We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

No Problem!

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

be thereHappy medical people. “Everything looks good. We didn’t find any problems!” Sounds good, right? Well, we’ve reached the odd juncture with Kate where these are not the exclamations we want to hear. We want to hear, “Ah, so this is what causes the nausea.” Yesterday’s endoscopy was yet another “positive” result. So frustrating. Another test in the near future, looking for something in the liver, gallbladder area.

After we went to one of Kate’s happy places, Appleby’s. A light lunch. 93 degrees yesterday down the hill. A fine July day. Except for it being the middle of September.

Back home I fed the dogs, changed shirts and drove on to mussar at Beth Evergreen. The topic was gossip. Jewish sages compared public embarrassment to murder. Seems extreme to me. Gossip is saying anything about someone that’s not there. Anything. Again, seems extreme to me. If I recall correctly from my long ago anthropology days, gossip is, like joking, boundary setting behavior. It’s one of the ways social cultures create and enforce norms. The sages, in this case, may be more scrupulous than usual. In the opinion of many of us, too scrupulous. Not a rant in favor of gossip. Just an attempt to soften the edges of the argument.

gossipIt seems to me that the more important issue with gossip is judgment. When gossip spreads a negative judgment about another, another who is not present to contest the judgment, then it becomes serious and harmful. The old cliche says it well, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I did show up late to the class, so I missed the early part of the discussion.

Rabbi Jamie has translated several psalms into a more contemporary, more in your face style. At some point here I’m going to share some of his work alongside other translations.

Brother Mark is inching toward the sands of Araby once again. I say inching because the visa process takes as long as it takes, even for those who’ve worked in the Kingdom before. When the visa processing completes, he will once again climb aboard a jet plane headed for what he calls SA. Good luck, Mark.

 

Oh. It’s not going to be easy. Damn.

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

aleph

At the beginning

Second religious school last night. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m ready to discuss, to innovate, to present, to lead exercises; but, I’m apparently not ready for classroom management. Classroom management is an antiseptic term that I assume replaces discipline. Anyhow, it means maintaining an atmosphere in which learning is possible. I failed at that last night.

Two examples. First, Alan and I, though mutually respectful and with an agreed upon plan, let the order of things slide, taking too much time with sign in, snack, and the transition between class and the mini-service that Rabbi Jamie conducts each time. Too, somehow, and I don’t understand how, the kids got into a feisty mood, probably because they come to religious school right after regular school.

Second. When I introduced an exercise using beach balls to imitate juggling their worries and their parents expectations, it got rowdy and out of control very fast. I’m getting to know the kids on an individual basis, snatching moments to talk with them about basketball, living in Israel, dogs, being bored at school. One girl, exceptionally bright, had covered her hands with felt tip marker dots. But as a group I’ve not figured out how to calm them down and help them focus. Our responsibility, Alan and mine’s.

A quieter moment, 2017

A quieter moment, 2017

This class does represent my first teaching of this age group, so I now know I have a steep learning curve about how to maintain an attentive environment. I need help and I’m going to seek it out from Tara, Rabbi Jamie, Jon.

I know about learning plateaus intimately from my study of Latin. I would learn, learn, then seem to find a spot I couldn’t move beyond. I kept at it and eventually whatever barrier the plateau represented would fall away. Until the next one. This is similar, I’m sure. Sort of.

Feeling a bit impotent, not up to the mark. Not an unusual feeling and I’m not totalizing it though that is a challenge. I can’t keep the kid’s attention; therefore, I failed and therefore, I’m a failure. No. I’ve not yet learned this skill, this particular skill. I need to learn it; and, not knowing it, does not mean I’m a total doofus.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardOne idea I have is to do what organizers call one-on-ones with each kid. Not sure how to accomplish that quickly, but it would involve sitting down with each of them and discussing what they hope to get from the class, what motivates them, how they might get what they need out of the class.

Next class we are going to do a norms setting exercise, something I learned to do in my organizational consulting work. It involves determining a group culture, what we can expect from each other and in turn what all of us can expect from the group.

One issue I need to wrap my head around is the tendency, well begun at middleschool age, of pulling away from adult authority in favor of peer authority. I understand it intellectually, have experienced it personally and with Ruth and Joe, but figuring out it impacts a classroom? Not there yet.

Others have figured this out. So will Alan and I.

 

 

 

 

Maybe a New Show?

