Monday, March 29, 2010

What makes tonight different from every other night?

I just wanted to stop by and tell you folks that things are going well here. I'm currently in New York, preparing for Passover with my in-laws. It's actually quite pleasant and is starting to feel like vacation, rather than work. Like everything else post-wedding, it seems like things have calmed down enough that we can all be ourselves and "ourselves" are fairly interesting folks who have good intentions in their hearts. My mother-in-law has been delightful, caring and only the normal kind of crazy that every woman gets when she has to prepare a ritual meal for her entire family. I feel blessed.

My nieces are perfect 4 and 6-year-olds who think I'm fabulous. The 4-year-old asked me what I was reading and responding with perfect enthusiasm, "Oh! A fairy book? Will you read it to me?" She also explains the intricate details of whatever imagination play she is engaged in and does not mind when you need to walk away to carry a set of plates from the kosher-for-Passover kitchen in the basement to the newly clensed kitchen on the main floor. She is eternally patient. The older wants to be included in things and I've let her help me make the Jerusalem salad by having her hold the measuring spoon for the oil and asking her to transfer the vegetables from the cutting board to the bowl. She asked me, "When I'm a little older, will you teach me how to knit?" I love answering their questions and quizzing them about the preparations for Passover. "What else do we use parsley for during the seder?"

Tonight, we will tell the story of the Jews' liberation from Pharoah and remind each other that we have a duty to liberate others from their bondage. We start with ourselves, having patience for the endemic stress that is ubiquitous during holidays when it flares, shrugging our shoulders at someone else's melt-down to show helplessness in the face of criticism: both a mea culpa and a martyrdom for what we have not caused. We open our arms in the next gesture, making eye contact and smiling or leaning forward for the kiss that says, "We'll live through this," and "Isn't it nice to get to be so intimate because of these trials?"

Tomorrow, we will tell the story of the Jews' liberation from Pharoah and remind each other that we have a duty to liberate others from their bondage. Then, we will get on a train and take the long trip through the wilderness, wandering if another coal train derails on our route like one did on the way in, feeling lucky that it only delays our arrival by 6 hours, rather than 40 years. As we return home, we know that like the Israelites, we will turn from God and be given the opportunity - in fact, God will practically beg us - to return to the way of living that God gives us. We will light Shabbat candles every week and thank God for that way, for the commnadments that are called mitzvot in Hebrew, so that we have direction and purpose in our lives, instead of having to wander.

Good Passover, people.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Disposable income and disposable diapers

One of the few organizations that I allow solicitations from is the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood. My parents did an excellent job of letting my brothers and I have childhoods of innocence and play. Aside from gigantic hordes of Star Wars toys (never as many as my cousin Eric, though) and about a bazillion Strawberry Shortcake figures, very few of our toys were licensed trademarks of anything. Of course, it was the late 70 and early 80s so there weren't as many out there and Legos were still old-school without story-lines and instructions, so that was a little easier. Still, at some point, my parents got rid of the TV for a few years and I was not allowed to have Barbie dolls until I was 10 so that I might have a modicum of a chance at a positive body image.

I also consider myself quite lucky that my adolescence was spent while grunge was the dominant style. Baggy jeans, big flannel shirts worn like cardigans and colored opaque tights under skirts and worn with Converse all-stars gave me all the protection my developing body needed from the degrading stares and comments of the adolescent boys I was surrounded by. I often look at teenagers (and younger) today and feel sad that their looks are so polished, with the visible and perfect cleavage with those flouncy little skirts. Did I even own an underwire bra before I was 20?

So, when an organization fights the constant erosion of childhood at the hands of market forces, I support them. They have asked me share a story with you about the aftermath they encountered from Disney after the Baby Einstein videos were exposed as frauds.
As described in the New York Times, last fall’s successful campaign to get Disney to offer refunds on Baby Einstein videos came at a price. At the height of the media flurry about the refunds, representatives from Disney contacted JBCC, and our relationship with the Center was changed irrevocably. We were pressured to stop talking to the press about Baby Einstein. Questions were raised about whether CCFC’s mission was appropriate for a JBCC program. Finally, in January, we were told that we had to leave—quickly. And, for our remaining time under JBCC’s auspices, we were forbidden from conducting any advocacy aimed at a specific corporation or product. You may have noticed that you haven’t heard from us in a while.

It is chilling that any corporation, particularly one marketing itself as family friendly, would lean on a children’s mental health center. We have great admiration for the Center’s staff, and the work they do for children. At the same time, we are deeply saddened that the institution ceded its ground and stopped supporting CCFC and our efforts to challenge powerful interests in order to protect children and support parents.
My brother and sister-in-law are expecting my first niece or nephew in a few weeks. I am trying to make sure that Baby Shashi has a chance to be a kid before she must become a consumer. If that jingles your bell too, check them out and make a donation if you're so inclined.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Take Me To The River

I was reminded on Sunday why I go to church. So often, the pursuit of an interfaith practice or and emergent expression of Christianity is an intellectual pursuit for me. I get passionate about systems and infrastructures and just-how-it-will-be-done. For instance, writing the program for the wedding was by far my favorite activity, except for maybe writing the ketubah. Both spent a lot of time finding rationales and laying out frameworks for the spirituality and relationships that will grow upon it and within it.

But often, church is a quiet place to go, hug a bunch of people, laugh at some conversation, meditate for an hour and then have potluck dinner with some cool people. This is a lot and my work as Treasurer and on the Leadership Co-op help to make it happen. But most of the time for me, it's just a good party.

And then God wallops me one on the side of the head and I'm struck down by her grace for my shitty little blase apathy.

We had our first baptism this past Sunday and I was a hot mess. I cried throughout the ritual. I had asked to be the elder who presented the candidate for baptism and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could barely finish her full name.

I'm not sure what it was. Some of it was grief that I might not get to baptize my babies. Jacob and I haven't decided what we will do when it comes to that but as of right now, there are definitely still things about Christianity that feel threatening to him. Although he was out of town on Sunday and missed the show, I would be comfortable betting the nest egg that baptism is one of those threatening things.

I was also struck by what this act meant for our community. We had watched Emily grow with Satchel in her belly. We had thrown her a shower. We had crouched over the baby carrier when she was first brought to meet us all. I have gotten to swoop in after services and simply tote her around on my hip as I set out the dishes and cutlery for potluck while her parents socialize. That last act is something from my childhood at church: the un-self-conscious ability to simply lay claim to a baby without even considering that I might be infringing on quality family bonding time, which is the opposite of the experiences I have usually had in my adult life when visiting with parents and their new babies.

On that note, I would say that a majority of the powerful emotion seems to have been a profound feeling of continuity. On Saturday, I had answered a bunch of my friend's questions about my identity as a Presbyterian emergent Christian since he was writing a paper on the topic. I dug down a little to think about my history in the Presbyterian church and how exactly it has shaped me. This is an example:
- What does it mean to you to be Presbyterian? Is that identity important to you at all (especially as a lay person)?
For me it's more of mindset and a personality than a theology. I like order. I like study. I like that I come from a staidness that did not adapt well to contemporary Christian praise songs, although they tried very very hard. I like liturgy. I like knowing what will be next in the service. I like hearing the bulletin rustle when a section of the service requires a page turn. I was told when I was little that Presbyterian churches dedicated more square footage to classrooms to sanctuary space. This excited me. I like representative democracy. I like flannelgrams. I also really resonate with the idea of being reformed and always reforming. I like that there were strong female pastors in my upbringing.

Having this identity is great for jokes. But if there were not an emergent Presbyterian church, I would look to another denomination. The liberal Episcopalians appeal to me. I like smells and bells, too. However, Lakeview Presbyterian would probably feel like home, as would 4th Presbyterian. I would just get different things from them. When I lived in LaGrange as a young, married suburbanite, I was a deacon at the Presbyterian church there. I picked it after visiting all the churches within walking distance twice. No one spoke to me anywhere else. Twice, they welcomed me there. Also, other churches like UCC mess with the words to the hymns. No good.
With these memories so close to the surface, I was then immersed in the ritual that I have been a part of my entire life.

Powerful stuff.

The Presbyterian version is very simple but asks the congregation if they will accept responsibility for raising the child to know God.

Powerful stuff.

To be reminded that a group of people agreed to envelop me with that care when I had no personality, no language skills, little cognitive ability and almost no motor skills - in short, the things that I believe make me likeable - is a reminder of grace. In the Church, we are known before we know ourselves and that knowledge leads people to accept us as one of their own. God is very present in promises like that.

Powerful stuff.

I was a sniffly and weepy and seepy witness to the welcome we are just starting to extend to the next generation of this emergent thing we're trying to do. I got to make her a blanket that everyone signed. I got to run my fingers through her crazy hair, made stringy with water and oil. I got to sit in the presence of God and my community and know that I contribute as much as I receive.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A literary wedding

My gorgeous friend Jess recently asked if I knew of any good love poems.

Do I?!?

First I pointed her to these two blog entries that I think are just brilliant: A Practical Wedding (of course) and Offbeat Bride.

