2012-12-28

Light Keeps Shining

What we are invited to remember on Hanukkah is this story of conflict. When we hear a story of conflict, our hearts, or our guts, want to know for whom to cheer. Who were the good guys here?

But in the civil war between Jews more than 2160 years ago, there weren’t good guys and bad guys. There were just people trying to make their way as best they could, and sometimes not doing it very skillfully.

On the one hand, Lake Chalice identifies with a rebel faction fighting against an empire that had slaughtered so many of its people. We have seen “Star Wars” and cheered for the rebels: country bumpkins who hold to an older and mystical religion. Yay for them.

On the other hand, Lake Chalice also identifies with open-ness to new ideas, to learning, to urban and urbane adaptability. If we were to sum up the Lake Chalice philosophy of religion in six words, they might be:
“It’s a metaphor. Go with it.”
Lake Chalice identifies with people who like to read Plato, and who are inspired by Greek ideas of democracy as opposed to patriarchal and priestly rule. (Not that the Seleucid Empire was at all democratic, but they brought Greek thought that planted seeds of democratic hope – and the Jewish rebels had, if anything, even less interest in democracy.)

On the one hand, we identify with oppressed people sticking up for their way of life, refusing to be assimilated.

On the other hand, we also identify with sophisticates frustrated at the traditionalism of the less educated.

The Hanukkah story shows us a conflict in which both sides represent important values. Also: both sides negated some other important values. Perhaps you have experienced conflicts that are like that.

“Hanukkah” derives from the Hebrew verb, “to dedicate.” It’s about rededicating the temple, cleansing the temple from what has profaned it. In the original Hanukkah story, forces of the Seleucid empire had compelled Jews to violate their own laws -- eat pork and bow to a statue -- within temple premises. So the temple required ritual cleansing.

What, then, could Hanukkah, rededicating the temple, mean for liberal religion today? What profanes our temple and calls for recommitment?

Our temples are simultaneously for conserving tradition and transforming tradition: they keep alive our history so that we can build upon it something new. Our temples are temples of both memory and of hope; temples for radical reconstruction to become just what we always truly have been. Our temples mean to be temples of growth, of change, of open-ness to new ideas and new learning – while also being temples rooted in the wisdom of the ages. We who find refuge in a temple of liberal faith sing a living tradition.

Ours are temples where Athens and Jerusalem meet, where the progressives progress toward what is truly worthy, and the conservatives conserve what is truly worthy. If that sounds like a recipe for conflict in the temple, it is. Is it then conflict which profanes our temple and from which at Hanukkah we might turn to rituals of cleansing? No. What profanes our temple are not the conflicts. What profanes our temple is letting the conflicts overshadow love. What profanes our temple is judgmentalism, for the God of our temple is radical hospitality.

Re-dedicating our temple is not an eight-day process. It is a continual process that we engage in every week. Every Sunday is our re-dedication. Re-dedicating the temple, re-committing to open-ness to one another, to staying in the conversation, to striving for understanding, to presence to our own and each others’ confusion and grief, to readiness to learn and be changed – this is our ongoing work. It’s not done in eight days, for, after all, the point is for the light to shine continuously.

It’s just that sometimes it seems like we just don’t have enough oil to last us until that new oil will get here. But the light somehow keeps shining. Even when we’re sure there’s not enough oil for it, the light keeps shining. Even in the midst of all our profanings, the cleansing light of re-dedication keeps shining.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Rededicating the Temple"
Previous: Part 3: "Free the Hanukkah Eight"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Empire Strikes Back...with Plato and Euclid"