Blog: July 2022

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Shabbat afternoon there was a brief but fierce storm here. I don't know about other parts of the city, but from my house, it was about three minutes of heavy wind and downpour and otherwise a typical summer rain. It was enough to knock our power out for the afternoon and evening, which was disruptive. Also, I think I was about to turn around that game of Through the Ages when continuing became impossible. We got power back just as we were going to bed; this morning Internet was still out, but we were able to get that resolved in under an hour on the phone with Verizon, which is above par. And, fortunately, we didn't lose any food -- went out for ice as soon as Shabbat was over and the meat in the freezer was still solid when I opened it to add the ice.

The garden, on the other hand... I have a large cherry-tomato plant in a large pot; with all the dirt, it's not trivial to move. It was sprawled across the patio. (I didn't think to get a picture before cleaning up.) That pot had been in front of a trellis that I'd been training the plant to climb, but once wrenched free, it wasn't going back. I had to fall back to an, um, "engineering" solution. I hope this works; the plant can't stand free any more even with the cage, so I couldn't just leave it on the patio away from the trellis.

ring of cage tied to trellis with twine

I also lost a pepper. I have no idea if it'll ripen after being disconnected, but green peppers are foul so I'm not going to eat it as-is. The plant is supposed to produce sweet red peppers.

all the survivors, including a pepper sitting on the ledge

In case you're wondering, the cilantro was pretty much done before the storm finished it off, and the attempts to grow a second one from seed didn't work. So that's what the two empty pots are about; just waiting for them to dry out before putting them away.

"Not for lightweights"

Not for Lightweights by Gordon Atkinson (Real Live Preacher) just showed up in my feed. (It looks like a repost; not sure when he wrote it.) He talks about using a sabbatical from his job as a pastor to explore other churches, some quite different from his own. In this post he talks about going to a Byzantine Orthodox service. What he wrote resonated for me:

Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn’t too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer. [...]

After 50 minutes Shelby leaned over and asked how much longer the service would be. I was trying to keep from locking my knees because my thighs had gotten numb. I showed her the book [which was a summary/guide, not complete text]. We were on page 15. I flipped through the remaining 25 pages to show her how much more there was. Her mouth fell open. [...]

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

When I started attending synagogue services, I sometimes found myself at Orthodox or Conservative services. I could barely read Hebrew, and what I could read, I read very slowly. I sure wasn't keeping up. When I got lost, I would find the next kaddish in the book and listen for it to get back on track. (Kaddish shows up a lot of times in a traditional service.) Some things I knew well enough to say; most went over my head. Each time I went I learned a little more. I am still not fluent in the traditional service, though I like to think I would be had I joined a traditional congregation instead of a Reform one.

The Reform movement, for all the good it does in other areas, fails profoundly in supporting prayer growth. That's because the norm is to aim for the lowest common denominator. It's not just that they removed a lot of stuff from the service; it's that what they kept they still simplify. If you're lucky the simplification is just to read a prayer in English, but it's more likely to be a song containing a single phrase from the prayer or, too often, a loosely-related creative English reading. They do this in the name of being welcoming, to make sure everybody there can have a comfortable experience, to make sure no one has to work.

We lose so much by doing this. By trying to make everybody completely comfortable, we impede growth. Growth means going beyond what you already know. It means stretching. It means being temporarily less comfortable.

I'm not saying I want to spend three hours every Shabbat morning listening to rapidly-mumbled Hebrew I don't understand (even though we get to sit for a lot of it). But I want to grow. I want to increase my fluency. And I want to plumb the depths of our actual tradition before ditching that in favor of some modern English poetry that too often misses the mark. There is so much to learn, and every time my congregation replaces a Hebrew prayer with something else, I feel the loss of support from my community in doing that growth.

My Shabbat morning minyan has more traditional content than the norm for Reform, and it was hard-won. Our previous rabbi built that community competence over three decades; when we got a new rabbi who sometimes switched to English for parts we actually know, I took him aside and said "please don't take away the parts we worked for" (and he listened). So far, maybe because he's comparatively new, he hasn't pushed us add more, and sometimes new songs take away some parts and then catch on and now we're singing one line where we used to do a prayer and we've lost another one. And maybe it's a very nice song but it's still a move away from engaging with the prayerbook's traditional content. While I enjoy singing and learning new music, I feel the loss when this happens without some offsetting increase.

I could, I assume, get the growth I seek by going to a traditional synagogue every Shabbat -- it might take years, but just as I went from sounding out basic prayers to reading and comprehending them at speed through repetition and concentration, I assume it would happen there too. I wish I had a path for that growth within my current community. I wish it were considered more acceptable to ask people to work a little, to stretch gradually. If we're there for God -- and I acknowledge that not everybody is -- then we should want to try to do more, shouldn't we?

Pennsic trailer check-in

This weekend is the Cooper-designated weekend for people who want access to trailers stored there to go in and do any needed work. (There was a second, but it was Shavuot so that didn't help me.) It's been three years since Pennsic was held and thus three years since my house-on-a-trailer has been moved or used. I dreaded what I might find. I wouldn't have been surprised by "sunk into the ground up to its axles and, after digging it out, it needs new tires". I wouldn't have been surprised by exterior damage from other trailers or vehicles hitting it (which has happened before). I was expecting an exterior covered waist-high in mold or algae or whatever lives in those fields, which has happened before.

The two of us and two trailer-savvy people from our camp went up this afternoon, to do what we could and scout what would be needed for a return trip on Sunday. Miracle of miracles: it was fine. The Coopers have mowed the grass in the storage area, the tires are fine (a little low but can be driven; we can top off at Pennsic), the bucket we left inverted over the hitch was still there (so the hitch is fine, no rust), and it was more sound than it has been some years after only one year of sitting.

Whew. I was afraid I was going to have to invest more when we're under an eviction notice already (so I am not interested in long-term fixes at this point, only stopgaps). The one repair I knew I'd need will be fine (and not hard), and everything else looks fine. Pennsic accommodations this year should be sound.

A review of the first American civil war

It should not be a surprise that people who thought that the buying and selling of human beings and that profiting from a racialized caste system are legitimate enterprises also believed that attempting to subjugate the entire nation is a natural entitlement.

The Southern states weren't fighting for their right to have slavery. They already had slavery. The North was respecting their right to make that determination for themselves. The North was respecting the Southern states' rights.

It should not be a surprise should it turn out that people who think that subjugating half their populations and criminalizing bodily autonomy also feel they have the right to put the rest of the country to the sword.

The people who do not think it's wrong to reach into other people's bodies do not think it's wrong to reach into other people's states.

Go read this thought-provoking essay: