believe what I was taught was make believe. So it’s my parents fault. HEY! My parents! They weren’t raptured. I think I’ll call them and see what is going on over there. I bet they have restaurants that are open—I mean they live in a Jewish ghetto. I never should have left home. I had no idea that God was going to take all my neighbors. I was certain that Catholics and Episcopalians would be left behind, but I can’t find a Papist or a Tory anywhere.

This is so sad. God, I’m sorry I killed Your Son. And I’m sorry I didn’t believe in Him. And I’m sorry I stayed Jewish when You wanted me to be Baptist. Can’t You forgive me? Hello? God?

WHOA! Outside my window! Cars are driving by. And there’s somebody walking her dog. Thank God, thank God, it wasn’t the Rapture after all. I just woke up early and no one was out and about yet. But now—they’re all here!

I knew it was a lie! Take that Jesus! Take that God of Love! We’re all left behind and maybe we’ll leave you behind too. How would you like that? Huh? Wouldya? Huh? Of course You may have taken a couple of people to heaven and that would count as the Rapture and that would mean that we will all die in five months. So I take all that back, God. We can be cool, right? I mean burning billions of people and animals alive that sounds harsh even for You. Maybe we should talk. You need help.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture Ready? Tomorrow's the Big Day

Well this is it, the end times. Tomorrow is the Rapture when God calls all faithful Christians to heaven leaving the rest of us to await the destruction of the world by fire on October 21st. I knew it was coming, and even blogged about it a few weeks ago, but now it’s here, and, honestly, it has me rattled.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on loving kindness at a church this Saturday, and I expect many of the participants to be taken to heaven sometime during my presentation. Those who are left won’t be in much of a mood to be loving or kind, so we’ll probably end early. I’ll look for an ice cream store run by unsaved folks and hence still open, and order a hot fudge sundae. No point in dieting when there are only five months left.

Anyway, I don’t know if you are on the Rapture Train or not, and if you are I wish you well. But if you’re not, what will you do?

Seriously. What will you do? Is there any reason to go to work? Don’t worry about your rent or mortgage or any other bills. You can stall for five months and then its all over anyway, so why work? If you don’t have to pay your bills, you’ll have plenty of cash to use for food, so you won’t starve before you burn.

OK, so you won’t work. How will you spend your time? What would you do differently if you knew—as you can know if you want to know*—that the world is ending in five months? Would you leave your spouse? Move to another town? Admit that you’re gay or Kenyan or on the No-Fly list? How sad to think that you will just keep doing what your doing until you spontaneously combust on Friday, October 21st.

I know what I would like to do. I won’t tell you because I’m not going to do it on the off chance that the world will still be here on October 22nd Yes my fear of change is that great. But how about you? Are you as cowardly as me?

If you knew you had but five months to live, five healthy and financially sound months by the way, how would you live them?

*For more info on the end of the world, visit

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Future of Inter-Faith

A very articulate essay* by Rabbi Michael Balinsky, a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, raises what is for me a troubling issue.

An Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Balinsky isn’t comfortable praying with people of other faiths. He was relieved to discover that the Parliament, out of respect for the different religions of which it is comprised, doesn’t do group prayer. From what I can tell, each religion is encouraged to stay in its own box, collaborating with the others only on those issues of common concern: climate, poverty, etc.

While I respect this, for me it just isn’t enough. When I sit with people of different faiths I don’t want to talk about what we have in common, I want to talk about where we differ. I want to learn another’s way of seeing the world, and learn it so deeply that it may transform the way I see the world as well.

Religions are lens through which their respective followers view reality. Each lens has its distortion that makes its view of reality unique and less than accurate. For me, inter-faith work is about discovering our distortions and seeking to correct them. One way to do this is to share lenses, and in so doing realize that all lenses distort, and that no lens is right, and in this way cultivate a deep humility that allows us to honor differing lenses without the illusion that any one of them reveals the truth.

It is this humility that allows me to pray in any religious tradition. To me the point isn’t the words or the world-view, but the experience of slipping into the greater whole of which I am a part.

