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On Religion

On Religion
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Spiritual but not Religious is the Cis-Gender identity of the millennial seeker.  It’s a way of saying “I like yoga class, I honor my body with organic kale chips lightly grazed by a free range buffalo on the wide open plains of a lesbian run eco-village in Southern Utah, and my parents divorced when I was 11, so they left religion for me to figure out so I am vegan except for Carrot Cake on special occasions.”  

It’s complicated.  But not really.

If there was a way to crawl into the minds of those who lived 100, 200, 500, 2000 years ago, would you?  If there was a time machine of the mind where you could, with immediacy, understand the way of the world before there were sound bites, tweet updates, insta-rags and pinterest-ing distractions, would you go for the ride?  

To begin with, I find most things really onerous these days.  When given the chance to do much, I opt to do less.  Less tweeting, less insta-gratifying, less social media binging.  It’s enough to get my own life straight, let alone judge another’s.

And yet, it’s like like proverbial car-wreck that we can’t turn away from.  And we are the test-dummies strapped in for a head-on as we push full force into the accelerator.  It’s like we can’t live without these grandiose displays of human carnage through lurid tales of sexual assault, obituaries of shooting victims, photos of fires ranging through homes, and the tweets, pushes and messages that bombard us with them.

So, step on board and see that we are no different today than we were 100, 200, 500 or 2000 years ago. And maybe that’s why we are repeating these indiscretions with such alacritious force and disfunction. Maybe it is the very denial of our right to know those who came before us that creates in us the curse of repetition.  

In my own short life, I’ve lied, I laid, I’ve loved and lost and laughed at things that I shouldn’t have.  I’ve seen disfunction from my own family to those I dwell next door to, and as I open this book, this scroll, this daph, I know that it is all just a part of this human experience.

The matriarchs and patriarchs hadn’t figured any of this stuff out any more than we did.  They gossiped with cunning and shtupped wantonly from one partner to another. The only differences between them and us is that their lives were reframed in context of a higher ideal, and their promiscuity was in service of something larger than themselves.  

We’re in the thick of Genesis this week, and we’re also in the thick of family relationships.  If the Torah is a “Book of Laws” why didn’t it begin with “This is the first law?”  Rashi, the famed 11th c. commentator asks.  “To Learn Derekh Eretz” is his ostensible answer.  And what is Derekh Eretz?  Literally, it means “the way of the earth.”  But, metaphorically, it is the way of the earth – our passions, love, and desire to elevate our lives into meaningful and beneficial experiences.  Abraham? Iconoclast and Rebel who renewed Monotheism in the ancient world.  Rebecca?  Cunning and Measured which she converted into Genrousity.  Leah? Perhaps a great lover who flourished in Motherhood.  Moses? A reluctant player in the God narrative with a speech impediment who rose to the call of Leadership.  

So, what will it be for us as we face our families this Thanksgiving?  Will we succumb to the same pitfalls of conflict, or will we elevate the conversation to reflect our greatest selves?  If we could reframe our fatal flaws in service of a larger ideal, what meaning would it bring to our lives?  

This is the fabric from which the tales of religion were woven.

Spiritual but not religious?  I have no idea what you mean.

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