Friday, January 21, 2011

Simple truths

Recently, I was forwarded an article about Dr. Martin Luther King, hatred, gun control, kindness, and so on. It was a heartfelt piece which said a lot of what I've tried to say several times recently: that hatred is a destructive force in our world. That, whatever you think about any given issue, it's rarely, if ever, helpful to talk about it with vitriol and nastiness:

"Joy comes in the morning," lets certainly hope so. We need hope right now, and not a hope which is falsely propped up by platitudes and declarations, but a hope that is anchored in the knowledge that we can't continue to operate with business as usual, we can't continue to speak hatred without impunity; can't continue to think violence will go away without us doing something about it; can't continue to wish things were different but not be willing to make the necessary changes, accept the necessary sacrifices and be willing to admit that certain things just can't be tolerated any longer. "Joy comes in the morning," but not without a night of hard work, a night of serious soul-searching, a night of tears and anguish that leads us to the realization that the joy we seek, the solace we need, the hope we crave will not be handed to us by God on a silver platter. It is up to us, with the support and love of our Creator, to help bring that joy. That is the work of being human, that is destiny of our existence, that is the challenge we all face. And now, more than ever, face it we must.

As I said in a recent post, even if you believe that there is absolutely no connection between the heated rhetoric of our society and the terrible violence in Tucson the other week, I still maintain that that rhetoric is awful for our society. Even if the killer was not the least bit influenced by what he heard in the media, do we benefit, in any way, from vilifying our opponents and, whether meant literally or not, calling for violence against them?

But, this recent article made me think about another issue which has been on my mind quite a bit. As I tried to think about what I might write in response to this article, in this blog, I was having trouble thinking of anything, mainly because it feels like I've said it all before, and it's all kind of trite anyway. I mean, how may times can one person say, “please be nice to each other”? How many different ways can I say, “violence is bad,” before I start to sound like vapid fool? But, even if it's redundant, even if it's trite, even if it's nothing more than an overused cliché, does that make it any less true?

I've recently been reading, “Everything is God” by Jay Michaelson. It's an exploration of “non-dual Judaism,” something which I expect to be writing and thinking about quite a bit in the near future. I can't exactly recommend the book, because despite some brilliant insights in it, it's written pretty obtusely, and I don't think that anyone who doesn't already know something about non-dual Judaism could get much out of it. But, there are some brilliant insights. One, which struck a chord with me, was his admission that it can be unsettling to find that the greatest truths in your life can be reduced to a bumper sticker.

Who wants to study, think, explore, question, and learn for years and years, only to find that the greatest spiritual truths are often the ones that kindergarten kids can tell us? Or that we can find inside of a fortune cookie? It's a bit embarrassing, to say the least.

But, it may be true. There are some great, important truths that you have to be intellectually sophisticated to understand. But, there are at least as many great, important truths that everyone knows. Even if we forget them, we know them. But, for whatever reason, we do forget them, and that's why it's important to talk about them.

One of my favorite teachings from Jewish tradition comes from the introduction to a book called, “Messillat Yesharim.” It is, in essence, a guidebook to moral, spiritual living. In it, the author states that everything in this book is already known to you. There are no new truths, no new revelations to be found within. Simply reminders of things that we all know, but constantly forget. And that, the author says, is quite enough. Because, that's the trick to spiritual living - remembering what we all know to be true.

Hatred is bad. Violence is bad. Trite as hell. Truer than that.

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