Yesterday I read this wonderful tribute to a rabbi who died recently. But not just any rabbi--he was the kind of theologian who not only wrote about spirituality but lived it and moved the spiritual conversation forward exponentially. Rabbi Reb Zalman was the rabbi who led Rabbi Rachel Barenblat back to Judaism and inspired her to become a rabbi.
Many parts of this tribute spoke to me, but I love this image of how all religious faiths are equally important: "He taught that every religion is an organ in the body of humanity -- that we need each one to be what it most uniquely is (after all, if the heart tried to do the liver's work, we'd be in trouble) and we also need each one to be in conversation and connection with the others (if the heart stopped speaking to the lungs, that wouldn't be so good either.)"
And I also loved that Zalman understood the importance of preparing the next generation to take his place: "He used to do an actual exercise where everyone would sit at the table, with him in the rebbe's chair at the head, and he would offer a teaching -- and then instruct everyone to rise and shift over one chair, and whoever had moved into the rebbe's chair would have the opportunity to be in that role for a little while. (In retrospect I see in that teaching yet another gentle way of reminding us that his deployment wouldn't be forever.)"
Rachel's post also made me think about how I'd like to be remembered. It's hard for me to imagine that I could move spiritual conversations forward in the way that Zalman did. But then again, do we always know that we're moving the spiritual conversation forward? We move through our days, living our faith the best way we can, trying new ways when the old ways don't work. When enough of us do that, we see changes.
The other day I was thinking of a conversation I had in 1988, when a Lutheran minister had been forced to leave the denomination because he was gay and not willing to be closeted. I had an outraged friend who wasn't Lutheran. In a way, I shared her outrage. But in a different way, I wondered what the minister had expected would happen--after all, the Lutheran doctrines were very clear.
Well, now those doctrines have changed. They've changed because of countless conversations and instances of outrage and people refusing to live in a way that doesn't feel authentic. We don't all agree--not by any stretch of the imagination. Some of us are still arguing about ordination of women.
The gender of God is another area of great change during my short lifetime. In my childhood, God was always male, always removed, always stern. But several generations of theologians, feminist and otherwise, have changed that view.
I know that plenty of people will argue that these developments have injured the faith, perhaps fatally. I disagree. And some people would be willing to fight and fight and fight to win this argument, even if that fighting is what delivers the death blow.
Great spiritual leaders like Reb Zalman know the futility of that approach. He was always looking for ways to build bridges. We should be too.
Here I will let Rachel give the final word, the benediction: The question isn't who's going to "win" -- it's how can we all bring our energy, our spiritual technologies, our hearts and souls, together in order to effectively transform the broken world? 'The only way to get it together,' he used to say, 'is together.'"
feeling the feelings…
4 months ago