Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Revisiting the Murfin Verse Goyish Take on Yom Kippur


This poem has appeared on this blog at least ten times for Yom Kippur.  I guess that this makes it an official tradition. It was inspired not only by my genuine admiration for the Holy Day, 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.  And from African-Americans for Kwanza being widely celebrated is in almost all-white UU Sunday Schools.

Unitarian Universalists claim inspiration from many religious and philosophic traditions including Judaism.  The tightrope question is when does inspiration become inappropriate cultural appropriation or out right spiritual theft?

Being UU’s, many of us were stung that our well-meaning gestures were not gratefully accepted as a sort of homage.  Others busily set themselves up to the task of wiping 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 was amended for proper sensitivity, and scolding monitors were appointed to detect insufficient rigor in rooting out the offense at General Assemblies and meetings.

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

And, yea, I may also have been reading a lot of Carl Sandburg when I wrote this.  Think it shows?

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 of the year—

            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


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