Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sharing Lessons Learned (and Taught) by One of My Teachers ...

One of my teachers in rabbinical school was Rabbi Paul Kipnes (he writes a great blog which can be found here: .  He recently posted the following on his blog ... which I liked so much, I decided to share here.  : )
Rabbi Kipnes shares "18 Lessons from 18 Years as a Rabbi" ... here it is:

As I celebrate my 18th year since I was ordained Rabbi, I take stock of lessons learned along the way:

1.  Jewish spirituality without social justice can become narcissism.
2.  Social justice without Jewish spirituality might feel good but might not compel future activism.
3.  The role of the rabbi is to passionately comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
4.  The role of the rabbi is to quietly point in a direction and then get out of the way.
5.  A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid to experiment.
6.  A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid of failure, because failure is inevitable when experimenting and innovating.
7.  People who really feel warmly welcomed when they walk through the doors of the synagogue will be more likely to come back to celebrate and learn.
8.  People who answer the telephones are more important than the person standing up on the bimah; a community feels warm and welcoming when the receptionist and bookkeeper exude that warmth.
9.  Dysfunction comes easily; warm, respectful partnerships between clergy and lay leaders require patience, vulnerability, and openness.
10.  Judaism has many things to say about every thing; no issue it was or is too controversial, personal, or political to escape the moral lens of Torah and Jewish tradition.
11.  How a rabbi teaches is as important as what a rabbi teaches. Difficult lessons and controversial teachings are more easily heard when alternative perspectives are respected.
12.  God exists. God loves. God cares.
13.  The lights can be on, but if we close our eyes, we think it is dark.
14.  Jewish music has the power to touch hearts and souls more deeply than any sermon.
15.  Torah teachings and Jewish music, when combined artfully, have the potential to transform lives and touch eternity.
16.  Fear not social media or technology; like the printing press, telephone, and two stone tablets from the mountaintop, they are merely tools for spreading Torah teachings.
17.  Israel is at once ancient and modern, historic and mythic, spiritual and bricks-and-mortar. Walking its streets and alleys transforms the soul.
18.  A community that takes care of its rabbi and his family ensures that the rabbi has deep sources of strength and love to care for the community.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I've Been Gone, But Now I'm Back ... : )

It's been a while since I posted, mostly because the last time I thought about posting, I really wondered whether it was a good idea.  You see, it was the night I gave a sermon on Westboro Baptist Church and I really wanted to put it up on the web, but was afraid.  I thought about the possibility of these people searching the web for their name and coming up with my little sermon about balancing the right to exercise free speech with the right to practice one's religion at a funeral ... and was afraid.

This past weekend, twenty people were shot in Tucson, Arizona, resulting in six deaths ... and Westboro has decided to picket these funerals as well.  But this time, I'm not afraid.

Here is the original sermon I gave on December 12, 2010 ... about Westboro's plans to picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral ... .

Sermon Title: "Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should …"

Shabbat shalom.

Turning on the television these days can be a dangerous thing. You never know what is going to be on. It could be a game show, it could be a nice scripted show like a comedy, never seems to be a western anymore, could be reality TV, or, worst of all for me lately, it could be the news.

The news seems to get more and more depressing. Sometimes, it is overwhelming to hear the bad things in the news, like natural disasters. Mostly, I feel helpless and then realize that I can make it a little better for those who suffer by making a donation to a responsible social service agency to help people begin to rebuild their lives.

But what probably upsets me more is the things we humans choose to do to each other … and, right now, I’m not actually talking about the most ugly things that people choose to physically do to each other like raping or murdering someone … this stuff makes me a little bit crazy, but someone who chooses to do these acts might just be a little bit crazy themselves.

No, I’m talking about the things that we really might have a chance to control in our lives that hurt others … our speech. Two months ago, I stood on this bimah and gave a sermon about bullying, about the way some children use words to hurt … really, about the way we ALLOW some people to use words that hurt others.

Tonight, though, I want to discuss a different kind of bullying, one that hides behind the guise of protected speech.

I read this morning that members of Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards tomorrow. Now I could just shrug this off and say, “these people are crazy,” but that won’t stop the harm that they will cause the Edwards family as they hold signs up saying terrible things about how her beliefs caused her to die.

Growing up in the south, I remember hearing, “the difference between a child and an adult is that the adult is supposed to understand that they don’t have to share every thought in their head.” Now, granted, I do understand that there are certain people who suffer from neurological deficits or damage to their frontal lobe in their brain, which physically causes them to not be able to evaluate a social situation and distinguish between what is appropriate to share with others, and what’s not. But you know what I’m talking about … these aren’t the people I’m talking about.

Westboro Baptist is a tiny little church in Kansas … with most of the followers are apparently members of the lead pastor’s extended family. The church’s anti-Jewish and anti-gay rhetoric has played itself out in some unusual places.

They have gained national recognition because they picketed at colleges like HUC in New York because the reform movement allows gay people to become rabbis. They picketed Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Manhattan, a synagogue catering to LGBT Jews … what I loved about those protests is that CBST turned the protest into a fundraiser, raising $10K … supporters of HUC gave money in response to the picketing.

But I know this is going to sound sorta’ crazy, but I’m OK with people picketing at HUC … and maybe even CBST, if they don’t disrupt the business of the college and the synagogue.

No, the problem I have is the picketing at the funerals. Westboro Baptist’s members believe that our soldiers die because of our country’s acceptance of gay people. They picket at the funerals of our soldiers when they come home.

And now they are picketing at Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral because of her family’s political connections … but I’m not sure how close someone needs to be to a funeral for a person to have been considered as having exercised their free speech … the United States Supreme Court gets to decide that.

Please know that, as a former lawyer, I stand behind the Bill of Rights. I believe in our legal system, this amazing system that protects free speech, especially for minorities … heck, lots of times I’m the minority who wants to express her opinion … and I surely don’t want someone limiting my ability to say what I want to say.

But my mother taught me a long time ago … and it applies to a whole lot of things … that, just because I can, doesn’t mean I necessarily should.

She said: just because I can, doesn’t always mean I should.

And the US Supreme Court agrees with my mom. It has already said that our right to free speech is actually NOT absolute. We really don’t get to say just ANYTHING we want … for example, you can’t yell fire in a movie theatre, but they say that is for reasons of public safety.

As a member of a democratic society which we teach our children is founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, perhaps there might be a place in the sand to draw a line. A funeral is a holy experience … it is that holy time set aside to say goodbye to our loved ones.

Elizabeth Edwards funeral will take place at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. I’m betting that God will be mentioned sometime during the service … and, yes, there will be picketers outside, picketers who, to me, are nothing more than grown up bullies, aiming their bullying at human beings in the throes of loss and pain.

Since yesterday, individuals have been offering themselves as a human buffer between the Hillsboro Church protesters and the Edwards funeral. I wish I could be there.

Where does one person’s right to exercise their right to free speech impinge on another person’s right to exercise their religion, to say goodbye to their loved one in a meaningful, dignified way?

I don’t have the one absolute right answer (and even if I did, I’m not sure if it would be my place to share it with you) … but I’m hoping we will all become part of the conversation.

Remember what my momma taught me, and it applies to a whole lot of things in life, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Shabbat shalom.