Friday, November 2, 2007

So you want to learn Hebrew...

Okay… This is sort of what someone whose first language is English is up against.

g sry nvs dn rcs rF

Can't understand? Let me put the vowels in.

oga sraey neves dna erocs ruoF


Four score and seven years ago

Uh, yeah...

Principles of my faith #1: G-d exists

If you don't believe G-d exists, then everything else after that point is irrelevant and this is the wrong blog for you as I am not setting out to prove His existence nor encourage belief. I am simply cathartically sharing.

This is the first supposition, statement, assumption, of all the monotheistic creeds whether they put it first or not. Usually it is implied, sometimes it is not. Maimonides stated it out and you can get a good beginner's overview of his principles at here.

Notice that there's no reasoning to back him up there. I am unable to thumb through a translation of his Guide for the Perplexed to find his reasoning and for the love of G-d I hope he was blessed enough to keep his mouth shut and pen in the ink well on that. Why you ask?

As Douglas Adams pointed out regarding the Babelfish in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
Now it is such a bizarrely improbably coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED"

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
Really now, do you want to be the one who negated G-d? In a Zen-mystical sort of way, chasing G-d is the surest way to never find Him and chasing His proof is the surest way to hide him from yourself.

To digress a slight bit and explain how that can be meaningfully... it is generally true in most endeavors that the more you obsess over a single thing the more likely you are to miss it. The search for a misplaced favorite pen, when not undertaken for the sake of actually finding the pen, but possessing the pen, will make you miss important non-pen-related facts, like having been wearing a certain jacket when last you used it. The pen, the pen, I MUST HAVE IT!!!

Neglect of this fundamental aspect of human psychology is not coincidentally the same reason for people not being able to grasp that though the journey and not the destination is your whole point, the journey is given form by its destination in the first place. If you obsess over the path of your journey to G-d, you won't ever get there either, but probably will bump into a wall, fall down the stairs, and trip over your kid's shoes while you keep your head down.

To make it easier for the visually fixated, you can never walk to the horizon, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good direction to be walking and the path won't be the same if the destination is Burger King. You'll actually get there and not have any path left to enjoy. So you're left to choose a path whose destination is not only unachievable but nonetheless a good one to walk towards because it creates a good path. Which involves Proto-Principle #1: Good and bad are real and definable.

I like to remember the line from Farscape by Harvey Scorpius to John Crichton which you may watch right here:
"Well I think that like religion it's an individual choice. Either you believe and therefore bunnies are unnecessary or you don't, in which case, chocolate!?"
That works pretty well. Except with my usual taste for uniting opposites to balance and cancel at the same time giving neutrality and serenity... I'll take the chocolate AND G-d.

Summary: You choose a place to go (wherever you believe G-d is) that defines a path between it and where you are now (where G-d already is but you don't believe it) and since that path is the one you should be on, you are now at your true destination and you didn't even have to do more than make a choice. Wait, dude, what? Oh, hi G-d.

Secular Exposition

If you feel overwhelmed by the many choices of which rabbi’s take on any given thing or their take on anyone else’s take, consider this.

It’s In The Book, Part I, Johnny Standley

I have a message for you - a very sad message!
My subject for this evening will be Little Bo Peep.
It says here, "Little Bo Peep, who was a little girl,
has lost her sheep,"
"And doesn't know where to find them."
Now that's reasonable, isn't it?
It's, it's reasonable to assume, if Little Bo Peep had lost her sheep,
It's only natural that she wouldn't know where to find them.
That, that basically is reasonabl-l-le, but, uh, "leave them alone".
Now that overwhelms me, …, completely overwhelms me.
The man said she lost her sheep, turns right around and boldly states,
"She doesn't know where to find them".
And then has the stupid audacity to say, "Leave them alone"!
Now! Now, now think for a moment! Think!
If the sheep were lost, and you couldn't find them,
You'd have to leave them alone, wouldn't you?
So, "Leave them alone". "Leave them alone".
It's in the book!

"Leave them alone and they", they being the sheep, "they will come home".
Ah yes, they'll come home.
Oh, there'll be a brighter day tomorrow, they will come home!
It's in the book.

"They will come home… a-waggin' their tails…".
Pray, tell me, what else could they wag?
"They will come home a-waggin' their tails … behind them… behind them!"
Did we think they'd wag them in front of them?
Of course, they might have come home in reverse.
They could have done that, I really don't know.
But, none the less, it's in the book.


Chabad's score for the day so far: Well Meaning 1, Good Execution: 0

Why are we not vegetarians? - Ethics & Religion

Then, by eating other creatures we are in fact elevating them to places where they couldn't go by themselves.

This is an excellent example of why sometimes the Chasidim elicit Tim “The Toolman” Taylor “uh???” responses from anyone who is even passingly familiar with Maimonides or even just the 613 mitzvot.

