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August 03, 2008

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Hope

In my struggle is how I continue to seek God.
Now I'm a blubbering mess.
Hugs to you across the miles today.

Davy

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches the "higher power" could be a doorknob, a spirit, a fruit salad, the universe, the Dallas Cowboys (when they are winning), a new age version of Jesus, or anything else. Like the Masons, it doesn't matter what god you believe in-only that you believe in something.

It seems that someone as allegedly devout and well versed in the Bible as Dr. Bob would stay far away from spiritualism and the Masonic organization.

He most emphatically did not. Equally perplexing is Dr. Bob's enthusiasm for Emmet Fox's sweet-sounding but heretical book, 'The Sermon on the Mount.'[7]

This is no minor point, since this book denies that Jesus Christ is Savior. The book was used as a teaching tool by Alcoholics Anonymous before the Big Book was written.

In 'The Sermon on the Mount,' author Emmet Fox states there is no such thing as original sin; that the account of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden is not intended as literal history; that Jesus never walked on the water.

He writes, "The 'Plan of Salvation' which figured so prominently in the evangelical sermons of a past generation is as completely unknown to the Bible as it is to the Koran."[8]

G. RabAnon

MSP,

I have been reading your back issues since I was directed to your blog by a Twitter recovery friend about a month ago. I always save a number of unread entries in my iPod to read on the subway. I always find wisdom and strength in your writing.

The questions of evil and suffering are, for obvious reasons, ones which the Jewish people have struggled with for millennia. The psychological stages of and reactions to trauma can be observed in the history and literature of our people... self-blame, self-pity, self-righteousness, remorse, depression, anger, hopelessness, aggression, paranoia...

and a lot of us, a LOT of us, are terrified of talking about God. I am a rabbinical student in a liberal Jewish institution. I am unusual among my cohort in that I have been trying to talk about God almost my whole life. When I tried to bring up theology with my classmates this past year, I found that nearly everyone was extremely reluctant to engage in discourse. Some admitted to not believing in God at all.

If you engage with the idea of God, then you have to address the question of human suffering... of Jewish suffering. For intelligent, modern-minded, liberal Jews, that is a terrifying prospect. For aspiring clergy, it is perhaps even more difficult. We will one day be out there in the world, in a pulpit, or in a classroom, or in a hospital, and we will face people looking to us for answers, for the "inside scoop" as it were. It is so much easier, I suppose, to sidestep the issue of God, and to focus instead on psychology, on the workings of Jewish law, on the sociological elements of religion and its healing powers, and to carefully avoid questions of The Divine.

Since I found Program, I have finally found an arena where I am truly encouraged to find a working concept of Higher Power to turn to through my own suffering which, though nothing to compare to Mary's experience, is I would venture to say, deeper than average.

I have recently spoken to two other friends, both classmates from a Yeshiva I attended in Israel, one of them currently also a Rabbinical student in another school, about how one can understand a loving God. Both of these friends are also people who have experienced, and continue to experience not insignificant suffering in their lives. What I have come up with at this point, after years (albeit not that many put in perspective... I'm still rather young) of struggling with anger and questions for a God Who never seemed to respond, defining and redefining my idea of the divine to fit the reality I knew, from the impersonal to the intimate, from the benevolent to the wrathful to the indifferent... after going through all of that and more and back again, this is my understanding:

The world cannot be perfect. It cannot be free of suffering. If it were, nothing would move, and we could not exist as the beautiful complicated storytelling beings that we are, that God loves. God doesn't desire our suffering, God desires our lives, our presence, our existence. That is why God created us... out of Love of What We Are... imperfect, and driven by our imperfection.

The role of God in our lives is not to eliminate the source of our suffering. That simply wouldn't work. Why? Because then The World wouldn't be The World. What God can and does do for us, is to hold us through our suffering, to comfort us like a parent hugging the child who has just received a vaccine and cannot understand why she was just stuck with a needle. God can inspire us to bravery in the face of suffering. God can inspire us to strive never to cause suffering, our own or anyone else's.

These words may sound trite in the face of a camp survivor's experience. Put me in a concentration camp and see if I hold on to my faith and inspiration, you might be saying. But, I have spoken to others of my experience... of growing up with an angry and abusive father and an alcoholic mother, of the things I endured as a child and that still haunt me today, of deep lifelong depression, bulimia, an inability to form healthy relationships... and they have marveled at my survival, even in my worst states of depression.

And now, having found my loving and benevolent Higher Power, having a daily reprieve from my addictive illness, I find that I have found reprieve and relief from the tortures of depression and self-loathing that have plagued me literally for as long as I can remember... that is since around the age of four.

It is my sincere wish that I may be able to bring this idea to my Rabbinate, and to my people, to my classmates and colleagues, congregants, co-religionists, and not to have it viewed as uncritical, Pollyanna-ish, unintelligent, or worst of all, un-Jewish.

For a good portion of my life, the meat of my relationship with God was an angry confused struggle. And at the time, that was what it needed to be. But it is not a simpleton's act to realize which struggles are valuable, and which are just habit.

And incidentally, Mary's feelings about the laws of kashrut are common, especially among the Reform, but my studies suggest that they are too arbitrary to have just been about health concerns... your intuition about discipline was right on the mark for me :)

As always, thank you for your writing.

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