151: PASSOVER Lessons of Love, Humility and Thankfulness

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Today’s story might have been headlined:

A Row of Candles, the Pope’s Feet — and a Wise Rabbi.

     But I called it, “Lessons of Love, Humility and Thankfulness,” because those are three of the major themes of Passover. And I have to thank, once again, my friend Dr. Joe Lewis — a scholar who has published a pioneering series of multi-lingual Jewish guidebooks that invite people who don’t know Hebrew to fully participate in Jewish rituals.

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    Before Passover began, I spent a couple of hours as a guest in the Lewis kitchen, talking over holiday themes.
    “It’s simple,” Joe said to me at one point. “During Passover we talk about two questions: What does it mean to be Jewish? And, what does it mean to be free?”
    As Joe talked about his life, his work and his family’s holiday preparations, though, I watched his wife Bobbie make Charoset, the fruit-and-nut mixture for the Seder that is supposed to resemble mortar used by slaves in ancient Egypt. At the same time she was preparing this traditional food for the holiday — for my benefit Joe began to sing various versions of the traditional Passover song, “Dayenu,” which means “It would have been enough.”
    This song is such a hallmark of the holiday that NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion” hosted a live performance of the song in the show broadcast over this past weekend.

    If we stop to think about the themes embodied in this song — well, the three themes in our headline come through loud and clear.
    The song is rapidly and happily rattled off during the Seder. In Joe’s guidebooks, he has written English-language lyrics that can be sung just as rapidly along with traditional Jewish melodies. But, whatever the language, the message is the same: Singers humbly acknowledge, “It would have been enough!” They describe various miracles and gifts that God provided for the Israelites and they acknowledge each one would have been enough.
    And yet — Well, there was more and more and more that God did for them.
    So, today, here are mini-stories on these three themes:

LOVE — and a Row of Candles.

    This one’s easy. It’s a universal religious theme: Love one another!
    I saw love flowing among the members of Joe’s family and it flows in my family, too. The 40 candles at the top of today’s story mark the 40th birthday — today — of my younger brother John Crumm, a Planner for Macomb County in Michigan, but also a creative supporter of some behind-the-scenes ReadTheSpirit projects that will unfold over the coming year.
    So, I’m breaking into our normal coverage for this moment of personal privilege — to express love and best wishes to my brother on his 40th birthday!

Then, HUMILITY — and The Pope’s Feet.

    One of the first emails to hit my “Inbox” Monday morning (just yesterday) was a 4-word note from a longtime friend, Terry Gallagher, Director of Public Relations at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
    The four words were:
    “they got the feet”

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    He was referring to the front page of the New York Times on Monday, which included the papal feet.
    Here’s the story behind the feet:
    In my more than 20 years with the Detroit Free Press, one of the professionals I was honored to count as a colleague was Tony Spina, a giant among newspaper photojournalists in the U.S. Among Tony’s specialties was papal photography. And, in 1987, when John Paul II toured North America, Tony flew along with the press corps in the hopes of adding to his already considerable record of papal accomplishments.
    Covering that tour was exhausting — long hours of commuting between the many cities hosting the pope’s entourage. We got little sleep as we tried to stake out positions for news coverage, then race to file news stories for our home newspapers and wires. But, truth be told: Tony taught us youngsters a few things about persistence.
    Over and over again, he spent hours staking out positions long before the pope was scheduled to arrive at a site. Most of us were weary by the time the pope touched down in San Antonio, Texas, but Tony was chasing elusive papal images — and left the newsroom before dawn in San Antonio to stake out a position near the Alamo.
    Much later that day, he arrived back in the makeshift newsroom — set up in a hotel ballroom — slapped a photo onto the table in front of our staff and declared: “That’s tomorrow’s photo!”
    We were puzzled. The photo showed John Paul II, but not much detail of the Alamo — and little visual connection with the crowd of Catholics.
    At length, Tony realized that we were clueless concerning his visual achievement. He closed his eyes, shook his head and pointed at the photo: “I got his feet! Nobody gets the pope’s feet!”
    Indeed, he had. There was John Paul II in the midst of overwhelming crowds, stepping down — and revealing his papal feet. In Tony’s mind, this captured the full image of the man. More than the low-angle images of a triumphant, heroic leader — this was a man who had — well, feet. It was part of capturing both the power — and the humility — of a pope to show his feet.
    And Tony was right. It’s tough to capture a pope’s feet.
    From the moment Benedict touched down in the U.S., my friend Terry Gallagher — who also knew Tony in his prime — would send me a daily Email, based on the news media he had glimpsed.
    Day after day, Terry’s emails were only 2 words:
    “no feet”
    Then, in the end, Chang W. Lee of the Times captured — the feet.

