Sunday, April 28, 2013

Calendars


"How long has your Mom been in the hospital, Yvette?"  My friend’s sollicitude melts my heart.

"She went in on the Feast of Christ the King—so about a week, thanks."

"Yvette, you’re the only person I know who measures her life by the liturgical calendar."

Deciphering my professional calendar synched to my email as I anticipate the coming week, I recall the conversation that jarred me a few years ago.  He was probably right.  As the music coordinator for my parish, the seasons of the liturgial year occupy a good deal of my byte space.  Months ahead, I choose a few hymns to rehearse and add to the parish’s repertoire. Ask me about the Easter season, the feast of Ascension, Pentecost, and the Body and Blood of Christ.  I could obliterate a Jeopardy category named Liturgical Calendar. 

What does that say about me?  In fact, what do the calendars we juggle like so many colored balls reveal about ourselves and our lives?  Mulling over this as I close the email, I start to wonder about the other calendars that have oriented my life over the years.

What about the original calendar, my body’s calendar?  The rhythm of birth, puberty, childbirth, menopause, and death.  I remember Margaret Laurence reflecting on it through Hagar  Shipley in The Stone Angel:

"Do you get used to life?" she says. "Can you answer me that? It all comes as a surprise. You get your first period, and you're amazed — / can have babies now such a thing! When the children come, you think — Is it mine? Did it come out of me? Who could believe it? When you can't have them any more, what a shock — It's finished so soon?"

Living what a neighbor aptly described the other day as “the third period with five minutes remaining,” I am caught up in this primal calendar, like everyone, ever.  Often, I feel like the first two periods and fifteen minutes belonged to someone else I can hardly recognize now.  Although she looked a lot like me, and wore her hair in much the same way, she worried more,  and kept one eye trained on the clock.   She was far more concerned about work.  She had many more threads to keep from getting hopelessly tangled.  She slept less.  

When I was a child, the most important calendar was the farming calendar:  seeding, spraying, summer fallow, harvest, and winter.  All phases involved frequent staring at the sky.  Was it cloudy?  This was a good thing if we needed rain, and always a bad thing during harvest.  Was it sunny?  Great news during harvest, but discouraging during a summer drought.  This is the calendar of someone whose destiny is tied to the land, and who is all too conscious of its caprice.

For more than fifty years, my life has been governed by the school calendar.  The student cycle began at the end of August and continued through the end of June.    The teacher cycle began in mid-August, with a few hours of school set-up each day until the first official day back.  At that moment, I stepped on the treadmill and didn’t get off until the last report card was handed out at the end of June, and, in the early days, the register balanced (Remember that, teachers?).  Add unwinding, and we’re into the second week of July.

When I had a baby, I realized that newborns and toddlers have a calendar imposed on them.  They are six months of age, or fifteen months of age, or twenty-three months of age.  They are never a little over a year, or almost two, or two and a half.  They are thirty months.  People are doing the math in their heads.  Okay, what are the multiples of twelve again?  I always longed to tell someone that my five and a half year old was sixty-six months old.  I could always visualize the far-away look of eyes rolled up a bit, scanning the mental calculator, lips quivering in support, hoping to come up with an approximation, at the very least, in time to nod in understanding.

By comparison, the calendar year seems almost irrelevant.  After the frenzy of the Christmas season, the official calendar year ends on New Year's Eve, an apt climax to the ebb and flow of a series of months, but an end to nothing in particular.   The government, in a perverse gambit to keep people on their toes, runs its calendar year April 1 to March 31,  culminating in an accounting frenzy all its own.     

Against the backdrop of the calendar year, the significant calendars sum up my life, a life connected to farming, schools, children, and churches.  A life in four words.  A life spent close to the land, learning, love, and liturgy.  A life in communities, relationships, values, and ideals.    A life played out in the counterpoint of human demarcations and natural rhythms.