Lughnasa                                                              Harvest Moon

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

At Tu B’av, a minor holiday, now a celebration of love in Israel and dubbed by its restorers as Jewish Valentine’s Day, unmarried women would come together, all dressed in white, dance, and hope to find a partner. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

We celebrated Tu B’av on August 15th at Beth Evergreen and Kate won a silent auction for a backstage experience at a local production of Funny Girl. We went last night. It’s tech week for Funny Girl and our friend Alan Rubin is a player.

I had nearly enough theater credits for a minor and acted quite a bit in high school, college and seminary. After that, nada, but Kate and I were regulars at the Guthrie. When I was in high school and middle school, our parents took us several years in a row to Stratford, Ontario, to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A passion, really, but one that has slowly faded.

TheatreJust before getting up this morning a strange, but somehow obvious thought occurred to me. While on the backstage tour we visited the dresser, an energetic guy who made or altered 490 costumes for the women in this performance. !. We saw the multiple props, a day bed, a drinks trolley, several doors with wheels, a set of steps for musical numbers, a kitchen table, a dressing table. Downstairs we saw the storage areas for costumes and prop making materials. We spoke with the dresser, the stage manager, the director, the actors, several of them, the lighting and sound people. All, to a person, warm and friendly.

We watched the rehearsal through until intermission at 9:30, then these old folks began to tire and went home.

Theatre2Here’s the thought. Going backstage, seeing all the accoutrements for staging a play, especially going into the basement area, made me think of id, ego and superego. Of the masks and personas we wear. Of our brain as backstage, where we store props, costume changes, makeup, where we put together the elements of the show that is our lives. The show itself, and its superego, the director, is the life others see, the one we present as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, then are heard no more.

Let me extend (overextend) the metaphor in one more significant way. All these various elements costumes, props, actors, the stage itself alter themselves for each new script. In other words it is the nature of the theater to be plastic, to use familiar elements for telling unfamiliar stories.

As our life goes on, we often get stuck in Groundhog Day times when we simply repeat the same script over and over. We don’t hear the audience, we don’t see the repetitiveness, are not aware that we’ve been mounting the same play again and again.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Examine the script. Become aware of the lines you’re delivering, the plot you’re pushing forward. Is it still the one you want? Is there another play you can put together with the props, the roles you’ve already played, the stage to which you’re committed? Could be. We can put on new productions, use familiar elements for unfamiliar stories. Might even be fun.

Ancientrails Looks Back: 9/11

Lughnasa                                                                        Harvest Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1Yes. I remember. Too well. At home in Andover, catching the news. Watching in disbelief as things that never happen happened. Passenger jets flying too low, not stopping, hitting, exploding. A feeling of personal violation and awful grief.

This was no moon landing, more like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of JFK, something too terrible to watch, yet too fascinating to stop. Would there be more? What did this mean? Who? Why? God, all those people falling. All those firefighters, police, EMT’s in the dust and smoke, as my Jesuit friends said of a comrade in Hiroshima, “…running toward the bomb.”

A young college sophomore was in his dorm or on campus or working, somewhere. He heard the news. Heard a call. A call to a life devoted to this country, one who had given him, in his mind, so much. Years later he would direct bombers over Libya, make plans to protect South Korea against the North, control fighters and bombers over Afghanistan, Iraq. Attend weapons school. Ten years plus and still a warrior, created by Osama bin Laden.

9.11The world, the blood. The thousands dead then, multiple more thousands of dead now, people still dying. Terrorism, asymmetric warfare, has succeeded. They have tested us, found us willing to do exactly what they need. Punish them, disproportionately. Easy recruiting. Soldiers for the caliphate. Break free of the capitalist West, hamstring the great Satan. And, gain glory from Allah.

It was, I think, the invasion of Iraq that made the terrorist’s argument for them. Afghanistan, no. Bin Laden was there. The Taliban sheltered him. We had a right to go after him, after those that aided him. But, Iraq? An unnecessary war, like Vietnam. In this case a war that convinced thousands of disenfranchised youth in the Middle East that death in jihad was more desirable than death by the thousand cuts of poverty and dysfunctional societies.

9.112Will this end? Yes. Even the Hundred Years war ended. The Thirty Years war, too. If climate change doesn’t take us all down first, at some point exhaustion will set in here and over there in the Middle East. Or, maybe a reformed Islam will take root, push out the extremists who read which texts they choose and ignore the rest.

This war, what some call the Forever War, has defined a generation. Sadly. We have learned no good lessons. No home truths. We have experienced and inflicted pain, gotten no where. Might be that climate change will eventually be the enemy that binds us all together. Wishful thinking? Probably.

Anyhow, I remember. Too well.

