Another Perspective On Gay Marriage in a Secular Society

Featured imageThere has been an awful lot written on both sides of the issue regarding Gay Marriage.  I do no plan on adding to it, except to say that everyone has a right to their own views on the subject, and everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected as their beliefs, not just what is current or politically correct.  I’m not a homophobe, and I’m not a bigot.   I’ve seen scripture twisted in all directions to support or exclude the concept of Gay Marriage, and that’s not what I intend to address here.

What I have a problem with, as a religious professional who seeks to honor God in the performance of my religious duties, is the government forcing or penalizing me if I choose to not perform a marriage between two people of the same sex.  Making that choice should not have the pressure of Government intervention.  My dilemma is, how can I ask God to bless anything if I honestly don’t believe he blesses it?  I do no perform weddings for many other reasons; if I don’t believe a couple is well suited to each other, if they are of mixed religious backgrounds and would result in family conflicts, if they have a violent relationship, etc.; why should performing a gay marriage  be a mandatory situation for me?  I also have to wonder why any couple would want me to perform their wedding if they understand its not something I believe in for them. Surely there are clergy or Justices of the Peace, who would gladly perform their wedding.  It makes me wonder if they are coming to me to force me into a situation I might not wish to be in.

I have gay friends, and if they wish to get married, and if they thought I’d have issues performing their wedding ceremony, I’d assume they would not ask me to perform the ceremony.  I might attend their wedding to be personally supportive of my friends, and I’m sure some people would object to that, but its my choice.  It’s also my choice whether or not to perform a wedding ceremony; any wedding ceremony.  When local and federal authorities make it a crime to not perform a wedding because it’s a same sex wedding, they are infringing on my beliefs and choices.  That is just wrong.

The solution, as I see it, is that legally, everyone, gay or straight, should have a civil union, and go to civil authorities for those unions.  Religious marriages should be something separate, in addition to a civil union.  This is how its done in Eastern Europe, and it works fine.  If the government wishes to sanction same sex unions, that is their prerogative.  They should not be dictating to religion what they must do, with threats of taking away their tax exempt status, or fining their clergy for acting on their conscience.  If couples of the same sex wish to be in a civil union, that’s their business, but the government  should stay out of religion.

This is not about religion as much as it is about government telling religion what to do.  The Bill of Rights prohibits the government from ESTABLISHING any religion, or restricting the religious practice of religion.  The reason I do not want the government to dictate to religion, is that in my opinion,  government has lost its moral compass, and religious people do not trust the government to ram its secular values down our throats.  I don’t want to have to make a choice between my conscience and the government, but if I have to, I choose what I believe to be right in the eyes of God, and I expect others who want their views respected, to respect mine.

The Lost Child Within

Therapists and counselors talk about us Featured imagehaving an “inner child.”  The inner child is the little kid inside of each of us that motivates us to and governs our responses to what is going on in our lives.  When my grandmother received the diagnosis that she had macular degeneration, she felt lost, and even though she was 85 at the time, she felt like crying for her mother.  The rest of our family gathered around her and supported her, but there was no comforting her.

Its been two months since my father passed away, and I feel like my inner child is a lost child, looking for his parents.  My father is gone and I feel the loss accutely.  I miss my dad’s presence in my life, buying him small things that made him happy, and seeing his face light up.  I have my mom with us, but she too is lost without him.  Not only can I not lean on her for support, I recognize her fragility, and can’t say anything around her that will upset her.  I expressed my ongoing depression to her in her grief, and she asked why I was upset.  I told her I lost my father.  It was as if she didn’t realize that I was going through grief of my own.  Not a day goes by without her breaking down crying, feeling God punished her by letting her live after my dad died.  We do things to try to make her happy, but there is really no comforting her.  All we can do is be there and show that we care.

Life is going on around me, and I continue on with my life, but deep down I feel lost.  God gives me strength and comfort, but I’m hurting and have not way to express it.  I reach out to others with comfort because that is what I do.  Its heartfelt and genuine, but I am not a happy person.  I know I will be happy again, but at the current time, my life is a painful struggle.  I miss my dad, and miss the mother that was a comfort and encouragement.

What does a person of faith do with these feelings?  I know that some people try to ignore their feelings, but that is not emotionally healthy.  I have trusted God through the most difficult times of my life, and He has always been there for me, strengthening me and upholding me.  He has brought kind, caring people around me to comfort and encourage me; some religious, others not, but they have been kind and have made a difference in my life.  I let them know their words and gestures of comfort matter, but I am still left with this crushing weight on my heart.

I still feel like a lost child, but I lean on God, and know I’ll be happy again.  He will see me through this difficult time, and won’t let go of me.  I focus on doing the right thing, and reaching out to others.  My own grief helps me feel the grief of others.

So I move ahead, feeling like a lost child, who is not out of the sight and reach of the One who loves me.  King David, in Psalm 27:10 wrote, “When my father and my mother leave me, then the LORD will take me up.”   I have never been forsaken by my parents, and I would never forsake my children, but life is such that there is a time they will not be with us.  I also believe there is a time that we will be reunited. I look forward to that time.  In the mean time, we suffer our separations, trust God, and abide.

My Inner Grief

I have nFeatured imageot let anyone see how deeply I am grieving the loss of my father.  I miss him so much. I knew several weeks before he passed that he had little chance of surviving.  There were too many things against him recovering.  I knew, but I couldn’t tell anyone.  I was grieving even then, but I couldn’t let my mom or my sisters know.  I needed to maintain my composure to give them hope.

In a way, my dad knew he wasn’t going to make it too.  He told me that before my grandfather died, he was on pills and had many physical problems.  He told my dad, “this is no way to live.”  My dad didn’t like it, but he understood it.  A few weeks later he died.  As my dad was being wheeled up to the ICU from the emergency room, he held my hand and said, “Michael, this is no way to live.”  He was letting me know he was tired and wanted to go.  I understood, but I didn’t like it.  They brought in a social worker to talk with me.

I feel like a lost child.  I had my dad, my role model and hero for my entire life.  Every day of my life, my father backed me.  He stood by me even when he didn’t approve or agree with me, because I was his son.  I was so proud of him.  I moved to Florida to be closer to him, and was so happy when I moved my parents into my home so I could take better care of them.  He only lived in my house for nine months, but I believe he was happier and had a better life with us.

I am grieving even now, but I can’t show it too much because my mom is so sad and depressed and she needs me to be strong for her.  I listen to her every day, expressing her grief.  She asks God why He took my dad, and she thanks God for giving him to her for so many years.  She has been a model of faith and trust in God in the face of so great loss.  She feels like she has lost her reason for living.  She needs to lean on me, so I need to be strong.

The day I sat down with the social worker in the hospital, I knew he was dying.  They put him in the ICU.  I went into the hospital chapel and cried.  Thankfully, no one else was there.  After that brief moment of grief, I needed to be strong for my mom and sisters.  I shed a few tears at the funeral, but even there, I needed to be strong for my mom.  Her grief is deep, so bearing it is very hard.  Eleven days later, I went out on my patio, lit a cigar, and cried.  After a good cry, I went inside and continued to be strong for mom.

I know its not emotionally healthy to hold it in, but there aren’t many outlets.  Prayer is an outlet.  I will be checking out grief support groups.  I can’t afford to come apart at the seams.  God has given me comfort and support, and I am grateful.  I truly believe God is merciful and kind.  I believe my dad is with Him.  I believe I will see him again, and we will be reunited.  While I have no desire to die at this time, I no longer fear it.  In some way, I look forward to the day I will be with my father again.

I write this post through tears and sadness.  I miss my dad.  I know I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Saying Kaddish: Continuing Through The Grief

In my last post, I talked about sitting Shiva.  Shiva is a wonderful custom that is designed to comfort mourners.  Technically, the people who are considered mourners are not everyone who grieves.  It is laid out in the Torah, based on the people for whom a Kohain was allowed to make himself unclean by connection with a dead body.  According to the Torah in Leviticus 21:Featured image2-3, a Kohain may not be near a dead body because it would render him ritually unclean.  It makes exceptions for the death of a spouse, son, daughter (also grandchildren), brother, sister, mother or father (also grandparents).

After the week of shiva, there are other traditions of mourning that comfort.  Going to the synagogue to pray with a minyan, a group of men and reciting mourner’s kaddish.  The reason for going to the synagogue, or praying with a minyan (ten men), is because they represent being in the community of Israel.  Because of this requirement of having at least ten Jewish men, the tradition says that whoever joins a minyan to enable someone to say kaddish, participates in the soul of another Jew.  Saying kaddish is about the soul.