Monday, April 22, 2013

Time

Tonight, with critical deadlines looming, and every minute a precious commodity, I am taking the time to blog.  Why?  Simply because I know that, no matter what happens between now and then, I will meet the deadline.  I will have enough time.

I have met impossible deadlines many times before, deadlines I had no business meeting.  This is not the arrogance of a magic formula speaking, but the awed voice of mysterious experience.  For decades, I ascribed this good fortune to divine mercy, to the providence of God.  The divine may very well be wrapped up in the multitude of quasi-mystical phenomena around time that I have lived over the years.  In the last few years, however, I have begun to think about other possibilities.

The pattern was always eerily familiar, no matter what the occasion.  For the annual all-nighter before the dance photo shoot, I would collect my daughter's costumes in various stages of near-completion.  Some needed sequence that had to be hand-sewn, others hooks and eyes, some buttons, others hems.  With a stack of good movies and the remote control on my left, the pile of costumes in front of me, and my sewing supplies on the right, and the security of not having to go to work the next morning, I stitched, watched, and listened.  For the workshop preparations and the report cards, soft music would replace the movies.  Caught up in my favorites of the moment, I dispatched one task at a time.

Some time between 1 am and 4 am, time elasticized.  It eased and stretched like pizza dough fitting the pan.  In the darkness, someone was cutting a seam in the garment of time and inserting a piece to enlarge it.  Every time.  When I finished, at some point just before dawn, I felt like the recipient of a gift I didn't deserve but was very happy to receive.

I already understood the principle that, to speed up, you have to slow down.  Methodical deliberateness had replaced anxious rushing.   Methodical deliberateness communicates confidence.  It suggests that everything is normal, as it should be.  It is a manifestation of living from the perspective of abundance.  I have lots of time.  There is no need to rush.  I will meet my deadline.  Lisa Nichols, quoted in Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, would say that those thoughts are producing more calm and certainty because, "What you think about you bring about.  Your whole life is a manifestation of the thoughts that go on in your head."  Having confidence that there's enough time attracts more time.  Time elasticizes.

Working from the point of view of scarcity, though, produces the opposite effect.  Rushing around out of fear of running out of time, those would be my predominant thoughts, and that is what I would attract--more of not enough time.  Scarcity breeds scarcity.  Abundance leads to more abundance.

So, besides blogging tonight, I took the time to make a stir-fry for supper.  I sat at the piano for half an hour.  I exercised.  Making time for those important activities despite the looming deadlines communicates confidence that there is enough time.  I will send my work in on Friday or before.  When I do, I will stop once again for a  moment, just to bask in the wonder of the power of abundance.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stabilizers

I want Angela to know that I still have the mini-journal she gave me in 2004.  It's looking worn now, the cover edges frayed, the corners bent, and the binding lifting from years of being stuffed into assorted purses and bags.  I never left home without it.

From its cover, however, the round, yellow faces are still smiling at me in sundry black and red expressions.  The corners of some of the mouths turn up politely.  Other faces sport a toothless grin and an obvious wink.  Still others let loose in an open-mouthed guffaw so profound that they must close their eyes.  The most daring wear black and white goggles.

More important than the hundreds of smiles, Angela's thoughtful gift spills over with expressions and quotations in French and English, so much that I have purchased a sister for it, an elegant, slightly larger journal in Grecian blue with white flowers in relief, complete with a protective elastic fastener.

Today, I am sharing some of its treasures with you.  Interspersed with the glossary correspondences I want to integrate into my French vocabulary are wise, thought-provoking insights gleaned here and there over the years.  They have been my inspiration and, sometimes, my equilibrium.  I hope they resonate with you, too.

