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Far Right Descends On Berkeley For 'Free Speech' And Planned Violence Apr. 17th, 2017 @ 10:00 am
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Posted by David Neiwert


[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

BERKELEY, Calif. – The American far right – alt-right figures, antigovernment movement leaders, and a conglomeration of conspiracists and extremists ranging from anti-feminists to nativists, all angrily voicing their support for Donald Trump – came here Saturday itching for a fight. They found it.

On social media, the organizers and supporters called it “the Next Battle of Berkeley,” a chance to gain revenge for an earlier event on the University of California campus that they believed had infringed on conservatives’ free speech rights: In February, a scheduled appearance by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was shut down by rock-throwing “antifascist” protesters.

So when several hundred of them gathered at a downtown park for a “Free Speech” event Saturday – most from out of town, many from all around the country – they came prepared to do battle with the same black-clad protesters, many of them wearing helmets, pads, and face masks of their own. The result was an inevitable free-for-all, with organized phalanxes on both sides lining up, occasionally erupting into fistfights, and then breaking down in a series of running melees that ran up Center Street into the heart of downtown.


By the day’s end, 11 people were injured and six hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a variety of charges.

The rally had drawn wide attention among various right-wing factions leading up to the event. Perhaps the most noteworthy of them were the Oath Keepers, the antigovernment “Patriot” movement group closely associated with the Bundy standoff and various far-right conspiracist activities.

Stewart Rhodes speaks at the rally.
“We’re going [to Berkeley] because people are having their rights violated,” Oath Keepers president Steward Rhodes told a North Carolina gathering the week before. “So it could be argued that with the full support of the local politicians, thugs in the streets are beating people up and suppressing their rights to free speech and assembly. It could be argued that California is in a state of insurrection.”

Various alt-right figures also became involved. Kyle Chapman, an Alameda County man who has gained recent notoriety as “Based Stickman,” the stick-and-shield-wielding defender of right-wing speech, came and was reportedly arrested. Canadian Lauren Southern, an alt-right pundit who came to notoriety by denying the existence of rape culture and by demonizing minorities, arrived wearing a helmet boasting a “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) sticker.

Nathan Damigo taunts protesters
Nathan Damigo, one of the key figures in the student-oriented white-nationalist “Identity Evropa” organization, was not only present, but acted as a provocateur throughout much of the day, egging on protesters and leading a group of young white men with “fascy” haircuts in confrontations on the street. Damigo was videotaped sucker-punching a young woman in black who was embroiled in the street brawls.

The rally was scheduled to begin at noon, but by 11 a.m. both sides were out in force, and the right-wing speakers, including Southern and Rhodes, began addressing the crowd from a tree-covered portion of the park. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered, separated from the “Patriots” by orange police cordons, enforced by some 250 officers. By around noon, the protesters began to march around the park.

Groups of right-wing activists formed lines to prevent black-clad antifascists from entering their space, even as the protest moved around the east end of the park and then congealed on Center Street, on its west side. It was there that the police cordons finally started breaking down, the two sides were milling as a mob, and fights began to break out. Objects ranging from plastic bottles to large rock to bagels were flying through the air. A trash bin was rolled down the street, and several bins of garbage were set afire.

The Pepe banners come out
Banners came out, including some featuring Pepe the Frog, the notorious alt-right mascot. One sign featured the anti-Semitic meme, “Goyim Know.” Eventually, the mass of people moved a half-block to the intersection of Center and Milvia streets, where the two sides again faced off for the better part of an hour.

Insults were shouted and chanted, threats were made, skirmishes erupted. Both sides appeared to be evenly matched. That mob broke up when someone lit a large smoke bomb that obscured everyone’s vision for several minutes. In the fog, melees began breaking out, several of them running east up Center. Eventually the mob moved up the block to the intersection of Center with Shattuck, the main downtown boulevard.

The right-wing militants appeared to be attempting to head toward the Cal-Berkeley campus a few blocks further east, but the protesters stiffened their resistance and prevented them from getting much further beyond Shattuck. As participants began drifting away, the combatants remained mostly within a small half-block on Shattuck. Eventually, an organized phalanx of police moved in and broke up the crowd, and most participants went home.

Afterward, the alt-right was exultant, claiming “victory”: Chapman claimed that “Berkeley got sacked,” while the rally’s original organizers, a far-right group called the Proud Boys, boasted: “Today was an enormous victory! I could not be more proud or grateful for every one who attended the event! This was the turning point!”

Post-election pro-Trump rallies in late February held around the country similarly provoked scenes of mob violence.

More photos from the rally below.

A Trump supporter is arrested by police.

Anti-Semitic and racist themes were common.

Protesters traded insults with the rallygoers.

Another Pepe sign.

Oath Keepers leader Gerald DeLemus, a Bundy Ranch figure.

When this rallygoer wasn't wearing his Spartan helmet, he was showing off
his 'white pride' tattoos.

There were a number of injuries on both sides.

A Trump supporter screams at the protesters.

The 'Identity Evropa' crowd in action.

Nathan Damigo, center, and his pals threaten protesters.

A couple of rallygoers recover from the effects of pepper spray.

Canadian alt-right pundit Lauren Southern was there with a contingent.




#1305; Return to Castle Bloodsbane Apr. 21st, 2017 @ 05:00 am
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Posted by David Malki

Actually, wait, I left it on silent. It'll vibrate at the frequency of a dragon's pumping bloodveins.



Check out: ‘Double King’, a fantastic animated short Apr. 21st, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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Posted by David Malki

this doesn't give anything away, it's literally the first frame of the film

I absolutely loved this new animated short by Felix Colgrave, “Double King”:

“Double King” on YouTube

It’s well worth the nine minutes to watch. Just stunning animation (and sound). It’s crafted with a level of precision, but also whimsy, that mesh in surprising and fascinating ways.

BONUS LINK: Felix Colgrave has an entire YouTube channel of prior work for ADDITIONAL HOURS OF ENJOYMENT



Survivorship Bias Apr. 21st, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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They say you can't argue with results, but what kind of defeatist attitude is that? If you stick with it, you can argue with ANYTHING.

Learning to Walk in the Dark Apr. 20th, 2017 @ 05:01 am
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

51LLOq4rwuL._SY344_BO1 204 203 200_If you are in the middle of your life, maybe some of your dreams of God have died hard under the weight of your experience. You have knocked on doors that have not opened. You have asked for bread and been given a stone. The job that once defined you has lost its meaning; the relationships that once sustained you have changed or come to their natural ends. It is time to reinvent everything from your work life to your love life to your life with God -- only how are you supposed to do that exactly, and where will the wisdom come from? Not from a weekend workshop. It may be time for a walk in the dark.

-- Barbara Brown Taylor

When we were in Tuscaloosa, my friend and colleague Reverend Rick Spalding mentioned to me that he was reading Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark. "That sounds like a book I need to read," I said. Not long thereafter, I found his copy in my mailbox, waiting for me to read it.

And oh, wow, did I need to read this book. The copy I was reading wasn't mine, so I didn't give in to the temptation to underline and highlight -- but if I had, it would be marked up everywhere, because so much of what Barbara Brown Taylor writes here resonates with me. Like this:

Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone. There is a divine presence that transcends all your ideas about it, along with your language for calling it to your aid... but darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.

Sometimes we feel that God is agonizingly absent from our lives, but this is a matter of epistemology, not ontology -- a matter of how we experience the world around us, not a genuine indicator of how that world actually is. This is a core tenet of my theology. I felt a happy spark of recognition, reading it in Brown Taylor's words.

Reading her words about cherishing darkness, I found myself thinking about the wisdom of my seven year old son. As I rejoice that the days are getting longer, he gets sad: "but Mom, that means I won't be able to see the constellations anymore, or the Evening Planet!" He means Venus, which he resolutely refuses to call the evening star because, he notes, it is not a star. His bedtime is 8pm, which means that in summer he doesn't see the stars most nights at all. I am grateful to him for reminding me that there is beauty in the dark... and grateful to Brown Taylor for exploring the valances of darkness so deeply.

Barbara Brown Taylor is clear that in our antipathy to darkness, we also manifest a discomfort with everything that isn't simple and solar and bright... but a full human life contains both light and darkness, both literally and metaphorically, and that's as it should be. She writes:

The way most people talk about darkness, you would think that it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one's bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.

[W]hen we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn't there a chance that what we are running from is God?

Isn't there a chance that what we are running from is God? As a spiritual director, I adore that question. I want to return to it often.

On waking in the night, she writes:

What if I could learn to trust my feelings instead of asking to be delivered from them? What if I could follow one of my great fears all the way to the edge of the abyss, take a breath, and keep going? Isn't there a chance of being surprised by what happens next? Better than that, what if I could learn how to stay in the present instead of letting my anxieties run on fast-forward?

What if I could learn to stay in the present: yes, that's it exactly. 

She writes at some length about Miriam Greenspan's Healing Through the Dark Emotions. In this passage, she's describing Greenspan's story of her first child dying two months after he was born:

Like any parent struck down by such loss, she woke up every morning in the salt sea of grief and went to bed in it every night, doing her best to keep her head above water in between. This went on for weeks, then months, during which time she could not help but notice how uncomfortable her grief was making those around her, especially when it did not dry up on schedule...

[She explored] the idea that emotions such as grief, fear, and despair have gained a reputation as "the dark emotions" not because they are noxious or abnormal but because Western culture keeps them shuttered in the dark[.]

It is easy to imagine (or to hope) that grief has a schedule and will go away on a set timetable. It does not, and it will not. But that doesn't make grief or sadness a bad thing: sometimes they are the only reasonable reaction to the realities in front of us. And I believe wholly that the only way through them is through them -- not pretending them away.

This puts me in mind of Jay Michaelson's writings about sadness. (I posted about that a while back -- see my review of his book The Gate of Tears.) We get ourselves into trouble when we resist our sadness and our grief, or when we imagine that we are supposed to be able to sidestep them, or when we imagine that they will go away on schedule. 

Brown Taylor cites Greenspan here also on spiritual bypassing -- "using religion to dodge the dark emotions instead of letting it lead us to embrace those dark angels as the best, most demanding spiritual teachers we may ever know....It is the inability to bear dark emotions that causes many of our most significant problems, in other words, and not the emotions themselves." Yes, yes, and yes. (A lot of my reactions to this book boil down to yes!)

For those of us who cherish religious practice, there is real risk of spiritual bypassing -- using our religious rituals or practices to distract us from what we're feeling, or to paper over what we're feeling. But authentic spiritual life calls us to do something different: to bring what we're feeling into our religious practice, even when what we're feeling hurts. (I've written about this before: see Sitting with sadness in the sukkah, 2015.)

There's so much else in this book that speaks to me. Like this brief passage on Jacob's night-time wrestle with the angel that earned him the new name Yisrael, God-wrestler:

Who would stick around to wrestle a dark angel all night long if there were any chance of escape? The only answer I can think of is this: someone in deep need of blessing; someone willing to limp forever for the blessing that follows the wound.

Or this:

"Since becoming blind, I have paid more attention to a thousand things," Lusseyran wrote. One of his greatest discoveries was how the light he saw changed with his inner condition. When he was sad or afraid, the light decreased at once. Sometimes it went out altogether, leaving him deeply and truly blind. When he was joyful and attentive, it returned as strong as ever. He learned very quickly that the best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love.

The best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love: yes, that feels right to me. I know that in my own darkest times, my own times when God's presence has felt so occluded as to seem absent altogether, my best way to open myself again to that presence is to cultivate love.