Mourner’s kaddish is wrongly called, “The prayer for the dead.”  Kaddish is actually a prayer that praises God for His greatness.  It is a prayer that benefits the living.  There are several versions of kaddish, which have different functions in Jewish prayer, and they serve as dividers between the different portions of the Jewish prayer service.  Most of those versions have different melodies that are beautiful.  Mourner’s kaddish has no melody.  It is recited more as a declaration.  The other types of kaddish may be said by anyone, but mourners kaddish is the exclusive domain of the mourners (see above).  While Jewish tradition teaches that by leaving someone behind who goes every day to bless God’s Name for eleven months, merits the soul of the dead, the practical truth is that saying kaddish daily with a minyan is actually very comforting for the mourner.  It adds a rhythm to life, and over time, begins to comfort the heart.  I can’t explain it, but I experience it.

I’ve been at services where the entire congregation stood up to recite kaddish with the mourner.  I felt it took away from the unique position of the mourner, and they missed an opportunity to provide comfort to those who grieved most deeply.  I’ve seen other services where the person said kaddish, and the last stanza, “Oseh Shalom,” which has been put to music beautifully in Jewish traditon, was sung by the congregation.  It saddened me, because it took away from the somber nature of mourning, and failed to comfort by making a prayer of grief into a song fest.

Saying Kaddish is a structured prayer that has congregational responses at various places.  There is something bolstering about standing to recite kaddish out loud, and the rest of the people giving the structured responses.  Its encourages you, like you are not alone in your grief.  It also gives you a sense that you are  doing something constructive to work through your grief.  It gives you the feeling that you are carrying out your responsibility.

The period for saying kaddish as a mourner lasts eleven months.  It structures the mourning period, and places a definite end to it.  Emotionally, that is helpful.  You don’t feel that it goes on forever, and helps you move beyond your grief.  When the eleven months are completed, the mourning period is over.  You still miss the person you lost, and you still think of them so many times, but you have the feeling that its okay to move on with your life.

Some people either don’t have the confidence to recite kaddish in Shul because of their lack of hebrew proficiency, or because they don’t have the time to go to shul, or in some cases, are not interested in doing it.  They sometimes will make a contribution to a shul and they will say it on the person’s behalf.  Others don’t see the relevance of the tradition. While there may be valid reasons why a person would contract it out or ignore the tradition entirely, in a real sense, they are missing out on a very comforting tradition.

The Importance of Shiva

My father passed away on EFeatured imagerev Pesach.  Needless to say, my favorite holiday was an exceptionally sad one.  We had no seders, but we observed the holiday.  Because of Pesach, shiva, the tradition of mourning, was delayed until the end of Passover.  This would have created an emotional hardship on my mom and myself, so we informally sat shiva all week.  Instead of paying a “shiva call,” people “paid their respects.”  We would begin formal shiva after the holiday ends for a few days since we sat all week.

We found that when people came to visit, it genuinely helped us.  We felt loved and comforted by their presence.  We didn’t dwell on my dad’s death.  We talked about good memories as well as some light hearted discussion.  People brought food, lots of food.  Food also helped comfort us.  In an electronic age, we received condolence cards, not emails.  It showed people cared.  We also received hundreds of Facebook expressions of care.  People also made charitable donations.  Their generosity was comforting and blessed others as well.  We appreciated it all, and it comforted us during a sad and horrible time.

What didn’t help was phone calls.  They seemed like an intrusion.  I know people care, but calling on the phone did us no good.  Relatives who called were effusive with emotion, but personally, I found phone calls to be draining.  Emotion was fine, but when they asked details about my father’s death, I really didn’t want to tell them.  I didn’t want to relive or revisit a painful sadness.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that people really don’t know what to say to grieving people.  Words of wisdom or philosophical concepts don’t help.  Half the time, people are looking to make themselves feel better.  Thats fine as long as they don’t try to do it at our expense.  The people who came didn’t ask, because they had to look us in the eye, and they had the presence of mind not to ask.  The people on the phone were the main perpetrators.  Even simple questions like,”how are you doing?” don’t help.  I was polite, but I didn’t want to talk about it.  They meant no harm, but they were no help and their questions only angered me.

The things that really helped us through this very painful time were personal visits and food.  There is no substitute for being there.  My friend and his wife flew from Colorado and spent a few days with us, just to be with us.  It meant so very much.  Another friend from California came to the funeral.  One evening, a dozen guys from my cigar club came out and had cigars with me.  Others came during the week and spent time with my mom or with me.  The fact that they showed up meant more than anything.  Others who lived far away sent food.  It helped make us remember that we are loved.  It comforted.

