Friday, December 28, 2007

The Jewish Outreach Institute

“Big Tent Judaism” Words of Torah

And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath. But with the one who stands here with us this day before the Lrd our Gd, and also with the one who is not here with us this day. (Deut. 29:9-14)

That struck me between the eyes. Thank you JOI for that. I needed a shot in the arm today.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How you know when your conscience is on the right track...

...or, how do you know G-d speaks through your conscience?

Consider this. You want to feed your dog a little later figuring that the bowl was half full this morning before you went to work and he's already eaten his fill during the day, so he can wait till before you go to bed. You're tired and want to sit down.

Your conscience should stop you. G-d doesn't agree with us all the time. Sometimes yes. Like when you feel you should intervene and stop a mugging. Sometimes not. Like when you try to rationalize having the last piece of desert in the refrigerator. You know you should let someone else have a go at it. It's better to be selfless than self-centered. You know G-d is talking when you hear your own voice somewhere deep inside say, "but your wife might like that after lunch tomorrow. Let her have it. It'll put a smile on her face and you'll feel better about yourself having done a good thing for her."

So, you say back, "yes, I should see to his food and water now while I am up and not later. It's not fair to him. He can't get his own dinner. I'm responsible for him."

In general, G-d will agree when you're doing the right thing, but not necessarily without criticism. He'll point out little points that might help for the future. Or simply a little later.  He'll console you when you're being too hard on yourself, and nag you when you're not being hard enough, when you know that you can do better and the easier it would have been, the more He nags.

However, G-d doesn't ever get nasty. He loves you and is always trying to improve you. The best you that you can be is in His interests for the world, this we know and take on faith. He doesn't set silly standards though and understands you need help along the road.

It's in your conscience where you know. The kind of knowing that doesn't need proof, it just is. The knowing that has an honest balanced and fair view of you. Neither sanctimoniously flagellating nor overly excusing egomaniacal. You know. So don't be afraid to accept it. That fear is what costs us. What holds us down.

I've been there. Where faith is so hard to have. Where your only option seems to be that which the cold uncaring part of the world says is exclusive: give up. I didn't give up. I don't say this to crow. I say this to let you the reader know that the darkness in my life at that time passed, and my marriage is here, my wife is here, my life is here. It would not be had I given up. The bad times don't last forever and you know that.

So stop running from what you know.

Making a Martyr of Bhutto - Yahoo! News

Bhutto is dead. Why why why..?

Haqqani, now a professor at Boston University, isn't sure what the latest bloodshed means for his country. "Will the Pakistani military realize that this is going to tear the fabric of the nation apart, and so really get serious about securing the country and about getting serious in dealing with the extremist jihadis?" he wondered. But he made clear he feels the best chance for such a policy has just evaporated. "She did show courage, and she was the only person who spoke out against terrorism," he said.

"She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option.

(Emphasis is mine.)

Amen Haqqani. Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How was Christmas at my house?

My house as you know is Jewish, or supposed to be in theory. We light candles every Hanukah and that's about it. My wife considers herself to be converting to Christianity and my mother-in-law observes not much of anything. I think it's been over a year since I last heard her utter anything about fasting. Me, I'm the Christian convert to Judaism who tries to eat kosher marked food, pray, and slowly learn whatever he can without losing heart or mind.

The reasons for all this coming about are many. Most goes back to my wife's late father who was the torch-bearer of faith in their house and much like countless Catholic fathers, made his family attend without much reason behind it other than, that's just how he grew up. Without a connection to G-d on a regular basis beyond the canned form of prayers and psalms, there wasn't any connection to Judaism for my wife.

Besides, she blames herself for her dad's death. It wasn't anyone's fault, his heart attack. Bad things happen to good people. Not everything in the universe has a cause and effect relationship that involves G-d punishing or rewarding you. That's as silly as crystal spheres carrying the planets.

So then his wife's lack of observance is... my guess a combination of pain from associating it with him, and the owing of thousands of dollars in dues to the synagogue, and her way of dealing with the depression of our crushing financial woes. She simply sinks into her easy chair in the living room every night and falls asleep in front of the television.

So my wife insisted on a tree and I love my wife dearly and want to make her happy. I am not happy with her wanting to convert, no. However, she accepted me when I wasn't Jewish as did her mother, and I prefer to leave religious choices to each person on their own. All I can do is show my happiness with coming over to Judaism and remind her that Christianity is most definitely NOT what Jesus of Nazareth had in mind. He was a loyal G-d fearing and loving Jew who wanted to call back his people when it seemed they were lost or getting lost fast. It was the legacy of Paul's taking the message on the road to the gentile world almost exclusively as well as a seeming grudge against the rules of the day (leading to elimination of halacha for instance) which gave us what we see today.

As an aside it makes me cringe to think what Judaism might have obtained had it only gone back to proselytizing instead of eschewing it. The rapid adoption of Christianity and later Islam was proof the people of the world nearby were open to the word of G-d. However, the pesky Romans would have none of that and so spreading Judaism's message would have invited more horrors and... History is never pretty, especially where religion is concerned. The ninja of Japan owe their existence to religious persecution for instance.

She got her tree. It was put in the corner inside one of those portable metal dog enclosures to keep our mutts from tearing it down. Under it were a few presents, all of them for her since I insisted on receiving none and neither of us had money for presents for her mother. It was only a couple years ago when there was money for much more. How the days seem so much drearier now...

I treated it as a remembrance of an important religious Jewish personage's birthday and abstained from as much as I could which I felt wrong on such a day and crocheted my wife a hat in about an hour, since I'd not had time to finish a sweater and a scarf for her.

To her mother I gave another hat which I did finish on time.

Our finances are in shambles, the outlook bleak, the end of the year come and the season of white death about us. Yet I am not giving up and instead trying to maintain some hope. G-d has been with me through foreclosure and gotten me through and out of it. He's been there telling me that the bad times will not last forever and that I can make things different. The future I see for myself is not necessarily what must be. Merely what I see through my own depression.

So I continue on.

I read the blogs of other Jewish men and women, read their takes on G-d and what should or should not be, and feel that thanks to the Internet (and thus thanks to G-d for the ingenuity of man who made it and was made by Him) I am living in a sort of second temple period again. No Sanhedrin today, no. Just a lot of people who care enough to even ask what G-d wants and why He made us and how, and all that. A contentious time when in the name of Him, people marginalize Him. A time when people are confused, upset, angry, and losing hope. We have no Roman legions to contend with, only the empty phantoms of our own worries and the nefarious evils we create, allow, nurture.

We're living in heady times again and I suspect more are to come. We never see them at the time as we see them in hindsight, nor do we understand them so well until even later than that when the passion is not so bright and our honesty easier because the wounds of our guilty consciences hurt a little less or we've scarred over and become a little crustier.

One thing I do know is that none of us should be afraid to give of and be themselves. No matter what those who live in fear say, no matter what those who can't see outside their shtetl ensconced world-views say, no matter what we each say when afraid, we cannot live in fear of being whatever we are.

So I offer this prayer before all to G-d on our behalf. Dear G-d... I beg you, please, do not send us a messiah. I truly believe the time has past for us to be playing innocent children in need of someone you appoint to save us. I believe the time has come for us to grow to the next level and save ourselves. So instead, grant us each just a little insight, just a little hope, just a little courage. Help us to see that our salvation is not from an external evil, but from that which results when we good people do nothing. Help us see we need to save ourselves from ourselves. Help us all see that it isn't about us versus them or me versus someone else, that it is all of us versus all of us, and in our fear and anger we're making it worse.

Please G-d, help our passions to calm and our anger to abate. Please help us make our world better in 2008. Just a little bit. We'll work in it. Just help us to see that we can and always could instead of waiting for you to do it for us. We know you said the stewardship of this world was in our hands. We sometimes forget what goes with that: responsibility for its outcome, to be handled with love and conscience.

Thank you for this year's life. We appreciate it.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Random Quotes

"Character is what you are in the dark."
Lord John Worfin, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension