Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Goyish Unitarian Take on Yom Kippur

When I posted a version of the following poem last year on Yom Kippur it was one of the least read entries of the season.  Which is understandable.  My poetry posts are as attractive as fish guts rotting in the sun.  And this one didn’t even have the virtue of being short enough to fit on a business card.  To top it all off my Jewish friends and readers, who might theoretically have the greatest interest were busy, well, atoning, on the High Holy Day.  The least likely day out of the entire year to find them reading blogs or skimming Facebook for links.

This entry was inspired not only by my genuine admiration for the tradition, but by an ongoing controversy in my own Unitarian Universalist faith.  For many years UUs have gone blithely on incorporating snatches of prayers, ritual, and tradition from other religions into our own worship.  We do it mostly in good faith claiming “The living tradition which we share draws from many sources…”

But lately we have taken grief from Native Americans for adopting willy-nilly rituals and prayers which we don’t fully understand and take out of context, many of which, frankly, turned out to be New Age touchy-feely faux traditions.  Or from the fact that maybe one of the last places where Kwanza is widely celebrated is in almost all-white UU Sunday Schools.

Being UU’s, many of us were stung that our well meaning gestures were not gratefully accepted as a sort of homage.  But others busily set themselves up to the task of scouring the scourge of cultural appropriation from our midst, preferably with a judicious dollop of self-flagellation with knotted whips—oops! Stole that one from 4th Century monks…No, what they did was form committees and commissions to issue long, high minded reports to be translated into deep retreats,  seminary training amended for proper sensitivity, and scolding’s by monitors who detect insufficient rigor in rooting out the offense at Assemblies and meetings.

In that spirit I offer you my poem.  Angry denunciations and heresy trial to follow…

Cultural Appropriation

See, the Jews have this thing.

Yahweh, or whatever they call their Sky God,
            keeps a list like Santa Claus.

You know, who’s been naughty and nice.

But before He puts it in your Permanent Record
            and doles out the lumps of coal
            He gives you one more chance
            to set things straight.

So to get ready for this one day each—
            they call it Yom Kippur
            but it’s hard to pin down because
            it wanders around the fall calendar
            like an orphan pup looking for its ma—
the Jews run around saying they are sorry 
            to everyone they screwed over last year
            and even to those whose toes
they stepped on by accident.

The trick is, they gotta really mean it.
None of this “I’m sorry if my words offended” crap,
            that won’t cut no ice with the Great Jehovah.
            And they gotta, you know, make amends,
            do something, anything, to make things right
            even if it’s kind of a pain in the ass.

Then the Jews all go to Temple—
             even the ones who never set foot in it
             the whole rest of the year
             and those who think that,
             when you get right down to it,
             that this Yahweh business is pretty iffy—
             and they tell Him all about it.

First a guy with a big voice sings something.
And then they pray—man do they ever pray,
              for hours in a language that sounds
              like gargling nails
              that most of ‘em don’t even savvy.

A guy blows an old ram’s horn,         
 maybe to celebrate, I don’t know

When it’s all over, they get up and go home
             feeling kind of fresh and new. 

If they did it right that old list
was run through the celestial shredder.

Then next week, they can go out
            and start screwing up again.

It sounds like a sweet deal to me.

Look, I’m not much of one for hours in the Temple—
            an hour on Sunday morning
when the choir sings sweet
is more than enough for me, thank you.

And I have my serious doubts about this
            Old Man in the Sky crap.

But this idea of being sorry and meaning it
of fixing things up that I broke
            and starting fresh
            has legs.

I think I’ll swipe it.

I’ll start right now.

To my wife Kathy—
            I’m sorry for being such
            a crabby dickhead most of the time…

Anybody got a horn?

—Patrick Murfin

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Patrick ~ how did you know it's just what I was looking for first thing this morning? I will be sharing... and probably have to do a bit of atoning of my own, especially from culturally Jewish family members and from Jewish fb Friends. But it's all worth it, it's that good!