Friday, March 7, 2014

Rising C Levels

From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Rising C Levels

Rising sea levels are seen as a threat to coastal regions of the United States, and that is indeed a cause for concern, both nationally and locally. But this column is not about the effects of climate change on the Jersey shore, as important as that topic may be. No, it's not our sea levels that I want to bring up here, but rather something I'd like to call our C levels. 

 And the question I want to pose to you is, when it comes to Adas Emuno, what's your C level? 

Let me suggest to you that there are four basic C levels, that as levels they range from the lowest to the highest, and that rather than a problem, rising C levels are exactly what Adas Emuno needs. 

The lowest level, our low tide if you will, is the Consumer level. At the Consumer level, we think of Adas Emuno as a product or service that we purchase, just like buying toothpaste, a meal at a restaurant, or airline tickets. Or maybe it's more like buying membership in a club, paying tuition for a class or school, or purchasing stocks and bonds. Whatever variation on this view we might take, the point is that we are looking at our involvement in Adas Emuno as an economic transaction. And it follows that it makes perfect sense to ask, are we getting our money's worth? Or, are we getting a good return on our investment? Is it a good bargain? Such a deal?

If you're asking questions of that sort, I do hope your answer is yes. And I won't lie to you, there have been times when my relationship to Adas Emuno dipped down to Consumer level. It's hard to avoid, when we live in a world where it seems like you can put a price tag on anything, when everything seems to be reduced to dollars and cents, when the word priceless is just a slogan that a credit card company uses to mean, buy now, pay later. But I think we all know that there are some things that transcend the realm of financial calculation and pecuniary interest, and that membership in Adas Emuno simply cannot be measured in the form of customer satisfaction. You can't buy your way into Judaism. 

As consumers, it's all about what we can get, and how much we can get for our money. As consumers, we use our money, and we use it up, and in the same way, we use the things that we pay for with our money, and we use them up. That is what consumption is all about. But the great symbol of our faith and spiritual covenant, the first great revelation that Moses experienced, came in the form of a bush that burned but was not consumed. The burning bush, symbolized by the eternal light that hangs above the ark in our sanctuary, serve as a reminder that our tradition of worship, learning, and social justice is not a product, it is not a service like dry cleaning or being waited upon. 

Our tradition is a calling. We are called to worship, we are called to learning, we are called to seek justice. We are called, and when we respond to that call, we reaffirm the sacred covenant of our ancestors. And in doing so, we raise our C level to the Congregant level. As congregants, we are more than mere isolated consumers, consumed with ourselves. We are members of a religious community. We join together in search of another dimension of human life, something different and distinct from the everyday, something greater than ourselves, something that takes us out of our fixation with the present, linking our ancient past to generations yet to come. 

When we move beyond our individual needs and desires and become a part of a congregation, with a sense of responsibility to and for each other and our tradition, we are at the Congregant level, and when we go above and beyond being present, when we are actively participating in congregational life, we attain the third C level, the Contributor level. And that may sound like it's all about money again, and indeed financial contributions are one way to show your support, but there are many other ways as well. Contributing time, contributing effort, contributing skills, contributing knowledge, contributing talents, contributing support of any kind, all forms of contribution count. It is here that the temptation is overwhelming to invoke the cliché, with apologies to JFK, to ask not what Adas Emuno can do for you, but instead to ask what you can do for Adas Emuno. 

There is a fourth C level, beyond that of the Contributor, which is the Citizen level. As citizens in a democracy, we exercise our right to vote, and we are obligated to be well-informed about the issues that our leaders must deliberate and decide upon. To rise up to the Citizen level of Adas Emuno means to attend our congregational meetings, vote in our elections, serve on our committees, and participate in the functioning and administration of our congregation. On the Consumer level, we stand apart from Adas Emuno, looking at it as a source of goods and services. But on the Citizen level, we fully understand that we ourselves are Adas Emuno, that it does not exist apart from us, collectively. And we honor our commitment to our congregation, our faith, and our tradition, by taking full responsibility for our community. 

These then are the four C levels of Adas Emuno, the Consumer level, the Congregant level, the Contributor level, and the Citizen level. No one is stuck on any one of these levels, and we all move up and down this ladder at different times. What I ask is that you think about what level you are on right now, and what you might be able to do to raise your own level higher, and to help others to do the same. 

Whether we see ourselves as consumers, congregants, contributors, or citizens of Adas Emuno, together we are answering a calling by forming a community that we share and nurture through our caring and concern, our collective efforts representing a covenant with the past, and a commitment to the future. 

So, what's your C level?

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