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?
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
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?