Living in a Material Word

As Fashion week came to and end in New York, and the New York Times put out its spring edition of T magazine with all the latest fashions for the next season, I began to reflect on what it means to be in style.

On the one hand, nobody wants to be out of date. Ties may grow wide or thin, lapels may be large or small, hemlines may rise and fall and we had to decide if we are going to join this new trend or not. It is not just clothing. We are constantly checking to see if we have gone out of style in one way or another. We look to see how others (or models in magazines) are wearing their hair. If we are shopping for a car we look to see what our friends are driving. We visit new restaurants based on where others are eating. We watch television shows that are creating “buzz”. We want to see whatever movie that “everyone else is seeing”.  And if our technology fashion is based on  Apple standards, we just have to have the latest release from the company that Steve Jobs built.

To be sure there are those who do not want to be trend setters. We are the last to see the movie, buy a fashionable outfit or own the latest gadget. Still we do care that we do not fall too far behind. There are many pragmatic reasons to not always be first in line. Still there is a measure of ignobility if we fall too far behind that others may laugh at what we own.

And yet there are some things that just never go out of style. Like a tuxedo or your basic black party dress, somehow the basics always stay in style. Young people may always go for what is new and different, but somehow as we mature (and I am not talking senior citizen here, just your basic adult)we find ourselves attracted to what is enduring.  We get this sense that there has to be something that is the foundation upon which we can rely. The world can’t always be a rocking ocean, sometimes we need to find a quiet harbor where we can weather a storm.

And that is exactly why faith never goes out of style.

Religion is the foundation upon which we can build our lives. It is the important base that makes all the impermanent things in life, useable.

There seems to always be people who declare that religion is hopelessly out of date.  Those people in the Bible, they may be quaint but They will never be as sophisticated as we are. What the Bible calls “miracles” are just signs as to how ignorant those ancient people were. Don’t forget, why in the world would we need laws that just outright forbid lying, adultery and theft? Our world today is more “grey” than that.

There are also people who say that religion is actually immoral. All that indiscriminate killing, the death penalty, and the idea of a “jealous” God who forces Pharaoh to sin so God can punish him and his entire country, what kind of a faith is this? Look at all the hatred and war that religion has brought upon the world. Who needs this? What kind of a Bible preaches love but then encourages discrimination against blacks, women and homosexuals? “No thanks”, they say, “give me a good secular culture any day.”

Judaism is my faith and certainly there are things that are on record of which I am not proud. There are moments in every age in history where there are ideas and incidents that I think I could easily live without.  Certainly there is, in Judaism, enough to criticize and bow our heads in shame.

But religion is not meant to be perfect. It is the record of how humanity and God have tried to understand each other. It  is a choppy history, one that is full of mistakes, blunders and wrong turns. The record of Judaism is filled with conflict and power grabs. That is, of course, the human way.  But Judaism keeps on going  because underneath all the problems, is a core that we Jews understand is God trying to show us how to live better lives. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we fail to understand, sometimes we go on a wrong turn that lasts for centuries. But in the end, no matter how many circles we go around, there is still some progress toward a better world and better human beings. It does take time to get some moral growth out of our selfish and deluded brains.

But God has all the time in the world. God is not bound by our restrictions of time and space.

God has high expectations that have had to come down sometimes to our level. We have a long way to go to raise ourselves up to where God wants us to be. So we struggle, we try, we aspire and we experiment with what we think God wants from us.  What looks good on paper often does not work in real life. Real life sometimes demands that we update what we have put down as moral certainty on paper. The moral fads eventually give way to what will become classics, the understanding of life that includes morality, fairness, understanding, justice and love.

God’s light shines brightly on our world, and as we draw closer to the source of that light, our lives can shine brighter too. The point of faith is not to be perfect, but to try harder every day to bring more light into our lives and into the lives of those who lives touch our own.

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