Thursday, June 30, 2022

How Shall We Pray? And Where?

I have a friend who is firmly convinced that I'm going to burn in hell because I'm Jewish and haven't accepted Christianity. It's what her church teaches, and she sincerely believes it. Every now and then, she feels obligated to witness to me (for my own good, as she sees it), but since I used to be chaplain and know my Bible fairly well, I'm usually able to hold my own in any debate about scripture. We've managed to stay friends in spite of this theological impasse (we have many other things in common); but I know that deep down, she keeps hoping she'll find the right verse to persuade me to see "the truth." 

But she won't. The problem, of course, is that her truth is not mine. I respect her beliefs, and I have nothing against them. I simply wish she could understand that I really like being Jewish and I have no wish to accept some other religion. Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks who share her belief that the Jews need to convert, and I've met quite a few of them over the years. Some are very assertive about it, like the missionaries who go door-to-door, or the high school kids who called me a "Christ-killer" and pushed me down some stairs.

On the other hand, I've met some folks who were much kinder and gentler about it. They just assumed that everyone would be fine with Christian prayers or Christian symbols, and they were stunned (or offended) if anyone objected. I grew up in the era when there was still prayer in public schools-- it was always Christian prayer, followed by a Christian hymn.  And if a Jewish student ever asked about that (as I once did), the answer was that this was what the majority wanted. There was no expectation that those of us in the minority would be included, nor any understanding of why this morning ritual (in what was supposed to be a public school) might seem like imposing one religion and ignoring all the others. 

What brought this back to me was the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of a high school football coach who likes to engage in Christian prayer at the end of a game, surrounded by his team (and sometimes by players from the other team). The conservative Christian judges in the majority seemed okay with this. They said it was not imposing Christianity on the players, since they were not being forced to participate. Except, they really were. Imagine if one of the kids on the team walked away and didn't join the prayer circle. Imagine if one of the kids thought a football field isn't a place for a prayer circle. I suggest that such views would not have been warmly welcomed-- by their coach or by others in attendance.

Many years ago, I too was told if I didn't like the Christian prayers and songs, I could leave and come back-- but you tell me, dear readers, how I would have been treated by the other kids if I had done that. Yet here we are, decades later, with a Supreme Court that seems oblivious to the harm it might cause by allowing the football coach to do something he wants to do and potentially turn anyone who disagrees into a pariah.

I know some of you will think I'm being anti-Christian. I'm not.  I just don't think public spaces, like football games, are the right place for religious ceremonies-- from anyone's religion. Frankly, I don't think God cares who wins the football game. And I don't think God wants us to make a public show out of our piety-- I vaguely recall Jesus saying something in the New Testament about those who pray loudly so that others will see them; he recommended that we pray quietly and privately, so that only God sees us. The judges on the Supreme Court who voted to weaken the separation of church and state probably think they did a wonderful thing. But on behalf of those of us from different faiths than the majority, we wish they had thought more about being inclusive and tolerant, and less about imposing their "truth" on everyone else.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

A Special Afternoon in Hollywood

I remember reading online once that "just about anyone can get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; if you've got the money, you can get one." That isn't true, and I know from firsthand experience. It's actually a complicated process, and certain very specific criteria have to be met. There's a formal proposal you have to make (stating why you believe you meet those criteria); there's a committee that gets together and considers your proposal; and if you are chosen, there are fees that need to be paid (for example, there needs to be crowd control, security for the celebrity or celebrities, etc). Then, you have to choose a date and plan the logistics. Bottom line: it can take months... or even years, and no, it's not just a matter of paying someone some money. 

I sincerely believed that Rush deserved a star on the Walk of Fame. I also believed they met the criteria: they had millions of fans, a long career, and numerous achievements in the music industry.  And, to be honest, I was frustrated at the disrespect the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was showing the band. No matter how hard I tried to persuade the judges at the Rock Hall, there was a group of them who had never liked Rush's music, and who refused to take them seriously. I knew this was as annoying to the fans as it was to me, and so it was, in 2007, that I decided to champion Rush for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

It would take three years and a lot of hard work before it finally happened. I had some wonderful folks working with me, especially Kevin and Keith Purdy, two brothers from St. Louis who were devoted Rush fans; and there were also a number of other folks who helped-- we were determined to get this done, because in our view, no rock band deserved a star more than Rush. So, we created the proposal, working with amazing folks in Rush's management (including the legendary Pegi Cecconi), and we kept on gathering momentum until things finally came together. And at 11:30 AM, on June 25, 2010, Rush was awarded their much-deserved star.

I was both surprised and flattered when Pegi asked if I'd come up and give a short speech as part of that ceremony. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, and if you want a copy of my speech, I still have it. I meant every word I said, and when I finished, Alex and Geddy seemed very moved by it. As I spoke, I looked out at the large crowd who came to share that special day. Neil wasn't there, nor did we expect him to be (he was there in spirit, of course), but his wife and daughter were, as were Geddy's family, and many other friends and relatives. It was Neil's friend Craig who took this photo of me and the guys standing by the star (below). I still remember what a sense of gratification I felt, knowing I had played a part in honoring this amazing band.         

And here we are in 2022, twelve years later, and it is as emotional for me now as it was then. Yesterday, I reached out to Kevin Purdy to ask for his recollections. Like me, he remains amazed and impressed by how many fans showed up, and gratified to have fought for this project until it reached its very successful conclusion. And I know for a fact that even now, people come from long distances to see that star, to get a photo taken, and to feel that sense of pride in being a part of the world-wide community of Rush fans.  It was a very special day, and one I doubt I will ever forget. And if you were there too, you know exactly what I mean.