Friday, November 30, 2012

Be a Prepper

I know it may not be PC to say this, but I’m really not concerned about the United States falling off the fiscal cliff. Of course I don’t want my taxes to go up, and if push comes to shove I would rather push and shove some rich person (or some poor person for that matter) than pay more to the government, but none of this is going to happen. Why? Because the world is going to end on December 21, days before the fiscal Armageddon everyone is so worried about.

I’ve been checking in with the preppers, those folks preparing for the end–times to see just what it is I have to do in order to survive the end of the world. But the more I think about this the more convinced I am that I don’t want to survive.

Of course the mere fact that people are talking about surviving the end of the world suggests that the end of the world isn’t really the end of the world. If it were the end of the world there would be no sense in preparing for it. It would just end, and we would end with it. So the end of the world is really the end of the world as I know it. And the world that I know is the world I want to live in, and if that world is over, I really don’t want to stick around.

I wouldn’t last long anyway. I don’t like guns, I suck at archery, and the thought of sticking a knife in an animal or a neighbor makes me sick. So I’d starve. And if I didn’t starve what would I do?

Outside of stringing words together, I have no marketable skills. From what I can tell few preppers are among my readers, so my place and purpose in life are over. Surviving for surviving’s sake just doesn’t speak to me. Even the contestants on Survivor are surviving for the money. If the producers of the show took the money out of it and simply suggested the people survive just to survive, they’d all get in their RVs and drive home.

So as you recover from Black Friday bruising and worry about how you are going to pay for all those things you bought on Cyber Monday, relax. The bills will never arrive. The money will never come due. So, if you plan to survive, get out there and shop more. Buy like the bills will never come do, because they won’t. Just don’t by anything electronic ‘cause electricity isn’t going to survive.

PS: If you do plan to survive, run out and buy the Milton Bradley game Operation. It will help prepare you for healthcare in post–apocalypse America.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We the People

I voted for President Obama. I did so to keep the Supreme Court from moving closer to the John Birch Society (yes, I'm exaggerating, so please don't comment on this). Now we are facing the Fiscal Cliff and I don't see how he or the Congress is going to fix the mess we are in. But here are three suggestions I overheard while eating breakfast as a local cafe. Maybe one of them will work.

Suggestion One:

First, stop paying for anything. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Military, Foreign Aid... all of it. Second, see who screams the loudest. Third, see if these people a) vote or b) have weapons capable of overthrowing the government. Fourth, feed the voters and the well-armed until they are pacified, and then keep feeding them. Everyone else--nothing.

Suggestion Two:

Borrow more money. Lots of it. All of it. Interest rates are so low that we are foolish not to borrow it. It is almost free money. Borrow and build. Build like we were the Chinese of a couple of years ago. Build high speed rail, tall buildings, taller buildings, build new highways and bridges, build dams to protect our coast lines from the coming super storms, build a huge dome over the country and climate control the who thing, build, build, build. And spend, spend, spend. Send every citizen (and--this is my personal addition--if you are a Republican every zygote) an annual check for $150,000. Tax them 150% of what is left at the end of every year. No tax at all if it is all spent. Actual quote: "I don't know how this will end, but when it does we can have a huge garage sale, and raise the money we need to pay back the Chinese. Or we could just nuke them."

Suggestion Three:

Frack everything. Frack you. Especially you. But frack me too. And frack the poor and frack the rich. Every home and apartment building out to have a fracking well attached to it and every person dwelling in that home or apartment (yes, Republicans, including zygotes) should share in the profits. Frack, frack, frack, frack, frack like there's no tomorrow. Cause, you know, maybe there won't be. (This last sentence is mine.)

OK, I know you think I'm kidding. And if it makes you feel better to believe that, then believe it. But if you really want to listen to the people you need to stop smiling.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stand-Up Theology

I was asked to reply to a couple of questions about my speaking career, and thought you might enjoy reading my responses. 

Essentially I’m an entertainer. I do what I sometimes call stand–up philosophy or stand-up theology. My goal is to share ideas and concepts I think are important, and do so in a way that keeps you open to hearing them. I find that humor is the best way to help this happen.

I am not afraid to use humor to point out the irrationality and absurdity of much of what passes for serious religion and theology, and no religion is spared in my critique. If I can help you see the humor in what you hitherto accepted as “gospel,” you are more apt to let me help you free yourself from it as well.

And that is my ultimate goal: freeing myself and others from the isms and ideologies that keep us from seeing reality as it is (or at least as I think it is), and creating a world based on compassion and justice.

I don’t call what I do preaching because it isn’t one–sided. My talks almost always include an opportunity for dialogue. I say whatever I want, and then invite you to do the same.

My biggest challenge is to keep my ideas simple without being simplistic. I think people are more than capable of dealing with very sophisticated explorations of religion and faith, but lack the professional jargon for doing so. I dispense with the jargon whenever possible.

My most challenging audience was at Occidental College. I was exploring the notion that biblical authors often used humor and the absurd to alert their readers that something very important is about to happen. The births of Isaac and Jesus were my two examples. The idea that either a woman in her nineties or a virgin can give birth is, I said, absurd, and the authors knew this to be so. They never expected their readers to take them literally. Rather they were saying, look these births herald the coming something new into the world and hence break with the normative ways of producing offspring.

A contingent of self–identified Catholics began to boo. After the talk the campus priest refused to shake my hand, and several Catholic audience members told me that I had “destroyed their faith.” Referring them to the now cowering priest, I suggested they confess their lack of faith and move on. It was not my finest moment.

When asked how he could speak so eloquently and yet extemporaneously to thousands, the Reverend Billy Graham replied that he gave the same sermon over and over again.  Many speakers might make the same claim. I, too, have a core message: reality isn’t what we think it is, religions sell us ideas the way Campbell’s sells us soup, and if you want to experience Truth directly you will have to drop all your opinions, no matter how much you spent to secure them.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I'm watching the news in Israel and what appears to be an inevitable ground war in Gaza. I am both  horrified and surprised. Horrified, because war is horrible, and I dread the loss of lives on both sides. Surprised because my personal reaction to this is so visceral.

I am often very critical of the State of Israel. I support a two state solution, oppose theocracy, and would like to see the Israeli government take bold, decisive, and creative action to secure the former and end the latter "speedily and in our day" as our liturgy says. And yet I want to see the Israeli Defense Force annihilate Hamas.

I feel personally attacked. I feel ready, if the need arises and I would be a help rather than a burden, to immediately fly to Israel and volunteer to help. I don't often feel this kind of allegiance, and I surprised (and not unpleasantly so) that I can still feel this way.

This could be mere romanticism, and I will have to wait to see whether or not I am willing to put my life on the line for my people, but the feeling is not something I had expected.

You might argue that an incursion into Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel, but I worry that, given the current state of Arab affairs, what happens in Gaza cannot stay in Gaza. A war with Israel might serve the interests of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Syria's Assad regime, not to mention Iran. Attacking Israel is a convenient way to shift the attention of the masses away from the despots that oppress them, and toward the Jewish boogeyman that haunts them.

When war comes to Hamas in Gaza, their compatriots in Egypt will demand that they join the fight. The president of Egypt is himself part of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is their movement. How could he stand by and let them bleed?

If Egypt enters the fight, Syria will open a second front hoping to put an end to its internal rebellion. Lebanon and Hezbollah will do the same. And even Jordan, with its huge Palestinian population, may be forced to enter the fray. The potential for regional war is real.

Should Israel refrain from invading? How can it? Imagine Mexican drug lords shelling Arizona, Texas, and Southern California: would the US just sit on its hands and beg them to stop? We would fire back, and if that weren't enough we would invade claiming that the Mexican government was incapable of controlling its own people and maintaining peace. Israel is in the same position.

No matter how strongly I detest the Occupation; no matter how illegal and even evil I hold many of the settlements to be; no matter how wrongheaded I think the Israeli right and Prime Minister Netanyahu are, I cannot help but support war.

I am not happy about this. It troubles me on so many levels. I share these thoughts with you as a matter of honesty, and invite you to help me see another way if you think there is one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Door l'Door*

Beware the latest threat to Jewish life: self-locking doors. You know the ones: they lock by themselves when you close them. Well, thank God for Israeli Rabbis Shmuel Wosner and Nissim Karelitz who have ruled that men and woman in rooms with self-locking doors may be violating the Jewish prohibition against just such heterosexual intimacy, and urging Jews to avoid using such locks and entering such rooms.

