Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Tuesday, June 9, 2017 / 15 Sivan 5777
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NOTE: AFTER TODAY, THE OASIS SONGS WILL BE ON A TWO WEEK HIATUS. RAV D IS TAKING SOME VACATION TIME, THOUGH HE’LL BE BACK FOR THOSE SHABBATS.
Summary: Rabbi Kosak talks about this weekend’s pulpit swap with Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, our upcoming Pride Shabbat, what inclusion means and why it is important to him. Finally, he shares a disturbing story and asks us all to try better.
Inclusion, Pride and Shame
I am eagerly looking forward to this Shabbat for many reasons personal and communal. Here are two. First, I enjoy b’nei mitzvah weekends. Yes, there’s some change in service flow, and yes, there are more moving parts to coordinate. Still, to be a part of our community is to revel in the accomplishments of our youth as they step up to the Torah and lead us in prayer. Life flows through us, and our faith does as well. Little makes that abstraction so real as when we see the next generation demonstrate some fluency with our ancient traditions. What a remarkable sign of covenantal hope! What a sign of eternity!
We’ll be celebrating with Micah Antick Oslund and his family. Let me also issue a spoiler alert. Micah will be speaking about the themes of inclusion he identified in this week’s parshah of Beha’alotekha.
Like Micah, inclusion has been on my mind of late. What does inclusion mean? What does it mean to meet and understand the other? It can’t mean that anything goes, or that a half-baked idea gets an equal say with a deep and fully formed thought. It can’t mean that all values are equivalent, or all enterprises equally worthy. That is chaos, not inclusion. I hope to explore this theme in greater depth at a future date, but until then, we have the following opportunities to connect:
This Friday night, June 9th, we are welcoming my brother, Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee. He is a powerful orator and will be examining two verses from the sixth chapter of the book of Joshua that address his theme of “Let’s Knock Down Walls Together.” You won’t want to miss this. Service begins at 6:15.
I owe my relationship with Pastor Hennessee to our congregant, Karen Sharp. Last summer, she came to my office and said, “You know, I’ve been listening to you talk about dialogue, and I really want to be a good neighbor. I think we should make connections with a black or hispanic church.” If you know Karen at all, you know how sweet she can be and what a good heart she possesses.
Coming from New York and living in big city California and Cleveland, the relative lack of diversity in Portland has been an adjustment for my family and I’d been thinking along similar lines. I asked Karen if she’d be willing to research churches and find a sincere place with a pastor dedicated to mutual understanding. She did well. This won’t be Pastor Hennessee’s first time with us. Those of you who stayed late on Shavuot heard him speak about the difference between optimism and hope. It will be a treat and I hope you will attend.
If you can’t make in on Friday, on Sunday I’ll be preaching at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church at 10:45 am. My theme will be “Carrying the Weight Together.” Hopefully some of our Neveh Shalom family will join and represent our community.
Next week on June 16th, we are hosting our second annual Pride Shabbat dinner. Then on the 18th, at 11am, CNS is marching in the Pride Parade. We’ll be number 52 in the line up, and much of the Jewish community will be walking together as well.
We’ve also started a CNS Keshet Tribute fund to support activities that highlight our support for our LGBTQ friends and allies, and provide for ongoing programming. We all ought to take tremendous pride in Neveh Shalom’s commitment to being a welcoming community.
Confession: there’s a part of me that longs for the day when we won’t need Pride Shabbats or Teen Shabbats. When women won’t need to march for equality, and African Americans won’t have to protest unequal treatment at the hands of the law, and skin pigmentation will strike our eyes as one more beautiful hue and nothing more. Isaiah had a similar wish when he spoke of the lion lying down next to the sheep. He imagined a world in which the normal power dynamics changed sufficiently so that the very nature of a lion would be rewritten.
Yes, Isaiah was speaking of a fully redeemed world.
But we are not there yet. And in our unredeemed world, we still have need of Pride Shabbats, because we as a society still need to rewrite our nature. And we need a Pride Parade because too many young gay people kill themselves out of shame for who they are.
We ought to feel shame for what we do wrong, but never shame for who we are. The first sort of shame serves as a corrective so that we can do better the next time. The second is an existential expression of unworthiness. As long as society confuses the two, we will need pride shabbats to dispel any lingering sense that some of us are not equally God’s children.
We did wrong. A woman came in to my office in tears. She’s a good person, someone with whom I’ve had occasional but long conversations. She’s also a Trump supporter. Does she like much of his behavior? No. But there’s a fair bit of his policy prescriptions that she views as beneficial to the country, and she does her research. Yet on numerous occasions, she has felt mocked by congregants. She has listened as some of our own have painted her with a broad brush as a fascist or evil. Some comments have been directly aimed at her, and at other times she has listened as important community members have labeled anyone who supports President Trump as ignorant and evil. It’s gotten to the point that she is questioning whether she can remain part of Neveh Shalom or whether she can entrust her grandchildren here.
It’s so easy to allow our passions to overcome our good judgement or our concern for real human beings. It’s too common when we feel certain in the correctness of our beliefs that we denigrate those who believe differently. We ought to stand up for our beliefs and commitments, but do so without resorting to ad hominem attacks.
I believe in this community and its potential. I know we can all do better.
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