Shameless Plug, Drainwise

ALL I REALLY HAD IN mind was helping out my colleagues — I didn’t know I’d also be helping myself.

I’m referring to today’s North Bay Bohemian article titled “There to Be There: Police chaplains ride the thin blue line of compassion.” Aside from this blog and an occasional email, it’s the first thing I’ve written since I got sick back in November, and the fact that my friends (and, more importantly in this case, the subject) are pleased with the results is both gratifying and mystifying. The gratitude is probably obvious, but the mystifying-ness may require an explanation.

Newswriting has always been an effort for me, partly because I was trained in the journalistic arts by some very ethical, dedicated and talented people (i. e., Ed LaFrance, Darryl Curtis, David Wesley Page, Bill Hoban and, chiefly, the late Mr. Robert Lynch). It’s a sort of exquisite agony to know that whatever I write will be read by people who want to know what’s going on; the internal monologue usually goes something like this: “Did he really say that? What was her inflection? Have I checked the facts enough? Why isn’t this quote more quoty? Did I really catch the essence? Do I know enough about this to sound authoritative? Is there more to this than I’m aware? How do I know I know?”

If I’m making this sound hard, it is. If I’m making it sound hideous, then I haven’t fully explained the absolute, timeless, all-encompassing, immediate, pulse-pounding thrill and joy which underlies it all. Because truly, there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do — sometimes I think there’s nothing else in the world that I even know how to do. And after nine months of semi-isolation and attendant self-doubt, it’s nice to know I can still do Neal Things.

In any case, the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service means a great deal to me. Poor health forced me out of last year’s academy, and while at this point I don’t know if I’ll be able to enter this year I want to help however I can. I hope the article fulfills that need, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Hometown Haiku

Sonoma Plaza.
Tree-shaded northwest corner.
…is that a fiddle?

Morris dancers leap
Today! Where a month ago
Two Jews laid tefillin!

Diff’rent traditions
Laughing under the same trees.
My town. Sonoma.

Minute Mitzvah: Mind That Credenza

And now, it’s time for another Monday Mitzvah.

Today: Safeguard your home from accidents.

IN ITS SIMPLE VERSION, THIS mitzvah calls for a roof-edge parapet to keep people from falling off. As those living outside a Mediterranean building-climate likely have no such roof (if I did, I’d stick my telescope on it), in practice this refers to any household chore which protects the residents (and visitors) from injury or illth: washing the dishes; cleaning the toilet; maintaining fire extinguishers, electrical/plumbing integrity, etc. We may also take this as a metaphor to safeguard the trust, safety and mutual support of its inhabitants — without which, no house is a home.

Exercise: Inspect your home for hazards — and act accordingly.

Prosatio Silban and the Profound Breakfast

IN ALL THE EXILIC LANDS there are none so pious as the villagers of Imperny. And yet, even within that island of serene certitude, Prosatio Silban found a disturbed soul.

The mercenary cook had parked his galleywagon a-purpose, on the edge of Imperny’s market square closest to the local shrine. but his “COOK FOR ANY PRICE” banner had attracted only one breakfast customer — a serious young man in an orange robe who had picked his way half through a plate of Leisurely Eggs. He sighed and looked up at Prosatio Silban.

“I have not seen you before, nor do I expect to again,” the young man said. “May I impart a stranger’s truth?”

“The eggs are not to your liking,” the cook began.

“No! No, they are perfect,” replied the young man. “But I am not, or rather my understanding isn’t. I cannot decide whether or not my prayer is effective.”

Prosatio Silban, a self-defrocked Sacreant himself who had long ago decided to feed people’s bellies instead of their souls, had ceased to wonder why his gods wouldn’t let him alone. He asked, “What do you mean?”

“I was deep in my devotions this morning,” replied the other. “And a question occurred to me: am I praying because I am faithful, or am I faithful because I am praying? In other words, do the gods grant me peace of mind, or am I fooling my mind into peacefulness?”

Prosatio Silban thought for a heartbeat. “Does it matter?”

“Yes. I think. Yes.”


“Because by one I am doing something important. By the other, I am silly.”

“But that is already true, in the eyes of those who don’t share your particular piety,” Prosatio Silban said. “If you live for others, you will be concerned with what they think of your actions. If you live for yourself, you will be concerned with what you think. But if you live for the gods themselves, you won’t need your service to be public — hence solving your problem to a nicety.”

The young man smiled. “Pass the tomatoes,” he said.

Minute Mitzvah: Praise Wow

And now, another Monday Mitzvah with a side of motivation.

Today: Hold God in awe.

THIS ONE’S TRICKY FOR ATHEISTS, so in the interests of universality, let’s assume we’re not talking about the Cranky Old Man raining smites and frights whom we learned to scoff at in Hebrew school but rather Something a good deal less childish and not at all definable. Whatever It is, one can only ever relate to the what-some-people-call-“God” on one’s own terms. (Mine are at but also includes That Which Inspires Awe Through Beholding.) My rabbi, Jack Gabriel, likes to call It “God As Context.” A good friend and I have been discussing It since high school; he sees It in the elegance of mathematics and the physical world. Ann once said It’s what compels firefighters and other rescue workers toward situations of unforeseeable survival. Although I’ve never heard a final, explains-everything, non-paradoxical description of It, one thing seems certain — everyone’s an expert.

Exercise: Ponder who it is who is pondering Who “It” is.


MORE THAN ONCE UPON A time, in a land surprisingly near, lived two distinct peoples. Both were composed of friendly, industrious individuals with a long tradition of respectful coexistence in all matters save one: One group took every Monday off; the other, every Thursday.

Ordinarily, this would not have been problematic. But part of their mutual respect was based on a sincere celebration of the other. Weddings, births and funerals always drew a large and mingled crowd, but their different days-off caused the more well-meaning of their members great stress and worry.

“How can we truly share everything if we have to separate ourselves on the weekend?” some lamented. “We are in grave danger of appearing hypocritical.”

In time, as this issue became bigger than everything else the peoples built, either together or separately, each more tightly gripped the other. Neither now exists.

Minute Mitzvah: Free At Last

FOR THOSE INTERESTED, WE AT Metaphorager.Net present another Monday Mitzvah (and its backstory).

Today: Tell the Exodus story on Passover.

“Remember that you were slaves in the Land of Egypt” is Torah’s most-repeated commandment. But if we get hung up on speculation (Did the Exodus “really happen?” Were the plagues natural disasters? If God saved us then, why not now?) we might miss a key point of the story: a people’s journey from slavery to freedom regained. This makes the Exodus less about miracles and more about common roots — both ancestral and mythic — and compassion: for the poor, for the oppressed, for those who don’t know their own freedom. The Exodus is our root metaphor. To quote a favorite teacher, “These are our stories. They tell us who we are.” What we can become after that is up to us.

Exercise: What tells you who you are? Why?