“Trust, Release, Ask” – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5781 / 2020 Sermon

Rabbi Maurice Harris

String of Pearls / Princeton Reconstructionist Congregation

Shana Tova. It’s an honor to be with the String of Pearls community this year for the High Holidays. Though we are connecting online and not in person, we are connected by many invisible lines extending across distance and time. 

Tonight I’d like to talk a little bit about coping. Coping with fear, with uncertainty, with loss, and with the stresses of living in some of the hardest times we’ve shared as a society. I’d like to offer up an exercise, especially for when the craziness of life feels like it’s just too hard. It’s a practice that I call “Trust, Release, Ask.”  

Trust. A lot of what goes on in the world of religion attempts to instill fear in people. Fear that God is going to judge them and punish them. Fear that people will be hurt or tortured, if not in this life, than in an afterlife. We don’t have as much of this kind of thinking and teaching in modern Judaism as in some other religions, but we have our versions of it. The everyday world we live in also gives us plenty of opportunities to be fearful – I don’t think I need to list out what the past months have brought all of us in terms of shock, anxiety, disillusionment, outrage, and despair. It’s been rough.

It was already rough for so many people who tend to get overlooked or diminished in this world, no doubt, and at the same time there’s no question that the past year has been intense in its particular combination of terrible things. Our fears are understandable, and yet at the same time, our tradition teaches that fear is not a foundation to build a life upon. We ultimately have to decide whether we want to fear the Universe we are a part of, or whether we want to try our best to trust it – trust that whatever suffering may come and go as part of life and death, that the Universe holds us and that we belong to it.  

What I wish all of us would do, whether as part of our religious teachings or our general social values – is to help children from the youngest age develop a deep, abiding sense of inner trust that they are part of something greater – something creative, wonderful, and alive. That they are part of the Life of the Universe itself, which many of us call God – and that even though this life includes joy and pain, birth and death, it is something eternal and good that they are a part of that they can fully and entirely trust with all their being. Imagine if you had been told this every day of your life from the moment you could first understand the words, and others around you over and over again reinforced the message that you are part of something greater, the mysterious force of Life itself, and that you are loved and held by that power in a way that will never end. 

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Visualizing Trump’s 2nd Term

This is the sinking feeling I get when I check my favorite news and politics websites. Talking Points Memo. Daily Kos. My WaPo subscription. Even my favorite folks on Twitter.

So many stories pointing to growing trouble for 45. Mueller’s comin’. People are flippin’. Documents are being filed, with intensifying and worrying accusations for the Donald’s friends and fans.

And yet, there’s one data point that hasn’t budged. That won’t budge. Presidential Job Approval rating over 40 – possibly as high as 44. With a job approval rating in the 40s – anywhere in the 40s – it will take a great Democratic candidate to win. Because all Trump needs to win is a second-tier Democrat to be the nominee. All he needs is 48% of the vote, maybe 49%, and the right combo of states.

All he needs is good economic numbers and a divided center-left coalition (enter Bernie and his followers) to get to that tipping point in our arcane, illogical, electoral system. Enough to tip Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania into his column. Florida? They just went extra-Red in these midterms, so don’t count on a blue wave there. DT can lose by even bigger margins in California, in Illinois, in New York state – he can lose the popular vote by even more the second time around and still win.

He has a floor somewhere in the low 40s. He only needs to get to 48. Unless the Dems find someone with Obama-like skills, they’ll go into the thing in the mid 40s. It’ll come down to how the 5 or 8 percent in the middle break. But the Dem will need to get them to put him/her/them up over 50, maybe well over 50. Trump may only need to get to 48 and run the table electorally in the same upper midwestern states plus PA.

I read a story that featured interviews with GOP bigwigs speaking on condition of anonymity so they could be completely candid. On the one hand, they said that they’re all bracing for the possibility that the stuff that’s gonna come out of Mueller’s reports or some of the other court filings is going to destroy 45 and it’s gonna be a Hindenburg level disaster. On the other hand, they’re also prepping for the possibility that the most serious legal problems that these investigations end up attaching to Trump himself are some violations of campaign finance laws before he even took office. These GOP insiders said that if that’s what happens, they think DT is so effective at bending media narratives to his will, and at ginning up his base, that they actually think he’d be the odds-on favorite to win re-election. And they’re simultaneously preparing for that possibility too.

Image result for election 2020

The uncertainty drives me nuts.

So what do I do with my little self? With the energy, time, money, words, actions that I can do something with.

I feel like I need to make a list that’s based on preparing for both of these possible political outcomes. I’ll think about it and possibly return with said list.