Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Some background, again

A couple of days back, I mentioned the concept of tikkun ha-olam and included a link to Tikkun.org. I suppose a few of you found yourselves asking, "what's a nice goy like you doing in a place like this?"

Like a lot of recovering addicts/alcoholics, I became sober with a lot of help from some well-known twelve step programs. The public face of these programs is meetings, the concept of sponshorship, and mutual support, but those are merely the outward mechanics of the program. In fact, only one of the twelve steps has anything at all to do with the concept of mutual aid. The rest deal with the healing of the self, with finding a purpose and with spirituality in general. The origins of the program are deeply rooted in a previous Christian ministry (the Oxford Groups), but the program as it has existed since its earliest days in Akron, Ohio and Montreal had tended to be non-denominational, with "God" as an abstract concept to be discovered by the individual.

Again, like a lot of people, I found myself rootless when confronted with the concept of God (or any Higher Power). I had been deeply involved in the Anglican church as a boy, but I had outgrown that. Or so I thought. I knew that there was something out there bigger than me, but I could no longer give a picture-book answer if you asked me what it was. I embarked on a bit of a spiritual quest.

I took a long look at the Eastern religions/philosophies, mostly because I had lingering memories of life-change stories from the late sixties and early seventies. Frankly, I didn't find enough "there" there to satisfy my hunger. Western secular philosophy left me with the same emptiness, although I did find some jewels in the works of Carl Jung and Soren Kirkegaard. Eventually, I decided to re-examine my childhood confession, resolving to throw away any of the "received truths" that might slant my reading and taking the writings that existed at face value, listening for my own truths.

One of the first things I noticed was that this Jesus guy and his followers were Jews. Funny, they don't dwell on that aspect much in the Anglican church, but it is one of the big, obvious bits that one just can't get around. It also appeared that what these guys were teaching was not particularly new, but had been hanging around Judaism for some time (if that were not so, then the debates with the Sadducees and Pharisees would not have been so easily won). That meant that if I wanted to understand real Christianity, I first had to understand Judaism -- and all I knew to that point was what I'd been able to glean from comics like Jackie Mason and Alan Sherman thanks to the Ed Sullivan show. Not exactly the basis for a complex belief system.

I purchased pretty much the entire Judaica sections of the local bookshops, and read everything from the Steinsaltz Talmud (or, rather, what there was of it at the time in English, which wasn't much and wasn't particularly revealing), through Maimonides and the stories of the early Hassidim (particularly, Levi Yitzak of Berdechev), from the Zohar to the more modern writings of Martin Buber and Elie Wiesel. It didn't take long to discover two things: one, that Judaism is far from monolithic; and two, that, while "Shema Yisroel" is central, it is meaningless without social responsibility.

Around that time, I happened to find myself in a better-than-average newsstand. The sort that carries several dozen magazine titles devoted to any weirdo hobby you may have. I can't recall which magazine I went in there for, but I spotted a magazine among the news commentaries with a familiar title, one I had seen in my recent readings. I picked up my first copy of Tikkun in January of 1990, and I read The Truth. I've been reading it ever since.

That's not to say that I agree with everything that is printed in Tikkun. Far from it, really, but just about everything in it is the basis for discovering some aspect of who I am, what my purpose as a human being is, and how I believe the world should be. And, in case you were wondering, you don't have to be Jewish to read it -- or to write for it, for that matter. You may or may not agree with what's said. Some of the articles and editorials may even anger you. It isn't brain candy. It will make you think long and hard about who and what you are, and of how you connect to the world around you. That makes it one of the few truly worthwhile reads out there.


Anonymous said...

Good philosophy... I think opening yourself up to other possibilities definitely leads to personal growth.

Too bad I didn't live in Montreal anymore... I'd pick up on Ed's offer to buy you a cup of coffee.

Tony S Lee

Garth said...

Yeah... I'm kinda doing the same thing at the moment, wondering about the value/motives behind the faith 'facts'. Some of the ideas that get me are: Jesus goes around all the time being a prophet and telling everyone about God but how come he didn't make the cut into the Bible? Wasn't his writing godlike enough for the church? Or did it just not say the 'right' things? How come the church likes the idea of the trinity of God but this idea comes from Paul who never even met Jesus, was actually a Pharisee and worked all this out in a dream? This is a pretty central point of faith for most Christians and yet, none of his mates talked about it while he was alive. Odd, no? If I was hanging around the son of god quite a bit and someone said 'hey dude, what's so good about this bloke?', I'd probably mention that he is one part of three which make up God, but maybe leave off about one of the other parts liking to get around as a dove.

Anyhoo, I didn't mean to get into a rant, but it is pretty interesting. I'll check out Tikkun and see what it's about.

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