Then, I went through my giant file of quotes that I love and created a document of the love and marriage ones. I figured I'd share them with you all while I've got them all in one place.

Because we had friends and family read the Seven Blessing in both English and Hebrew plus folks reading Hebrew scripture and Christian scripture, we felt it wasn't really necessary to have additional readings. However, that doesn't mean I can't love them.

Bride and bridegroom performed the Dance of Isaiah. Hip to hip, arms interwoven to hold hands, Desdemona and Lefty circumnabulated the captain once, twice and then again, spinning the cocoon of their life together. No patriarchal linearity here. We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy, you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back to where you began. (Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex)

I stepped into the room late last night
Because late is the time I keep
You were sleeping warm as coal
In a pocket of comfort and white sheets

But you don't startle anymore when I step into the room
Though the hour is later than midnight
And neither window can place a moon.

"I missed you," you say
And it sounds like a promise
When whispered half asleep
Your skin still damp with sweat
From thoughts your dreams refused to keep

I follow my memory to a switch on a light
"Shut your eyes," my voice cut short
When darkness turns bright

"Do you love me?" you say
But love is too familiar a word
For in this bed 10,000 times a phrase already heard
But, "I love you" speaks my reply
Though I know I failed myself and you for not
Matching how I feel with words of higher wealth

I know it's lonely in the world tonight
Because here is more than what's deserved
And the imbalance can't be summed in black and white
Cause "love's" too familiar a word. (Ellis Paul)

A marriage made in Heaven is one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together than the chances either of them could have managed to become alone. (From "Marriage" by Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark)

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as the beating of my heart,
suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of the thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,
and once again I am blessed,
again what I chose before. (Wendell Berry, "The Wild Rose)

On the one side is your happiness, and on the other is your past - the self you were used to, going through life alone, heir to your own experience. Once you commit yourself, everything changes and the rest of your life seems to you like a dark forest on the property you have recently acquired. It is yours, but still you are afraid to enter it, wondering what you might find: a little chapel, a stand of birches, wolves, snakes, the worst you can imagine or the best. You take one timid step forward, but then you realize you are not alone. You take someone's hand . . . and strain through the darkness to see ahead. (Laurie Colwin, "The Lone Pilgrim")

‘If a woman is stronger than her husband, she comes to despise him. She has the choice of either tyrannizing him or else making herself less in order not to make him less. If the husband is strong enough, though. . .' she poked him again, even harder, 'she can be as strong as she is, as strong as she can grow to be.' (Robert Jordan, Lord of Chaos)

He closed the door carefully behind him, and at that Daily Alice awoke, not because of any noise he’d made but because the whole peace of her sleep had been subtly broken and invaded by his absence. (John Crowley, Little, Big)

A glimpse, through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room, around the stove, late of a winter night – And I unremark’d seated in a corner;
Of a youth who loves me, and whom I love, silently approaching, and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand;
A long while, amid the noises of coming and going – of drinking and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word. (Walt Whitman)

Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy. (Wendell Berry, “The Country of Marriage”)

Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two. (Louis de Bernieres)

Marriage is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two young people so that, together, they seem to reach farther into the future than they did before. Above all, marriage is a new task and a new seriousness, - a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky. (from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Stephen Mitchell)

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth. ("Late Fragment," by Raymond Carver)

Sometimes we push against love to see if it is fragile. (Nanette Sawyer, 28 September 2008)

We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.” (from Andrew Boyd's Daily Afflictions, Loving the Wrong Person)

While exclusionary interest in one other human being, which is what we call courtship, is all very exciting in the stages of discovery, there is not enough substance in it for a lifetime, no matter how fascinating the people or passionate the romance.

The world, on the other hand, is chock full of interesting and curious things. The point of the courtship -- marriage -- is to secure someone with whom you wish to go hand in hand through this source of entertainment, each making discoveries, and then sharing some and merely reporting others. Anyone who tries to compete with the entire world, demanding to be someone's sole source of interest and attention, is asking to be classified as a bore. "Why don't you ever want to talk to me?" will probably never start a satisfactory marital conversation. "Guess what?" will probably never fail. (Miss Manners)

In raising the status of wife to one of presumed equality, lesbian marriages have the potential to improve the status of women in straight union as well. Freed from being a term inextricably linked to “husband,” “wife” can take on new meanings. Once we accept the possibility of “wife an wife,” the whole system of opposite-and-unequal terms gets thrown out of whack. Instead of falling into preordained roles of husband as king of his castle and wife as “trouble and strife,” individuals can explore innovative ways to express relatedness. (Audrey Bilger, “Wife Support,” Bitch Magazine, Winter 2009)