Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A moment of Mindfulness at camp

Earlier this year, I was doing a lot of thinking, and reading, and teaching, and writing about two topics which have become very dear to me - non-dual theology (the idea that God is not some thing out there, but rather the sum total of our cosmos) and mindfulness. These two things are very tightly interconnected, even if it's not obvious how that's true at first.

Anyway, life got crazy, and I've been able to do less reading, less teaching and a whole lot less writing (but, still a lot of thinking) about them the past few months. When it came time to pick some teaching topics for camp, I decided to try to teach about non-dual theology. Sure, it's a bit heavy for an hour at camp, but it's an elective, and there are always a few kids who get really into this stuff.

I had some time before my class, so I went down to the spot where I'd be teaching and started to flip through Art Green's Radical Judaism*. I was looking to get my mind in the right place, and re-energize some of those theological muscles.

* It's a book about Green's non-dual theology, and it's utterly fantastic. I highly recommend it. But, be forewarned - it's not an easy read!

Well, as always when I read Green, I came across a passage which I just loved - it said exactly what I've been trying to say about something, only so much better, and more succinctly, than I can*. Talking about the amazingly, breathtakingly complex series of interaction and interdependencies in nature, Green writes:

* For example - all of this blog post, up until now, has just been a way to get to: "hey - look at this awesome passage in his book!"

It is these very intricacies and complexities that have led the religious fundamentalists to hold fast to the claim that there must be a greater intelligence behind it all, that such complexity can only reflect the planning of a supernatural Mind. But they miss the point of the religious moment here. Our task as religious person is not to offer counterscientific explanations for the origin of life. Our task is to notice, to pay attention to the incredible wonder of it all, and to find God in that moment of paying attention.

When someone tells you that science is in opposition to religion, just remember that that's only true of some religion. For some, science only makes religion better.

Oh, and I only got 2 campers and a counselor signed up for my elective. But, man did we have a good talk!



Friday, June 15, 2012


A fantastic, beautiful piece by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, which I simply don't have time to do justice to, so just a few quick comments:

Whatever you think our policy toward thousands of illegal Sudanese refugees ought to be, there’s no denying that images of Jewish immigration police rounding up helpless refugees is a distressing one. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be discomfited, not to wonder if a country created by people who had nowhere else to go 60-something years ago couldn’t have dealt with this better.
“You shall not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Does the fact that this is a Jewish country not have anything to say about this, many young Israelis are asking.
I've often quoted a thinker (I keep forgetting who) who called that the biggest moral leap in history. Hazing, he said, is the normal human response. Someone does something bad to me, so when I'm in power, I'll do it to the next guy. The Jewish response was, instead, to remember the pain of oppression, and use it as a spur to never do it. I remember how awful it was, and so I'll never do that to someone else.

That's why we are supposed to relive the Exodus every year, at seder. We keep the memory, even the sense-memory, of that horrible time alive, to keep the motivation alive, too. The motivation to help the weak, and never to oppress them.

I am sure that the actual, practical question of whether or not to allow the Sudanese refugees to stay is a complicated one. Sincerely. But, I'll admit that my strong, nearly overwhelming gut reaction is that they have to be allowed to stay. It's the only right thing, the only Jewish thing, to do.

Gordis goes on though, to show a painful irony in Israel right now:

...that young woman from Aderet and her companions awoke on Tuesday morning to newspaper accounts of how anti-Zionist haredim (ultra- Orthodox) defaced memorials at Yad Vashem with graffiti reading: “Thank you Hitler for the wonderful Holocaust you arranged for us.  Thanks only to you we got a state from the UN. [signed] World Zionist Mafia.”
Does our government still believe in this country? Will it have the courage to find a way to kick out – forever – the people who spray-painted those horrific words and those who encouraged them? Or are the Sudanese the only ones we’ll figure out a way to expel? Is nothing sacred here anymore? It’s a sad day when young people feel a need to ask.
I will always love Israel, and I will always be proud of Israel. But if those refugees are sent home, while those miserable SOBs are tolerated, then that will be a moment that does not make me proud. Israel should be better than that. Israel is better than that.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More than happiness

There should be a law - you can't comment on an article unless you've read the thing.

But, there isn't a law, so I'm going to break it.

The New Republic has a piece up about happiness. It's longish, so I haven't had a chance to read it yet. But, based on the opening, I'm going to enjoy it, and agree with it (and, yes, I'll admit that, like most people, those often coincide!).

The gist seems to be that we make a mistake when we conflate happiness with pleasure. There's nothing wrong with pleasure, mind you, and it can be an important part of happiness. But, they aren't exactly the same. Happiness is something larger, something more profound.

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 19a) teaches that happiness come from restraining your negative impulses.

Where do you find happiness?

Let's hear it for heresy!

I recently read an article by Kate Blanchard, in which she attempts to reclaim the word "heretic." Her argument is that it's (at least in her case) a much more useful word than, say, atheist. She doesn't like the word "atheist," because of what it has come to mean:

The new atheism, of the sort that has celebrities, conventions, media outlets, or protest marches, is not simply about doubting the existence of traditional deities. It is more often about intellectual elitism, and sometimes even outright racism toward people whom Christopher Hitchens referred to as “semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions.” Orthodox secularism, it seems, is about feeling superior to those poor, deluded souls who still cling to religion—that weird little psycho-social appendix left over from some earlier stage in human evolution.
I don't agree with her, personally, about not using the word "atheist" for these reasons - an atheist is someone who believes (although, they say "knows") that there isn't a god. The fact that some atheists are obnoxious about it doesn't invalidate/change the word itself. But, I tend to be pretty logical and unemotional about these sorts of things, so I get that others will have an impulse driven more by the emotion/connotation of the word. It's a small quibble; we certainly agree on the larger issue of these angry atheists!

But, it gets more interesting (to me) when she talks about heresy:
The kind of heresy I’m talking about here is what Thomas Aquinas defined as “restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine [as determined by the Roman Catholic hierarchy] selected and fashioned at pleasure.” (I would question only the implication that heretics are unique in “selecting and fashioning” their beliefs “at pleasure.”)
Look, I belong to the most non-doctrinal arm of a non-doctrinal religion, so I come from a very different place than she does. But, it seems to me that there are two extremes in religion - either complete rejection, or complete acceptance. Atheism or Fundamentalism. Right? The rest of us live in the middle which is, by definition, less consistent than those extremes, but does seem more honest (and, dare I say, more true). "Heresy" isn't a big category in Judaism, but if that's what this is, then it feels pretty good to me!