It’s been a couple of years since I’ve blogged here. Sometimes, you simply run out of things to say. And talking all the time isn’t always healthy – reflection, silence, observation, rumination – all have their place. Now, after a long break, I’m returning to blogging in what the ancient Chinese proverb wryly calls, “interesting times.”
Living in Interesting Times
Much has changed since I was last blogging. The Trump presidency has divided the nation and shown a harsh spotlight on our cultural and social fault lines. Social tensions remain high. People routinely angrily engage one another on social media, in public forums, on television, in private conversations, and elsewhere. The Middle East remains a place of conflict, and sadly, war. Antisemitism has increased at an alarming rate, both in Europe and the U.S., with synagogue shootings, random assaults, and a growing prevalence of hateful rhetoric against Jews.
Here in the U.S., 0ur current version of “interesting times” is a period of heightened tensions, widening social divisions, growing anger, hate, and mistrust. Much of this is, in part, the result of our political polarization, which in turn, is really a reflection of our cultural polarization. There are competing visions of what America and the West should be – the values it should honor, and therefore the policies it should enact.
Immigration, kids in cages, and wall building. Tax cuts, wage stagnation, and growing economic disparity. Universal healthcare? Pronouns and trans rights? Many people, both on the left and the right, have their hair on fire – and there are certainly issues worth getting worked up over.
Yet … yet I fear that in the heat of the rhetoric, in the earnest debates, in the constant friction and tension, we will tear the social fabric, perhaps beyond repair. That we might sacrifice civil liberties for the expediency of seeing our goals achieved. That we are losing sight of our common human dignity, especially the dignity of those we deem “other.” That intending to solve real and genuine problems, we might, in our haste and anger, do lasting damage to vital foundations and traditions that have sustained us for centuries.
What Judaism offers for Interesting Times
Regardless of where individual Jews land in terms of their political stances, every Jew is called by our sacred writings and tradition to be “A light unto the nations. A source of blessing.”
Judaism conveys penetrating truths about human nature and the meaning of human life that can help us navigate interesting times.
My personal conviction is that contained in the teachings of Judaism, there is a solid core of wisdom and truth that can powerfully and compellingly help us address the issues of today, without engaging in a scorched earth policy. I also remain convinced that the combination of Jewish myth, ritual, symbol, art, music and community is a powerful and enduring way to be transformed by, and in turn, convey such truths.
Can this wisdom be found elsewhere? Yes. Jews aren’t the only group, religious or otherwise, with wisdom to share and responsibility to bring healing and balm to troubled times. Judaism isn’t the only tradition that calls for compassion, social justice, love of neighbor, civility, tolerance, inclusion, peace, and welcoming of the stranger. These notions are shared by most religious traditions, including Christians, Buddhists, and even atheists.
Yet Judaism, despite Jewish diversity, offers its particular wisdom in its own, unique way. And I’m very much convinced that this Jewish way of doing so (again, acknowledging the diversity within Judaism), has much merit and much of value to share with us individually, with our culture, and with other traditions – especially today.
The Open Table – An Invitation
What Jewish ways am I speaking about? The ways Jews read their sacred texts. The ways Jews value reason, questioning, and learning. The ways Jews recognize and strive to affirm the dignity, value, and rights of non-Jews. The particular Jewish blend and emphasis on practical ethics. The Jewish passion for social justice. I could go on.
Jews, like all other humans, aren’t perfect, and we fail to live up to our values and commitments. Still, our failure doesn’t render the truth of our convictions invalid. And despite not being a large group demographically, Jews are still highly visible, and therefore, highly influential in American, and Western culture.
Jewish tradition has much to offer everyone in these interesting times. And what we have to offer doesn’t require one to become Jewish and convert (although, you’re more than welcome to join us.)
When I chose the name for this blog several years ago, I did so because I’ve often thought of Judaism and Jewish tradition as an Open Table – a feast, a savory spread, a satisfying, soul-nourishing collection of wisdom, practice, insight, and values – offered freely to all.
