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Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary
General Assembly 1999 Event 342
Speaker: Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, MA, is widely regarded as one of the most creative theologians in America. He is a popular lecturer to audiences of all faiths and is the award-winning author of Eyes Remade for Wonder, Invisible Lines of Connection, The Book of Words, The Book of Letters, The Book of Miracles, God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know, Honey from the Rock, The River of Light, and other titles.
Saturday evening began with some stand-up one-liners that soon had the 300 UUs packed into a room for 200 laughing and ready for the message. "Hello, I'm Rabbi Larry Kushner, and I'm one of the foremost religious thinkers in the world. You can tell I'm the speaker because I'm the only one in the State of Utah wearing a suit. This will be a little shorter than usual. I'm still on Boston time, and I might be like the old professor who had a dream that he was lecturing and woke up and discovered he was."
The main theological point, that in life, unlike in literature, we cannot discern the hand of God. His wildly funny stories always twisted humor to metaphor, laughter transforming suddenly to "Ah!" as the connection clicked into place for the audience. "Coincidence, says Kushner, "is God's way of being anonymous."
Kushner's God acts in miraculous ways. On anniversaries of his father's death, his family would find themselves together and reminded of the wonders of his life and thereby connected to his memory. One year he convinced himself that his elderly mother needed a new car and that he had to fly to Detroit to help her finish the deal. Suddenly he remembered on the airplane that it was the anniversary and his mother would need him. Another year he took his son to see "Chariots of Fire," and as they marveled at the primitive athletic shoes, Kushner mentioned to his son that the shoes resembled those worn by the Detroit Lions back in the late 30's, when "Boompa" was their trainer. "Yeah, Dad, said the son, putting his arm around his father, those were the days."
Finally, there was the time when the family went to the movies a week before the anniversary. Unfortunately, the film had been damaged, all the other films had long lines, so the manager gave them free passes to another movie starting the following week. "Boompa" Kushner had been a dedicated trout fisherman, and the movie was, of course, "A River Runs Through It."
What, you doubt? He has a tale for that, too A young man goes to his rabbi just a week before his bar mitzvah and confesses that he cannot go through with the ceremony because he does not believe in God. The rabbi thinks for a moment and then asks, "What makes you think that matters to God?"
Kushner's God is not God the Puppeteer. Some people would like to draw God as a huge circle, and then underneath it little circles representing the people. This isn't Kushner's God, either. Instead, he would draw the little circles inside the circle of God. God is the everything that joins us all together.
Even this skeptical, humanist non-theistic reporter can live with that., not that it matters to God. After all, this reporter once wrote a number of things after the bombing of Oklahoma City that he posted on the Internet, which attracted the attention of Debbie Wiener at the Unitarian Universalist Association, who then invited the reporter to General Assembly (GA). Now the reporter would never come to GA on his own, but with the opportunity to be useful, he came, and then heard Rev. Tom Owen-Towle speak on the importance of being useful, which then explained a previously unknown aspect of his own spiritual quest. And then would never have heard Rabbi Kushner.
Coincidence? Rabbi Kushner would then hum the music he states is appropriate to such moments. Deedeedeedeee [fade to black with Twilight Zone theme in background]
Reported by Bob Hurst.