This post has nothing to do with #blogexodus. And is not newly written. But I wanted to share. Tonight at Confirmation Academy the 8th and 9th graders had chugim–one time electives in which they get to choose the lesson that they want to go to for that night. One of the teachers offered a session called: Star Wars and Talmud. I sat in on most of it. It was as awesome as it sounds like it may have been (at least for a geek like me).
It also got me thinking of a sermon I wrote many moons ago when I was still in school entitled “The Force and the Red Sox.” It’s about my faith and my God concept. I originally wrote it for hermeneutics (that’s the fancy word for sermon writing) and gave it at my student pulpit in Joplin, MO. I revised it a few times and gave it several times after in a few different settings. I haven’t rewritten it post-2004…but someday I probably will.
It’s an old sermon, but I still like it. I’m still a bit amazed with myself that I managed to talk about baseball, science fiction, the holocaust, and theology all in one sermon…and for that to work. And while my writing and my sermonizing since then has certainly developed over time, this remains one of my favorite sermons that I’ve given. Apologies in advance to my cousin for again sharing this story (for the record, I did not spoil the new trilogy for him, but I did tell this story in my charge at his wedding). So here you go, dear readers:
I remember that it was some time in mid-childhood. It was a sunny, Sunday afternoon. My parents and I were sitting in the kitchen, having some lunch. In the middle of our meal, my aunt, uncle, and cousins unexpectedly arrived in our driveway. My cousins ran into our house excitedly. They had just come from a matinee of the new Star Wars movie—and, since they weren’t so far from our house, they had decided to stop by. “So, how was the movie?” my parents and I asked. We were quite excited to see this new film, but hadn’t yet had the chance. “Oh, Auntie, Unkie—it was so cool. The special effects were amazing. The new aliens are so weird. And you’ll never believe it when you find out that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.” My mother’s jaw, my father’s jaw, and my jaw simultaneously dropped to the floor. The greatest secret ever of moviedom had been revealed to us too early.
We haven’t really forgiven my cousin yet. In fact, next month—when the new Star Wars prequel is released—I plan to see it on opening day. And, after I’ve read that no animals were harmed in the making of the film, I plan on whipping out my cell phone, dialing my cousin, and revealing to him every interesting plot twist that has been revealed in the new film.
As a child of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, much of pop culture has had a significant effect on my life. The Star Wars trilogy in particular, shaped my existence. The first film came out when I was in kindergarten, the last one when I was in sixth grade, and the other one somewhere in the middle. The stories were real to me—to this day I’m somewhat obsessed.
I own two different copies of the films on tape (the digitally remastered version, which, soon after, I replaced with the version with the new scenes). The new versions of the films, incidentally, were released while I was in Israel for the year. As soon as the first one came out, we went en masse to go see it at one of Jerusalem’s movie theaters. Star Wars—with Dolby!!! We were as excited as we had been as small children, the first time around. But, let me give you a small hint about seeing movies like that in Israel. American movies have Hebrew subtitles, which is usually no problem. But, when aliens speak in alien language—
the subtitles are still in Hebrew. While my Hebrew was good at the time, it wasn’t so good that I could read and understand that quickly, and somehow our teacher had never taught us the word for starship. So, I missed parts of the dialogue. But it was an amazing experience anyway. And, each time I see these films—especially as an adult—I realize that the philosophy set forth the films really had a large impact on the development of my own life philosophy. In fact, I stand here today and tell you—my God concept was shaped by Star Wars. Much of my thoughts about God are similar to what the movies present as The Force.
The Force is defined in the first film as, “an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us, it penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” It’s what gives a jedi his power. There’s a scene in the film during which Han Solo, played by a much younger Harrison Ford, is expressing his doubt of the existence of the Force. Han says, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” To which the young hero Luke Skywalker responds, “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?” Han answers, “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other—I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff. But I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.” But, Luke Skywalker, and even eventually Han Solo, learn to believe in the power of the Force.
And that’s how I feel about God. I haven’t been all around the galaxy—I haven’t been all around the world. But I’ve been to a lot of places, and I’ve read a lot and seen a lot about a lot of other places. And, no—I have never seen God, or any direct evidence of God in any of these places. But, I believe, nonetheless. And I believe that God holds the universe together, and is within and outside of all things. And that belief gives me much of my power. To have faith, is to believe in the face of adversity—to believe, despite the fact that it makes no sense, despite the fact that people don’t always agree, and despite the fact that may be easier not to. Faith in God is difficult to have, especially in the modern world, in which we have been so affected by rationality and science. It’s hard to believe in something that is so irrational. And it’s hard for us sometimes to conceive of a God who would allow for the imperfections and sometimes horrors that we witness in the modern world and recent history.