Already feeling full and well-fed by your own tradition? Excellent. You’re still welcome for a snack, a glass of wine, or a dessert – we have much to offer, and quite a variety, appealing to differing tastes. You need not stay for a several course meal to enjoy a bite of wisdom or a nosh on something life-affirming.
One easy example – Shabbat, the keeping of the sabbath. Yes, different Jews keep the sabbath differently. But there’s a common thread of the importance of rest, the need for genuine leisure, and the need for breaking out of the soul-numbing consumerist routine of work and shopping.
Many (liberal) Jews have recently found the amazing benefit of “unplugging” on the sabbath. Turn off the computer, put the smart phone in a drawer, and hide all the iToys. Turn off the television. Really, try it – it’s only for a day.
How nourishing, how healing is one day a week spent engaging in rest, time with friends and family, time walking and being out in nature, time enjoying real leisure – art, reading, hobbies, conversation – time to engage in something creative and edifying.
A day away from arguing with everyone on Facebook or clicking “Like” so as to send the required virtue signals to all your “friends.” A day away from chores, work projects, email. A day away from laundry, cleaning, and shopping. How about a nap?
Jews aren’t the only ones who keep the sabbath, But our particular way of doing so, with candle lighting, reflection, meals with family and friends, and our emphasis on the connection between human dignity and leisure offers everyone useful insights.
Think of the possible benefits, both personally and culturally, if we, as a nation, took a break from the craziness for one day a week.
My Meal Plan and Menu
Going forward, I hope to blog a couple of times a week at least. And I hope to do so in a manner that calls attention to the beauty, truth, and wisdom of Jewish tradition and practice.
I’ll strive to offer my insights in a way that are humble and inviting – not triumphant, judgmental, or arrogant – while always being open to dialog, challenge, and disagreement, welcoming valid diversity of approaches – within Judaism and beyond.
I hope to find ways of speaking about Judaism that are reasonable and acceptable to the contemporary, educated, postmodern mindset. I hope to be able to render Judaism clear and meaningful for Christians and others who might be interested in learning more.
I hope to do my theology using evidential reasoning – employing the best of human knowledge – science, social science, historical scholarship, anthropology, cultural studies, neuroscience, and psychology. I aim to offer a plain spoken theology rooted in reason, historical research, realism, and diverse human experience, in a manner that seeks reasoned evidence for its claims, that moves beyond theologies of identity, academic jargon, and ideology.
And finally, I hope that in striving for the above, I help offer a vigorous defense of human dignity that opposes the dehumanizing forces of today’s forms of empire, racism, sexism, patriarchy, secularism, consumerism, and nihilism – things that Judaism has dealt with for thousands of years and has gained much wisdom by resisting.
So, Pull Up a Chair!
So, come, have a seat and enjoy. Not Jewish? No worries, join us anyway, we can learn from each other. You’re an atheist? So are many Jews, and Jewish tradition highly values reason, science, and learning.
Love Trump? Loathe him? Consider yourself a conservative, a Democrat, a liberal, a Republican? You’re orthodox, liberal, Buddhist? What fun is a dinner party where everyone agrees on everything? As long as we maintain civility, strive to offer our insights rationally and clearly – we might be able to learn from one another, see another perspective, stretch our own thinking. At the end of the day, we need not agree with one another to share a table.
Are some things beyond the pale? Unacceptable? Yes, certainly. We don’t welcome hate, calls to violence, fascist, racist, anti semitic, or other such comments and views at the table.
With that said, you are welcome to read and comment and engage. You’re welcome to suggest topics, books, essays, and other blogs that are interesting and speak to the same issues.
You’re welcome to disagree with me and point out my mistakes and errors. Learning is always a communal effort.
You are welcome to guest blog, writing posts in your own name, published here. Afterall, it’s an open table, and any good meal is a conversation, not a monologue. I have many intelligent, insightful friends – Jews and non-Jews – who blog and write, and I hope to highlight their work and have them engage here as well. If you want to write and guest blog, reach out to me first.
In the days ahead, I’ll also be updating the previous theological reflections I offered years ago in the above navigation and pages. We live and learn and grow. And our theology and writing need reflect this evolution.
Above all, feel welcome, pull up a chair, you look hungry – have something to eat!