    It was a perfect final image for a papal tour in which Benedict did his best to offer public acts of humility over some of the church’s failings — even as he tried to chart a future course.
    Bravo to Mr. Lee and the editors of the Times for running “the feet,” as we say in newspapers, “above the fold.”

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Finally, THANKFULNESS — Remembering a Wise Rabbi.

    For Passover, we asked another good friend of ReadTheSpirit — the longtime church consultant Dr. Alfred Bamsey — to write an appreciation of a wise rabbi who taught Al a lot about being a better church consultant. This final, personal note of appreciation is a small sign of how much the world’s 2 billion Christians owe — and can learn, if we listen — from our Jewish brothers and sisters.
    Here are Al’s words about Rabbi Edwin Friedman, who taught many Christian clergy a groundbreaking new way to envision relationships within their congregations:

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    “Nobody ever liked my father.” That’s how Shira Friedman Bogart begins her foreword to a new publication of essays by her father, Rabbi Edwin Friedman. She immediately explains her unusual outburst. “He had such a polarizing effect that people either adored and revered him or were appalled by his often maverick theories.”
    I don’t know much about those who were appalled by Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s theories but I, a United Methodist pastor, felt like I had found an amazing and supremely helpful guide through the thickets and roadblocks to effective Christian ministry within a congregation when I first read Friedman’s now famous book, “Generation to Generation.” Because of my powerful positive response to his writing I joined his twice yearly, post–graduate seminar and for two years listened to him spin his responses and his theories that thrilled and challenged his audience of pastors from many denominations all across America.
    I’ll never forget my first visit to his teaching site, a two-story house on the outskirts of Washington D.C. I flew into what is now called Reagan Airport. Then I walked to a Metro station rode for over a half hour, disembarked at the appropriate station, then walked several more blocks to my destination.
    When I entered the house there were several others milling about the first-floor learning area.  Friedman walked by me as I entered, said “Hello” in passing and disappeared up into the second floor.
    When we started, he stood in front of the fireplace and began talking about his ideas with hardly an introduction. The 20 or so of us who had gathered sat in what once was the living room and dining room of the house and listened intently, mostly because Friedman talked in ways that were not common for most of us in attendance. He used the language of Family Systems that aligned biological
language with human relations and saw everything in nature
connected with everything else in ways that few thinkers shared.
    Thus began a journey in our minds that would change the way we operated as pastors in our parishes and as spouses and parents in our families. 

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    He was the most influential theologian and ecclesiologist I encountered in my last 15 years of active clergy ministry. Friedman’s translation of Family Systems thinking from the seminal work of Dr. Murray Bowen brought clarity and insight to some of the most troubling aspects of life in a Christian parish.
    Concepts of “differentiation” “triangles” “fusion” “cutoff” “paradox” “objectivity” and many others have become embedded in my reflections about all of life. When I first learned them, they propelled me into a period of immense productivity and meaning as the result of my encounters — firsthand and through reading — with Friedman’s thinking.
    Consequently, you can imagine my great joy when I recently discovered that Friedman’s magnum opus, “A Failure of Nerve,” had been published by Seabury Press. And then a friend passed me a copy of a new compilation of Friedman’s essays called “The Myth of the Shiksa.” Both books have refueled my mind and challenged me with the originality and comprehensiveness of Friedman’s contributions not only to my life but to hundreds and maybe thousands of Christian pastors.

    I write this paean during Passover to offer my thanksgiving as a Christian for a Rabbi who has had immense positive impact on a whole generation of Christian pastors. His “Generation to Generation” is must reading in many seminaries. His thought has become the basis for many writers seeking to help church leaders understand why they and their people act the way they do and how leaders can adopt more helpful ways to lead people in their quest for meaning and hope. Bowen’s theories, as adapted by Rabbi Friedman, are not easy to comprehend and are even more difficult to practice.
    But the challenge is worth one’s investment of time and energy. Rabbi Friedman has offered a generation of synagogue and church leaders a fulfilling pathway to humane and effective lives.

    Dr. Bamsey is an occasional contributor to ReadTheSpirit. Earlier, we published Dr. Bamsey’s list of top books for religious leaders. You’ll find links on that page to reviews of the individual books, links to our Amazon-related bookstore — and links to more articles by Dr. Bamsey.

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