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Friday, October 14, 2016

Yom Kippur Sermon 5777/2016

While High Holy Day tickets for Temple Kol Emeth may be the hottest ticket in Atlanta, everyone wants tickets for “Hamilton,” the musical.  If we do a simple search on google for “price of Hamilton tickets,” the lowest prices we would find are several hundreds of dollars.  The most expensive tickets are in the thousands!  Hamilton the Musical is so popular that Steve Harris rapped a Bat Mitzvah presentation to one of the songs from Hamilton earlier this summer
The musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life; however, it is the final act of Hamilton’s life that people often remember.  With so many amazing successes in his life, it is sad that many focus on his final act – the duel with Aaron Burr.  If you remember your history, Aaron Burr was also very successful in his life.  And, yet, Burr is most remembered for his final act as well – killing Alexander Hamilton.  To quote from Hamilton, Aaron Burr laments in song, “He may have been the first one to die.  I survived, but I paid for it.  Now I’m the villain in your history.”
          While Hamilton the Musical is based on the real lives of Alexander Hamilton and others, the stories we glean from the play are, after all, the point of view of the playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and of the author Ron Chernow, whose biography of Hamilton inspired the musical.  What does this mean?  Well, we must realize that the stories told in this musical and in the biography are told from the perspective of someone other than those who actually lived these moments.  Even auto-biographies are suspect to interpretation.  Think about it for a second.  How many times have you told a story from your life?  And, how many times has someone else who was in the story responded, “that’s not how I remember it?” 
          The stories we tell in our lives change, depending on where we are in our lives.  While we sometimes might think to ourselves, “I have heard that story before…” (especially when one of the rabbis is telling a story), the truth is there are details – even the most minute – that change every time we tell a story.  And, depending on which audience we are speaking to, those minute details may become major discrepancies.  For example, think about the Biblical Stories of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah.  Those stories have very different meanings for us as kids than as adults.  The stories have not changed (at least in the Torah), but the way the stories are told have been changed.  When we tell our personal stories, the changes and ways we tell the stories are much more personal.
            Best-selling author and social scientist, Brene Brown, teaches about the “Rising Strong Process” in her 2015 book, “Rising Strong: the Reckoning, the Rumble and the Revolution.”  Brown writes, “This process teaches us how to own our stories of falling down, screwing up, and facing hurt so we can integrate those stories in our lives and write daring new endings.”[1]  In order to live a more whole hearted life, it is up to each of us to own our stories through this process.  “The goal of this process is to rise from our falls, overcome our mistakes, and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness.”[2]  Let us explore these three steps together.
          The first step in owning our stories is The Reckoning.  Recognizing how we are feeling and what emotions are coming to the surface is very challenging; however, if we are able to recognize the triggers that cause our buttons to be pushed, we are beginning the process.  After being able to recognize our emotions and what is causing them, it is our curiosity about what is happening and how our emotions are connected to our thoughts and behaviors which enables us to then engage in this first step of the process – our reckoning.  When we are engaged with our emotions, we are then able to walk into our stories.
           The second step is The Rumble.  To quote Brown, “By rumble, I mean they get honest about the stories they’ve made up about their struggles and they are willing to revisit, challenge and reality-check these narratives as they dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.”[3]  When we are honest with our struggles, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings and all of our behaviors.  It is in this step, the Rumble, in which our change begins.  We have recognized our challenges and began the very difficult task of reconciling what really happened with what we may have earlier stated or misstated.
          The third step in this process is The Revolution.  The change in us that began in The Rumble is now going to fundamentally transform our thoughts and beliefs.  We are now able to own our truth as we may have been unable or afraid to admit before.  Now, we rewrite our stories with a more courageous and truthful ending – thus completely changing how we engage with others and with the world.  What may seem like such a simple set of tasks actually is not so easy.  Transforming the way in which we view ourselves and others in our stories greatly affects our relationships with our families, our co-workers, the organizations we are affiliated with and our communities.  
          One of the strongest parts of Brown’s book is how she uses stories from her own life as examples.  She tells one of her own stories, a disagreement she had with her husband while swimming in a lake at her family’s lake house, and then breaks it down according to the “Rising Strong Process.”  The reader is able to see how she models the process and then apply it to his own life.  When we tell our stories over and over, the details that change can also change the way we present ourselves in a variety of ways.  Brown’s process enables us to own our stories – giving us the power to tell our story the way it really happened, rather than the way we may have “made up our story.” 
          When we fall down, it is not always easy to gather ourselves and get right back up.  However, by owning our stories, we are doing just that.  In Brown’s personal story, she says something to her husband and does not receive the response she wanted or needed.  This caused her great pain and frustration – which could have led to a terrible argument as it had in the past.  However, by owning her story, she has now been able to retell the story, recognizing where her faults were as well as being able to reconcile with her husband what she perceived as his faults.  This can be a truly eye opening and heartening experience! 
