Passover and Government Presence

The Seder table set on a tablecloth on the floor, flowers in the center in a tall vase, and a stretch of sun across the middle of the table“In what ways do you experience the presence of government—city, county, state, federal—in your life, your daily life, your professional life?”

That’s how we began, with that question. Asking questions, that’s the practice, isn’t it, that leads to liberation? And that’s why we were there that night, wasn’t it, to recount an experience of liberation in the past and to take the first steps toward our own liberation—personal, communal, national, global—in this moment?

A journey that would begin, as it does every year, around a beautifully set table, crowded with symbols, weighed down with books—one on each plate, with history, with a story that isn’t a story, with blessings and plagues, with songs that anchor us with knowledge of who we are and lift us up with rousing melodies.

Except that this year (why was this year’s Seder different from all other Seders?), the Haggadahs (the books), were stacked out of view in the corner of the room as the guests arrived. In their place, afloat on each guest’s plate, was a single sheet of paper on which was printed a seal—the city of Asheville’s seal, or Buncombe county’s seal, or the State of North Carolina’s seal, or the seal of the United States of America. [Read more…]

Share If You Agree

black and white film image of a bowler hat suspended over a bed of tall daisies I have had it with the rage.

It might drive me off social media.

At first, I thought it might just be a problem of living in metropolitan Washington, D.C., where the strident opinions held by many are usually interlinked with what they do for a living. No such luck, though: I’ve been on trips to Mississippi, California, and Texas in the past couple of years, and it has been just as bad there, too.

This social pose has driven me crazy for the past eight years, the ongoing and incessant braying that has filled up my Facebook notifications, the “Honk if I’m Paying Your Mortgage” and “I’ll Keep My Guns and Religion, and You Can Keep the Change” memes, which also appear on bumper stickers that I have to follow on the Beltway. [Read more…]

I Am an American

Shot of three buildings taken looking upward. Behind them, you can see the blue sky with a few clouds. The building in the forefront is to the left of the screen, tan, and has large windows. On a pole strung from the side is an American flag. The flag hangs limply. To the right of the frame, a tall metallic looking building with cross-cross panels of light and dark fills the sky. Behind the flag, in the background, is a tiered building that has a turret and tower at the top.I refresh the page, I refresh the page, I turn away for a few minutes, I teach a class for seventy-five minutes, I sit in a meeting for sixty minutes, and on the way to the meeting, on the way back to my office from the class, with my iPhone in my palm, at the computer on my desk, I refresh the page, I refresh the page, looking for the latest news, hopping over to Facebook for reactions to the morning’s tweets, back to the Times for an update on the latest leak and his response to the leak, looking for the next lie, on alert for the latest outrageously offensive remark.

These are my days now, my nights.

Work is an interruption. A chat with a friend is a partial interruption—for it’s impossible to get through even a short chat without a sigh, without alarm, without reference to what he’s doing and who he’s doing it to now. Picking up my prescription, reading what I’ve assigned my class (Joy Harjo! The Buddha’s Brain!), FaceTime with my grandson—these are interruptions, distractions.

I am a citizen now. I turn my attention back to the news.

What am I doing? What am I doing with you, news, what are you doing with me, news, not the full range of news:  Travel, Arts & Leisure, Sunday Styles, but the single-pointed concentration on news and opinion pieces on that man? [Read more…]

How To Arm Yourself Against Irrationality

people-running-the-central-station-by-national-museum-of-denmark-on-flickr-no-known-copyright-restrictionsIf I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
—1 Corinthians 13: 1

My four-year-old enthusiastically agreed to another term of gymnastics with the parks and rec department. He’s not particularly athletic, but he enjoys climbing over obstacles, hanging from bars, and tumbling on mats, so we signed him up.

Nonetheless, one Saturday morning he was lying on his bedroom floor in a pile of clothes, crying and screaming because he didn’t want to go to gymnastics.

“There is no such thing as gymnastics!” he shouted. “I want to stay home forever!”

He’s been speaking in this way for several weeks, now. Normally I’d chalk it up to a preschooler’s creative logic. But these aren’t normal times. His absolute rejection of reality and his stated desire to accomplish absurdities remind me too much of the insane rhetoric of a certain world leader and many of the voters who are trying to justify their support of him.

Sure, that’s a little dramatic; if anything, it says more about the leader and his supporters than it does about the preschooler. It probably says something about me, too, like that I hold my children to unreasonably high standards of coherence and rationality.

My world leaders, too, apparently. [Read more…]

The Next Abraham

motherhood-by-barbara-w-on-flickrA few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.

The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.

My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .

Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.

It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.

But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies. [Read more…]