Bumps in the Road

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I was driving down a narrow street in Sarasota this week and saw a large sign announcing BUMP. There was a lot of traffic, and a truck was blocking part of a lane while picking up debris from the recent hurricane. Suddenly, a car swerved and then another, and then there were a lot of brake lights. Then everybody straightened out and no one hit anyone or anything. You could almost hear the sighs of relief coming from all sides.

With everything else going on, I never even noticed the bump. But I felt like I’d already gotten past one without incident. That’s the thing about bumps. They pop up at the most unexpected times, seldom with the benefit of a large warning sign.

A huge bump happened to my congregation just two weeks ago, when the church where we meet suddenly announced that we had to leave within 60 days, with no explanation or apology, or even a shred of kindness. Now we’re working on getting past it and moving forward.

The timing was difficult, because it’s happening at the same time as another bump, my retirement. Fortunately, I had given seven months notice and the congregation is handling it well. But the eviction has been hard and the timing is terrible.

In last week’s Torah portion, Abraham found himself simultaneously dealing with two major bumps in his life. First, his beloved wife Sarah died, and she needed a burial place. Second, his beloved son Isaac needed a wife.

In both cases, you could have expected Abraham to turn to God for help. After all, God had promised him a nation, both in terms of land and ancestors as numerous as the sands by the sea, the stars in the sky. But there he was, without a piece of land large enough for a burial site, and not one grandchild.

God’s promises must have been ringing in his ears. But instead of waiting for God to take care of his problems, Abraham sprang into action. You may remember the story. He negotiated for a cave in which to bury Sarah, and then sent his servant Eliezer off to the old country to find Isaac a suitable bride.

It’s easy to compare Abraham to his ancestor Noah. The only time Noah took any initiative was after the flood, when he planted a vineyard in order to make wine and get drunk. Before that, he waited for God. Even when he knew that the waters of the flood had completely subsided, he waited to be told to leave the ark.

Not so Abraham. He was equally obedient to God – when God told him to do something, he did it. He left  his father’s home without a murmur, and later took his son to be sacrificed on Mt. Moriah, without even a word. But when God didn’t direct the scene Abraham got involved, sometimes asking God for advice, as when Sarah was cruel to Hagar, and once even directly confronting God, when God expressed that there was something wrong with Sodom and a solution was needed.

And when God didn’t show up at all? Abraham got to work and did what was needed. This, I believe, is why we hold him in such high esteem, whatever we may think of the episode of the Akeda on Mt. Moriah (the binding of Isaac). He didn’t hesitate to take the situation in hand and deal with it, even when consumed with grief for his wife, and worry for his son’s welfare.

We are living in uncertain times. The result of the midterm elections was a defeat for the election deniers, but there was no clear winning party. The elections in Israel seem to have turned the nation’s political tide in a completely different direction, but we can’t yet be sure. Marriage equality is being voted on in Congress but we don’t know if it will pass. Laws regarding reproductive rights seem to be teetering first in one direction, then in another, depending on the state in which you live. And climate change? It continues to march forward seemingly unabated, despite earnest efforts to convince nations to take control of pollution.

What’s an individual to do? Instead of asking God for help or waiting for the Divine to act, I turn to Amos Oz’s teaspoon theory. He said that if there is an enormous conflagration in one’s city, everyone should grab a bucket and run to help. If you don’t have a bucket, grab a cup. If you don’t have a cup, grab a teaspoon. Everyone has a teaspoon, he said. And if hundreds of thousands of us turn up with our teaspoons, we can put out the fire.

My congregation has taken action, meeting with leaders from across the community to seek out both short- and long-term solutions. Congregants are making suggestions, and board members are following up.

All it takes – and I know this is a big ask – is cooperation and collaboration. That’s what my congregation is doing, and that’s what we each have to undertake in our uncertain world. Even if there’s an enormous bump in the road. Even if you only have a teaspoon.