Everything you can imagine will happen to you, but nothing will ever happen the way you imagine.
(Doug Lennox, Now You Know More)

Memory becomes your partner.  You nurture it.  You hold it.  You dance with it.
(Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven)

Throughout history, the most common, debilitating human condition has been cold feet.
(Sign in a principal's office)

Lost is a place, too.
(Christina Crawford, Survivor)

Death ends a life, not a relationship.
(Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie)

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
(Wendell Berry)

You should be able to give away your most cherished possession without your heart beating faster.
(Lakota Elder)

When you dream, do not be realistic and fit your dream to what exists and is possible.  Fit your dream to what should exist and should be possible.
(June Callwood)

Tom Landry, whose football players were not allowed to celebrate in the end zone after a touchdown:  I want them to act like they've been there before.

One of the jobs of a leader is to remind citizens of their most decent intentions.  
(John Ralston Saul, My Fair Country)

Hope is what each one of us imagines as a good future.
(Buffy Sainte-Marie)

Learning is finding out what we already know.  Doing is demonstrating that we know it.  Teaching is reminding others that they already have the answers to their own questions.
(Richard Bach,  Illusions:  Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah)

To live is to be marked.  To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.
(Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible)

A life that is planned is a life that is closed, my friend.  It can be endured, perhaps, but it cannot be lived.
(The Inn of the Sixth Happiness--film)

She never knew what the real treasures were.
(Cynthia Voigt, Solitary Blue)

Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.
(Heinrich Heine)

My real treasure . . . is your presence; it is those rays of intelligence you have elicited from my brain, the languages you have implanted in my memory, and which spring there with all their philological ramifications. These different sciences that you have made so easy to me by the depth of the knowledge you possess of them and the clearness of the principles to which you have reduced them--this is my treasure, . . . and with this you have made me rich and happy.
(Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Incomprehension

Like the rest of the world, I am mute tonight, stunned before the incomprehensible attacks on the innocent at the Boston Marathon.

Why?

What possesses people to kill and maim others?

The Slaughter of the Innocents, sadly, has always been married to power.  Not just Power, either. Not just governing, controlling wealth, imposing a worldview on others.

The Slaughter of the Innocents is also married to power.  To prestige in a group, in a work community, in a city.  In those cases, the explosives are words, gestures, exclusions, disrespect, any form of bullying.  The explosions occur in people's hearts, shrivelling their spirit, sucking out the joy in their lives, dismembering their abilities.

It's easy to decry overt cruelty of the magnitude the people at the marathon and their families experienced today.  It's even tempting to feel self-righteous.  How can people do such things?

No throwing stones, remember, unless we are ourselves without sin.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Paradox


"I really accomplished a lot today," I often tell my husband when I get home from work.    What do I mean by that?  I mean that I resolved some conundrums, produced a few documents, advanced some projects, maybe even came up with a great idea for a professional learning session.

Even on Saturday, some time in the evening, I might reflect :  I accomplished a lot today.  What do I mean in that case?  I might have vacuumed, dusted, thrown in a few loads of laundry, made muffins, led a liturgy, and worked on a personal project--in short, systematically crossed the jobs off my to-do list.

Other days, I’ll get home complaining, "I really didn’t get a lot done today."  What might have happened there?  I might have replied to questions advanced in emails, or adjusted some planning to accommodate a new idea.  I might have spent a few minutes chatting about a colleague’s workload, or mulling over possible directions on a new initiative.  I might have read, visualized, and dreamed a bit.

On a Saturday, I might have written a letter to a friend, spent some time on the phone, gone out for coffee unexpectedly, or greeted people who dropped by unannounced.  I might say that I have "lost a day" because I was sick, or because getting absorbed in a good book derailed my plan for the day.

It occurred to me that we could have it all backwards.   Might it be that the time wasters are really big accomplishments?  Can it be as important to help someone, recover from an illness, spend time with people, read, dream, write a letter, show interest in a colleague, as it is advancing our formal agenda?  The older I get, the more I think so.

Henri Nouwen quotes an old priest who once told him, "I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted when I realized the interruptions were my work.Well said.  Whatever I might be doing on a particular day, that’s what needed doing at that particular moment, whether it was cleaning, advancing a project, reading, or having a glass of wine.