I don't want to minimize the dark night of the soul, and neither does she:

[T]he reality that troubles the soul most is the apparent absence of God. If God is light, then God is gone. There is no soft glowing space of safety in this dark night. There is no comforting sound coming out of it, reassuring the soul that all will be well. Even if comforting friends come around to see how you are doing, they are about as much help as the friends who visited Job on his ash heap. There is an impenetrability to the darkness that isolates the soul inside it. For good or ill, no one can do your work for you while you are in this dark place. It has your name all over it, and the only way out is through.

(She immediately distinguishes between the dark night of the soul as a spiritual condition, and depression as a medical condition, and I'm grateful that she does. Having experienced both, I can attest to the fact that they are qualitatively entirely different, even though some of their outward markers -- grief and tears chief among them -- are the same.)

In the end, what the darkness asks of us -- she says -- is simple presence:

When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God's protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God's presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.

I would argue that that's what life asks of us in general: our "dark" times, and our "light" ones alike.

Toward the end of the book, she writes about the moon -- which is a quintessential part of the Jewish religious calendar (and even more so the Muslim one), though not the Christian one, most of the time. The moon is a great teacher about the ebbs and flows of spiritual life. She writes:

Sometimes the light is coming, and sometimes it is going. Sometimes the moon is full, and sometimes it is nowhere to be found. There is nothing capricious about this variety since it happens on a regular basis. Is it dark out tonight? Fear not; it will not be dark forever. Is it bright out tonight; enjoy it; it will not be bright forever.

Is it dark out tonight? Fear not: it will not be dark forever. And even though darkness will inevitably return, so will its end. For me, right now, that is a profound theological statement about the return of hope and the hope for a future that is better than what we have known in the past. May it be so.

 



Birdwatching Apr. 19th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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No, tell the park rangers to calm down, it's fine--I put a screen on the front. I just want to get the birds a little closer.

A ritual for the end of Pesach Apr. 21st, 2017 @ 11:14 am
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

34107028195_cc5fa30544_z"Is there something like havdalah for the end of Pesach?"

That question was brought to me a few days ago by my friend and colleague Reverend Rick Spalding.

Reverend Rick has, in the past, expressed to me his "holy envy" of havdalah. (In Krister Stendahl's terms, one feels holy envy for that thing in another tradition which one wishes existed in one's own tradition.) I love that he thought to ask about whether we have a unique separation ritual for the end of Pesach... and I'm kind of sad that the answer is no.

(This is additionally complicated by the fact that as a people, we don't agree on when the end of Pesach is! Jews in the land of Israel observe seven days. Reform Jews everywhere do likewise. Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside of Israel observe eight days. To the best of my knowledge, the Reconstructionist movement doesn't set official policy on this matter. And Renewal Jews exist everywhere -- in communities of every denominational affiliation and no denominational affiliation -- so it's impossible to generalize.)

But regardless of whether the end of Pesach comes after the seventh day or the eighth day, we don't have a formal ritual unique to ending this festival. Those of us who remove leaven from our homes during the festival have probably evolved informal rituals for moving the Pesachdik dishes back into storage and the regular dishes back into rotation, or for buying or baking the first loaf of bread after the festival has come to its close. But there's no Pesach-specific form of havdalah to mark the end of festival time. 

What we do have is the tradition of counting the Omer, the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. In a sense, counting the Omer blurs the boundary at the festival's end. Long after Pesach is over, we're still counting the days until the revelation of Torah at Sinai -- a journey we began at the second seder. The counting stitches the two festivals together, making the end of Pesach less stark. Passover ends, but the Omer continues as each day we turn the internal kaleidoscope to see ourselves through new lenses.

When weather permits, at this time of year, I like to sit outside on my mirpesset and watch the evening sky change. As darkness takes over the sky I make the blessing and count the new day of the Omer. Watching the sky slowly shift from one shade of blue to the next, it's clear to me that the end of a day isn't a binary. We don't go from day to night in a single moment of transition. As our prayer for oncoming evening makes clear, "evening" is a mixture of day and night, constantly shifting.

