Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thinking About What It Means To Be A Person of Faith

As many of you know, I have had the privilege for the past one and a half years to serve as co-President of our area’s Multi-Faith Council, along with a treasured colleague of mine, Ruth Sandberg. We meet monthly, program for our population of clergy and lay leaders and for the larger community, and are now creating a variety of partnerships in our region to insure safety and inclusion for all at a time when so many feel threatened and that hard won battles for inclusion and acceptance in past chapters of our history may be challenged or set back, G-d forbid.

What is so heart lifting to me is how members of this group who are leading and participating in various faith communities in our area are thoughtful, intentional and wonderful role models of the best that religion can be and bring into our lives at a point in time where we hear the words “extremism,” “radicalism,” and the like associated with the religious way of thinking so many of us hold so dear – with dignity, humility and gratitude.

As we enter an important time of celebrations for Christians and Jews everywhere as well as other groups (interestingly enough Christmas and Hanukkah come exactly at the same time this year due to the loony machinations of the luni-solar calendar when interfaced with the Gregorian calendar with which we are all familiar), it is my hope that we think carefully about what makes us “people and communities of faith” who yield to what is greater than us individually and even collectively in terms of looking for direction on how to speak with each other and create bridges of understanding and sharing with those who are believers though belief systems vary widely. I love that we do this in our monthly meetings and would hope that so many more of us can do this as a general element in our multi-dimensional lives of faith and belief.

Here is a thought from a seminar I taught recently. We know that each of these celebrations is so riddled with materialistic elements that too often, the foundational meanings of their annual observance can be lost. What if we think carefully and intentionally about the values that are so much a part of who and what we are and teach and talk with each other about their meaning? I just imagine sitting around a fire, the Hanukkah lights or a Christmas scene and sharing what makes us as people of faith, hopefully leading us to live better and care more about all human beings, rejoicing in our triumphs and sharing our challenges while trying to fashion meaningful and compassionate solutions. Material gifts may run their course, but stories we tell and legacies we pass on will withstand the vicissitudes of so many generational changes.

We speak of Hanukkah as “Chag HaGevurot,” the observance of inner strengths that insure our survival and continuity. For those who observe Kwanza, we know that each candle stands for a value. What if we all do that – take each candle or each day and attach stories of values and wonderful exemplars of those values to them and share these with our families and friends? In the session I taught I did just that and here are the associations I shared based on research about Hanukkah and the stories of heroism and defiance that are attached to it: Beginning with the first candle and moving through the entire eight days the values I suggested are (1) Light; (2) Wisdom; (3) Rebellion; (4) Dedication; (5) Devotion of individual and communal spirit; (6) Rejecting Injustice (7) Communal Strength; and (8) Unity. These values are meant to be cumulative and I shared stories of “Gevurot Yisrael” – those inner strengths that are so important with all present. There is nothing sacrosanct about these choices but I invite all to do this exercise in a way that is meaningful for your own families and lives.

For Kwanza, which begins December 26, in order the values associated with this celebration are (1) Unity; (2) Self-determination; (3) Collective Work and Responsibility; (4) Cooperative Economics; (5) Purpose; (6) Creativity; and (7) Faith.

Integrity, honesty, humility, upholding of personal convictions, civic responsibility, love of God, love for others, and sharing what one has are some of the values that I have always associated with this season for my Christian friends and individuals of faith. Focus on home, family, doing for others, and appreciation of what we have are lessons that are found in the music and literature associated with this observance.

So it is for all of us. I have found this to be true for Christians, Muslims and Jews in our multi-faith dialogues and know it to be true for so many other people of faith I have been privileged to meet and interact with in the various paths my life journey takes me. Religious observance and adherence reminds us of humility, the need to care for others, to stand up for what we believe to be right assuming that we respect that right for others and do no harm in our own advocacy. We are all created by G-d and as such, have a responsibility to each other to cherish and value all that is part of our lives. THIS is the most important gift we can give our friends, family, children and all those who are dear to us. So for this holiday season, give everyone a story and a value as your most thoughtful and intentional present for those you love and hold dear. Chag Sameach and Happy Holidays to all!