Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

“What is religion?” Part 2

Where’s Part 1, you ask? Here, in a post I had forgotten that I had written.

I’m not actually writing a continuation of that. (Deceptive title to this post, isn’t it?) But there was a huge run on that specific post over the last two days. And I can’t help but notice that this is midterm season at most U.S. colleges.

I don’t think it helped anyone answer their midterm exam question on “What is religion?” or on whether humanism, or Judaism, or Humanistic Judaism, or whatever else is a religion. But, in the event it did, I hope you used proper citation!

In other news, with the big cycle of fall Jewish holidays ended, I’ll be getting back to a more regular posting pattern.

A New Year

It’s December 31, 2014. 2015 begins tomorrow.

As a quick look back, there have been some accomplishments that I’ve personally been pleased with. I co-officiated a wedding for the first time. I’ve published a couple of book reviews in Humanistic Judaism, the “ideas” journal for the Society of Humanistic Judaism. I’ve posted a lot here. I’ve worked, taught, and learned. I think I’ve grown in some areas, and I know I’ve grown in others (ahem, waist-line).

But I have no grand hopes for next year. Enough of this year’s events have been difficult so that if next year is easier, I’ll be pleased with that outcome.

I’d be more upbeat, but sometimes I’m happy just muddling through. Sometimes that’s the best many of us can manage–and there are times when muddling through is no mean feat. 2014 was one of those for me, Mrs. Secular Jew, and Secular Jew, Jr.

So, here’s to a hopefully less difficult new year.

One Year Later

Today is the first anniversary of the death of Grace, Mrs. Secular Jew’s mother. It will be quiet on the blog until next week.

Yahrzeit candle between orchids for Grace

Yahrzeit candle between orchids for Grace

Grace’s eldest son (Mrs. SJ’s brother) predeceased Grace. He grew orchids, and Grace was partial to them as well. And so, too, is Mrs. SJ. Grace’s first yahrzeit candle is stationed on the windowsill in our kitchen between two orchids, one of them having belonged to Grace.

Mrs. SJ misses her mother. I miss Grace, too, who for as long as I knew her lived as big as she could for as long as she could, and was almost always overflowing with love and good humor. Grace’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren miss her, too.

Also, she loved my imitation of Bill Clinton’s voice.

We miss her.

We were very fortunate to have been able to move both of Mrs. SJ’s parents–already in their mid-80s–up to Indianapolis in April of 2013. We did that to help take care of them, and it added dimension to our lives. It especially added dimension to Secular Jew, Jr.’s life. We live so far from almost all of our family members on both sides, and he benefited from extra love in his life.

But we didn’t know the extent of either of Mrs. SJ’s parent’s health problems.

This has been a difficult first year for Mrs. SJ. We didn’t know much about Mrs. SJ’s father’s needs, because Grace was able to protect us from it, despite her declining health. Mrs. SJ is tough; that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Please, have open and candid discussions about your family’s health. Life is tough enough, and making decisions for those closest to you is tougher still at times. You shouldn’t have to be surprised by the toughness if you can be prepared.

For Mrs. SJ: I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with this last night when you lit the candle. I’m working on it.

For everyone else: Grief doesn’t go away with time. Hold close those whom you love. Shabbat Shalom.

Thanksgiving 2014/5775

It’s been a rough week or so here in the U.S. And it hasn’t been a banner time in Israel over the last few weeks, either.

I don’t mean to downplay the problems out there. There will be no end to problems, which is perhaps a nice subtext for reading (very much out of context and its original meaning) the statement Pirke Avot attributes to Rabbi Tarfon: it is incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you a free person so as to be able to cease from it (Avot 2:16). Continue reading

Stop killing my sacred cow!

No, not mine. This guy’s.

I literally can’t even with this.

Here’s Jonathan Jones’s basic argument: okay, King Tut was not a looker. But we shouldn’t really bring that fact up in computer reconstructions because it just ruins everything romantic I’ve constructed in my head about the past. The final paragraph:

The bodies of the dead, intentionally mummified or accidentally preserved in bogs and ice, are invaluable to archaeology and to anyone who wants to imagine the human story. Seamus Heaney’s poem Strange Fruit about a sacrificial victim preserved in peat bog reveals the lyrical power of such remains. To reduce all that to simulacra that look like characters in a video game is a betrayal of everything archaeology should be about.

Okay, got all that? There’s lyrical power in the remains, but if we develop a technique to help put virtual flesh on actual bones, well, don’t do that if I won’t like the results, because I’m the self-appointed arbiter of “everything archaeology should be about.”

No, Mr. Jones, the pretty gold mask isn’t what Tutankhamen looked like. Yet Tutankhamen in his humanity is more instructive in some ways than the mask. What was life like for a noble? It may have been not much better in some respects than the life of an ordinary person. Tutankhamen died young and had numerous physical deformities.

And the contrast of the mask and the actual person is also instructive. It’s difficult to appreciate the various values a civilization ascribes to its artistic production without knowing how the art differs from the lives of the people.

But, Mr. Jones insists, “The individuality of Tutankhamun does not matter that much.”

Of course it matters–and it matters greatly. It mattered tremendously to Tutankhamen, at the very least, but it matters to a sober assessment of history, too. That very individuality is why archaeology done right shouldn’t hold back on understanding as much as it can. One editorial writer’s notion of the romance of a boy king does not the foundation of archaeology make.

And on a lighter and completely archaeologically misrepresentative note, I leave you with this:

We’re MASS Communicatin’!

Well, the hiatus didn’t last as long as I thought.

One of the topics that we addressed during the philosophic counseling class was that of special needs children, a subject near and dear to my heart. (I know you’re not reading, but, “Hi, Secular Jew, Jr.”!) Since I spend a lot of time thinking about those issues, it was good to have someone else talk about them–being inside a conversation makes you forget what it looks like from the outside. Continue reading

A Quick Update

Just a quick note. I was out of town all last week for rabbi school, so attention to that (a full week of work on counseling and guidance–what is often called “pastoral care”) took precedence to trawling the Intarwebzes looking for eyes in which to poke my finger (all for your amusement, of course). I’m sure I’ll be back to that soon enough–but there’s work to be done for four classes, a wedding I’ll be co-officiating (my first!), and a series of talks on modern American Jews I’ll be giving at a local Catholic parish in October and November that will require no small amount of preparation.

While there are so many things I would love to comment on, professional ethical responsibilities preclude some; time precludes the rest. So it may be quiet around here again for a bit. I’m sure I’ll be back with something in the next two weeks–quite likely tied to the counseling class’s material, as there’s fodder there for a blog post or two.

But not tonight.

P.S. – Many thanks to Mrs. Secular Jew, who diligently and lovingly held down the homefront and watched after Secular Jew, Jr., whilst I developed the ability to be less of a logic-dominated automaton when interacting with people. I love you!

All Quiet on the Western Front

I’ve been a bit silent over here. I’m still lurking about; just busy reading for rabbi school, doing research for papers for rabbi school, looking over edits for a book review, and various other things. I’m sure I’ll pop in with something substantive here any day now; there are a lot of thoughts floating about in my head, but there remains some organization to do (and some sleep to get).

And on Israel, as I’ve said, I’m remaining silent. My concerns remain, for the moment, tied to the sheer level of human wreckage–death, destruction, and physical and emotional trauma. I’ll say no more beyond that.

Menachem Av to those for whom it is meaningful.