Posts Tagged ‘ creating ’

For Franz Kafka

2009.09.10
By

The old woman sat, softly singing, on a blue wooden chair in the middle of the vast cobbled square, rippling a carpet of birds with each cast of her hand.

Tall jagged buildings loomed on all four sides around her — blocky and black-windowed, granite-yellow in the light of the dying sun, their shadows not quite lengthened to cover her frail red-shawled form. The air was cold and redd’d her cheeks as the birds fought for dried corn and cracker crumbs.

A tall man strode toward her — dark blue and broadshouldered, a cap visor shading all but a dour mouth.

“Leave.”

“Why?”

She rolled with the blow which sent her sprawling.

“Now.”

“No.”

Fluttering clucks roared the birds swept round and round him. He raised his arms, alarmed; they were wings and he dwindled, his voice a querulous chirp among hundreds.

She felt herself, sighed, and satisfied, arose. She shifted her shawl and sat, singing softly and scattering seeds.

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Natural Machines

2008.02.21
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A number of years ago, I got into a cocktail-party argument (or its boho-pomo equivalent, since we were in San Francisco in the 1980s) with someone who decried the “unnaturalness” of spaceflight. Her thesis, IIRC, was that humans were somehow apart from and opposed to Nature, as evidenced by the fact that “we make stuff instead of using what’s already there.” I asked, “What about beavewr dams and birds’ nests?” She got mad and found another people-knot. Would but that I could have steered her http://www.nextnature.net/-ward!

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Mystic Fables for Religious Misfits ™

2008.01.01
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Here’s something I’m working on which has not yet been published. The working title is Around the Rimless Sea: Mystic Fables for Religious Misfits; each features a mercenary cook and former holyman named Prosatio Silban. This excerpt is from one called Passing Notes, about our hero’s time-lost love who won’t go away …

“THAT’S SWEET,” SHE SAID. “BUT work now. Later…” And she kissed him again, waking odd corners of his body.

Senses engaged and soul singing, Prosatio Silban set to his task with a will. The stack of corn-wraps at his left grew steadily, was taken away, grew again more swiftly. He discovered that the process had its own rhythm — slap, smell, flip, smell, remove; slap, smell, flip, smell, remove — which seemed to coincide with the music wafting into the smoky kitchen. This is not hard at all, he thought, stealing a glance at Ashlaya’s perfect form and inadvertently meeting her amused eyes.

He opened his mouth to speak, when the cook to his left — a pasty-faced youth named Otlon, who had been filling and rolling the fried corn-wraps and arranging them on cloth-covered wicker plates — coughed loudly and made gargling sounds.

“Don’t mind me,” he said apologetically. “I can never get used to whatever plants or flowers or weeds they have around here. Don’t they bother you?”

Schooled in politeness, Prosatio Silban refrained from putting his hand over Otlon’s thin lips.

“Not as such,” he said, one eye on Ashlaya. She had finished her mixing and was now shaping raw wraps for the skillet.

“Why not? They surely bother me.”

“Ah… I don’t know. Sacreant’s Privilege, I would think.”

“What’s that?”

“Well…” He noticed Ashlaya listening out of the corner of her ear. “In exchange for our ministrations to the faithful, Sacreants receive from the Dancing Gods certain benefits. We … the Sacreants don’t get colds or headaches and the like, for one thing, and tend to heal faster.”

“Does that include hearts?” murmured Ashlaya.

Prosatio Silban looked at her, ready to spill a flirtatious reply.

“I wish I didn’t get colds,” Otlon said. “But every summer, it’s the same thing — three weeks of dripping hackery. And the sleeves! I wish I were a Sacreant.”

“No, you don’t,” Prosatio Silban said, feeling as though his heart was running motionless at full speed. He turned again to Ashlaya.

“Why don’t I?” asked Otlon.

“Why don’t you what?”

“Why don’t I wish I was a Sacreant?”

“It’s not exactly as wonderful as it might seem,” Prosatio Silban said.

“Why not? Get to live in the Great Shrine, eat well every day, get to be in charge of everything and tell people what to do. I’d like that better than slaving for old Ape-piss.”

“You only say that because you …” lack the experience to contrast it to your current station, he almost said. Am I going to talk this pompously for the rest of my life? No wonder people dislike us … dislike the Sacreants, I mean. “You don’t have anything to compare it to,” he finished.

“Compared to this, anything’s better,” grumbled Otlon.

“Be gentle,” whispered Ashlaya. “You’ll learn to like yourself. In time.”

How did you know what I was thinking? But Otlon didn’t give him the chance to ask.

“Why did you quit being a Sacreant anyway?” he asked.

Prosatio Silban’s limbs stiffened in sudden anger. How could he explain, in brief and to a complete stranger, his entire life? That he had been abandoned as a baby at the Great Shrine by one or another poor mother? That, in gratitude for growing up strong-minded and clean-limbed under Sacreantal discipline, he had vowed to repay to his benefactors a debt of someone else’s making? And that he had eventually discovered only disillusion where he had once confidently sought Truth? He groaned inwardly, and relaxed his rage.

“It’s a bit complicated,” he said. “Sometimes a thing isn’t as nice up close as it is from a distance.”

“Sometimes it’s nicer,” Ashlaya said softly. “But you can’t tell that. Before you know it.”

“I think everything’s wretched, from a distance or otherwise,” said Otlon. “You’ll see. Especially here.” He picked up a plateful of filled corn-wraps and ambled off.

Prosatio Silban sighed in relief. Finally. Now for some real conversation.

But when he turned to Ashlaya, she was looking at him apologetically.

“The pitcher’s empty. I must get some more water,” she said. “Wait for me?”

“For you, anything,” Prosatio Silban replied with a bow. “But every heartbeat is an eternity until you return.”

“Then. I shall always return.” She smiled enigmatically and padded away, carrying his heart with her.

“I can’t believe how many wraps these people eat,” Otlon said, returning. “I bet they don’t get colds either.” Prosatio Silban sighed.

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Stephen3PO

2007.12.17
By

Or should that be 'Stee-3PO?'The writers’ strike wears on, but our nerves don’t thanks to those daring and resourceful folks at Operation Facestrong. Long may it wave.

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Na(t)ive Torah

2006.05.18
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Considering that this is how many of us returnees (including myself) came to study Torah in this unannounced-but-nonetheless Golden Age of Judaism, Plotz’ wide-eyed innocence struck a deep chord with me. Perhaps this is one reason why the Torah remains a “living document” after 3000+ years…

Blogging the Bible: What happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book?
—————————————————
By David Plotz
Posted Tuesday, May 16, 2006, at 7:00 AM ET

[...] I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? How will the Bible relate to the religion I practice, and the lessons I thought I learned in synagogue and Hebrew School?…

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Chinning the Bar

2002.04.15
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One of the reasons why I love my wife so much is that our conversations range from the silly to the serious.

On the silly end are our discussions about the secret lives of animals: their tea-parties, nutritional choices, and the songs they sing to their children. But these are mysteries which cannot be discussed here.

At the other side of the spectrum are the serious conversations about life, perception, Judaism, socialization, etc. Many of these latter talks will no doubt leak onto this website, since they provide me with an endless pool of inspiration for my future rabbinate. Thus:

Last night, we attended a concert in Marin County featuring our favorite female a capella group. Their performance was preceded by a talk by a woman who has made it her life’s work to translate Biblical and liturgical works into more lively and gender-inclusive forms.

I thoroughly enjoy her translations, and support her thesis that tradition holds a place for creativity, but took mild exception to her statement that the ancient liturgy doesn’t speak to modern Jews. As modern Jews who love ancient liturgy, my wife and I couldn’t help discussing this on the way back to Sonoma.

What we came up with was this: Almost by definition, there will always be a tension between a religious tradition and the individual practitioner thereof. Essentially, in many ways, the tradition will both challenge and validate the individual practitioner.