Vampires would have this same idea. That drinking the blood of the living makes the otherwise worthless lesser mortals part of something greater than themselves. So would cannibals. This idea should cause anyone reading it to slam the mental brakes right then and there.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I totally understand their import and implication. We are the ones of all creation called to do G-d’s work, and we need to eat, so when we do, though we dislike killing to do it, we can console ourselves that it served a purpose however much it rankled. I ain’t dense so don’t be flaming me with the fires of righteousness. HOWEVER, please for the love of G-d try to remember how totally kooky this sounds especially to the secular world where Anne Rice elicits more recognition than anything religious.

So then… try out your local market’s vegan/vegetarian section’s soy-based faux meat products that various kashrut organizations have seen fit to give their approval to. If your cheese has no milk in it, and the meat is not meat, and neither is the bacon, you might just have a bacon cheeseburger waiting for you and no animal suffered at all for that and you won’t suffer guilt and so remove two sufferings at once.

Now THAT is being G-dly.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Him: Do you think I like it when you're angry and ranting?

Me: No, not really.

Him: So what was the point of getting angry at your mother-in-law the other day?

Me: Ostensibly because she interrupted my prayer and inspirational reading time, also known as my all too short lunch.

Him: So the way you show how much you want to spend time with me is go ballistic over the lack thereof and yell when you know that only puts you farther from me, because I can't be heard over your yammering?

Me: Is it just the way you put it or is it really stupid across the board?

Him: That last one.

Me: I will apologize.

Him: No excuses either. Normally, I'd pay no attention to how you apologized if it worked and communicated true intent and was accepted fully as that's between you and them. However, you did want to try a new technique of no-excuses which has already got you shivering with fright. So, still sure you want to go the no-excuses route or...

Me: This is going to be like Full Metal Jacket. You'll pinch me harder if I reverse myself.

Him: Only if you're shortchanging your own principles. Be true to thine own self as you humans say, but as I say, ask me about you first. I do know more about you than you like to think and more than you're generally willing to admit to yourselves.

Me: I am a principled something or other, right?

Him: Product representational ethics was always the chief thing sticking in your craw when you were a salesman. You never felt honest about it.

Me: I can't think of any excuses other than medication changes.

Him: And she already knows that so...

Me: Just apologize without excuses because I've already mentioned the one legitimate point and I should leave it up to her as to whether that is enough to explain what I did and how much.

Him: Exactly. Do you have faith in her?

Me: She's a good person.

Him: I didn't ask that.

Me: I have no faith in myself that she should have faith in me, therefore no faith in her to be kind to me and accepting of my apologies. Not that I don't trust her, but I don't see a reason for her to forgive me because I am not ready to forgive me.

Him: Calm down and relax. I already told you hating yourself is a pointless exercise.

Me: I'm sorry.

Him: You need to tell her that.

Me: I needed to tell you that.

Him: I already knew you were or else I wouldn't have brought it up because you wouldn't have been ready to talk about it.

Me: You do know I am already seeing an angle by which no excuses can be seen as an ass-kissing cynical attempt at a non-apology. Like overt selflessness trying to be seen as a hero and not because you mean it for someone else's sake. Or even as a way of scourging myself. It's like there's no right way that won't be in some way serving myself.

Him: Stop being paranoid. That scourging thing is part of why you wanted to walk the no-excuses path because you felt it would flay the layers of your own misconceptions and self-deceptions away.

Me: Maybe you were right I only wanted to do it suicidally. Like an existential jump off a bridge. Get it over with. Not put up a fight. Let my self die with no defense.

Him: So what do you think now?

Me: It could still be either one. Either I'm doing it for my sake because I hate myself and want to put a psychic gun to my head, or I'm doing it for her sake because I'd waste her time with distracting defenses and make the apology into a non-apology.

Him: Yup. It could be either one. You won't know until you giver her a chance.

Me: I'll just say I'm sorry I yelled and leave it at that.

Him: I'll be with you. Remember that.

Me: To chide me or to help me face apologizing?

Him: That last one. I can't chide you nearly as bad as you've already yelled at yourself. Which brings to mind that after you apologize to her, since you already said sorry to me... try saying sorry to yourself. You're obviously feeling more shitty about this than it really warrants and so you're hurt too by you.

Me: Will I forgive me?

Him: Someday, I hope so. I would like you to.

Today's Thanks

In no particular order:

  • The little bit of ego kneecapping earlier when the whole office Halloween thing came and went before it started and left me with no opportunity to do my whole werewolf growl that I was coincidentally all set for thanks to a sore and ragged throat. All that build-up and total lack of cathartic release. It caused me to get angry, grumble to myself, go surfing, and come across some neat stuff on the Internet instead of what would have been honestly a total let-down no matter how great an idea it seemed the night before.
  • An end to today's stomach issues in conjunction with the above. I was so flummoxed I didn't even notice that I drank down my whole coffee for the first time in a week or so without issues.
  • The free Chinese meal. I really never did know sesame chicken was okay for me to eat. Really.
  • My water fountain working again.
  • My car still working.
  • My wife instant messaging me much earlier than she usually does.
  • The energy to talk to Him. I really didn't feel much like it because he was in such a gloating mood, with the sh*t-eating grin in His voice today. I know He only gets that way because He expects I will laugh with Him the way people laugh with people laughing at them when they do a real boner like falling in a pool after acting like a fool. Seen America's Funniest Home Video? That sort of thing. Problem is, I still don't know what it was I was being a ditz with that was so amusing to Him.
Well, I also co-sign myself on all the other things I've thanked Him for before because they are still good.

He is still chuckling by the way. I feel like I have spinach in my teeth or something. Tonight should be interesting so I will say thanks to Him in advance to whatever break in the monotony He's going to provide tonight that teaches me something.


Him: So let me get this straight... You want me to hold your legs while you lean into the other side?

Me: Yeah, just for a half hour. If you don't, well, you didn't give me prehensile toes.

Him: Okay, go for it.

Me: (to wife) That dress makes you look fabulous.

Wife: You're just saying that because you married me.

Me: (to Him) Brace yourself. (to wife) No, really. I love you fat or thin.

Wife: So I am fat.

Him: Enjoy the swim, I'll see you later.

At that point I was in the water but at least my wife was swimming with me. On the other hand she was glaring and blocking the rocks leading up to safe detachment.

Much later...

Me: Yeah, that was fun.

Him: This does have limits. And you like to pull yourself towards them more than away from them no matter how much you try to deny it. Face it, you'd rather be with the same people maddening you more than away from them.

Me: So I'm a masochist.

Him: You are married.

Me: That's my joke.

Him: I wrote all the jokes.

Me: Yeah, yeah... Is it a good thing to pray selflessly for someone else's happiness?

Him: Way ahead of you. You just want her to be happy with her self-image so she won't ask questions that have no real winning answer for you so it isn't selfless.

Me: Damn.

Him: Watch it.

Where I've been and where I am going, Part 1

Ever read about the origin of Lecha Dodi? A nice overview can be found right here at Headcoverings by Devorah.

Imagine if you will, whether or not you are Jewish, the idea of greeting your prescribed time of rest with such joy. If you are grounded o'er much in the modern world, and given to cynicism, then you might think, "oh dear G-d, were their lives so terrible the rest of the week looked so much worse by comparison?" No, though at times there as with other places life wasn't peachy during the work week, it was what it was. The reason is given at that page referenced above.

Though, it comes to mind then that perhaps the reason the week seems so painful to us now, is that we do not greet Shabbat with such delight. Since we see nothing coming but a simple day off someone else said YKW said we should take off, what is there to look forward to really? And if we have nothing worthwhile or of great import to look forward to, then the grind of the week seems even more dreary.

So if we did greet it with such joy, and not faked joy but real true appreciation of our own, then would not the week seem better? Which is a worse picture? A swollen river of rapids and flotsam with nary a rock to be found or a slow placid river with many rocks to step to? When the slow placid river has no rocks to step to, what does it matter? It might as well be flooded anyhow for there's no purchase and the other side might as well be in another country. If you have a path you can trust that never fails you, then the river might be two miles wide and you won't care because you're not stepping in it. You're stepping on the stones.

How then can I hope to have a sense of this all week long as if I was able to follow the calendar invocation of rest and reflection?

By making the goal the path and not the other side of the river. Shabbat is His visitation time with us and it hardly seems fair to limit Him to one day a week, but He seems to accept that little which is big of Him considering we could be simply ordered to do more than that in some way that made our secular lives impossible and left the path of faith to those with someone to completely support them. He lets us have time to work and collect food and pay our bills to keep our roofs.

Given little time on the calendar to make it a simple rote chore or event, I have to be more creative. Which gives me the chance to be subversive and act as a social guerrilla for Him. If I can't carve out sundown to sundown then I will carve it out some other way throughout the whole week. Now then, this is really hard because it means denying the know-nothing faceless world what it wants from me.

The world wants me to react in expected ways. I have to stymie them and not give them that because the ways they expect are negative. The world is cynical, harsh, mechanistic, nihilist, and ultimately bored like a child with a magnifying glass before an ant hill. It doesn't matter why the world does things, only that it will do those things. The world expects me to be ground down. I have to show increasing resilience. The world expects me to be angry when it pokes me. I have to act as though nothing happened. The world expects me to eventually be provoked. I have to never be provoked.

I have to step on the stones of His world and do not more than drag the net they hand me in their river and give them their fish, but not fall in and sputter.

Yeah, blessed are those so challenged. I know, that was sarcasm, but it was also a true statement. I have an opportunity to learn and better myself. So I can thank the world by giving me a river to play with which bugs the world no end because they mean for that river to drown me, I can thank Him by giving me stepping stones and the ability to see them (or at least, I pray for Him to keep on revealing the stones) , and I can thank Him again for showing me this idea so that I can infect the world with more of His subliminal lessons which the world tries so hard not to see.

Hear that world? Yet one more person is on to you and going to spread just a little more sunshine that you'd rather pretend isn't there. So bring it on. You're going to be swinging at me madly trying to make me shut up and missing because I didn't live in your world and visit His, I lived in His world and stuck my head in yours. Thhhhbbbbpppp!!!