Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Religion, Again

This year, I went to the Reconstructionist Yom Kippur services. 

In fact, I really like the Reconstructionist liturgy, particularly their very creative gender-neutral God language and the excision of pity-the-other-nations, replaced with heartening concepts such as "who has called us to work" rather than "who has chosen us for a special destiny".

They had a really lovely children's service, to which I took Bug (Tatoe was napping), complete with guitar (of course) and singing and a cute story about making mistakes and asking for forgiveness. 

And then I went back for the adult service.

(If you have no frame of reference for how far out of my comfort zone this is, imagine you have grown up Catholic, with a Latin Mass and incense and everyone kneeling for communion, and then one week you go to a church where the Pentecostals met the hippies, so they speak in tongues while someone with dreadlocks and tie-dyed sandals plays the mandolin.  Like that.  There were BONGOS. Okay, fine, only one and it was apparently a djembe. It was mis-tuned, and flat. Why yes, it was a white lady in her sixties playing it!  How did you guess?) 

I have to say, I find arrhythmic drums extremely annoying.  For this particular liturgy, it was like being hit over the head with a stick every 10-15 seconds, which had the effect of making me pay attention to the meaning.  Under other circumstances, I would find it irritating without redeeming value.  And, while I love the idea of having devoted congregants rather than a cantor... they were also flat.

It's a really nice congregation.  I saw several people I know there. And yet, I had already joined the Conservative synagogue, without a second thought.  I never even went to the Reform or Reconstructionist synagogues.  Why not?

Well, they both do a lot of readings in English.  Some of them are wonderful and poetic.  Some are... not.  And frankly, I'm not that into the "now everyone gets up and contributes to the service" style of worship.*  Other parts of the service, to which I am very attached (through long habit, probably) get cut out.**  They tend to value community involvement, congregant comprehension, and consensus over tradition.  The net effect is that a lot of traditional content, especially in Hebrew, doesn't happen.  People with a less Hebrew/traditional background tend to gravitate to congregations that pray in English, which reinforces the tendency.***  My 70-year-old Reform neighbor, for example, had never even heard of lashon hara, which is a fairly well-known Talmudic concept, before last week. (Don't read all of those, it'll make your head hurt.)

On the other hand, part of why this happens is, why follow tradition blindly?  Worship should have meaning for its congregants. It should challenge assumptions and wake people up and make them think about their lives.

But still... I think I'm not going back unless someone tells me Drum Lady will put it away.
*The minyan I attended in Snooty Town had a very regrettable discussion in the middle of the service, which inevitably made me want to throttle everyone.  (The grad students almost universally hated it.)  Usually I took a walk instead.  
** Though the shul we normally attend does this interminable hymn every freaking week, at the very end of services.  A small child usually does it, therefore slowly, and AAAARGH.  If we never did it again... well, someone would miss it, no doubt. 

*** There are many many Reconstructionist Jews who know more Talmud than me.  And probably read Torah much better too.  (Belle, I'm looking at you.)

1 comment:

  1. "New Age" services can have lots of good qualities, but it is important to feel comfortable with the services (and, not get a headache from irritating music). I was Catholic as a small child (not Latin mass, thank goodness), and then I attended a Pentecostal church with some nutter relatives when I spent summers with them. Speaking in tongues is seriously weird, and they had guitars and a drum set. Besides my relatives, they were all very pleasant, kind people, despite the mandatory long hair and skirts for women.

    I think my current affiliation is a decent fit, I fundamentally agree with ELCA stance on major issues, the people are nice, and the sermons are relevant and thought-provoking. The congregation is ambitious with their hymns, and we manage to pull of harmonies and rounds on the fly. Which is fun.

    I wish communion was every week, and not just twice a month. Because what is better than bread and wine during church! I might be food-motivated. Yes, I really should care more about the underlying symbolism, why do you ask?

    I am off topic, though. Don't feel bad for enjoying traditional aspects of your services, it's natural to appreciate tradition. Tradition and questioning aren't mutually exclusive, and I imagine you've been happy with the insights your conservative congregation has been providing. On the other hand, perhaps the drum only comes out on "special" occasions, and it'd be safe to try the different one again sometime.


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