When God is Trivialized – Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

This offering is cross-posted from the ReformJudaism.org website, and was offered by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization for the Reform Jewish movement, to which Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is a long-time member. Please respond to the post below or share it with others, as we foster a continuing dialogue on these matters on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive web blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple.

Let’s be honest: Jews have trouble talking about God. God-sentences do not flow trippingly off Jewish lips.

There is a deep reason for our unease. The God-talk we hear most is hardly worth emulating. Watching athletes pointing to the heavens to acknowledge their savior after scoring a touchdown, you’d think God actually cared about which team won. While I hope God’s presence can be felt in all places, including football stadiums, I find it offensive to reduce the Almighty to a football mascot in the sky.

Contemporary Jews need compelling ways to get to God, not popular culture conceptions that pass for religion. It’s like the man who wakes up late for a new job interview. He takes a quick shower, speeds his car to the address, but can’t find a parking spot. Desperate, he prays, “God, if you provide me with a parking spot, I will go to temple every Saturday morning and I will never lie again.” Two minutes later he locates a spot and says to God, “Never mind, I found one.”

If this is what passes for religion these days, it’s no wonder that so many of us have trouble finding God in our midst.

Reform Judaism, in contrast, offers a unique religious worldview that combines the timely with the timeless: the latest scientific and philosophical thinking with a spiritual inheritance of millennia. In our tradition, God does not help us to find parking places, but helps us to find ourselves—in synagogues that are deep and serious; where we settle for nothing short of excellence; where we welcome Jew and non-Jew, those of any culture, race, and background who seek the wisdom of Torah and a community to call their own. And in our tradition, the Holy One is present, not just when we score a touchdown, but also when we fumble the ball.

Seeking the Nameless One in good times and bad has always been at the heart of Jewish spiritual practice. Seeking does not mean always finding, but we won’t know unless we look deeply, well beyond the fleeting trivialities of popular culture.