Having read Marsha Sinetar’s Developing a 21st Century Mind as the millenium dawned, I decided to turn my work into play.  I decided that, since I was spending so much time at work, I was going to have even more fun there.  Students would just have to cope with crazy questions on exams, shooting plastic arrows in class, doing an integer dance, using Smarties to draw circle graphs, or seeing what they could trade for a paper clip.    I do firmly believe that the ability to mesh work and play, to fuse the boundaries between the two, leads to more satisfaction and, paradoxically, more "productivity."

Making that shift requires a conscious change of language.  Words like "accomplish," "losing a day,"  and "productive," need to be used selectively, if not eradicated completely from my vocabulary.

What a paradox, I think:  It is when we are engaged in activities that might be perceived as unproductive that we are actually accomplishing the most. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mosaic

The question left me stymied.

Before asking, she told us about her fascination with bears, about a man named Charlie Russell who wrote a book called Grizzly Heart.  Then, we read the prologue, in which the author describes being approached by a grizzly while sitting on a log in the rain forest of British Columbia.  The bear "finally sat down beside me," he says.  "After a time, she moved her paw along the log towards my hand, and touched it very gently."  That experience, Russell says, changed his life.  "I also knew in that moment that I could not back away.  What was happening was something my life had been moving towards for decades, and from which I must not serve.  I had to follow where it led."

That's when it got uncomfortable for me.  That's when she asked the question:  Can you pinpoimt a moment in your life when you knew you would never be the same again, that the direction of your life would be completely changed?

No.  I had to answer no.  The highs and lows of my life scrolled before me like my iphoto collection.  But I couldn't click on any specific one.

All I could think of was a young woman I know who, when she was four, saw a cellist on TV, and said, I want to do that.  Now, she is a professional cellist.

 I had to ask myself:  Is it possible to live your life and NOT have an experience like that?  Allow me one caveat before moving on:  I am consciously not including marriage and the birth of each of my children, fully expecting those experiences to change me forever, even before they happened.  Which, of course, they did.

Having been asked a question, and asking one myself, I had to follow the thought.  Can you move from one event or episode of your life to another, experiencing incremental moments which, in their totality, change your life?

That's when the image came to me:  My life is like a mosaic, composed of a kaleidoscope of irregular ceramic pieces.  Okay. . . Could I identify some of those pieces?  How about watching Dr. Robert Cosby, leaning against the blackboard in a class on the American novel, legs crossed, styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and the novel of the week in the other, asking us undergrads how each character in that novel developed one aspect of the theme.  Then, our efforts not producing the desired results, his leading us there through a questioning pattern worthy of Socrates.  Thinking--I want to be able to do that.

Then, decades later, observing Dr. Carol Rolheiser of OISE facilitate an interactive session for six hundred participants, I thought,  I want to be able to do that.  What else?   Witnessing the transformation of a young girl as her classmates offer her the latest in hip shirts and jewellery for Christmas, out of the goodness of their hearts, and thinking, I want to do that. Using words and questions to reformulate ideas, provoke thought, refocus discussion and achieve consensus, and thinking, Hey, I can do that!

Now, though, the reflection gets riskier.  What about a mosaic made out of misshapen pieces of old, broken pottery?  I once saw a videoclip about an artist who did precisely that. What would my broken pieces of pottery look like?  Well, there would be the students along the way whose needs I didn't meet, the failed lessons, the botched piano performances, the careless comments, the missed opportunities for kindness and generosity.

Together, the glass and ceramic pieces and the segments of broken pottery accumulated bit by bit over the years intermingle and complement each other to create the mosaic I have become.  Though I can't single out any one chunk that would parallel Russell's grizzly experience, I am grateful for the interplay of colour and texture that makes me, me.  Grateful, too, for the question that inspired the reflection.




Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Winter


The picture says it all (Thank you, Janet, and Country 100).  People are fed up with winter.  As the days get longer, and longer, and still it's cold and snow continues to pile up faster than it melts, frustration mounts.  
Everywhere, people have something to say.  "The winter of our discontent continues,"  I hear.  "God forgot to push the Spring button!"  still another ventures.  "I hope the next time we get together, there won't be any snow!" are another's parting words.  On Twitter:  If I see I sign of spring, I will get down on my knees in thanksgiving.  What?  Another "Travel Not Recommended" advisory?  People are afraid to venture out,  leery that good roads on the trip out might turn into horrendous roads on the trip back.

People have had enough.  They are shovelling out their own streets, and going to work in sandals and cardigans, no matter what the conditions, no matter what the consequences.  After all, the calendar says April.

Watching a heavy, low sky spew curtains of big snowflakes that plug up my driveway and street yet again on Sunday, I think that this could actually be picturesque in December, or January.  Now?  Well, it's a stretch.

Yes, I, too, am tired of the winter that will not end, and the beautiful long evenings that could be spent walking without the menace of a serious fall, or maybe even enjoying a warm fire on the patio.  I, too, am worried about a fast thaw and the threat of flooding.  I, too, think that in way too short a time, we'll be right back here, shovelling snow and worrying about the roads.

Even then, I can't help thinking, how did our ancestors manage interminable winters?  The vegetables they would have put away for winter would be just about gone.  They used sleds, and, later, stashed chains in the trunk of the car.   Their homes were not insulated to R 6.  They did not have 4-wheel drive SUV's with ESP systems and studded winter tires, or cellphones, or Internet, or satellite TV, or Netflix.  Heading South was expensive, and exclusive.

They managed.  How?  There's a lesson I can learn here.  Recalling Eckhart Tolle, I start to wonder. If they could not muster energy or enthusiasm for winter, all they were left with was acceptance.  That is my reminder to myself today.  After all, spring and summer (and winter, too, as far as that goes) are states of mind, present or absent no matter what the calendar might read.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shifts

Gotta do something with all those carrots.  I bought another two pounds without checking the crisper first--never a good idea.  What about soup?  More nutritious than carrot cake, and will take almost as many carrots.  Still old-school, set in my ways, working out of an old paradigm, a digital immigrant, I check a few recipe books.  Nothing.  Well, duh . . . . Internet!

Next recourse--Canadian Living.  I do a "recipes only" search for carrot soup.  There's carrot soup for all tastes, time, and pantries.  How about roasted carrots?  One-too-many steps.    Soup with flour and milk?  Too rich.  With chive oil?  Whatever that is, it's not in my larder--automatic disqualification.  Indian-spiced?  Not going there--burned my mouth in an unfortunate Indian cuisine experience last summer, and I'm still traumatized.  Chicken stock, lentils, onions, cumin and ginger?  Now, that's doable.

That took five minutes.  Five minutes!!  Before Internet, carrot soup would have turned into carrot cake.  Not in my recipe books--out of luck.  In those days, I would have bought a magazine just for  a recipe or two, or (public confession) ripped a page out of a magazine in the hospital emergency waiting room.  I collected recipes like good books.  I had a recipe drawer that I sorted every five years or so, scanning the pile, sending them to the right or to the left, to the binder or to the recycle bin.  Then came the classifying, gluing onto paper, slipping into a plastic pocket, and then into the binder.  From an idea to a printed page to a plastic pocket (too messy a cook to cook from a computer file) in seven minutes.  I can still be amazed.

A similar shift occurred in my classroom.  Back in 1975, when I started teaching, duplicating materials was a time-consuming, hazardous process with unpredictable results.   For best legibility, the document had to be typed on a purple-backed stencil.  That stencil was then clasped onto the drum of a duplicator fitted with an alcohol drip.  The copies were literally cranked out--damp, and sometimes creased.  A real crapshoot most of the time.  Worse still if you were trying to duplicate an existing document--add an extra step.  You had to place the document between the white and purple layers of a special stencil, and run the whole thing through a machine that impressed the document on the white layer.  No money-back guarantees here either.  Sometimes, there was no time to wash the purple stain from my hands before arriving in class.  I looked like a purple-fingered pilferer, caught in the act, another victory for the invisible powder.

Obtaining resources was an adventure.  We prepared the film order in September, for December and January.  Too bad if you weren't exactly on the right act of Macbeth when the films arrived--if you could get them for the dates you projected.  Students are doing a research project?  With a month's notice, you could order books from the provincial library to supplement the school library's collection.

It's so different now.  Students can Google anything instantly.  During a class, conferencing with a student are working on a project, I am reminded of a clip from a movie that would fit perfectly.  I don't have a copy, but I might get lucky on YouTube.  Sure enough.  Not only do I find the movie, I find the exact clip I need, titled to save me time.  Ten minutes later, it's up on the SmartBoard, and the class is making connections between the ideas in that clip and our previous discussion on the topic.  Copyright laws have even changed to benefit teachers and students.  Add to that photocopiers that print, scan, collate, staple, hole-punch, and accept jump drives; Skyping with classrooms across the globe; filming student presentations with a phone; virtual manipulatives; and an animation of rotational symmetry.  Resources are endless, dependent only on bandwidth.

It's so easy to embrace shifts in technology.  Bring on the next iteration of the laptop, the smartphone, the tablet, or the e-reader.  We would never insist on using the duplicator rather than the photocopier; we would never insist on using a typewriter; no one laments the passing of the VCR.  The latest technology in their day, those devices enhanced our life.  Having served their purpose, they fade into obsolescence.

Now, what do I do about the other shifts going on in the world?  What will my response be to those more challenging, difficult shifts that call into question what I do each day, and how I have come to see the world?  Will I take the time to consider ideas carefully, to ask questions, to seek out the view that is different from my own, to understand it, to see its merits and its effects?  It's so much easier to remain firmly entrenched in the way I have always done things, or the way I have always thought about things.   Although I was unsympathetic to  Tevye's call for "Tradition!  Tradition!" in Fiddler on the Roof,  I have to watch that  my own clarion call does not echo those words.  I need to remain open.

Society is meant to evolve.  The theory that the earth revolved around the sun served society well until Copernicus, first, and Galileo, later, proved it false.   Time to move on, then.  In a classroom, time to let go of teacher control, punitive policies, normative assessment, for starters.  In the Church, time for women priests;  true equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation; contraception.

A carrot soup recipe online,  a SmartBoard in the classroom, or even sharing ideas in a blog--these changes in the daily management of my life are a training ground for the more challenging shifts I need to  first reflect on, and then, having decided, integrate or reject.   For reasons I can no longer recall, I thought that age would bring more certainty.  I believed that I would have more answers as I got older.  Wrong.  I have far less certainty, and a whole lot of questions.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Accomplishment

What drew me back to the TV a few days ago during a story about Nelson Mandela was not that he was in the hospital again.  Nor was it news that he had pneumonia.  Nor even that his lungs were being drained.  It was the network lead that captivated me:  Young people in South Africa don't see his contribution as so great.  What he did, some say, is no longer relevant; it happened in the past.  They feel that time has stood still, and they are still involved in a struggle.  Mandela is only a frail old man.

Excuse me?  Not so great?  Mandela was the first black president of South Africa.  He broke the back of apartheid.  He even spent twenty-seven years in prison after being convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. What, then, would it take to make a "great" contribution to society?

Dumbfounded that anyone could so easily dismiss accomplishments the like of Nelson Mandela's, I was reminded again of the futility of measuring our actions by any standards other than personal ones.  Just a little later, another example surfaced.

During a conversation with my son, the subject of substitute teaching came up.  I reiterated to him that I had no intention of "subbing,"  although I might be enticed into a longer stint in a French Immersion classroom if the need arose.  He seemed relieved.  I wondered why.  He remembered experiences in high school where subs would have a hard time.  Even master teachers, star teachers with glowing careers, had to handle situations that would never have arisen during their teaching days, when their reputations and the relationships they had developed with students would have eliminated almost all potential issues.  "They [the students] don't know who those people are," he said.  These individuals had been objectified.  Their past accomplishments forgotten, they were "the sub."

Another very sobering thought indeed.  If dismantling apartheid and a sparkling teaching career can be forgotten, where does that leave me?  I have learned to measure my actions against my own vision of who I want to be and what I want to do.  What others do or do not do, what they applaud or disparage, has no bearing on my sense of accomplishment.   Am I working toward my goals?  Any I being true to myself?  These are my sextants.

What endures, then, if temporal success does not?  We will probably never be aware of our greatest contributions to our society, given that these occur on a deeply personal level in our interactions with others.  We have a dramatic effect on the lives of those close to us.    Even people we hardly know count on us for things we are not even aware of.  These actions, conscious or not, are what endures.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Accountability

I'm still thinking about the episodes of The Bible I mentioned in yesterday's blog.  While watching and reflecting, I was reminded of an arresting poem by Jack Riemer I read years ago.  That poem changed how I pray, even how I perceive God's role in my life.

I am sharing its power with you today.



We Cannot Merely Pray
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
For we know that You have made the world in a way
So that all of us must find our own path to peace,
Within ourselves and with our neighbors.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end hunger;
For you have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world,
If we would only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out our prejudice;
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all people,
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end despair;
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope,
If we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease;
For You have already given us great minds
With which to search out cures and healing,
If we could only use them constructively.
Therefore, we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination, and courage,
To do instead of just to pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.


Jack Riemer

Likrat Shabbat 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Connection


Yesterday, I finished watching the New Testament episodes of the History Channel miniseries, The Bible.  As I watched Caiaphas, the High Priest, manage the menace he saw in Jesus, I wondered about the parallels with our own time.

Caiaphas’ only concern is the Law:  following the Law and protecting the Law.   However, at this moment, Caiaphas is worried about Jesus, his new ideas about God, his ability to amass large crowds, and his pretention to be the Messiah.  Given that Jesus and his friends are in Jerusalem for Passover, and that the situation there is already unstable, Caiaphas takes literally Pilate’s threat to cancel Passover should any disturbance occur.  He says, ‘‘Jesus must not interere with Passover.  God would bring his wrath down on all of us.’’  

Like Caiaphas, we still associate  the status quo with God.  Why do we assume that God would be angry if things changed?  Why would we not assume that He would want our understanding of Him to evolve, rather than remain cemented in the worldview of the past?  After all, He gave us intelligence, creativity, ingenuity, and compassion.  Besides, he gave us Jesus in example.

Caiaphas decides that Jesus has to die, and asap, as Passover begins the next evening.  Otherwise, Caiaphas and the others will be ritually impure.  Apparently, planning someone’s death is not a criterion for impurity.  How many flagrant contradictions mark our own age and our own lives? 

Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, worries about the legalities of the plan to arrest Jesus during the night.  Scouring the Law for enlightenment, he finds that no trial should occur on the eve of the Sabbath or the eve of a Feast Day.  Furthermore, trials should only occur during the day, in the light, in public, and never at night.  The Law is inconvenient in this particular case, so why not just ignore it?  Are laws or principles only relevant when they are convenient?  Do laws or principles apply only when we want them to, when their application won’t threaten our lifestyle or our worldview?  How does our perceived responsibility to preserve our principles and way of life affect our response to different ways of looking at things?

In the name of Jesus, do we justfiy exclusion, discrimination, autocracy, punishment, manipulation?   Do we do this in the name of Jesus, who was all about inclusion, equity, empowerment, compassion, and transparency?

In the name of Jesus, are we Caiaphas?