There seems to be a tendency among modern spiritual types to reject challenge in favor of validation — whether because of bad childhood religious experiences, or perceived “patriarchal” theologies, or self-centeredness, or something else.

Challenge is what makes us grow as individuals — forcing us to live outside our heads and predilections. Validation is what tells us that we’re doing okay. In (what I define as) a “true” spiritual path, one cannot exist without the other — unalloyed challenge is restrictive, while unalloyed validation can foster delusions.

I personally love the challenge of ancient liturgy as much as I love the challenge (read: the “ugly and difficult parts”) of Torah — because life is often ugly and difficult, too. The challenge for me in seeing “kedusha Torah” (sanctity of Torah) is the same as seeing “kedusha chayyim” (the sanctity of life). As a good and holy friend of mine says whenever anything awful happens to him, “It’s all part of the training.” (Which once prompted another friend of mine to reply, “I don’t know what kind of ungodly catastrophe Mark’s in training for, but I’m going to his house when it happens.”) But not everybody wants or welcomes a challenge — many prefer to ignore the ugly parts and focus on the “good.” But that’s bubbe meise (nonsense) — if we don’t recognize the ugly, how can we transform it to the beautiful? And isn’t that what partnering with Hashem really entails?

Of course, I realize that I am generalizing somewhat, even though I’m basing the above on direct observation. But I think that one challenge in building a 21st Century rabbinate is going to be the ability to validate while challenging — to use Reb Shakespeare’s words, “Trick into learning, with a laugh.”

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Peace Through Superior Prayerpower

2002.04.12
By

Well, the “shalom service” was either very wonderful or very weird, depending on whether you want to think about it quantitatively or qualitatively.
From the former perspective, it was weird because — either despite or because of or having nothing to do with advance email-list publicity by my rabbi and I — only two members of our congregation showed up. Also in attendance were some very dear, longtime friends of Ann’s and mine from our RenFaire tribe and a woman and a couple who needed, in light of the matzav, to be with other Jews and happened to find out we were having a service.
Qualitatively, however, it was very profound. We did the straight Erev Shabbat I service from our Reform siddur, and I never heard such loud and earnest davening. The d’var shalom went over pretty well (I’ll post it after this entry); people really had a need to share their fears and hopes. Mostly, we spoke about how wrenching it is that Jews are fighting Jews as a community well as within our own hearts. We also spoke about how none of us want Psalm 83 to be a part of our personal or comunal theology. We all cried a little, as is natural when speaking from the kishkes. Afterwards, we laughed a little too. Everyone was profoundly grateful for the chance to come together. And I am, as always, profoundly grateful to Hashem for allowing me to enable that to happen.
That quantitaive vs.qualitative thing … Despite my firm belief that people should only come to services if they want to, I freely admit to a bit of disappointment that more people didn’t attend. But more importantly, perhaps, is what a difference it made in the lives of those who did attend.

Here is my d’var shalom. When I delivered it, I expanded a bit on my own personal feelings:


D’var Shalom – Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5762

Last December, our religious-school director Susan Jebrock and I attended a meeting of Jewish educators in San Francisco. The lead speaker was a rabbi named Avram Infeld, a big macher in Israeli educational circles. He’s an amazing speaker, one of those larger-than-life characters straight out of a Leon Uris novel or Zorba the Greek.

Among other gems, he told us always to teach value-laden terms in Hebrew, not English. “What does ‘tzedakah’ mean?” he asked us. “Charity,” we answered. “WRONG!” he thundered. “Charity is what you give because of how it makes you feel! Tzedakah is what you give because it’s the right thing to do!”

The word “shalom” has nuances that don’t translate well into English. More than simply “peace,” it carries connotations of “wholeness,” “harmony,” and “integrity.” Shalom isn’t so much a lack of war as what you get when everything is in balance, with no wobbling.

That’s what’s so important about the word “shalom” – since it also means “wholeness,” it necessarily contains the opposite of “peace.” But only in balance with everything else.
We are the balance point where it all comes together.
But to bring it all together, and do that as seriously and sincerely as we can, we have to clearly look and listen to both arms of the balance.