There's some of that same fuzziness in the end of Pesach. Even once we've moved the regular dishes back into the kitchen, or gone out for that first celebratory pizza after a week of matzah, the festival lingers. It lingers in the counting of the Omer. It lingers in the matzah crumbs we'll be sweeping up for weeks. It lingers in our consciousness, in our hearts and minds, in whatever in us was changed this year by re-encountering our people's core narrative of taking the leap into freedom.

Still, Reverend Rick's question continues to reverberate in me. Havdalah has four elements: wine, fragrant spices, fire, and a blessing for separation. If we were to dream a ritual to make havdalah specific to the end of Pesach, how would we re-imagine havdalah for this purpose? The one thing that's clear to me is that the ritual would need to be simple and accessible, not requiring additional preparation -- Pesach is so full of extra work that I don't think I could bear to add additional strictures or obligations or ritual items!

Blessing a glass of wine, symbol of joy, is easy. For the fragrant spices, this year, I want a scent of the outdoors -- from my mirpesset I can breathe the sharp scent of new cedar mulch -- to spark my soul's embrace of what is growing and unfolding and new. Instead of the light of a braided havdalah candle, I might hold my hands up to the ever-changing light of the sky. And as a blessing of separation, the new night's Omer count, separating and bridging between what was and what is yet to be. 

 

Edited to add: I realized after this post had been published that I wasn't altogether clear. Here's an addendum: 

It is traditional to make a modified form of havdalah at the end of festivals (and I should have been clearer about that -- oops.) The conversation that sparked this post wasn't about that per se, but about a Pesach-specific ritual for the end of Pesach -- and while Mimouna is a Pesach-specific custom for post-Pesach, it also doesn't exactly answer the question I raise at the end of the post, about how we might repurpose havdalah itself to incorporate scents and sights of this moment in time.



#1304; An Endless Parade of Health Apr. 18th, 2017 @ 05:00 am
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Posted by David Malki

Finally, a prescription-strength medication to treat my severe ashy elbow syndrome!



7 Eleven Apr. 17th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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Really, the only honest 24-hour stores are the ones in places like Arizona and Hawaii, and many of them are still wrong in certain years.

Deep Ecumenism and Being a Mixed Multitude Apr. 11th, 2017 @ 12:37 pm
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

Multitude-WebOne of the things I love about the Passover story is that every year the story is the same, and every year I hear it anew. (This is true of the whole Torah, too, but I knew and loved the Pesach story before I knew and loved the whole Torah.) Every year we retell how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt and God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And every year, something different about the story leaps out at me and says pay attention.

This year the thing that leaps out at me is the erev rav, the "mixed multitude" that went forth with us from Egypt. When we left Mitzrayim, tradition teaches, we did not leave alone. A mixed multitude came with us. One tradition holds that some Egyptians chose to leave with us, to strike out toward freedom and self-determination. Another tradition holds that even Pharaoh's daughter came with us, and in so doing acquired a new name: Batya, "Daughter of God."

I imagine us as a vast column of refugees walking together into the wilderness... and in that great crowd of people were people who were born into this community, as well as fellow-travelers who chose to accompany us on our journey toward freedom. Together they redefined identity, so everyone became an insider, not divided by label or practice. This is the story that constitutes us as a people, the story we retell every Pesach, the story we allude to in the kiddush every Friday night and in the Mi Chamocha prayer every single day -- and in this core story, we are a mixed multitude. From the moment of our formation as a community, we are diverse.

Immediately upon leaving Egypt, we came to an insurmountable obstacle: the Sea of Reeds. On Monday night, Ben Solis-Cohen gave a beautiful d'var about Nachshon ben Aminadav, the brave soul who took the first steps into the waters. Nachshon kept going until it seemed that he would drown, and then the waters parted. This is a story about trusting in something beyond ourselves and getting through adversity we didn't think we could get through. Because in and of ourselves, we couldn't. As a theist, I would say God accompanied us, and therefore we became more than we thought we could be. That language may or may not work for you, but what matters is this: when the journey ahead seemed impossible, we found the courage to keep going, and the impossible became possible.

This is the story that constitutes us as a people, and it's not entirely an easy story. After we came through the sea, the waters rushed back in and swept away the Egyptian armies that had pursued us. Midrash teaches that God rebuked the angels for rejoicing, saying, "My children are perishing, and you sing praises?" Both "we," and "they," are equally God's children. The story that constitutes us as a people demands that we ask what price is being paid for our liberation, and by whom. Whose bondage or suffering is the price of our freedom and comfort, and what right do we have to exact that price?

It's our job as Jews to rejoice in our freedom, and it's our job to look at this system, this community, this nation, this planet, and ask how and whether we're complicit in the suffering of others who are not yet free. What is the price of our spiritual freedom, and who is paying that price, and what can we do about that? And considering our complicity isn't enough. It's also our job as Jews to work toward liberation for everyone. Until everyone is free, our liberation is incomplete.

The mixed multitude who left Egypt included people who were not Jews... as our Shabbat dinners here include those who walk on other spiritual paths. On most Christian calendars today is Good Friday. In their tradition, today commemorates the death of Jesus on the cross. In their tradition, the price of spiritual freedom for humanity was the death of the rabbi they call Jesus who was both human and divine.

For our Christian friends, tonight is a dark night that will give way on Sunday to the brightest of new dawns. The emotional journey of going from Good Friday to Easter does for them what the emotional journey of Pesach can do for us. Remembering the tenth plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborns -- remembering the Egyptian army swept away in the Sea of Reeds -- impels us to recognize the preciousness of this life, and to cultivate openness to growth and change.

Following the teacher of my teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z"l, I want to suggest that the best way we can relate to Good Friday is not by trying to be Christian, but by being all the more Jewish. This is what he called "deep ecumenism." From the authenticity of our spiritual practice, we can walk alongside others in theirs, partaking in a universal human journey that has multiple forms. And that journey would be darkened and diminished if even a single one of us didn't take part.

Every religion, Reb Zalman taught, is like an organ in the body of humanity. We need each one to be uniquely what it is, and we also need each one to be in communication with the others. If the heart tried to be the liver, we'd be in trouble, but if the heart stopped speaking to the liver, we'd be in even more trouble! Each community of faith -- including those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular -- needs to live up to its own best self, and each needs to be in dialogue with the others.

Humanity hasn't quite mastered this yet... but the rest of the world could learn a lot from Williams campus life. When the Chaplains' Office organizes a multifaith prayer experience after the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Muslim mosques. When Williams Catholic, or Williams Secular, or the Feast, shows up to cook Shabbat dinner for WCJA. When Feminists of Faith gather on a Saturday afternoon, as we will do here on April 29. This is what it means to be a mixed multitude: not because we're stuck with each other, but because we embrace each other. Because our pluralism is part of who we are.

On Sunday night we'll enter into the seventh day of Pesach, which tradition says is the day when we actually crossed the sea. We'll remember how after crossing that sea, Miriam and the women danced with their timbrels, singing in gratitude to the One Who makes our transformation possible.

That's our job too: to sing out in praise. To cultivate gratitude and joy, without ignoring the things that are hard, either in our past or in our anticipated future. Miriam and the women are my role models in that. They'd experienced trauma and loss, they were on a journey with an unknown destination, they were carrying their whole lives on their backs -- and they danced anyway.

Miriam and the women teach me that no matter what I've been through and no matter what challenges lie ahead, there is always reason for hope and rejoicing. "Look around, look around: how lucky we are to be alive right now!"

This is the story that constitutes us as a people: a mixed multitude, welcoming and diverse -- growing and becoming, taking a leap of faith singly and together -- grappling with systems of oppression -- supporting each other on our various spiritual paths -- aware that transformation is always possible -- with hearts expansive enough to hold both life's adversity and life's joy.

We live into this story through every act of tikkun olam (healing the world) that we do singly and together: in our learning, in our fellowship, in our activism, in our prayer, in our community-building. Each of these is a step on the road to Sinai, a step en route to the land of promise awaiting us all.

 

This is the d'var Torah I offered tonight during dinner at the Williams College Jewish Association.  (Cross-posted to Under the Kippah: Thoughts from the Jewish Chaplain.)

Image: "Multitude," by Sam Miller. (Source.)



Ready to be changed Apr. 14th, 2017 @ 04:00 pm
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

Img_9134-e1332770936209This week we're taking a break from the regular cycle of Torah readings. Our special Torah reading for Shabbat Chol Ha-Moed Pesach, the Shabbat that comes in the midst of this festival, returns us to the book of Exodus.

In this Torah portion, Moshe pleads with God, "Let me behold Your presence!" And God says "Yes! -- and no." God says, "I will make My goodness pass before you, but no one can look upon Me and live." God says, "Let Me protect you in this cleft of a rock, and after I pass by, you can see my afterimage."

This is among the most intense and profound moments in Torah. We could spend hours exploring this text... and instead I have two minutes.

I was talking about that this week with my learning partner -- after all, rabbis keep learning too -- and the question arose: so how long did it take for God to pass by? Probably none of us believe that God has a physical body, so this question is about Moshe's awareness. In Moses-time, maybe it took two minutes. Probably it happened in a flash. An experience -- even a life-changing one -- can unfold in two minutes. But understanding that experience, integrating it into the fullness of our lives, can take a lifetime.

The teacher of my teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z"l, said that "theology is the afterthought of the believer. You never have someone coming up with a good theology if he or she didn’t first have an experience." Experience comes first. Our attempts to understand that experience come after.

Understanding can happen in the body, when we feel something viscerally. Or in the mind, or the heart, or the spirit. Often it's one but not the other -- you know how sometimes you know something in your head, but your heart hasn't yet gotten the memo? Experience is easy. Understanding is harder.

Your years at Williams are like that too, filled with experiences that might take you weeks, or months, or a lifetime to fully explore. The thing is, we never know which moment will be the moment when an experience knocks us off our feet and changes us. We have to be open to it whenever it comes.

And that takes me back to Pesach. When it was time to leave slavery, the children of Israel had to go right then. No time to let their bread dough rise, just -- time to go, now, ready or not. One minute they were hemmed-in and trapped, and the next minute they were faced with wide-open possibility.

The haggadah says each of us should see ourselves as though we ourselves had experienced that transformation. Every life is filled with Exodus moments: when everything you thought you understood turns upside-down, when you realize your world is more expansive than you ever knew, when you have to take a leap into the unfamiliar and unknown.

A life-changing experience could happen anytime. Going from constriction to freedom could happen anytime. Liberation from life's narrow places, or God's presence passing before us in such a way that we feel the presence of goodness, could happen right now. Our job is to be ready for the experience of being changed. 

That kind of mindful living takes practice. College is busy. Life is busy. The life-changing experience of a moment may be a gift of grace, or a total accident. But good practice makes us accident-prone. 

So here's a blessing for being prone to the best kind of accidents, the serendipity that can change a life in the blink of an eye, the two minutes that can last a lifetime, two minutes that can change a life.

 

This is the d'varling I offered tonight at the end of Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Williams College Jewish Association.  (Cross-posted to Under the Kippah: Thoughts from the Jewish Chaplain.)

Image by Jack Baumgartner. [Source.]

 



Guest artist: Christopher Baldwin of Spacetrawler! Apr. 14th, 2017 @ 05:09 am
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Posted by David Malki

Spaaaaaace!!

Today’s guest episode of Wondermark is by my comics colleague Christopher Baldwin!

Christopher is the talented artist of a number of comics, notably Spacetrawler (a sci-fi adventure strip) and Little Dee (an all-ages humor strip).