          The stories we tell in our lives change, depending on where we are in our lives.  It is our struggling with our individual truths that allows for us to grow and mature.  If we begin to tell a story in order to attract attention or to make ourselves seem “better than others,” how do we expect for others to see us?  Yes, our egos play a major role in how we see ourselves AND how others see us as well.  When our egos control our words and our actions, we are not owning our stories – rather we are being owned by our stories.
          Brown’s “Rising Strong Process” teaches us how we may begin to take back control of our stories – eventually owning them.  When we are able to be truthful with ourselves, when we are able to overcome our egos, the truth speaks for itself.  Before we can own our stories – and of course this means our falls, our faults and our struggles – we must recognize where we fell, where we are wrong and where are struggles are.  This is certainly not easy.  Brown writes, “the reckoning is how we walk into our story; the rumble is where we own it.  The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives…”[4] 
          The stories we tell in our lives change, depending on where we are in our lives.  Perhaps you have heard that prior to Yom Kippur we are required to seek out those whom we have wronged.  We are required to ask for their forgiveness – and we are to give forgiveness to those who seek it from us.  Maybe one of your stories played out differently for someone else than you remember it.  If you are unaware of your need to seek forgiveness, how do you reconcile that?  Truth be told that one of the hardest things to do in life is to grant forgiveness.  However, it can be just as hard to ask for forgiveness.  This is why it is of vital importance that we learn how to own our stories – we may find where we need to seek forgiveness and/or give forgiveness when we are able to truthfully tell our stories.
          Today, Yom Kippur, the longest day of the year – we are standing together, in our greatest act of humility, asking God for forgiveness.  We stand together because each of us needs the forgiveness.  Each of us has wronged another.  Each of us has been wronged.  According to our Yom Kippur liturgy, God will not forgive us of sins against God until we have reconciled our sins against other human beings.  The sinner and the forgiver – this applies to all of us.  Each of us must forgive and each of us must be forgiven.  Then, and only then, are we to seek God for God’s forgiveness. 
When we pray the words of the Al Chet in our Yom Kippur liturgy, the section entitled in English “Our Failures,” do we actually just read for the sake of reading?  Thinking about Brown’s model – how do we walk into our stories of the past year?  Do we pause long enough during this long list of missing the marks of our actions and deeds - of all of those Al Chets that resonate with us, that we are accountable for…
Just listen and think about these for a moment:
“We sin against You when we sin against ourselves, for our failures of truth, O God, we ask forgiveness.” 
“For deceiving ourselves and others with half-truths, and for pretending to emotions we do not feel.”
“For using others as a means to gratify our desires, and as stepping stones to further our ambitions.”
          “The sin we have committed against You by malicious gossip,” and
          “The sin we have committed against You by our arrogance.”
Do we actually own our failures or do we cast them onto others? (PAUSE)
 We should pause and actually allow these prayers to resonate with us – allowing for our own vulnerability to show us where we were at fault and how we can own them, and then change for the future. 
          The stories we tell in our lives change, depending on where we are in our lives.  We are quickly approaching the end of Yom Kippur.  Are the personal stories we tell at the end of Yom Kippur the same as the ones we told on Erev Yom Kippur or even at the beginning the High Holy Day Period?  Have we struggled to recognize our falls, gotten up, dusted ourselves off and rewritten our stories?  It is difficult, but it is possible and we must be able to do so in order to own our stories.  Brown teaches, “…transforming the way we live, love, parent, and work requires us to act on our vision: the rising strong process is nowhere near as powerful as the rising strong practice.”[5]
          When we are truly able to rumble with our faults, rumble with our falls and reconcile these difficulties – then the rising strong process becomes practice.  This has to be a part of our daily lives.  We reckon, we rumble and then the revolution occurs.  When we own and embody what we find in our struggles, that’s when the change occurs and we really begin to own our stories.  The “rising strong process” is there to help us achieve our true potential.  Remember, when we are able to tell stories packed with our truths, then our fears disappear, and our falls just become a part of our stories, not what defines our stories.
          In 5777, let everyone of us here begin the process of owning our stories.  Let us struggle with our falls and our faults.  May we begin the sometimes very difficult process of forgiving others – and of course this begins with our being able to forgive ourselves for our faults.  Stand up, dust yourself off and remember that we own our stories and we are able to make the impact to change ourselves and others.  It is my hope that this year will prove to be a truly awe inspiring and uplifting year for all of us.  Remember, as I have stated a number of times in my sermon today - The stories we tell in our lives change, depending on where we are in our lives.  Let us be the change in our story – and let us help others to do the same!        
On behalf of the entire Boxt family, I wish for every one of us in this room an easy fast.  May we all be written in the Book of Life and may each of us have a wonderful 5777.  Good Yontif!oHowHowe

[1] “Rising Strong: the Reckoning, the Rumble and the Revolution,” Brene Brown, 2015, pg. 39
[2] Ibid, pg. 40
[3] Ibid, pg. 40
[4] Ibid, pg. 77
[5] Ibid, pg. 255

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