Saturday, April 10, 2010

So a nice Jewish dentist goes to a folk music show...

Last night I attended a folk concert in Marblehead featuring a couple of folk singers I've enjoyed for over twenty years now. The coffee house, actually a Unitarian Universalist church, was packed and was overflowing. But thankfully I was allowed to sit up front because I was taking pictures and was videoing the show. So I got myself over there just behind the massive piano and got my various accoutrements together before the show began. As I set up I started talking to an older couple sitting right behind me in the second row of pews. We chatted for a few minutes before the show started and they seemed quite nice.

Then the show began. The artists before us sang their hits and a few lesser known tunes that meant something to them. All in all a wonderful first set. Then they took a 15 minute break between sets so they and us could all stretch our legs and maybe buy some CD's or whatnot. I had already bought what I wanted before the show had even begun, smart cookie that I am, so I had the luxury of being able to just hang out and hobnob. It was during this time that I got to talk more at length with the husband of the couple. I was so glad I did. He was a joy to talk to and had many a story to tell. Not just about the folk music scene of Boston, though he did have a treasure trove of that as well. But stories of his own life and of his meeting his wife and courting her in the fifties and getting married in 1960 and all of the pictures and video he had taken during that time. Still all stemmed from his seeing my own video equipment. He mentioned artists I knew all too well as well as several I had never heard of, though I'm sure they were all just as good. We even talked politics after he realized I was safe to share his opinion with! It was funny, because he almost said this in a hush. His wife, standing not too far off, didn't like him talking politics, since he got so worked up over it.

The second set began and it was as good if not better than the first one. They all sang old favorites that the crowd, including me, sang along with them. I dutifully continued to record the show for posterity's sake. Who's posterity I have no idea. I just know I love this kind of music and apparently others do too. So the set came to the end that it must with one encore for old time's sake. My equipment did its job, just barely. One battery gave out just before the end of the show. Then the other used up its memory as the last song ended. All in all, not a bad evening.

In the course of the conversation with my second row interlocutor, I found out that he is a retired dentist who is Jewish. We talked about my attempt to learn Hebrew this upcoming summer and the Hebrew his grandchildren had to learn for their Bar Mitzvahs. I shared that I'm a seminary student at Gordon Conwell Seminary who is theologically traditional in my beliefs, but who nonetheless is quite liberal in my social views. As I said earlier, all in all, a very nice evening. I hope I meet him again. He was a real blessing to me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Auschwitz and memory

Every life lost
is a life extinguished
before its time

Systemized extermination
is inhumanity

We must

And yet
we must remember

So that
never happens again

help us

Friday, October 23, 2009

Honest Doubts

Sharing doubts when doubts confront from within or without are ways of honestly acknowledging what's actually going on inside. Even though sharing a doubt or two or more is scary and sometimes scandalous, it ultimately takes much less energy than maintaining uncertain certainties built on sands shifting beneath our intellectual and emotional feet. When we refuse to acknowledge any uncertainty, but instead stand steadfast against any questioning inquiries, internal or external, we mount up with wings of Dodo's, flapping furiously against the forces of nature itself. Nature, like the God who created it, has rules that govern how things work. When something or someone goes against those rules, eventually they pay the price. Either they pay it quickly and relatively painlessly, or they keep trying to prove themselves right and everything and everyone else wrong, and the price keep rising. Eventually, the impulse to control reality on our terms causes the flightless Dodo to try to fly off a cliff to "prove" it can. While it is often said that nature abhors a vacuum, nature also abhors fools who refuse to learn they're fools. The one who acknowledges a doubt or two or three knows enough to hold back from the cliff's edge. Paying attention to the reality surrounding us and the reality inhering within us gives us an opportunity to consider that maybe, just maybe, I might be wrong. This is wisdom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning as mitzvah

To learn is to do God's work after him. Since us humans are made in his image, we have at our bestowal a vast resource if we would but take advantage of it. Most of us most of the time live our lives barely beyond crawling out of the mud. Not that there's anything wrong with mud. It's what we're made out of and God called it (us) good. We must never forget our origins and how deeply we're embedded to the land that gave us birth. Mud is where we've come from, but it's not all of who we are. And it certainly isn't where we are called to stay. We also are these creatures that have this breath of life breathed into us from above. Not just nephesh, all living creatures have that. We all breathe and have our being with them. But we, these human creatures, seem to have had a breath of heaven breathed into us, this breath called ruach. Somehow this living breath gives us eyes in a way that even other creatures, our brothers and sisters of the soil, don't have. We have a sense of divinity that may exist in other creatures, but isn't expressible by words, or maybe I mean concepts. We look out beyond ourselves and wonder about what and why, where and when, and ultimately Who. All of the other creatures, animate and inanimate, have this ingrained sense of the divine within their being. But we wonder about it. We struggle with it. We look around and see, and wonder at what we're not seeing. Thus we learn. We seek out what isn't yet seen. We struggle to learn what isn't yet known. And in doing so, we see more of what God has created. We read of God as he has shown himself to us, whether by words breathed out on scrolls, or in words found as we breathe in air given to us from our brothers and fellow creatures, the trees that surround and feed us every day. As creatures who stand between heaven and earth, filled with spirit and soil, we straddle two worlds as we struggle through this world. Our knowledge is our blessing and our curse. God help us to learn from every teacher you have given us. Help us to learn what the world, in all its entirety, is. Help us to see what is and be at peace with that reality. To learn is to grow in the knowledge of God and his world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is an oblique mitzvah?

An oblique mitzvah is a good work done, if you will, from a sideways glance. It's almost an inadvertent good deed. It's not quite intentional. An oblique mitzvah manages a moral act in the midst of an immoral situation; a situation I might add, that emanates from within. I think when we engage in oblique mitzvahs, we illustrate the goodness of God. The Creator's goodness is shown in a dirty, messy situation. The term came about when I picked up a call today at work and it turned out to be a telemarketer. Instead of hanging up, which is what I (and everyone else) normally do, I set the cordless phone on the counter and let the recorded voice continue its spiel. It's at that moment that I realized that by putting the phone aside without hanging up that I was keeping one phone line busy at that telemarketing company, and thus they were unable to make another call to someone else at that moment. The whole event lasted maybe a minute. It won't go down in the annals of human history as a transformative moment. It won't even go down in my own life's history as being a game changer. But, for one moment, I kept a company that's most likely a scam operation, from harassing someone else. That, my friends, is an oblique mitzvah.