I’d like to read two psalms right now which apply to the matzav, or current Israeli-Arab situation. Both are about as different as they can be.

- Psalm 83. This uses some obscure references, but rather than excerpt them, I’ve left them in for sake of the meter.
- Psalm 122.

I’ve read those tonight partly because they illustrate two ends of the tunnel we seem to be in, and mostly because I myself have been wobbling between those two extremes, on an almost hourly basis, for the past several months. You are the first people to whom I’ve told this other than my wife. I am not used to or comfortable being filled with rage and vengeance; I don’t like it one bit. Hatred and anger do not come easily to me. I prefer to take the bigger view, the view that shows us how to keep human beings from fighting over nothing and everything at the same time. I prefer balance to wobbling.

That’s not always easy. Talking about it makes it easier. Being listened to makes it easier still.

If anyone wants to say anything and would like us to listen, now would be a good time. I only ask that we refrain from discussing political solutions, and stick to airing our fears and hopes – starting our sentences with “I feel” instead of “we should” or “they should.” Remember, the Talmud records the losing opinions, too, since we can learn from them and may reconsider them as times change. We don’t yet know what the losing opinions are in this situation – so let’s try to value and respect these differences, even those that may remain unspoken.

Most of the last part — “I only ask … fears and hopes” and “Remember … remain unspoken” was written by my rabbi. She’s better at saying that sort of thing than I am. I closed with two poems by Yehuda Amichai, “I May I Rest In Peace” and the following “Appendix to (Isaiah’s) Vision of Peace” (translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt):

Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.

Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.

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Rockin’ at the Beit Tefilah

2001.04.03
By

from a pre-Blogger blog

What happens when you turn back the clock 2,000 years to add creativity to Jewish worship? Erev at the Improv, that’s what — an experiment in structured liturgical spontaneity which, happily, was enthusiastically embraced by the 30 or so people attending this evening’s service. (SIx or seven of them also embraced me afterward, in fact.) I’m absolutely blown away by this, still, at this writing.
Simplistic background: Around the beginning of rabbinical Judaism, we didn’t have standardized siddurim (prayer books) containing a bunch of standardized prayers. What we had, rather, was a standardized structure on which, jazzlike, prayer leaders would improvise a service — e.g., a Friday evening service in Alexandria, say, and one in Rome or Jerusalem would all have two blessings before the Sh’ma prayer — one for creation of the world, the other for the revelation of Torah — but the specific wording of the blessings might be different. Over many years, though, and partially motivated by political conflicts between rival Jewish communities, favorite prayers — “The Top 40,” if you will — were collected and edited into the modern siddurim we use today.

So… armed with this knowledge, acquired from a recent Ritual Committee meeting; inspired by a congregational call for more creative communal worship, and enthusiastically encouraged by our very cool Rabbi, I assembled and wrote a six-page service using structured improvisation* — just like the Good Old Days.

The evening had one rule: Nobody could say anything unless they phrased as a blessing: a sentence beginning with “Baruch atah Adonai (Blessed are You, O G-d), Who…”

And the results were wonderful. It took about five minutes for everyone to catch on to the basic idea, but once that happened, yeehaw! People were really getting into it — Jewishly speaking from the gut about what they found most important in life. “Baruch atah Adonai, Who has let me feel my granddaughter’s hand in mine.” “Baruch atah Adonai, Who has given us new things to find every time we study Torah.” “Baruch atah Adonai, Who has given me a community to support me in my time of need.” And so on into the evening — a steady flow of “Baruch atah Adonai,” punctuated by reflective silence.

Three post-service comments stood out: “I didn’t know any of this was supposed to mean anything.” “What I liked was that it was creative, but completely Jewish.” “Can we do this again?”

And so we shall — on May 11. Wheee.

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Celebrating the remaining days:hours:etc until Apophis II. Live it up, Earthlings.

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