I've been a little remiss in my summer reading. There have been summers when I would read as many as ten books between Memorial Day and Labor Day- but this wasn't a typical summer.
The last book I sat down and read was Bob Lechie's Helmet For My Pillow, and that was way back in May. So last week I checked out some books from the library, and started making up for lost time.
Mitch Albom has had a long and distinguished career as a sports journalist, and has become a best selling author of the novels The Five People You Meet In Heaven and For One More Day. His nonfiction book Tuesdays With Morrie chronicled the weekly meetings and talks Albom had with Morrie Schwartz, his old college instructor who was slowly dying of ALS. Morrie's wisdom and upbeat personality in the face of his suffering was an exercise in what it means to be human under the most trying of circumstances.
Albom is on a similar path in 2009's Have A Little Faith, a bestseller that debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and was chosen by Oprah.com as the Best Nonfiction Book of 2009. I was not able to put the book down and finished the 249 pages in less than three days . It's the story of Albom reconnecting with the rabbi from his hometown in New Jersey, who was his instructor as a kid. Rabbi Albert Lewis made a request of Albom; that Albom deliver his eulogy when the then 82 year old rabbi passes on. Since Albom hadn't seen the rabbi in years, he started a series of visits and interviews with Rabbi Lewis, hoping to gain an insight into what kind of man he is.
Also coming into Albom's life was Henry Covington, an African American pastor....and reformed drug dealer, thief, and ex con.... who started a ministry to the poor and homeless of Detroit. Both men offer life lessons to Albom, who admittedly ran from the faith of his youth, and in the end learns more of life's purpose.
I highly and enthusiastically recommend this book. We've been turning on the television daily, and listening to more and more stories of nativist sentiment, and of paranoia and the politics of division; in particular the controversy of the "Ground Zero Mosque" has resonated long and hard.
But before "Islmaphobia" overtook our nation, we had the stain of slavery, of Jim Crow, of the genocide of the our Native People, of the anti-Catholic nativist "No Nothings" of the 19th century, and of the antisemitism that was generally accepted by our society until fairly recently. A little more than half a century ago Rabbi Albert Lewis began a synagogue in Haddon Heights, NJ. In the chapter "A Little More History" (pages 67-71) Albom talks about "The Reb" and his early days in Haddon Heights, in 1948.
The three dozen Jewish families in the area wanted to start a congregation....Albert Lewis was sent to minister to them. A group of residents signed a petition to prevent a synagogue from being established in Haddon Heights; some were threatened by the possibility of a Jewish community in the town. In Albom's words, the thought of a Jewish congregation was "alien" to the townies. Rabbi Lewis worked hard to win them over, and he reached out to his Christian neighbors, and even gave talks in Christian churches and halls. At one meeting a young boy asked to see the Rabbi's horns. He was under the assumption that all Jews had horns. "The Reb" removed his skull cap, and let the kid feel his head....not a horn to be found.
Rabbi Lewis had an Episcopal priest he became friendly with give a talk in the synagogue. The priest went the pulpit, and told the Jewish congregation to help him get the Rabbi to accept Jesus as his savior, because the alternative means he's going to hell.
And there was an incident of antisemitism involving parked cars, a Catholic priest, the High Holy Days, and an utterance of wishing someone had finished the job in the early 1940's. Members of the Jewish congregation parked near a Catholic church on a Sunday, and the Jewish attendees were told to move their cars by the priest.....some words were exchanged between a Jewish man and the priest- and the priest told the man "They didn't exterminate enough of you".
We look at that sort of behavior as a relic of another century; it is unacceptable now, and should have been unacceptable then. Only the targets have changed.
In recent days we've seen "Islamaphobia" ratcheted up with the burning of a mosque under construction in Tennessee, and of Glenn Beck blending That Old Time Religion into his message, which changes depending on whatever audience he is addressing. We see maters of faith become matters of the political news cycle, and to me, that's an unhealthy place for our society to be. Because our nation has always been a contradiction of sorts; a secular state for the most part governed by men of faith, including our current President and Vice President, though there are many who would have you erroneously believe otherwise.
What Have A Little Faith does make the reader do is take a deep breath and contemplate; just what constitutes a man of faith? And the answer is there is no template. Some like Rabbi Lewis seem to be born into "the God business". Others, like Pastor Henry Covington have to experience a "Road to Damascus" conversion....in Covington's case, there were several conversions until one finally stuck.
Rabbi Lewis made many comments that leads you to challenge what you may or may not believe in regard to religion, or of God and his/her nature. When he was old and near death, the Rabbi told Mitch Albom that he hopes God prays for him.
But since he is God....who would God pray to?
It is true that there are religious hucksters to be found, and we could name names....but what's the point? What Mitch Albom has done in this book is put a spotlight on two men who serve men (and women) and in doing so serve God. It was never about them, it's about their service.....and their faith.
In a perfect world, both sides of the "Ground Zero Mosque" would be given a copy of Have A Little Faith with instructions to read it and come back for a group discussion in two weeks. Because if you can't find some common ground with the other guy after reading this book, then sadly, it will probably not happen.
Rabbi Lewis was a man who loved to sing; a non-singer who always had a song on the tip of his tongue. Ask him how he felt and he would sing, "The old gray rabbi ain't what he used to be."
So it was entirely fitting for Mitch Albom to close his book with these words.
"In the beginning, there was a question. In the end, the question gets answered. God sings, we hum along, there are many melodies, but it's all one song- one same, wonderful human song.
Real journalists continue to lose their jobs as newspapers cut staff in record numbers. And while this is happening hucksters like Glenn Bec...
Eric LeGrand was paralyzed in the Rutgers- Army football game. To send Eric a "Get Well" message click his photo.
Eric LeGrand BELIEVE Fund
Click the picture for more information on the Eric LeGrand BELIEVE Fund, established for the longterm care and rehabilitation of this seriously injured Rutgers Football player. Thank You!
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. "
Ten From Nick Drake
Welcome To My Neighborhood!
Its called "Useless Trivia and Mindless Rants". That's because I adhere to the principle that you can't please everyone, nor should you try to please everyone....so before anyone else rips this blog for being a waste of time or having faulty logic, I thought I'd beat them to the punch, and zing just a bit of self deprecating humor into the title....hey, some people think that's an endearing quality.
Seriously....I hope to entertain and maybe inform, and even teach the reader about a few subjects. And don't be alarmed by the political trappings you may see here. I'm upfront about my political beliefs and affiliations, but I don't wear my politics on my sleeve, and have and always will refuse to be locked into a rigid dogma. This is not really a political blog; its just disguised as one.
My model is probably CBS SUNDAY MORNING, a magazine format. I'll talk about news, sports, TV and films, about music, literature and pop culture, and about the famous and the infamous....and about some people who are out there trying to make a difference in a world that seems to get just a little tougher everyday.
Oh yes...there will be some politics as well.
So pour a cup of coffee, cut a piece of cheesecake.....and stick around for a few minutes.
Occupation- If you believe my conservative friends, I'm a pinko commie socialist out to destroy the very fabric of America's core beliefs.
Liberals think I'm an old school moderate Democrat, and that a guy my age needs to get his hair cut more often.
Just put away that broad brush....
I'm just a "Blue Jersey Guy" who happens to "Bleed Scarlet".