Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What interfaith High Holiday services look like

Thanks to Suzan Katzmiller, like me a member of the Interfaith Families Project, I'm able to share an account of the beautiful interfaith Rosh Hashanah services held last week. (Thanks to childcare and work, I couldn't go. But I was there in spirit.) It beautifully wove the traditional elements of the Rosh Hashanah service with Cat Stevens and The Byrds. A High Holy Day indeed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sabbaths on the Moon

This year's theme for the Interfaith Families Project is "sabbaths"; the value of taking time off from our daily routines to acknowledge our fortune and connect us with our world. But, we learned today, "out of this world" experiences aren't excluded from Sabbaths either. Our spiritual advisor, Rev. Julia Jarvis, shared with us a dream she had recently. In it, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong had written a message in the sky: "Don't forget to breathe."

I'm sure when Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, and Armstrong was the first human being to walk on the moon, that they did have to remind themselves to breathe. But on at least two of the moon missions--Apollo 8, which orbited the moon at Christmas 1968, and Apollo 11, which first landed on the moon a little more than six months later, the astronauts actually created sacred spaces within their spacecraft.

The Apollo 8 crew read the Creation story
from Genesis while in lunar orbit...
The first example is better known. On Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders) made an historic TV broadcast in which they read the Creation story from Genesis. Watching it on YouTube this afternoon, it still raised goosebumps.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a well-known atheist activist at the time, had brought a lawsuit following the Genesis reading. So when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Buzz Aldrin gave himself communion aboard the lunar module after offering following suggestion to those listening on the ground:

...and Buzz Aldrin took communion on the
lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission.
I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.

In these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we think about, among other things, how to keep the sacred in our lives, I'm touched by these explorer's simple efforts to create spaces for the sacred-- that could accomodate faiths in addition to their own. I also can't help but be affected by the way that they were moved to do so when their experiences simply defied words.

L'Shanah Tovah. And may we be inspired by these otherworldly Sabbaths.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L'Shanah Tovah!

Apples and honey: the traditional treat eaten on Rosh Hashanah
to express the hope that the new year will be sweet.
L'Shanah Tovah--Happy New Year!

Forces beyond my control again conspired to keep me away from Rosh Hashanah services again tonight. Which is a shame. The Interfaith Families Project is putting on its own Rosh Hashanah service for the first time tonight. They have brought so much to my family's life and I am thrilled to be involved with them. (Check out the article in today's Washington Post about some other families like mine that are worship with IFFP.) But I celebrated with my family with the traditional apples and honey, spent some time with the kids as they painted. All in all, it was a good way to mark the beginning of the Jewish year.

Being in an interfaith family, I think often about Rosh Hashanah and its meaning. I like the idea of a "birthday" or literally "head of the year," as the Hebrew name for the holiday means. I've never really marked years on January 1st, or on my birthday. Rosh Hashanah has been much more of a signpost of the beginning of things for me. It's when the school year started, and when the jobs I had been in still felt fresh and new. The idea of taking stock was always very appealing to me. And, as Joseph Campbell tells us, the theme of rebirth and renewal at the beginning of the year is a most ancient one.

Traditionally, the Jewish New Year marks the number of years since the Creation. So I hope that the year 5771 brings greater understanding among people of different faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim); that our society nurses itself closer to economic and social health; and that we all stay safe, happy and healthy. That's my hope. May it be a year as sweet as the apples and honey that we shared tonight.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Review of Custom Eula

Rockin' bag!

By Ska Man from Washington, DC on 9/3/2010


5out of 5

Pros: Rugged, Lightweight, Comfortable, Adjustable, Lots of Storage, Stylish

Cons: No key cord

Best Uses: Not Just Biking

Describe Yourself: Office Professional, Busy Dad with Much Stuff

Primary use: Personal

Was this a gift?: No

I bought this bag for use on the weekend to carry keys, camera, shades, journal, etc. I already have a basic black Timbuk2 messenger that I use for work. My new custom Eula is ab fab. The only thing "missing" is the key cord that's in the big messenger but I'm otherwise thrilled. My stuff is out of my pockets. I don't have to be searching through them to find my keys any more.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Princesses are from Mars, Glenn Beck is from...

