Friday, March 23, 2007

I Heart Madonna

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Okay, I admit it. I love Madonna. I love everything about her. I can't help it. I am gay. For gay men, one-half of the gay gene also includes codes for loving Madonna. We are enslaved by it; have pity on us.

10 years ago, her involvement with the LA-based Kabbalah Center garnered much press and attention. Nobody knew about this obscure offshoot of Judaism, and 10 years later people still know very little about it. The word Kabbalah being attached to Madonna's image has, unfortunately, cheapened the meaning of this incredibly powerful word. It denotes an esoteric, beautiful mystical tradition from the Middle Ages that seemed to tap into the very essence of G-d, separate from any institution human created. But, it it still distinctly Jewish and completely incomprehensible by yours truly.

As I have watched Madonna's career embrace more and more Kabbalistic imagery, from esoteric lyrics to displaying the various Hebrew names of G-d in her concerts, I wondered what affect her "spirituality" would have on the rest of us. Love her or hate her, she is an important figure in our culture. Would displaying the names of G-d have an impact on spectators? Would singing her hit "Holiday" in front of the Israeli and Palestinian flags inspire people to strive for peace in the Middle East? Will her work in Malawi, setting up a Kabbalah Center there, really do anything for humanity?

You have to admire Madonna's efforts. Once a completely narcissistic figure, she is truly trying to do some good things with her money, power, image, and attention. But, will it achieve anything at all? It might make some small, positive changes, but it is going to take more than Madonna dancing around in front of flags and building a few buildings in Malawi to create real change in the world.

And is the perverted version of mysticism that the Kabbalah Center passes off as valuable make any difference? Or is it simply creating yet another vessel of self-indulgence for the people who have too much and know too little? On the flip-side, are more religion traditions created for people who have little, so they can feel they know more than they do and find comfort?

These reflections I am typing may seem silly, but they contain an important question of our time. As people send all their criticism towards visible people like Madonna, how valuable are our own religious traditions? Are we really any more different than Madonna, in the sense that each of us wants to simply do something good and belong to something that enriches our lives. If we led the unusual life of a cultural icon, would we also belong to strange sects of mysticism, that make strange sense to us?

For me, Judaism clarified a strange existence. I did not feel any sense of belonging in my religious life, but always felt a spiritual connection to G-d. I finally found a system where I have a place at the table and feel closer to Hashem as a result. It is wonderful. Some might find my upcoming conversion as silly as donning a red string on my left wrist. Does this mean I am wrong or damaging the people around me? Who knows; I just want to try to lead the best life that I can.

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