This is no small danger. In a recent survey of Jewish men between the ages of 120 and 121, not a single respondent denied feelings of sexual arousal when standing next to a woman in a room with self-locking doors.

For those Jews for whom avoiding self-locking doors is impossible, the rabbis urge that the doors be left slightly ajar. This solution, however, is far too liberal. What if someone walks by, notices the door is ajar and innocently closes it? What then? How long before the couple behind the just closed door loses control and engages in prohibited acts such as sexual intercourse or, God forbid, praying aloud together?

No, the only solution is to replace these locks. Or, better yet, do away with doors.

Look, I admit to being in a room without self-locking doors and accidently closing the door, inadvertently pushing a large file cabinet up against it, and then unknowingly heaping all the other furniture in the room against the file cabinet. And I have done this when there is no one else in the room with me at all. If this could happen to me, just think what might happen to you!

So, in the interest of living a good Jewish life, please, people, no more doors.

*This title, Door l'Door is a play on the Hebrew dor l'dor, generation to generation. Its sort of funny if you know the Hebrew. It isn't funny if you don't. It is even a little annoying if you have to read a footnote that explains it. Footnotes and jokes don't usually go together. So maybe this wasn't the best title, but it was the best I had. And so there it is. If you've got a better one, please post it.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Four More Years...Beware!

President Obama has just been reelected. Here is what we can expect from four more years of Democratic rule, why, and what we can do about. Ignore this at your own peril.

What We Can Expect: Four more years of catastrophic storms hitting the United States.

Why We Can Expect It:

The citizens of Maine, Maryland, and Washington legalized same-sex marriage.

The citizens of Minnesota failed to ban it.

God hates same-sex marriage.

God punishes those who endorse it with terrible storms.

You shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. In fact the gays themselves warned us:

The symbol of the GLBT movement is the rainbow.

Rainbows appear after storms.

What we can do about it:

Eschew all things rainbow.

Pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Get a nicer God.

I vote for option 3.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Donkeys Laden with Books

In the Qur’an Jews are compared to a “donkey laden with books” (Surah 62). The idea, clearly derogatory, is that while Jews carry the sacred Torah from place to place, when it comes to understanding her we are as illiterate as a donkey.

Derogatory or not, this isn’t that far off the mark. But illiteracy regarding holy books isn’t limited to Jews. I was speaking to an Imam the other day, and he used the same analogy to refer to Muslims: they revere the Qur’an as holy, but have no idea how to understand it. Donkeys one and all.

I’m thinking about this as I fly to Houston to speak at the city’s 40th Annual Jewish Book Fair. My assigned topic is my new book, out this month: Amazing Chesed, living a grace-filled Judaism. But what really excites me is the very existence of Jewish book fairs.

I am proud to be associated with a people devoted to books. Yes, our knowledge of Torah may be limited, but our love of books is not. And yes, our love of books may become anachronistic as humanity takes to post-modern cave painting via HD televisions and iPads, but one medium doesn’t preclude the other, and I take pride in being the donkey bearing the books for a world where emotion–driven video drives out rationale discourse and the books upon it depends.

When I was a kid growing up in an Orthodox shul I stood in awe as the Torah Scroll snaked her way to where I was standing with my father and Zayde (grandfather) so I could stretch out my arm and touch the cover with the tzitzit (fringes) of my tallit (prayer shawl) and bring those holy threads to my lips. In my adolescence I found this fetishizing annoying, but as I grew older I reclaimed the magic and added to it the knowledge that in addition to honoring the Story of my People I was honoring the magic of writing and the printed page as well.

I don’t care how many monkeys you have, or how many typewriters you give them, they will never—even in the fullness of eternity—create the oeuvre of Shakespeare. Chances are they won’t even tap out a close approximation of Planet of the Apes. Only we humans can do that, and as our ability to tell stories moves beyond the printed word, I revel in being a donkey (and the son of donkey and the grandson of a donkey and the great grand son of a donkey and—Halleluyah!—the father of a donkey) all of whom carry literacy and the word on our backs.

So tonight I plan to thank the sponsors of Houston’s 40th Annual Jewish Book Fair for inviting me, but more importantly for keeping alive the link between Jews and books that is one of our greatest gifts to humankind.