Monday, October 17, 2011

Secret of Eternal life?

I am often asked if I believe in life after death. I say I don’t think about it but I do. I honestly do not believe in a life like the one we have now after we perish. If there is anything I don’t believe we would understand it in terms of time, place and identity. What really brings about eternal life is what we leave behind. Not the physical things we collect or build. Donald Trump for example is not the model to strive for. But it is the emotions, the feelings and the teachings that we leave behind. Yesterday I was starkly reminded of that.

I attended the funeral of a grandmother of a colleague and a friend. A woman who was known by both direct family and many others as Bubbe (Yiddish for grandma) she left behind a large and beautiful family. She was able to see 4 generations grow up around her and all the members of the family I know epitomize what it means to be a mentsch (another Yiddish word meaning someone who makes the world a better place). Her funeral was a as much a celebration of a long life as it was a sorrowful good-bye, the sadness of loss tempered by the memories that made her special.

After the funeral I returned home and later that day I happened upon the Indy Car race from Las Vegas only to see that a major wreck had stopped the race and a story of one driver, Dan Wheldon, had been airlifted to a local hospital. It wasn’t long that people knew what many suspected. Wheldon had died from his injuries. Almost immediately we saw a large number of people talking about this man and his devotion to family and to community. He was always seen as a nice guy in the highly competitive world of motorsports. Other drivers openly wept and spoke of both personal connections with Wheldon and his tireless work raising awareness of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a disorder his mother was diagnosed with.

In both of these lives, one 3 times longer than the other, the steps these two people took left deep prints on the hearts of many. The sparks they left behind will live on and influence untold numbers of people in a positive way. That might truly be the secret to eternal life, leaving behind good feelings, a family who takes your lessons to heart and a legacy of adding goodness to the world while you are here. And even if it isn’t, don’t we all want our demise to be mourned by many and leave behind stories that we would love to hear told about us?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cults....what are they really?

Since Wednesday night Jews around the world are spending part of their day eating and sleeping in temporary shelters with roofs that are incomplete and with walls that rattle in the wind.  Each morning we will get up and grab a palm, myrtle and willow branch with a large citrus fruit that looks like a lemon on steroids and shake them in every direction.  This is the way of celebrating Sukkot, a festival that connects both to our ancient agricultural past, Temple times and a devotion to hospitality in the Jewish tradition.  Though it may seem odd to outsiders, to Jews this is a normal ritual. 

I have been thinking about this because religion has worked its way into the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States.  A preacher, close to Gov. Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult.  So I began to wonder what is a cult? Originally the word cult was a way to describe a a collective set of rituals and then generalized to the people who practiced them.  Today is is almost exclusively used in modern vernacular to be a people with a bizzare set of beliefs and rituals.  To call Mormonism a cult is an attack on the religious tradition.  I don't mean to apologize for the Mormon faith.  I don't fully understand it.  But I was thinking is it bizzare or misunderstood rituals that caused this Pastor to call them a cult?  Well he should visit a Jewish home this week, but of course he wouldn't call the Jews a cult, because his faith tradition grew out of the Jewish faith.  So maybe it is the fact that Mormons have an additional book of the Bible, a different form of revelation of God.  One could call it a New Testament but that was already taken by the very Christian tradition that the Pastor belongs to when in the 1st and 2nd century a New Testament about a new revelation of God started to take hold among people in the ancient near east and the Greco-Roman world.  So that can't be it.  It seems the Pastor just didn't like what Mormonism teaches and so leveled what he thought was an insult.  Funny the early Christians would have been considered a cult by the kinds of people this Pastor shares ideas with.

Religion will always play a role in Presidential politics and in some cases it should.  But attacks on an entire faith tradition to smear a candidate is not only wrong it is completely without basis.  In fact Gov. Perry has shown his Christian faith has influenced his actions in office to perhaps even violate the Constitution of both Texas and the United States, while Gov. Romney and Gov. Huntsman, both Mormons, seemed to have avoided their faith having such a big role in their actions.  Both Presidents Kennedy and Obama have had to justify the role of their religion in their governance.  President Carter was attacked for his devotion to his Christian faith as was President George W. Bush.  Oh so was President Thomas Jefferson.  But in the end what we find is that our faith is a personal matter that will influence everything we do but also does not have to totally control it.  If I became President I would build a sukkah in the Rose garden, but I would never make anyone take up the lulav.  Nor would it distract from the work of the day.   In fact it would remind of the fragility of life in general and might make me a more compassionate and thoughtful President.  And isn't that what religion should do?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Herman Cain is he Palin 2?