Thanks, Christopher! Check out his stuff!!



Guest Comic by Christopher Baldwin Apr. 14th, 2017 @ 05:00 am
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Posted by David Malki

I find you GUILTY of having a cool hat



Identification Chart Apr. 14th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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Be careful—it's breeding season, and some of these can be *extremely* defensive of their nests.

Hottest Editors Apr. 12th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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Elon Musk finally blocked me from the internal Tesla repository because I wouldn't stop sending pull requests for my code supporting steering via vim keybindings.

Layers of Hallel, layers of time Apr. 11th, 2017 @ 07:36 pm
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

33588459020_8bf5713c2d_zOn the first morning of Pesach I took my pocket siddur onto my mirpesset (balcony) and davened the psalms of Hallel. I sang them quietly enough not to disturb my neighbors, but loud enough to hear myself singing.

I hadn't really spent time on the mirpesset since Sukkot ended. The weather got cold, I folded up the chairs and table, and I didn't go onto the balcony for months.

This was my first time back out there, and just like at Sukkot, I was singing Hallel. But unlike at Sukkot, this time I was sustained by memories of last time. When I sang these psalms at Sukkot I put down a first layer of spiritual experience in this place, and when I returned to them at Pesach, that first layer gleamed beneath the layer of the now and the new.

Sitting on my mirpesset now, I remember how it felt to have my little sukkah over me, spangled with autumn garlands. The location -- both physical (the mirpesset) and spiritual (the festival, the singing of Hallel) layers the now over the then, links what is and what was. 

The festivals serve in this way regardless of physical location. Their melodic motifs in particular work this way for me, hyperlinking Pesach with Shavuot with Sukkot, one year with the last and with the next. But because my move last year was such a big deal for me (after seventeen years in that house, and eighteen years in that marriage), the shift from my old life to my new one was seismic in ways I'm only now beginning to recognize.

That, in turn, means there is extra comfort in beginning to put down roots here -- both in this physical place, and in this new chapter in which I am a single person rather than a partnered person, a divorcée rather than a wife. Singing hallel on my mirpesset from festival to festival helps to ground me in this new normal. And it's a piece of the life I had hoped to build for myself, and for that I am grateful.

מן המצר כראתי יה, ענני במרחב יה –– from the narrow place I called to You; You answered me with expansiveness.

 Amen, amen, selah.



#1303; Onward to the Panopticon Apr. 11th, 2017 @ 05:00 am
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Posted by David Malki

The fallacy in the 'scroll back to see their entire life' plan is that it imagines a person under 30 who cares about Facebook



Hummingbirbs I have known Apr. 11th, 2017 @ 02:58 am
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Posted by David Malki

watta birb!!!

A few months ago, we saw a hummingbirb making a nest outside our bedroom window.

She laid some eggs and then there were BABY BIRBS and they were VERY CUTE.

Here are some of the pictures my wife and I took of them!

(I am embedding these as tweets mainly so the videos play, but if you can’t see the pictures in your email or feed, visit this post on the site instead, maybe that’ll work!)

That’s my little boy up there!! He is TEN DAYS OLD and he is extremely small still. His main interests right now are:

1. Snoozing
2. Slurping down liquid
3. Wiggling

I am told this is normal.

Comics will continue at an irregular pace!! Make sure you’re on the email list or



Pesach is almost here! Apr. 10th, 2017 @ 07:17 am
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Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

Pesach is almost upon us! 

Many of you may be scurrying around today making final preparations for seder -- but on the off-chance that you're looking for some thematic reading, here are some posts I've shared on Pesach themes over the years:

Also, if you’re still looking for a haggadah to use tonight, here is a link to mine, which is available as a free download: Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach.

May your festival of Pesach be liberating and sweet!



Existential Bug Reports Apr. 10th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
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ISSUE: If we wait long enough, the Earth will eventually be consumed by the Sun. WORKAROUND: None.
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