It’s Advent and I’m Done Waiting

This is not an Advent post. There are enough of those out there. Writing of waiting, of expectation, of a light entering the darkness, of hope. I have heard them all before. I am done waiting.

In class, we were talking about emotions. I teach English to refugees from East Africa. Per usual, they were quick to talk about what makes them feel joyous, but were silent when it came to the negative emotions.

What makes you feel sad? I asked, not thinking about the great chasms of human experience that separate me from the class. A man who comes every day and sits in the front, quiet and smart and well read, speaks up. His eyes are wide, and his voice is low.

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Slogans in Ruins: Land for Peace, Two State Solution


“Hope lost and fear won,” said Udi Segal, the diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2 News. Referring to Secretary of State John Kerry’s nine-month negotiations whose collapse in April contributed to the escalation, Mr. Segal added, “I don’t think the people in Palestine or in Israel feel more confidence in those Western, American Kerry-like ambitions to solve our problem with those peace slogans.”

New York Times, 8/29/14

This week, again, the news fills me with despair. But on Shabbat I recover hope. Is this a two-state solution to the problem of being human: six days, despair; on the Sabbath, hope?

This summer I flew in turbulent weather. I gripped the armrest, squeezed my eyes shut, and visualized: land, land, let me stand, once more, on solid ground for peace.

At night, when I’d prefer to be sleeping, my perseverating mind goes to war with my worn body. I need a two-state solution: one that will allow me to sleep when I sleep, one that will allow me to work when I work.

I am not a gardener. I am not a weeder. I am not a pruner. I am not a fertilizer. I am not a tender of soil. I do not turn to land for peace.

My problems are real. My problems are white and American and Jewish and middle class and academic and male. My problems are nothing compared to the problems of others. Reading and watching and thinking about theirs, the problems of those who are walking targets, those who are working poor: could this be the one- state solution to my problems? [Read more...]

An Orchestra Against Ignorance

The alumni magazine of Brown University, my alma mater, begins its article on a unique orchestra like this:

“We are an orchestra against ignorance.” That’s how Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim describes the West-Eastern Divan, which consists of young musicians hailing from Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Picture a teenage violinist from Israel; his name is Ilya. Picture a teenage violinist from Lebanon; his name is Claude. They know nothing of one another’s lives. Or, actually, they think they do know about each other’s lives, because each has been raised on negative stereotypes about the other. [Read more...]

Making Rules for Life

For my forty-first birthday, I decided to write a personal rule of life.

Turning forty hadn’t magically made me wise in the way that translates into action, and I didn’t wish to spend the next decade wading in the same bog of issues and habits and disordered affections that kept me from feeling present to my thirties.

I gathered some resources, ranging from the Rule of St. Benedict to works by some of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers like Paula Huston and Henri Nouwen. There are also, of course, the always-relevant Ten Commandments and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. I found various examples of religious and nonreligious personal rules on the Internet, including Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” (desired things, or things desired), which is not technically a rule but functions beautifully and succinctly as one. [Read more...]

Whispering Along a Thin Trembling Thread

Most of us are vulnerable to the solipsistic notion that our sufferings and joys are exquisite. My ex-wife once attended a seminar, a Christian women’s retreat, in which the keynote speaker opined about the peace of God. “Most of you have never truly known the peace of God,” the speaker told her audience. “You may think you’ve known the peace of God, but you haven’t.”

The speaker had the peace of God in a headlock. She wrote a book about it, after all.

She’d experienced her dark, or at least dimly lit, night of the soul and lived to tell about it and write about it and tell about writing about it. And somehow along the way she came to think that this set her apart from other women––women who’ve buried children and suffered infidelities and survived breast cancer, but who hadn’t found the time, in the midst of grieving and raising their children and maintaining something like order in their homes, to write books about it.

And so in strode the writer, knowing none of them from Eve, to instruct them on the peace of God.

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