Minute Mitzvah: Watch Your Tongue

It’s Monday Mitzvah! If you’re not hip to Jewish ethnospirituality, feel free to pass.

Today: Don’t oppress anyone with words.

Like many of the mannerly mitzvot, this one seems easy — until you begin to ponder the meaning of “oppress.” Obviously, trash talk and insensitivity are out — but what about asking the price of something you’re not interested in buying? Trotting out that cute but embarrassing childhood story? Being rude to the help because you’ve had a bad day? Torah posits that the Universe was created through speech; is it any wonder that it also considers shaming akin to murder?

Exercise: Listen to yourself through the other person’s ears.

… And It’s Still Unbroken

WEDNESDAY NIGHT WAS SAN FRANCISCO and the Jellyfish Gallery, a cozy industrial space where 50 or so practical idealists gathered to talk about saving the world one action at a time.

The event was a local “spore” of the international Evolver.Net launch (which seems to be the latest public project by the millennia-old and occasionally secret Happy Mutant conspiracy, whose unspoken ideals include fierce creativity, kindness, neophilia, competency with tools and a compulsion to answer every “No” with a “Why not?”).

My friends at Conscious Consignment had heard about Evolver.Net at the recent Harmony Festival and were impressed by its founder, Daniel Pinchbeck. (Disclaimer: I haven’t yet read Mr. Pinchbeck’s works in depth, but he seems in the vein of meta-agnostic and polymath Robert Anton Wilson‘s Cosmic Trigger sans Wilson’s humor and “don’t believe everything you think” attitude.) As an old-school Happy Mutant who was 15 when Cosmic Trigger and Star Wars debuted, here’s what I saw:

1. Same energy, different faces.
A dizzying feeling of bilocation: people as young now as I was then, like looking back at the starting line of an endless race — spooky and cool at the same time, with a happy undertone of “And some day, their kids …”

2. Better tools and competency.
Organizing and voice-projecting are cheap-to-free these days, as opposed to the limited resources back when websites were called zines. Evolver.Net is one such: it’s a social network (a la Facebook) specific to organizing projects that may be too big for one person alone. (Tangential thought — the scene feels more … stratified than that o’ me youth; perhaps the difference between discovering potential and implementing it.)

3. Alas, another deadline.
If you also have lived through one Harmonic Convergence, two Grand Planetary Alignments and the turn of one millennium, after each of which historical moments life was expected to be completely groovy forever, you will understand my skepticism (see sense 2a) regarding the whole 2012 thing; saving the world (i.e., restructuring the human experiment to maximize all the good parts) works better as an ongoing process than something with a sell-by date.

Bottom line: Some very good and good-hearted people are doing some amazing and important things, and they’re using Evolver.Net to do it. Come join the fun — and be the world you want to live in..

Silent Revolution


The Idea: Ann fretting about leafblowers disturbing the local birds, and me wondering what the world would sound like were all the machines to be turned off for a while…

The Action: On January 1, 2010, between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., everyone in the world turns off all cell phones, computers, televisions, radios, games, leafblowers, lawnmowers, weedwhackers and cars — in short everything that beeps, rings, roars, rattles, or makes a sound louder than a normal human conversation and isn’t essential to maintaining human life. (Sort of like The Day The Earth Stood Still, but voluntary.) Conversation is optional during this period, but it might be fun (and instructive) to enjoy the silence in silence.

The Method: Get the word out by linking this message through Facebook, email, Twitter, Usenet, phone-pole posting and asking Stephen Colbert to bump it. (That last is optional, but I’ve always wanted to meet him.)

Motto: “Shhh.”

Happy Bloomsday!

105 YEARS AGO TODAY, LEO Bloom took his famous fictive walk through Dublin seeing the same places and eating the same foods as his latterday followers did, will do or have done today. (Me, I’ll be sitting on the floor with Ulysses and crying in my (virtual) Guinness over my small literary pretenses. Joyce uses the same words as the rest of us (okay, he also invented some, but still) — how does he manage to arrange them so? It’s just not fair, but so is Molly, yes she is yes.)

Minute Mitzvah: Divine Assumption

And now, another Monday Mitzvah! If you’re not hip to things eth(n)ospiritual, feel free to skip.

Today: Know, if even arguendo, that God is.

TO A THEIST, THE IDEA of a Universe without God is a no-brainer; to an atheist, “no-brainer” describes the theist. But it’s likely that neither defines “God” (or “belief”) the same way. While varieties of divine certitude include knowledge, faith, reason and suspension of disbelief, an individual’s understanding of that certitude’s Object can be colored by childish, unevolved-since-Sunday-school notions of God As Cranky Grandpa (and pose a challenge to those making a serious go of the mitzvot). Fortunately, a more mature understanding of God — e.g., as Truth In Action, or Omnipresent Center, or Not Possibly Described — will usually be found by someone who diligently looks for it.

Exercise: As often as you can during the day, stop and ask yourself: “What connects this to everything else — and how?”

School’s Out

TODAY IS THE WORST DAY (or one of the worst days) in any given year: it’s the last day I’ll be teaching religious school, which means I won’t see “my kids” any more — and I’ll be slightly stupider without someone questioning my basic Jewish assumptions every couple of weeks.

I don’t know what motivated the people who taught me, but what motivates me is the conviction that, at 12 years old, the human being is halfway between the wonder of youth and the skepticism of age: old enough to begin thinking critically and asking interesting questions, and young enough to still enjoy curiosity. When I was that age, my teachers told me not to ask interesting questions (apparently not knowing that Judaism is all about interesting questions): thereby driving me on 23-year post-Bar Mitzvah quest for a spiritual path that did. Mind you, this world offers a variety of beautiful approaches to finding God Or A Reasonable Approximation, but I don’t want my kids to have to go to as much trouble as I did. (Of course, if they do, I expect to hear all about it — they’re all smart and love a good argument.)

And so, every year, I have taught them a bit of history, a little Torah, some customs; I especially tried to teach them that this rich heritage is theirs, and that it isn’t limited to a bunch of rules and some dusty bookshelves: that it’s alive, and growing, and that they’ll eventually pass it on to their own children. And that they’ll want to — not because someone said so, and not only because a moral compass (or good manners) and sense of relation are human universals (either to stand on or to kick off against).

But because we’re all here so briefly, we need all the help we can give each other. And because being a Jew, like being anybody, matters.

Dinner: Beef Carbonnade

SONOMA‘S UNSEASONABLY COOL JUNE IS a good excuse to keep filling the kitchen with slow-cooked aromas. This one, I’m told, is something of a Belgian national dish, and if it isn’t it ought to be:

Beef Carbonnade

1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons flour
3 pounds lean London Broil, cubed
1-1/2 cups beef stock
1 cup stout (I use Guinness)
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

– Saute onions and garlic in oil.
– Dredge beef in flour, add to pot, and brown evenly.
– Add beef stock and stout; simmer until beef is tender (about two hours under the lid should do it).
– Add molasses and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot over boiled new potatoes, and contemplate the goodness of Life’s little alchemies.