Once upon a time, a poor man walked from town to town. He carried a heavy load on his back.
One day a wagon driver stopped his horse and offered him a ride to the next town. The grateful man said “Yes, thank you for your kindness.”
After they had gone a few minutes, the wagon driver turned around. He saw the poor man still carried the load on his back.
“You don’t need to carry that heavy load. You can put it down on the wagon.”
The poor man, “You’ve been so kind to pick me up. I can’t ask you to carry my load as well.
While speaking at a church recently, I received an urgent question: “Is it okay for me to wish my Jewish friends ‘A Happy New Year’ on Rosh Hashanah?
“Absolutely,” I said. The questioner then asked what was appropriate to say on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when many Jews do not eat or drink and spend most of the day in synagogue.
I thought for a minute. My answer was a bit disappointing. About the closest we get to a customary greeting in synagogue is “Have an easy fast.”
As I thought more about it, however, I realized we have a few other possibilities:
When Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy married, I wrote about the religious choices they would have to make.
Those choices come into sharper focus now that they are the parents of a beautiful daughter, Charlotte. Those choices are not clear-cut or absolute.
Having worked with hundreds of interfaith couples, I can say for certain that the only right choice is the one that is right for you.
To claim children will be “psychologically confused” with two religious traditions or “have to choose between mom and dad” if they are exposed to two religions has no evidence to support it.
What we do know, however, is that having no faith or religious practice in the home leaves children bereft of the richness and wisdom of our faith traditions.
This is the text of the sermon I delivered on the morning of the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. At the bottom you can click to hear the audio recording of the sermon as delivered.
The most popular musical in the country when I was in college was Rent. Perhaps you saw it. It was not as edgy as, say, the Book of Mormon, but it had its moments.
One of its most popular songs was called “Another Day.” It is a paean to the idea of carpe diem, seize the day. You know the idea. Today is the only day we have. Make the most of it.
Such advice usually comes along with the encouragement to live without any regrets. One verse in the song says,
There’s only us
There’s only this
Or life is yours to miss
“Forget regret?” Is that really possible? Can we really live—make choices, form relationships, do important work—and have no regrets? To explore this question, let us turn to the biblical story we just read.
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “Head of the Year.”
What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primitive sound. To hear it is the primary purpose of this day.
Even people can’t make it to synagogue try to hear the sound of the shofar. Rabbis have been known to visit hospitals and sound the shofar in patients’ rooms.
In seminary we read a famous book called The Wounded Healer. Written by Father Henri Nouwen, it was based on an idea of psychologist Carl Jung.
The idea is that effective pastors and therapists draw from their own wounds and pain in order to empathize with another. Their own pain gives them a unique window into the feelings of their patient or parishioner.
I was initially dubious of the idea. Every pain or tragedy or illness is unique. We can never enter fully into another’s feelings.
Over time, however, I realized it is not so simple. I realized that behind my initial suspicion was a unhealthy aloofness.
I sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral.
As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three of us sat spell-bound.
A Sad Journey
She described how she moved to Chicago from Belize after her youngest son died.
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question.
Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold.
Since that first experience, I have been I love with this story. I’ve seen the musical four times and the movie at least half a dozen. It’s one of my favorite resources for classes and sermons on Jewish tradition and history.
And I am not alone.
Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end.
This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just promote division or hatred? Is it because of its religious significance that Israel remains a place of tension? Or is faith, at its core, a force of peace?
If we listen to most voices in the media and pop culture, we would answer this question without hesitation. Religion is bad, primitive, and dangerous.
We would agree with late writer Christopher Hitchens, who said “The Bible
Coming home recently on a long flight, I had the chance to watch the classic film Dead Poet’s Society.
One of the late Robin William’s most poignant films, it tells the story of a charismatic teacher who unleashes the passions of students at a New England Prep School.