Our society brushes off shiva as “not necessary,” but on an emotional level, its a wonderful thing.  You don’t have to know what to say.  Just give a hug and be there.  Let people know you care about them.  It makes all the difference.  Oh.. and if you want to call, think twice about what you are going to say.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in my father’s memory, please do so at Www.chevrahumanitarian.org/donations

Thank you

The Importance of a Chavurah

I was at a congregation where a leader was explaining what a “Chavurah” was to a visitor.  He said its technically part of the congregation, but he doesn’t push it, and it is basically a get together of people, but not very important. I have to say that the leader doesn’t have much understanding about the value of a chavurah, or the needs of his people.  For him, everything is the “service,” on Shabbat morning.

The reality is, the service is about worship.  People don’t really get to know one another at a service, and the service may meet some needs, but it doesn’t create or build community. A chavurah provides the opportunity for people get together and enjoy one another’s company.  It also provides an opportunity to worship, as we have a torah service in our chavurah.  A chavurah also provides good teaching.  It provides an informal setting for people to get to know one another, and for new people to relax and enjoy themselves.

In short, a Chavurah builds a sense of community and belonging.  There is good food, and everyone has a great time. It is just as important as the congregational meeting, which is more formal, and has a potential of being boring.  While we may have an Oneg Shabbat at a congregational service, it just doesn’t compare.  No one who is part of a chavurah considers it boring.  It is a wonderful experience that I hope everyone gets to share.

Bumper Sticker Religion

It may be that I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon in my old age, but I am becoming increasingly impatient with people who quote popular religious saFeatured imageyings.  In the 70’s Campus Crusade for Christ came up with the “I Found It,” campaign, engaging in mass marketing approach to sharing the Gospel.  Before that, it was “Honk If You Love Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves You.”  In the 80’s I heard people saying. “Let Go and Let God.”  In the 90’s. they had the “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign.  All these popular slogans sort of turned my stomach.  I guess the real question is, why does it bother me?

The reason these slogans bother me is not what they are trying to say, but the idea of reducing the Message of Holy Scripture to a slogan cheapens it.  When I think of the Awe and Majesty of God, there is no way it can be expressed by a slogan or bumpersticker.

People don’t respect bumper sticker messages anymore.  Usually, if something is humorous, we don’t mind, but people don’t put bumperstickers on their cars anymore, or wear “message buttons.”  People who use them are perceived by our society as crackpots.  What was at one time a great way to share a message, now lacks credibility. Times have changed, and public perception has as well.  There was a time when people went door to door to share their religious messages, and it was somewhat successful.  Today it conveys a lack of credibility.

Another reason the slogan approach to faith bothers me, is that people stop thinking about the truths themselves, and just quote catchphrases mindlessly.  They cease to mean anything to anyone.  I’m not against these slogans themselves, but in the realm of faith expression, they are inadequate, and they cease to convey meaningful faith.

The underlying question is “How should we be expressing our faith?”  The bible is not a book of theology.  Its a book of the life stories of God’s people as they walk with God in the world.  We learn from their lives and their faith through their circumstances, and it encourages us to walk with God in our lives.  I guess for me, I want to express my faith, not by quoting popular watchwords, but by living my faith in the presence of others.  I want people to see my struggles, not just my blessings.  I want them to understand that even through trials, we need to draw near to God who strengthens us.  I want to give people the opportunity to see God in my life and be drawn to seeing Him in me.  That only happens by living my life, struggles and all, in a way that people can see and hear.  In a sense it’s living my faith out loud.

The practical question is, How do I express what I believe in a meaningful way? (The key word being Meaningful).  First, in our use of the rituals and customs.  If you do them in a meaningless, rote manner, there  is no life in them.  Doing them with a full heart, seeking to draw near to God through them, connects us to their meanings.

Secondly, the way I treat other people.  You can’t treat people like crap and claim to love God.  As one of the Hashivenu core values states, “Because man is created in the image of God, the way we treat others is a real reflection of how we feel about God.  Therefore, true piety can not exist apart from human decency.”  People think they will see God if they have visions and supernatural experiences, but one of the main places we encounter God is in the lives of people who walk with Him.  The question is, when people encounter us, are they encountering God in us, or are they encountering just us.  For sure, when people spend time with me, they do encounter the cranky person that I can be, but hopefully they see the God who is in my life.