 

 

Sweet

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

1514204356436Tomorrow, in our second religious school class, this one unscripted by Moving Traditions, we’re going to do a get to know each other exercise. Your life in 5 objects. Taking my cue from the American History in 101 Objects display at the Smithsonian, I’ll start with my own five objects: a newspaper, a globe, artemis honey and apples, great wheel, family picture.

I’ll ask the kids to bring their objects, 7th graders next class and 6th graders the next. My hope is that as they look back over their life they will begin to reflect on childhood, their childhood and childhood in general. The dominant theme of this year is the huge transition underway for them from childhood to adolescence.

This will also help me get to the know the kids better since they’re all unfamiliar to me beyond names right now. Looking forward to it since the barrier between never having done this and being a rank amateur has been breached. I’m now a novice learning how to help others learn. I can work with that.

20180910_101739Kate and I went in early yesterday morning to help prepare the board’s luncheon for those attending the Rosh Hashanah service. I peeled laser cut lox off salmon fillets while Kate put schmeer on tiny bagels. The lox went on the bagels. Lois and Fran were making egg salad bagels. We set up water, lemonade, coffee stations, put out trays of cookies, dressed round tables with flowers, cutup fruit and vegetables. A platter with sliced apples and honey is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, dipping an apple in honey is symbolic of a wish for a sweet new year.

The service is long, over two and a half hours, so folks are hungry when it’s over. Kate and I got there about 8:50 to help with the prep. That lasted well past the service’s 9:30 start. The prayers and chants, Jamie’s sermon, were all in the background as we worked in the social hall. When we finished, most of us went into the sanctuary. Folks get up and move around, go to the bathrooms, even chat during the service itself. It is, in that sense, more casual than most Sunday morning Christian services.

all dressed up with some place to go

all dressed up with some place to go

Bill Schmidt said something on our zoom session a couple of Sunday’s ago that keeps coming up. You may be more Jewish than you’re willing to admit, something like that. He could be right. I’m in this sort of hokey-pokey relationship to the tribe, one foot in and one foot out, then I shake it all about. I believe he made this comment when I said something like I’m becoming a Jew by osmosis.

We’ll see. I tell myself that I don’t want to join another religion, I’m happy with the earth/solar-centered focus of my own spirituality. And, I am. Further, I got sucked into Christianity by its unexpected (to me) intellectual depth, the beauty of its history. I can feel the same lure every time I encounter new things about Judaism, which is constant. My mind is so open that I can confuse excitement about learning new things with a personal commitment. The difference here, I suppose, is that I’m staying around, getting more deeply involved, not only because of the odd amalgam of tradition and anti-supernaturalism that is reconstructionist thought, but mostly because of the people.

Not sure where all this ends, but for now, I’m excited about my involvement at Beth Evergreen, happy to have new friends, and committed to this congregation. Beyond that? Not clear. Maybe there is no beyond that.

 

 

Cheshbon Nefesh

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

tishrei-month-5768As the moon’s change, so does the Jewish calendar. We’re now in the month of Tishrei, its first day, Rosh Hashanah, the new year of the world. All over the world, throughout the diaspora and in Israel, Jews will be celebrating the new year, shana tovah. This is short for l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life*] for a good year.”

This is not, as may be inferred from the paragraph below, primarily a message of judgment. Rather, it is a call for cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. That is, instead of judgment, the focus is on introspection about the last year, honestly acknowledging areas of life where we’ve missed the mark and then, developing a plan for a new year that includes both atonement and teshuvah, return to a path of holiness. This is an iterative process, it happens every year because there is no achievement of perfection; but there is, as one writer said, the opportunity in this life to become very good.

The soul curriculum of mussar, Jewish ethics which focus on incremental gains in character virtues, acknowledges both the strengths we have and the areas where we can improve our character. “My practice, for example, for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?”

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-ShofarI thought about two boys of a man I know. I pictured them both, slovenly and overweight, and thought, what went wrong with them? I had added to those two judgments an assumption that they were lazy, had not fulfilled whatever potential their father, a successful and kind man, hoped for. Since I don’t know either of them, it’s obvious this reaction said more about me than about them.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

However, I woke up to the judgment and used it as a prod for curiosity. What are they really like? Why did I make those assumptions? What about my own fears did this judgment express? That I’m not in good shape, that I don’t always present my best self? That I had not fulfilled my own potential? Ah. Well, there we are. My judgment was not about them at all, but about me. Yes, I’m curious to know more about them, to learn about their lives because they’re the sons of a man I respect; but, that particular curiosity is not the one most useful here. In this case the curiosity needs to be turned back on my own soul.

So, curiosity is on my soul curriculum. When I’m incurious, I tend to be judgmental. When I’m curious, I learn new things, I can adjust my behavior. Also, when we’re incurious, we simply don’t learn. Because there is no need. That reinforces our judgments and makes us slaves to our biases and prejudices. Curiosity can be a sort of soul broom, sweeping away our assumptions to make room for new insights, new relationships.

It is this hopeful, supportive type of cheshbon nefesh that the metaphor of the book of life and the book of death encourages. We can have a sweet new year, one dipped in honey, if we are honest, acknowledge our strengths, and work to add to them.

 

*The language of our prayers imagines God as judge and king, sitting in the divine court on the divine throne of justice, reviewing our deeds. On a table before God lies a large book with many pages, as many pages as there are people in the world. Each of us has a page dedicated just to us. Written on that page, by our own hand, in our own writing, are all the things we have done during the past year. God considers those things, weighs the good against the bad, and then, as the prayers declare, decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

 

Let There Be Bytes!

Lughnasa                                                    Waning Summer Moon

electronic-symbols2Weird issue. I couldn’t get an internet connection. At first only on this desktop. Then, the TV I watch during exercise went. And the second computer I have set up. I reset the router, did all the tricks I know from now over 30 years of messing with computers as a semi-literate end user. No joy.

I did have the occasional blip of magical thinking. Perhaps this will just solve itself. That does sometimes happen with electronics. Not this time. I knew it was not the router because the downstairs TV worked as did wifi. I set it aside because it was evening and my brain is not too crisp later in the day. The computer itself had failed to turn on and that was too much.

Got up this morning even earlier than usual, around 5:15, fed the dogs, came up to the loft. What the hell could be going on? I looked at things, unplugged and replugged ethernet cords. Then, I decided to try the light next to my reading chair. It didn’t turn on. Hmmm.

Electrical-Problems-Residents-in-Dallas-Face-Electrician-in-Dallas-TX-1024x768Looking behind the computer I noticed my UPS unit was dark. Now that’s really weird. It’s the backup to my backups. Never supposed to go dark unless there’s a power outage. In that case it has a battery that allows powering things down up to a couple of hours after a power loss.

OK. What about the surge protector? I looked at it, didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but it is below a table in the shade. I might be missing something. I bent down. Nothing. Got my flashlight. Checked that all the plugs were tight. They were.

Wait. Those little green led lights. Are they lit or not? I turned off the flashlight. Nope the surge protector led’s were not lit. What the? Flashlight. Looking around. There, hidden under a lip of plastic was a red button, probably a fuse or a circuit breaker? Anyhow I flipped it. And, voila, let there be bytes! Everything returned to normal. Second computer connected. Yes. TV. Yes.

einstein-einstein-quotesBest guess? A doggy induced power outage. Gertie loves to go underneath my computer table as a shortcut. And, no, I have no idea why. She must have somehow bumped it and tripped the circuit breaker? Really, I have no clue. Occupied a good part of the day yesterday and this morning.

I had a vague sense of panic at being disconnected. Oh, that’s a strange feeling. What will I do? Read? Heaven forfend. I like to read by choice, not by lack of choice. I could have adapted, I’m sure, since I’m of the precomputer revolution era, but I sure didn’t want to.

Which made me wonder if what I’ve gained with all the electronic whizbangs is really a distraction, an electrical haze between me and the world. Probably. At least to some extent. But, then, so is reading. So is spending time at the library. Ink and paper haze. Or, taking care of machines. An oil and gasoline haze. Movies. Television. The issue is not the medium, but the user. Me.

 

Fragment

Lughnasa                                                                    Waning Summer Moon

(computer/electrical problems yesterday)

Tomorrow is erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the new year for humans, the day when humans were created and a celebration of the days of creation of the world.* It begins the ten days of awe which end on Yom Kippur. The month of Elul, which ends tomorrow, is an entire month dedicated to a soul inventory and amending of life. I didn’t do much with this this year, but I want to try it next year. Or, maybe next month. I like the idea of a month dedicated to an accounting of my soul and to ways of amending it, but also in the spirit of an earlier post, of reinforcing the positives. An annual physical for the spiritually important parts of our life.

Kate and I had a quiet day yesterday.

 

 

 

*(Judaism actually has four new years, one that starts the calendar year in the month of Nisan and celebrates the founding of Jewish people in the exodus, one that served as a date like April 15th for the collection of taxes and is no longer celebrated, and Tu B’Shvat, the new year of trees. This last is still celebrated and marked the birthday of trees since by Jewish law no fruit could be taken from a tree until it was three years old. Wish I’d known about this when I put in the orchard.)