I suspect I am leaving religion behind. I cannot stay within my box. I am finding myself less and less comfortable in the Jewish world and the inter-faith world. I love religion the way I love literature and music, but I refuse to be limited to one author, composer or genre. Humans create religion, art, literature, music, science, etc. I am human—it is all my heritage. Why is it so lonely in a place that should be so welcoming?

The first weekend of February 2012 I am hosting SAStalks at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. (SAS stands for Spirit, Art, and Science.) We are inviting 18 speakers to speak for 18 minutes each on the topic of “The Future of Inter-faith.” I hope to hear ideas that show me the way, because right now I am despairing there is one.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Surrounded by Books

I live surrounded by books. This is true physically and metaphorically. I am what I have read. In fact I have a book addiction: I am convinced that the next book I read will at last answer all my questions, so I buy lots of books. It never works, of course, so I buy lots more. I am forever skimming magazines for ads regarding new books, and then rush to my computer to order just those that will answer all my questions.

I know it doesn’t work, but I do it anyway. It is a compulsion. I am an addict. True, given all the other addictions one might have, an addiction to books is not so bad. It would even be better if I actually read the books I buy. The truth is, however, that after reading just a few pages I realize that I have read this book before—not this actual book by this particular author, but the same ideas. In a sense I keep buying the same books over and over and over again. The joys of addiction.

Everyone once in a while I pretend I’m going to change. I sift through all my books and cull the best, and donate the rest to the library at Middle Tennessee State University. That way I still have access to them if I need them without having to stare at them day in and day out.

It’s getting to be another of these “once in a while” moments.

There are only ten books that I really need: The Book by Alan Watts, The First and Last Freedom by J. Krishnamurti, I & Thou by Martin Buber, Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, The Inner Chapters by Chuang Tzu, and the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and John. Together these form the library from which I invent my philosophy of life.

I am tempted to donate all but these ten to the library, but I doubt I’ll ever do so.

First, because I love other books by these authors, and like having them around. Second, because there are other authors I value highly and prefer to not live without: Spinoza, Kafka, Nachman of Breslov, Edmund Jabes, Hermann Hesse, Rumi, Bankei, Blake, Marshal McLuhan, Erich Fromm, and William James.

No, the first step toward literary sobriety isn’t getting rid of more books, but stop buying new ones. I should just reread the 21 authors listed here, and maybe I will.

It’s just that a bunch of new magazines came in yesterday, and there are so many interesting books being advertised, and I am certain that one of them will answer all my questions. So I will get to the books on my shelves just as soon as I add a few more to them.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh to be in America

Last night I participated in a panel discussion on “the religious other.” The panel was held at a Nashville Presbyterian church, so the “other” consisted of three Jews and two Muslims. Chance Dillon, my intern at Wisdom House, moderated. He did (in case he is reading this) a marvelous job.

Two things of interest happened during the event. The first was the realization that the same year one of the Jewish panelist’s sister was making aliyah (moving to Israel) to live freely as a Jew (1958), the father of the Palestinian American panelist was flying to the United States from Palestine (by which she meant Israel) because he could no longer live freely as a Muslim.

This was a moment ripe for deeper discussion, but it passed almost unnoticed. I am working with Chance to bring the two of them together over lunch to explore this further.

The second thing of note was a question a Christian man asked me after the event about the hijab worn by the Muslim woman. He wanted to know why she has to flaunt her Islam, and why she just doesn’t dress American. Her dress makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be American, and maybe wants Americans to be Muslims. The idea of a Muslim American just didn’t make sense.

I suggested he ask her, but he was intimidated. I said that it was an affirmation of her religion, and that to be American is to honor the differences this man wanted to erase. He disagreed. I pointed to my yarmulke and asked why this doesn’t bother him when the hijab does. He said it did bother him, but it was harder to notice. We both made mention of the fact that the Imam was dressed in a blue business suit.

I was wearing all black (as I usually do) either in imitation of my rebbe or in honor of Johnnie Cash. I’m never quite sure which.