The lovely Dejah Thoris, courtesy of Rob Ullman.
Can amity between red and green Martians, and Earthlings,
be a model for ourselves?
Today I return to the blogosphere with a discussion of Glenn Beck and Mars. No, it’s not what you think.

Earlier this summer, Rob Ullman, a cartoonist and artist whose oevre includes sports, comic books, science fiction and culture drew a portrait of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s book of the same name. I’ve never been a huge sci fi fan myself. (OK, I went to one Star Trek convention years ago, but that’s a separate story.) Still, having read Burrough’s Tarzan when I was a kid, I picked up a copy.

A Princess of Mars came out nearly a century ago, and it’s far from a Nobel- or Booker-worthy read. (After all, there are fifteen-foot tall, six-appendaged green monsters and the aforementioned Ms. Thoris wears no clothing apart from her jewels.) But the scenes between John Carter, the novel’s hero who is mysteriously transported from Arizona to the plains of Mars (which the inhabitants call Barsoom), and Dejah Thoris are wonderful to read because of the civility and formality with which they address each other—like when Dejah Thoris tells John Carter that she has been engaged to another man:

“It is too late, John Carter, my promise is given, and on Barsoom that is final. The ceremonies which follow later are meaningless formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain than does the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death upon him. I am good as married, John Carter. No longer may you call me your princess. No longer are you my chieftain.”

They speak to each other reverently. Now distinguish this from our political discourse. As it’s all too easy to tell from watching the campaigns, and the reaction to recent debates about healthcare reform, economic stimulus and so on, we live in a poisonous political environment. Leslie Marshall, who hosts a talk radio show out of Los Angeles, asked the other night what was missing from politics. I said a sense of civility, particularly since Glenn Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial had just happened. A little to my surprise, the event turned out to be more church revival than Nuremburg rally. (Never mind that neither he nor most media addressed the double standard between vilifying a Muslim community center proposed for “hallowed ground” in lower Manhattan and holding a right-wing rally on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.)

As I thought more about Leslie’s question, though, and contemplated the root causes of the lack of civility, I dare say that I thought Beck may be on to something. Far from me to think that injecting Christian revivalism into politics is a good thing. But I think what’s missing from politics is a sense that we are all created in God’s image. Even those of us who worship a different God—or no God at all. I’m now preparing for my second year of teaching interfaith fifth graders about the life and times of Jesus. Being in an interfaith marriage, I can say that I’ve had so much joy brought into my life by being open to more than one form of belief. I only wish that our politicians (and us, as a culture) could be more interested in living our motto: “out of many, one.”

Watch! This! Space!

A posting to follow--very possibly tonight!
I know, I know, it's been many, many moons since I last posted to this blog. It's been an exciting summer. Very, very busy, which is a good thing given all the concerns about slowing economic growth. Let's pray that the gray economic clouds reported last week are the gray clouds we've grown used to and not another gathering storm.
What have we learned?
  • American politics are even nastier than we thought they were.
  • It takes just about a hundred days to plug a hole in the ocean.
  • The benefit provided to a baseball team by a rookie pitching phenom (during his rookie year) is inversely proportional to the size of the contract signed by said rookie.
I plan to write a a more detailed post involving Glenn Beck and Mars (and not in ways that you may think). Watch this space and hopefully it won't be quite as dormant!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Part of "Happy Interfaith Marriage" Do Some People Not Understand?

It's been a very long time since I was motivated to post on this blog. Life, as it does sometimes, intervened. But the op-ed by in today's WaPo Outlook section by Naomi Schaefer Riley got me very hot and bothered this morning and not in a good way. It made me almost choke on my banana Cheerios, in fact, as I was getting our kids ready to go to our interfaith gathering.