Oh, really? Hmmm?

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

Slept in till nine yesterday. I was at Beth Evergreen from 3:30 to 10 pm. And, I was anxious/excited for most of it. Tuckered out back home, in bed finally around 11 pm. That’s really late for both Kate and me. Got up at 5:30 to feed the dogs since that’s what they expect, then went right back to bed. Unusual, but effective. Got up rested, though still feeling threads of exhaustion.

We had the mussar vaad practice group after religious school. That’s why the evening went so late. My practice for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?

or, the reverse

or, the reverse

I tried this with a member of the mussar class. When I concluded that they were probably acting with little self-awareness from values instilled as a young child, I was still judgmental, wondering how a person could grow old and not gain insight into themselves. Apparently, in this case, quite easily. So that is who they are now. I pushed my circle of curiosity out a bit to ask the question, does our society need people with these attitudes, do we benefit in some way from them?

Important side note here. It’s not the values this person expresses that bother me, though I do disagree with most of them, but the apparent unwillingness to entertain error. No real dialogue can happen then.

When I consider society’s need, I find a different perspective. Since I disagree with most of the values expressed by this person, they make me give pause to my own unexamined ideas. They challenge me to remember the cliched, but valuable: Don’t believe everything you think. What’s the societal advantage here? No democracy can survive capture by one political perspective. That’s the problem with demagogues, autocrats. They represent a calcified political ideology that brooks no challenge, no matter what the ideology. So, the frisson between competing ideas keeps us from accepting the Putin, Xi Jiping, Kim Jong Un style of strongman leadership.

curiosity5Like Charlie H. in the Woollies, this person threatened to leave the group. It struck me that both used their own intransigence and subsequent reaction to it as a means of manipulating the group into reinforcing their willingness to include them. I feel extorted in those situations, like I have to simply roll over and say, oh, please stay. In Charlie’s case I would not have done it, had I been in the Twin Cities and able to face the daily consequences of defying him. In the mussar group instance I only held my hand up half way when asked if we wanted this person to remain in the group. I felt similarly manipulated, but did not feel my cohesion with the group quite strong enough to withstand outright defiance.

In both instances my reaction is not, I’ll say this again, to the values underlying the reactions of these two people, but to the manipulative and my way or I hit the highway ultimatums.

We should question ourselves if another person’s values disturb us enough to want them gone from our presence, or our society. That’s not to say that there aren’t some values so abhorrent as to justify that. Criminal law is filled with examples. But in the political realm, so long as reasoned discourse can occur, then we owe it to ourselves to consider honestly those with whom we disagree. They might just know something we don’t.

 

 

Hey, Teach

Lughnasa                                                                      Waning Summer Moon

maybe not quite like this

maybe not quite like this

Tanya. Carla. Kenya. Mom. Mary. Mark. Grandma Ellis. Jean. Others whose names I can’t remember. Teachers. All of them. Now, for one night, me. Well, I’ve taught adults in various formats over the years, but never kids. Last night I sat down with 13 kids, 6th and 7th graders, and talked with them about what makes them anxious or worried about their bar or bat mitzvah. “Falling off the chair. I watch a lot of fail videos.” “Chanting the Torah and my voice cracking.” “Having to give a speech.” “Being the center of attention.” “I can’t afford the outfit.”

It was a sweet moment and I got so into listening to them that I forgot the beach ball toss game we were supposed to do. We went from that question to what Jewish values do you want to express at your b’nai mitzvah? What values do both you and your parents share and want to express? “Being a good host.” “Honoring my friends.” “Honoring my family.” “Learning the Jewish tradition and passing it on.” “Throwing a good party.” “Learning Hebrew.”

fiddlerontheroofIt was the kickoff event last night for the religious school and it was well attended. Each kid came with one or both parents. Usual glitches. Somebody forgot to order food. Solution: Dominoes. I forgot the beachballs. Solution: listen. Facilitation was by committee. Alan did the introduction. Jen Kraft, the regional person from Moving Traditions, spoke about the development of the curriculum. Jamie facilitated a piece about what the sages thought was appropriate for ages from 5 to 100. Tara facilitated a group exercise in which adults and kids called out descriptors for child, teen, adult.

There were some gumups, but on the whole I thought it went well. I dressed up, which always means I’m nervous. Realized last night that I’ve been doing that long enough that wearing fancier clothes make me nervous, rather than more confident. Makes sense. Learned behavior.

21 sessions still ahead. Most of them won’t be this complex. I have a different sort of respect for all you teachers out there. Will have even more, I imagine, as the school year continues.

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