What troubled me was my inability to make a convincing case that Americans are not monolithic. We think, eat, speak, act, dress, pray, and play in many different ways. He could see only one: Republican, pork, drawl, haughty, golfer, Protestant, and… well, I couldn’t tell what his game of choice was so perhaps he was a free-thinker after all.

Anyway, just asking the question about the hijab is a huge step in the right direction. For many Americans listening to a Muslim, let alone talking with one, is a novel and potentially life-changing event. I applaud meetings like this and urge all of you to sponsor them in your own houses of worship. And, in case you are wondering, the next one with this group will take place in the Imam’s mosque.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Invisible Women--Modesty at Its Most Divine

Everyone knows that religious men prefer their women modest. For some Muslims this means burying their women beneath burkahs allowing only a slit or mesh veil through which they are allowed to see and be seen. Pretty severe, but we Jews do them one better: we erase them altogether.

At least that is what Der Tzitung and Der Voch, two Orthodox Jewish publications, did when they erased Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and counter terrorism adviser Audrey Tomason from the iconic White House photo showing the nation’s leaders in the Situation Room during the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. According to Der Tzitung, printing photographs of women is contrary to Jewish laws of modesty. While Muslim men prefer not to see real women, Jews worry about seeing virtual women. Which leads to a wonderful business opportunity: Orthodox porn.

If I can get the backing, I plan to publish maideleh (Yiddish for young woman), a glossy magazine featuring naked Jewish women. Not being allowed to publish photos of said women, however, means I wouldn't have to hire either models or photographers. And the more women I featured, the more blank pages I could publish, keeping printing costs to a bare minimum (pun intended). Jewish guys would just have to imagine the naked women I’m not actually photographing or printing. Hey these are God's laws, not mine.

Maideleh will be the perfect porn mag for married Jewish men. When "the wife" sees them looking at it, they can say with confidence, "Don’t worry, I only read it for the articles."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Reading, Writing, and Body Counts: New Rules on Campus

Two Republican state senators are trying to pass a bill making it legal for students, faculty, and staff to carry guns on college campuses in Tennessee. The governor and Senate Speaker, also Republicans, are opposed to it. So too is the president of Middle Tennessee State University where I and my family work.

I for one like the bill. I think everyone on campus should be armed.

As a Jew, I would carry an Israeli made Uzi on campus as a sign of my Jewish affiliation. I would urge others to carry other ethnically associated weapons. Germans should carry Lugers, Brits Walther PPK’s. I would also keep a nine millimeter handgun in a holster on my hip, and another in the waistband of my jeans in the small of back.

I would of course be well trained in the use of these weapons, but I would have no hesitancy regarding their use: anyone who threatened my safety would be fair game. Unfortunately I am easily frightened. Knowing that everyone on campus may be carrying a gun, and knowing that I cannot know in advance who will suddenly snap and start shooting, I would feel justified in drawing and perhaps even firing my weapon whenever anyone abruptly put a hand into pocket or purse. True they might simply be reaching for a pen, but I cannot be sure, and must strike first to protect myself.

There are over 2500 faculty and staff on my campus, and around 27,000 students. As of 2006 1% of Americans were in jail at any given time. I think this means that 300 people on campus are potential criminals. But that doesn’t count all those criminals who avoid capture and plead out. So, without bothering with actual facts, let’s assume that 10% are potential killers. That is 3000 people out to kill me. Would you walk unarmed into a crowd of 3000 people bent on your destruction?

Of course not, but as a professor, I have no choice. Everyday I step onto the campus seething with thousands of would be killers I am risking my life. I have a right to protect myself. And because I can’t be sure which of the people I pass on campus are among the 3000 murderers enrolled or employed by MTSU, I am within my rights to shoot anyone who scares me.

I would, of course, grant the same rights to everyone else, so I expect to hear lots of gunfire during the day once this bill becomes law. I would of course have no choice but to return fire in the general direction of the shoots I hear, and that will make things all the more interesting.

You may or may not agree with me. I don’t care. This law will be passed eventually. And when it is, I for one am going to buy lots of stock in companies that make bullets.