My wife and I brought our daughter to a blessedly brief children’s service a couple weeks ago during Rosh Hashanah.
Granted I don’t have a lot of experience with these kinds of things (not being Jewish and all), but in regards to Jewish religious services, this children’s service was just my speed.
Some spirited music (in English), a short play based upon a children’s book, a thoughtful yet short reading, and some apples and honey on the way out.
Short, memorable, entertaining and engaging.
I wish that every rabbi, priest, minister, reverend and other religious whatnot would keep these four words in mind when planning their religious service, because in my experience, almost no one does.
And it’s annoying.
Why not attempt to make these services as entertaining, engaging and brief as possible?
If your service is more than 45 minutes and has failed to generate a single laugh, you’ve probably failed to keep the attention and interest of your congregation.
Why not actually try to engage the audience? Speak in a way that both delivers information and provides a modicum of entertainment. It’s probably not going to make a believer out of me, but I’d be a hell of a lot more likely to accompany my wife to some of these services if there was an attempt to make them palatable and memorable.
Hell, I‘d even be willing to help out. As long as the congregants didn’t mind my lack of faith, I’d be happy to put together a Sunday morning service for a local church.
A couple catchy tunes, a short, humorous yet meaningful sermon, a one-act play performed by a handful of adorable children designed to illustrate point, and a cookie on the way out.
I really think I’d be a hit. And I would not rely on the fear of God, the expectations of family and community, the inevitability of death or a lifetime of religious indoctrination to keep my audience coming back for more.
Oh, and I’d cancel all religious services if the weather is especially beautiful. There’s nothing more silly than the thought that God would want you stuck inside listening to me (or anyone else for that matter) on a splendid autumn day.
Only one thing upset me about the Rosh Hashanah service that I attended with my wife and Clara.
At one point, the rabbi explained that this is the time of year when we should begin reflecting upon our lives and finding ways to live the life we have always wanted. He encouraged his congregation to be introspective, identifying those areas where improvement is needed, so that we can ultimately become the people we truly want to be.
When he finished, I turned to my wife and whispered, “I am the person I want to be, damn it. Who is he to assume otherwise?”
I really was annoyed. I wanted to tell him that when I was a little boy, I wanted to be a writer and a teacher, and damn it, that’s what I am today.
I wanted to tell him that I’ve also added DJ, life coach and minister to my list of current jobs, and if I could just find someone to hire me as a professional best man, all of my current career aspirations would be fulfilled.
I wanted to tell him that I am married to the best person I have ever known and have the best daughter I could ever imagine.
I wanted to tell him that I set 21 goals for myself back in January and am on pace to complete 16-18 of them, which is pretty damn good, all things considered.
I wanted to tell him that I have the best friends that I have ever had in my entire life.
I wanted to tell him that his assumptions suck.
I know. I’m probably taking a very well meant sentiment a little too personally, but in thinking about the type of religious officiate I might be (thus far I have only officiated weddings and baby naming ceremonies), I can’t imagine standing before a congregation and asking them to try harder to become the people they truly want to be.
While I am certain that this message might apply to some, it certainly doesn’t apply to all.
And it comes across a little holier-than-thou, which might seem appropriate for a temple or church but never is.