This past Tuesday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day on which we commemorate the greatest horror of our history—the deaths of six million Jews and six million others who were slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis—the terror that even those who survived had to live through. So often, we have heard the question, perhaps even have asked it ourselves—where was God? And, I think that there is really no answer to that question. It’s easy to lose faith when we know that this happened. But, when we realize that so many who themselves witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps retained their faith in God, how can we who have only heard of those horrors lose our own faith? The recent film, Life Is Beautiful demonstrated the message that even in the face of such an unspeakable situation, love can persist, and can allow for a glimmer of hope. In the film, the father is able to help his son to survive the concentration camp, by creating an elaborate fantasy. He does this so that his son can know hope—I think he also does this so that he can maintain his own hope. For without hope—without faith—what purpose does life have? What reason is there to hold on to life at all? But this film is just a film—a piece of fantasy, for which the holocaust is a backdrop, not the very real situation of recent history. The message, though, persists in reality, as well.
Shortly before her death, Anne Frank wrote these words in her now famous diary:
“Is it true then that grownups have a more difficult time here than we do? No. I know it isn’t. Older people have formed their opinions about everything, and don’t waver before they act. It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God.
Anyone who claims that the older ones have a more difficult time here certainly doesn’t realize to what extent our problems weigh down on us, problems for which we are probably much too young, but which thrust themselves upon us continually, until, after a long time, we think we’ve found a solution, but the solution doesn’t seem able to resist the facts which reduce it to nothing again. That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”
The young girl Anne, was able to maintain her childhood sense of wonder and idealism in the face of an unspeakable world situation. Her sense of God indeed helped her to survive in the attic for so long. If only it were true that adults have it easier.
Indeed, it often seems that the more we know, the older we get, the more difficult it is to believe. The older we are, the more things we observe that make us really question the existence of a Higher Being. And the more we truly think about God, the more we realize that we are not sure what to believe. It sometimes seems easy to claim that we do not believe in God. The question, then becomes for many of us, not what do I believe? but instead what is it that I don’t believe. A teacher of mine, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, in speaking to people who say that they do not believe in God, responds by saying, “Describe the God then Whom you don’t believe in.” Many of us look at Judaism, and imagine that there is a certain God idea in which Judaism tells us we must believe. And if that perceived view of God does not fit our beliefs, we think that we then must not believe. Indeed, Judaism does not offer us such a clear cut expression. My teacher, Dr. Eugene Borowitz writes,
“What I thought was some secret difficulty of mine with God not only occurred to some Jews centuries ago but has long been an accepted part of Jewish religious life. We modern Jews, living in a skeptical age, are likely to include a greater proportion of doubt in our faith than did Jews of earlier times. Many people feel their disbelief so keenly they cannot give much credence to their occasional sense that there is a God. No one has yet clarified just how many or how serious our questions must become for us to lose faith. I have known people whose trust in God was shattered by what seemed to me and to others only a trivial matter; at the same time, I have seen people tested far beyond what I think I could bear and yet they emerged from their trial more deeply believing people. In Judaism faith in God is that dynamic; it is not an all-or-nothing, static state of being.” Even in the earliest stories of our religion, there is no one God concept that works for everyone. There has always been doubt, there has always been wonder, and there have always been questions. And even our earliest ancestors conceived of God in individual ways
The Avot prayer begins, “Praised are You, Eternal our God, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob…” The rabbis questioned why the authors of the text didn’t write, more simply, “God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob”? These Sages took this to mean that indeed, our three patriarchs, although they believed in one God, each experienced that God in a different manner—they each had their own, individual God concept. We, too, can each have our own idea of what God means—about what God is. As Jews, we are not told what we must believe. We are taught, though, that we should not believe in nothing. We should have faith.
Many of you know that I am a die hard Red Sox fan. And, as baseball season once again begins, I am hopeful that they will do well this year. History has taught me, though, that it’s not likely. In my lifetime, its rare that they have had a good season. As a fan, though, I have faith each year that they will win the World Series. Growing up in the New York area, being a Red Sox fan has never been easy. I grew up surrounded by fans of the Yankees—the mortal enemies of the Red Sox, and the Mets—the team that destroyed the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. I grew up having to defend my team, having to keep the faith, despite the fact that nearly everyone around me tried to convince me that my beliefs were wrong. I kept the faith, though. To this day, my Yankee fan friends and I still argue about which team is really better. I’m teased incessantly about my continued faith in the Red Sox. But I still believe.
I still believe in the Red Sox. I still believe in The Force. And, yes, even more than those, I still believe in God. Believing is not always easy. That’s the purpose of faith—to believe, despite the difficulty.
I pray tonight that you, too, are able to have some faith—that you, too, are able to believe in something.