I have been entertained recently by the growing interest in Herman Cain's candidacy for President of the the United States.  Cain, a conservative businessman from Georgia and a former radio screamer is Black.  In fact he calls himself a real black man, as opposed to Barack Obama.  If any of you knows what that means let me know.  But what is comical is watching so many on the right who used code words at times and overt statements at others falling all over him because he is conservative and black and calling people who don't like him racists.  Their reasoning is that when Obama was a candidate some on the right used racist tactics both overt and covert to attack the now President.  They were called on it.  The question of his birth, his understanding of "normal Americans" to quote Sarah Palin, and even those who called him "an articulate black man" like some of my friends on the left.  But no one I know is posting pictures of Cain as a witch doctor, questioning his understanding or feelings toward "white people or white culture" as Glenn Beck did, nor are members of the DNC sending out pictures of the White House lawn full of watermelons as was done when President Obama was President-elect.  And don't get me started on the attacks on Michelle.  But these same people who explained these things away or even encouraged them are now putting their arm around Cain.  As if to say once again, "See I am not racist, I have a black friend".  We have seen this before.  Only the last time it was about women.  When Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, within the McCain camp several people wanted to make sure his VP running mate would be a woman.  A woman with cred with the right wing, a woman who could talk to the evangelicals and fiscal conservatives who were leery of McCain and also one that could be used as a prop.  A prop to say any criticism of her was sexist.  You see right wing operatives were already sowing the seeds of this calling Obama's people sexist for attacks on the Clinton campaign.  They actually believed a woman on the ticket would draw in women voters for a McCain/Any Female Ticket.  I remember hearing Palin's name and thinking early on she would be the one.  Someone who hadn't come into her own yet, from a state off the radar and someone who had a reputation for being loud and challenging authority.  I think I was the only person in my circle of friends who wasn't surprised by her pick but it was simply cynical.  There were those who truly thought that women would vote for McCain/Palin because Palin had two X chromosomes.  They didn't, you know why?  Women have brains.  Palin represented a great deal of the opposition to the majority of women's issues they find important.  Beyond that the Hillary supporters were mostly moderate left to far left women.  Some strong one or two issue voters.  Palin was a traitor to them.  They didn't buy it.  But a by-product of this strange tactic is that it propelled other women to step forward and take leadership roles in the GOP.  Nickie Haley, who I disagree with a great deal but will some day be a strong leader in the party and Michelle Bachmann, who I truly wonder at times if she is over-medicated.  And many more.  Not all for the good of the party regardless of issues. Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle made the GOP look like complete idiots in the last election cycle losing a chance to take and important Democratic Senate Seat and defeat the Senate Majority Leader.  Both failed because the GOP didn't get it.  Women actually do think about who they vote for and it is not sexist to vote against a woman you don't agree with.  

So now we have Cain.  Now Cain has bounced up and down the polls and has tied his all-time high since the start of the campaign.  He is the new flavor of the month for the GOP who I am still convinced hate all the people who are trying to lead their party.  But what we have found is that we are now seeing blog posts questioning African Americans commitment to Black culture if they don't vote for Cain.  That is insane but it out there.  Do they think this will work?  Do they really believe they can propel Cain to the nomination and try to guilt Black people to vote for a man that has said that the President of the United States may not be black enough?  Who questioned his birth?  Who has argued that it may be Constitutional to block mosques from being built in the US?  That to me shows a real loss of touch to reality.  But there it is.  We will see.  My prediction is that Cain will say something or do something that will make him fall out of favor.  He may have this morning on the Sunday shows, I have watched them all yet as I write this.  What I do know is that the people who sent the watermelon notices and carried signs of Obama as a witch doctor are not likely to champion Cain for long.  This is not like making racist jokes in the board room when the one black director steps out to bathroom.  We will see the truth come out.  I mean when he ran for Senate a few years ago they called him a liberal.  Still can't find that audio of Neil Boortz, does anyone have it, surprisingly it is not on his website.

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