Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'm Sorry

In the song “South Central Rain,” Michael Stipe belts out the words, “I’m Sorry” so often that it has become the unofficial name of this great REM tune.  The song is actually an act of contrition, or so I have been told,  as he is lamenting choices he has made that cost him the friendship of two people and broke up their marriage.  His call sounds sincere, and his efforts to create a chance to perhaps make up for his indiscretion can be found in between the words. Using his art he lays his emotion out for all to see.  In doing so he is making the case that he truly feels the hurt of hurting others.

 “I’m sorry” is a common phrase these days, or more precisely “I’m sorry if…”  Sometimes people think they are the same.  They are not.  A real statement of sorrow for one’s own actions does not need conditions.  I cringe when I hear a politician or media star say, "I'm sorry if".  When you know what you did was wrong atonement does not need a condition.

We are entering the time of year where we do a self audit and ask forgiveness of others.  Like Stipe who was not looking to parse his words, we must not feel sorry if and only if, we offended someone.  If we know our actions were inappropriate, the “I’m sorry” should be as much for our own recognized failure as for the person or persons we may have hurt.  We have once again been given an opportunity to seek our own heart and to discover our own failings.  We can learn by them.  If we only say , “I’m sorry if,” we are putting the burden on the person we hurt.  That is not what Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are about. 

For all my Jewish friends may you have a wonderful and meaningful Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and if you are traveling or have friends and family who are, may all arrive safe. 

Shana Tova v’metukah.

Friday, September 16, 2011


    The train doesn’t always make it into the station.  Well, not as often as in the past.  But that is not from lack of trying.  As the engine has aged it finds it harder and harder to build up the steam to make it over the top of the big hill.  For a while we tried different engineers, but that really was only a temporary fix.  They found new ways to coax a little more out of it but in the end it was the lack of function over the novelty.  Today only one engineer takes the controls and has found the proper way to move the valves and work the shifts, but even then the percent of total success is still low.  Oh, I know this happens to older engines but it is still disheartening.  I mean it use to be the engine could not only climb the hill, fulfill the duties at the station and take off again.  It moved and unloaded tons of passengers.   Sometimes to the surprise of the engineers involved.  But with time and use each moving part gets worn, the steam just doesn’t seem to get hot enough and well we all have known it to just stay in the roundhouse with no amount of stoking to make it go.   What is amazing is that it still has its shine and luster and one would not recognize its age by merely a scan.  But no one can deny that once the controls are taken in hand it doesn’t operate like a brand new engine one might think it was.  But on rare occasions, when the moon seems right and the air is clear we can still see flashes from the past.  Those nights,  the train makes all the deliveries asked of it and it is those nights that one realizes that the train may have a history and on the down side of its journey, it can still be a shocker. 

 writers' week

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 speech

A speech I gave at an interfaith service to commemorate 9-11 and link it to the tragedy of 9-11 with doing community and interfaith service as a response.  The theme was enormity and abundance.  Here are my words. 
Good afternoon, earlier we heard the sound of the Shofar, the Ram’s horn, blasting and calling us to attention.   Since ancient times the shofar was used to call people to act and to listen.  But it was also a tool of war, directing armies and in one famous story from our Bible the sounds of the shofar knocked down the walls of Jericho.  This imagery of collapsing walls has taken on more personal meaning in the last 10 years and that is one thing that brings us here today.  But today the shofar is not an instrument of destruction but one of hope.  Blown as we begin our new year in just a few days, the Shofar is a reminder that we have a responsibility to the world we live in.  It wakes us up from the day-to-day comfort and reminds us that we have a responsibility to each other.  
10 years ago on 9-11  terrorists used the planes as missiles and killed 3000 people.  But in those moments after the attacks people rose to the occasion and showed their ability to focus on the community they were part of, even if they were taking their community for granted earlier that morning.  Ordinary citizens helped carry less able people out of the burning towers risking their own safety for the safety of others, civilian workers crawled back into the fire to pull co-workers out of the Pentagon, and a handful of passengers knew their deaths were certain as they rushed the cockpit on one plane to save unknown people on the ground.  One story of a stock trader who longed to be a fire fighter, athletic and able to escape, decided to stay and clear floors, try to reach people above the impact zone in Tower One, and gave his life with bravery.  He, like so many, could have simply run, but saw this as his duty, his responsibility to the community.  He reached deep into himself, knowing the task was enormous he didn’t shy away. 
These people, and many like them, saw the tragedy as a call to action, like the shofar it was a blast to our comfort and asked us to reach deeper.   Today 10 years later the echoes of the tragedy are still with us, it calls us to build a better place in our own community. It challenges us to seek out neighbors and find common ground to work together and add to the abundance of resources we all share.  While America has 9-11, the Jewish people have long had 11-9, a day of mourning, Tisha b’av.  On the 9th day of the 11th month of the Hebrew calendar many tragedies were visited upon the Jewish people, tradition tells us that it was on this date that the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem and after it was rebuilt, it was this date that once again and for the second time the Temple was sacked.  It is said that the second Temple’s destruction was due to unwarranted hate.  The kind of hate that often leads to attacks on others, the kind of hate that allows 19 men to value the death of strangers over their own lives.   It is that too we combat today, as we seek to share the voices of prayer from a variety of traditions, all different, all with value and all sharing a common goal of working to create peace, justice and security in our lives. 
The building we are in is not ablaze but it reminds us of a raging fire we do face, not one of jet fuel but one of hunger.  100s of our neighbors will go to sleep hungry tonight, but because of you and the Interfaith Hunger Initiative and Gleaners, many more will not.  Today you can honor those souls who gave their lives to save others by adding your energy and resources to the abundance that is our community.  The 9-11 attacks help us remember we are all linked as a nation.  We can acknowledge it is easier to ignore others, I know tonight I will eat and be satisfied, but I cannot truly enjoy my abundance when others are suffering.  The task is enormous, but when we set aside our differences, and rally around the work of saving our neighbors I believe we can continue to make a difference.  My tradition teaches that we don’t have to complete the task, but we must try.  Join me in the effort for I cannot turn away.   Let us pray today to our own source of strength and together our voices, our actions, and our efforts reach out and turn the tragedy of 9-11 into a touchstone for that which makes us a great community.  
We can learn from words of the poet  Jack Reimer:
We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation,
 For we already have the resources with which to feed the entire world.  
If only we use them wisely….
Therefore we pray instead for strength, determination, and will power,
 To do instead of merely pray.  
To become instead of merely to wish that our world may be safe, 
and our lives may be blessed.

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...