You can read the article for itself, but what I find most grating about it is that pretty much all she cites are studies that retread all the arguments I've heard about interfaith couples, right up to "the family that prays together, stays together." Well, my family prays together. We say grace at dinnertime and we go to faith gatherings together. When I have some concern about someone's health, job, or life, I pray. Does this always happen at a synagogue, or a church? No. Is it exclusively Jewish or exclusively Catholic? No. But we have a shared experience in faith. And after a year of teaching a Sunday school class on the historical Jesus, I can say that I know more about Judaism and Jesus--and what my wife's and my own faiths have in common--than I ever did before.

Well, this has left me far too upset than I should be on a Sunday night. It's off to the grocery store and then to prepare a nice Sunday dinner. In an interfaith household in which we thank God every day that He led us to each other.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye to the Aughts, Baby!

Is it too late to write about New Years? Your blogger spent the holidays trying to take care of a sore throat/cold that (thanks to the very good Doctor at the local urgent care clinic) turned out to be strep throat. As a result, the January 1st posting has waited four days to germinate. However, I've been happy to have a few days to think about it.

2009 was a challenging year for all, but I like to think that in the crucible of the most intense recession of our lives, I learned how to prioritize better, to become more creative and resourceful in my work, and to not just accept things as they are. I think we'll collectively look back on the past year and be grateful about how we avoided the worst that might have been. Some will disagree, saying that Obama has taken us on an inexorable march towards socialism, but I disagree and refuse to digress.

What I've been thinking about the most is how we are now (arguably, at least) at the beginning of a new decade. There have been a few reminiscences about what this means in terms of the best television of the last ten years (I say in many cases that's an oxymoron), but honestly this one snuck up on me. I think this has been such a challenging decade that we don't feel much like celebrating it. More like turning the page on ten difficult years and hoping that the teens will be better.

What to make of this decade? What to call it? I do like the "aughts" because it sounds like the way the gentleman at the top would refer to it. It's hard to think of a personal pronoun to attach it to. The "me decade" is already taken, and the "us decade" doesn't fit. Maybe the iDecade because of the fast pace of technology. But here's what I'm thinking about what we were like from 1999 to 2009.

We were angry for much of the time. The decade started with the final fallout from the Lewinsky scandal. (Remember that one? Impeaching a President over a sex act seems, to borrow a term from the subsequent administration, "quaint".) Republicans manufactured a great deal of anger on their side, and Democrats felt like the President they voted for had betrayed them or been unjustly maligned. What a mess. Then George W. Bush and his minions squeaked by in the 2000 election. There are very strong arguments that they manipulated or stole votes in Florida, but at the very least it was an election in which 50 million people voted for his opponent and the other side, had it been as assertive as the Republicans, could have won just as easily. Did Bush govern with the "unity government" as was suggested? Of course not.

Then a litany of infuriating things followed. Worldcom. Enron. The failure of the Iraq war. The disaster of Katrina. On and on and on. And of course, the signature event of this decade and possibly our lives, the September 11th attacks.

September 11th channeled this anger, mixed with intense fear, and created a sense of rage and fear that drove politics for the rest of the decade.

I've wanted to write for a long time about September 11th and haven't been able to put it to words. This is not the time or place for that reminiscence, but if my own experience is any indication, the event brought forth an incredibly complex range of emotions, both all at once and over time: anger; rage; fear; deep, deep sadness, loneliness, powerlessness. I think our country went through a similar experience. We felt a great many things but internalized most of them. They manifested themselves in what I can only call a "rage-based" foreign policy under the Bush administration, focused on avenging the deaths of those killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It resulted in what we thought would be an easy war to defeat Saddam Hussein, the hated Arab bogeyman and "appropriate" scapegoat; new interpretations of laws allowing the torture and indefnite imprisonment of our enemies; and a go-it-alone approach that alienated us from nearly all of our allies except the U.K., Israel and Australia. I think we're coming out of this funk but it lasted long enough to permeate our domestic politics as well. Witness the hyperbole and screaming about "socialist" stimulus packages and "Nazi policy" being made through healthcare reform.

With a new decade, I hope that we'll no longer be driven by anger and fear. I hope the recession is teaching us to live in a more grateful way and to appreciate our neigbors, rather than to be driven to annoyance or worse by our differences.