Religion Through a Modern Lens?
This week marks the beginning of Passover and the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday, while Ramadan is fast approaching later this month as well. Much of the world will celebrate. Yet many of us may feel excluded and wondering...is there space for us all?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in the '70s. Not exactly the hot bed of open mindedness and diversity back then. And growing up Jewish was certainly a challenge in Birmingham. Back in the '70s, like many religions, Jews were expected to attend religious school, go to weekly services, practice many traditions at home, and by all means go to their house of worship for major holidays like Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur.
I became a Bar Mitzvah at 13 and Confirmed at 16. To me, growing up Jewish was both an expectation and a curiosity. Our modest size Jewish community clung together and seemed to keep most everyone within a rather narrow religious lane. I was curious of God and more so of the Israeli initiative (Zionism), but also content to skip most Sunday school or Shabbat services if the option was ever provided to me.
Once I was Confirmed and formal religious schooling ended, my interest seemed to wane. I rarely stepped in a synagogue after 16 and bypassed Jewish fraternities, partly due to my apathetic approach to religion and also to avoid the intense socializing and belittlement fraternities were well known for in the '80s.
As an adult, I occasionally checked out some congregations, once desperate to change my social scene from intense drinking toward a more meaningful relationship, and later to try to find meaning during a traumatic recover from shoulder surgery.
Later, as a family we joined a local synagogue to subject our kids to much the same institutional learning and berating that I had endured as a child.
Perhaps we need to ensure we make space for a bit of faith...in ourselves, in our families, in our community, and perhaps in our spirit!
And yet, along the way, my view of religion and spirituality has taken an interesting journey. My personality became more defined as an analytical, introverted, rationale, thinker, As such, I have found it harder to accept traditional teachings of religion. As I've developed more self awareness and authenticity in my life, I finally built the courage to say I don't really believe in God, in a higher being.
Please don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge others' views and I do encourage my kids to explore for themselves, but it's just hard for me to believe in something I cannot see, feel or touch. Science and facts seem to dispel all basis of a god for me.
I actually wish I believed. I can see strength in believing. Blind faith can come in handy during tough times. And yet, I cannot. I faked a lot of things during my corporate life, but this I will not fake.
I am intrigued at the history of religions. Millennia ago, well before the age of sciences, people sought explanation for the inexplicable. So many suggested higher beings and those seeking answers took great solace and comfort in rallying behind those beliefs and communities. Over time, many have preached, fought, and died for their religious beliefs. Yet for me, as science and my own evolution has progressed, the framework and the prayers I was taught were not enough for me to continue to blindly believe.
However, what has withstood time for me, and I believe for many in today's world, are the traditional experiences which have painted vivid memories for my family over the years. I relish the evenings lighting Chanukah candles together, of placing our hands together on the Challah bread and loudly singing the prayer, of sneaking Elijah's glass of wine amongst a Seder table full of family members - most glazing over the service, ready to gobble up the Charoset and Matzah. Passover is one of my favorite holidays, not for the prayers but for the history and for the memories dating back to my own parents spinning through the Hagadah while my sisters and I laughed and nibbled.
L- Noah & me paying homage at Jerusalem's Western Wall; R- I'm leaving a prayer note (2008)
Yes, each of these holidays began with a religious purpose. I am happy to celebrate the traditions and history of our people. I am proud of the triumphs over innumerable challenges through the centuries. I think this is why I clung to a religious belief for so long. Yet now I believe modern Judaism, and religion in general, should make space for those who question or even refute a higher power yet still cherish the traditions, ethos, and community which religion can offer each one of us.
Interestingly, as I slide from the more structured lifestyle of corporate America into a more relaxed, creative, and introspective lifestyle of writing, I wonder if perhaps my perspective on religion and God in particular might change. I still cannot connect those dots, but I am open to my ongoing evolution and the possibility of a more spiritual perspective.
Religion has been the charge for so much discrimination, destruction, and death over the past couple of millennia. I am optimistic that religion is now broadening its own definition and welcoming those of different perspectives so we may share joy and love together.
In today's pandemic world, we all cling to what qualified scientists are advising. But perhaps we also need to ensure we make space for a bit of faith...in ourselves, in our families, in our community, and perhaps even in our spirit!
Happy holy days.
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April 8 is ALL IS OURS Day
Wednesday, April 8 is ALL IS OURS Day. This day is set aside, literally, for ALL of us to celebrate what is OURS...whatever that may be and whatever you choose to celebrate. In these very trying days, our family shares our concerns and fears. But we also recognize all that we are thankful for...most especially our health and being together.
We also are challenging ourselves to make the most of this time...to rekindle old passions and discover new ones, to grow closer together as a family, to cherish the outdoors, and to celebrate the simpler things in life. In this way, today and that golden day down the road when Coronavirus is but a memory, we will be able to say, "ALL IS OURS!"
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